Ichigo's head thumped loudly against his desk. Using his fingers to massage his aching temples, he groaned as his skin rested against the cool wooden surface.
The past week—the first full week after his reunion with Yoruichi— had been such a long ordeal, and he was just now getting to a place that he could breathe regularly again.
It had taken a miraculously short amount of time for his barracks and squad grounds to be rebuilt, thanks in part to the impressive efforts by many of the other squads. Full renovations and reoccupation had been a much quicker than he had had expected, yet it had come with a headache all its own.
Endless, pointless, moral-eroding paperwork.
Ichigo wished that he could say that he had no idea why so much needed to be done. He wished that he could say that he didn't understand it all, but Rukia seemed to take a sadistic delight in making him fill each excruciating line of each individual report, as well as making him recite why he was signing off on each one.
"Demon midget," he muttered, his forehead resting against the last of the day's stack.
In reality, he was glad that she had explained today's workload to him. It had taken a full week, but he had finally gotten all the details necessary to send financial support to the families left behind by the soldiers that had died in the attacks.
Sure, he would have sent some of his own money—which he quietly did— but it was very reassuring that Soul Society contributed as well.
Out of it all, however, Rukia had been beyond ecstatic when she brought in the last of the forms. Sitting below his head were requisition forms sent from the Shihoin clan.
Another groan echoed throughout the room. There were simply not enough deities for him to complain to about the suffering that was a 'noble wedding'.
Whether it was extravagant expenses for dinnerware—seriously, dinnerware?— discussions of clan merger between the Shibas and Shihoin's, or even discussions as to where they would live, planning for the occasion had been bombarding him relentlessly.
"Aw, is my husband-to-be stressed?"
The whispered words met his ears in a soft, warm breath that sent a slight chill up his spine. Rolling his head to the side on his desk, Ichigo found Yoruichi leaning closely beside him.
Seeing her large, golden eyes staring into his, he couldn't help the half-smile that crossed his lips.
"If I knew that getting married would be this big of a pain in the ass, I'd have recommended us just going to Las Vegas, in the Living World. From everything I've ever heard, it's pretty easy to get married there. I heard you can even get waffles at the same place as the ceremony."
"Now now, Ichigo, would you really want to deny me my big day? Isshin and my parents want to put on a party, and I'm wanting to make sure that everybody knows that your fine ass is mine," she replied, inching her face forward to steal a quick kiss.
"Yeah, I don't really think that it's under question anymore. Not after the last few days, at least."
Ichigo snorted lightly at the memory.
Stretching his arms above his head, Ichigo hummed in satisfaction as he stood at his window and enjoyed the morning sun's warmth and gentle breeze.
The morning had been more than good to him. Yoruichi had been in an…energetic…mood. He didn't know exactly why, but she had been very eager to be with him this morning, almost possessive.
The bed, the shower, the closet, nowhere was off limits as she made her 'claim' known. Questioning had been fruitless, as her only reply had been:
"Because I love you, and because your ass is mine."
He found that he was quite content to admit the soundness of her reasoning.
When they had finally dressed, Ichigo and Yoruichi made their way to the newly finished barracks. Aside from the avalanche of paperwork, today was the last day of the arrancar envoy's stay. He had to be prepared to send them off, and to no doubt explain to Harribel what had happened.
While he knew that Grimmjow would keep quiet about all that had happened, the Hollow Queen's fraccion were never going to choose loyalty to him over her, especially when it likely meant him facing their mistress' wrath.
He knew that Tier would not back down from her threat, and that she would—as she had put it— Make sure that he payed the price for breaking his word.
He just hoped that he wouldn't have to bleed too much to satisfy her anger.
Once he and Yoruichi had arrived, they moved quickly through the training grounds to a location that he had provided Tier as an arrival point. Seeing that the arrancar, as well as the Visoreds, Rukia, even Byakuya and a few of the older captains were awaiting his arrival, he quickly made his way to the group.
"Where've you been, Cap?" Shinji asked, a smirk on his lips.
Rolling his eyes, Ichigo refrained from answering. However, he tensed as Lisa put down her magazine and asked, "What's wrong, Ichigo? Cat still got your tongue?"
Over the snickers from the Visoreds, he heard a loud, satisfied hum from Yoruichi.
"Oh Lisa, you have no idea," she purred, patting Ichigo's cheek as he predictably flushed.
"And question-time is officially over!" he announced, cutting the conversation off. Before anyone could try to continue, a loud tearing sound accompanied a large wave of spiritual pressure.
Turning to see the familiar black rip of a garganta, Ichigo tensed.
Don't screw me over, he thought, flicking his gaze to where the fraccion stood.
Soon enough, Tier had arrived to a warm welcome from her followers, as well as a polite reception from the shinigami gathered. The conversation was positive, a good tone until Mila Rose said, "…and you should have seen how vigorously our friend Ichigo avenged us and defended our honor."
Ichigo had no time to even curse within his mind before Tier sharply turned her gaze to him.
"Avenged? Ichigo Kurosaki, you promised protection under your own graces, so what could possibly need avenging?"
Damn it, Mila Rose. Did you really have to put it that way?
"Actually, I can probably tell you what you need to know about that," Yoruichi said, cutting in.
After giving a brief summary of everything that had happened, Yoruichi stepped forward to stand in front of Tier.
"Look, I'm sorry about what happened to your people. Still, they are all alive and well thanks to Ichigo. What happened was my fault. I set it in motion, and it was my responsibility. I know that you promised to take it out on Ichigo, but he acted out of love. If it's anyone's fault, it's mine."
The silence that met her words was tense, bloated with violent potential. The narrowed, teal gaze that came from the Hollow Queen was indecipherable as her jacket covered her face.
Ichigo was prepared for the worst when he heard Tier finally respond.
Brows raised all around the group as Tier suddenly stepped back and growled, "Hunt, Tiburon."
The newly repaired grounds immediately began to tear and break under the massive waves of reiatsu she was releasing, as well as the raging waters that accompanied her resurrecion. Yet, within mere moments, the torrents of water subsided and the aggressive push of energy waned...slightly.
Ichigo tensed. The Captain Commander was going to kill him.
Once fully released, soft snick sounds alerted Yoruichi to the fact that hands had begun reaching for blades. Spreading her arms wide, she snapped, "Don't even think about it. She said that she'd make the responsible party pay, so let her get on with it!"
Though the gathered group collectively stood down, Ichigo tensed as Tier's gaze turned to him.
Then to Yoruichi.
Then back to Ichigo.
Several times this happened, her gaze enigmatic even with the loss of her mask. Finally, she stopped, nodding as she looked at Yoruichi. She suddenly marched, purposefully striding toward where Ichigo stood.
Ichigo was nervous, yet his mind was resigned to his fate.
Ah damn, here it comes. That's one big damn sword…
"Wait, it was my fault—" Yoruichi began, only to stop mid sentence, dumbstruck.
Reaching where Ichigo was standing, Tier took her massive blade and stabbed it violently into the ground. Letting her hand leave the grip, she took both hands and grabbed Ichigo's face, pulling him into a searing kiss.
The kiss was deep, rough, and demanding. Tier's breath was hot, tasting sweet as her tongue invaded his mouth. Her hands never left his face, merely tightening their grip as she held their mouths together.
Ichigo's mind short-circuited.
What the…I don't…uh…what?
Though he resisted, Tier's grip was unbreakable. Ichigo felt numb from shock, having expected an actual fight, a minor battle to make up for what had happened to her subordinates. Instead, there was a long, heated kiss that had seemingly shut down his brain.
Can't move. So strong. Soft tongue. Why can't…I…move?
Ichigo's thoughts eventually lost all coherence. He felt frozen in place, beyond reason.
Once her vice-like grip released his face, her lips gave a nearly imperceptible smile as she said, "That was very pleasant, Ichigo Kurosaki. While I can admit no strong feelings toward you, I can confess that I would not mind experiencing this again. Do feel free to come to Hueco Mundo, should your mate cause something like this again."
The look of shock on his face caused several gasps, as well as multiple mutterings of, "Oh damn."
However, Yoruichi's face was the most expressive. Eyes widened, nostrils flared, and lip curled, her expression screamed rage. Any retort that she might have had was cut off as Tier turned and walked past her.
"For now, I shall consider my Fraccion's blood atoned for. Remember this pain, this anger that you feel, Yoruichi Shihoin. Should you ever bring harm to my subordinates, my companions, again…this will seem paltry in comparison."
In a whisper meant only for Yoruichi, she raised a challenging brow and added, "Your mate is a fine man. Once his senses return, do appreciate him. I was not insincere in my desire for him to come to Hueco Mundo. I have many uses for a man of his talents, and think I could persuade him to visit. I would have plenty of help, as I should mention that not only do I have my fraccion, but the man in the striped hat has informed me that he thinks he can semi-permanently return Neliel to her grown form. Your daughter tells me that you have witnessed this form recently."
A rare smirk crossed the lips of Tier Harribel at the expression on Yoruichi's face.
The shock, as well as the boiling rage beneath the surface were well worth the hassle. This woman had caused someone she had come to respect great pain, as well as the actual shedding of her dear charges' blood, so a little jealousy was nothing she would feel unease about causing.
Perhaps she could see why her fraccion loved to tease so much. It was quite entertaining.
Looking to her fraccion, as well as Grimmjow and Nel's fraccion, Tier said, "Come. We are leaving."
Peering back over her shoulder, she said, "Thank you for treating them as you have, Ichigo Kurosaki. Farewell, for now."
Saying nothing further, the Hollow Queen opened another garganta, quickly disappearing into the dimensional gap.
Slowly regaining the use of his faculties, Ichigo turned to see an enraged Yoruichi. Her stance was feral, her steps those of a deadly stalk.
He knew that he had mere seconds before his fate was sealed.
"Uh, I didn't…I had no idea of— hmph!"
He was quickly cut off as his fiancé roughly grabbed the front of his robes, pulled him close, hooked her arms around his neck and jerked him to the ground.
Her lips closing over his drowned out any response he could make.
The kiss was wild, beyond abandon. Her hands grasped for whatever purchase they could find. His hair would ruffle, then be pulled. His shirt fisted, then smoothed.
No words, however. Yoruichi was too far gone, proving her claim for all to see. She had seen Ichigo resist, and knew that he had likely been stunned senseless for a moment.
That's why she was mauling him, not killing him.
"Ahhh, ok kids, let's let mommy and daddy have their…uh…fun," Shinji's fading voice called out as he corralled the rest of the group away.
Yoruichi chuckled at the memory as she hopped onto Ichigo's desk, sitting with her thigh tantalizingly close to his face. She smiled as he kissed her leg softly, before sitting upright and facing her.
"Yeah, Kisuke had to sit down to pee for a few days after that little stunt. Still, that blonde bitch better keep her lips off of what's mine from now on. I don't have a form with horns or anything, but Juryoku and I will protect our claim if needed."
Seeing Yoruichi wince slightly once she had finished speaking, Ichigo looked to her in concern.
Tapping her forehead, she rolled her eyes and said, "It's nothing. She's just a little catty today."
He couldn't help snorting at her pun.
"So, stressed out about a little wedding, huh? What's the matter? You can be a smartass to the man running the entire Gotei thirteen, but you can't handle a bunch of nobles?"
Ichigo's mouth dropped in shock. Grabbing the papers from his desk, he shook them at her.
"Small? You call this mountain of crap small?! Who in their right mind gives a damn about silverware? Silverware! And if that weren't enough, your mother is beyond determined to have us live within the Shihoin complex. Did you know that she had Kukaku make some insane clan edict that pretty much says I have to move there if I want to marry you?"
"Well now, that sounds pretty interesting."
"You wouldn't happen to already know about this, would you?" Ichigo asked, noticing how his fiancé had taken a sudden interest in the state of her fingernails.
His headache was coming back.
"Why would you assume that, my dear Ichigo?"
A loud, hollow thump resounded in the room as Ichigo's head came into contact with his desk once more. Before he could further express his displeasure, gentle fingers began combing through his hair.
"You know, you've been living at the Shihoin estate for most of your time back. I don't know why it's that big of a deal. My parents would likely give us an entire wing of the main mansion, more than enough room for us."
Muffled murmurs were the only responses she received.
"I'm sorry, did you actually want to speak intelligibly?" she asked as she lifted his head again.
"This is a lot to deal with."
"Oh? Is that so?"
Smirking, she gently pushed him back in his chair. Leaving her perch atop his desk, Yoruichi climbed onto him, straddling his lap as she held his gaze.
"My big, strong captain just has too much going on, huh?"
Looking at her curiously, Ichigo waited to see if this was her false pity, or if she was actually going to take it easy on him. His money was on the former.
"Maybe…" she trailed off, her hand slipping beneath his shihakksho with a soft rustle. "Maybe I take care of the wedding plans, and you…hmm…maybe you do a little something for me."
Kissing along the length of his jaw, Yoruichi could tell that he was—at least partially— listening. She smirked as her nails lightly skimmed the surface of his skin.
"Maybe I, uh, what?" he stuttered, trying to keep his focus.
Seeing that he was right where she wanted, she lightly bit his ear as she answered.
"Maybe you," she moved to nibbling his neck. "Maybe you could…"
Moving back to his ear, she whispered, "…keep your crazy-ass father under control!"
Unable to keep the smile from her face, Yoruichi quickly hopped off of his lap. She immediately burst into laughter at the lost look on Ichigo's face. She could not deny that teasing him so was terribly fun.
It was always a wonderful stroke to her ego, seeing Ichigo melt so completely to her touch. Though she often used it to tease him, she never let it go for too long without relieving the tension.
Speaking of which…
Resting her hands on the armrests of his chair, she once more brought their lips together.
"Aw, don't be frustrated, my little Strawberry. I think I know how I can help with your stress…"
Leaving the thought hanging, she slowly slid to her knees in front of him. Seeing his eyes widen in surprise, she smiled seductively through her lashes back at him.
As she tugged on his hakama, she knew that—while not planned— this could be quite a fun afternoon.
Ichigo's head fell back in bliss as Yoruichi made short work of his pants. He didn't often admit it, but his office was one of his favorite places to be with her. There was just something about having her on his desk, the sharp scrapes along the floor and the loud protest of the wood as he...
His thoughts were quickly interrupted as rapid knocks against his office door rang out.
You've got to be kidding me.
Choosing to ignore it, he looked down to Yoruichi, who suddenly looked mischievous.
"Don't—" he began, only to be cut off.
"Come in!" she called in a deep voice, before turning back to Ichigo with a devilish smile. Hearing the door begin to open, she quickly ducked beneath his desk and yanked his chair to her, covering both herself and his lap with his spacious desk.
Ichigo could only clench his fists atop the littered surface as both Shinji and Renji walked in.
Sonuvapieceofmother— on and on, the profanities within his mind were rolling without end.
Of all the times, they had to come bug him now? And what was Yoruichi thinking?! She still had his pants in her hands!
His eyes widened as he suddenly discovered that her hands were no longer encumbered by his pants, rather they had found their way up his thighs.
Struggling to keep his composure, he could feel heat radiating off of his flushed face as he turned his gaze to the smirking Shinji and asked, "Uh, hey guys…whats up?"
"You ok cap?" Shinji asked, his expression becoming slightly concerned.
"Y-Yeah. Just a lot of papers to go through. What's up?"
Though not seeming convinced, Shinji shrugged and nodded to Renji, who spoke.
"We were just coming to check in on you. Haven't seen much of you in the past few days, so we wanted to make sure you were getting along fine."
Ichigo's answer died on his lips as a warm, wet sensation suddenly lit very intimate nerves.
Really?! You're going to do this while I am talking to—oh sweet kami—
"You sure you're ok, Ichigo?" Shinji asked, his eyes narrowed in suspicion at Ichigo's not-so-subtly clenched fists.
Garnering his attention as best he could, Ichigo stammered, "Y-Yeah, I told you I was f-fine. I am fine."
Hearing his own stammers, he cleared his throat and inadvertently slammed his fist on the desk as he felt teeth lightly grazing his skin.
"Damn it, I'm fine! W-What can I do for you? I still have some stuff to finish, so I can't talk for long."
Renji and Shinji traded confused looks, then Shinji sighed as Renji shrugged and turned back to him.
"Well, seeing as you're getting married, we're gonna follow my favorite tradition of the living world and have a bachelor party!"
Ichigo's widening eyes were fortunately mistaken for surprise at the announcement, rather than the sharper pressing of teeth beneath the desk, which was quickly followed by a much softer, yet stronger sensation that was devoid of teeth.
Slamming another fist against his desk, he tried to shift himself away from the intense feeling, only to find himself held in an iron grip.
"What in the heck is going on with you?" Shinji asked. "Calm your ass down! It's just going to be a bunch of the guys hanging out, having sake, and of course, some damn good looking naked women around. Normally, we wouldn't tell you and just drag you off, but since you're a captain and just went all hollowfied on the last guys to piss you off, we figured we'd better let you know."
Ichigo fought hard to keep his jaw from dropping at the increasing intensity of the feelings he was experiencing. Yoruichi clearly felt that she had a point to prove at the thought of his bachelor party, and was she ever proving it!
It's not like it's even my idea!
Bringing his attention back to the two men in front of his desk, he was surprised to see Shinji covering his mouth, trying desperately to hold in laughter.
Confusion was on Renji's face as well, until the Visored pointed down to the desk. The look of realization that lit Renji's eyes spelled it out too well.
Oh shit, Ichigo thought, knowing that he was caught, even though he couldn't actually see the tips of white shoes poking out from beneath a gap at the front of his desk.
Both men were struggling to contain their mirth, until Shinji finally gained enough control to speak. While Renji maintained a jealous expression, Shinji winked as he spoke again.
"Yeah, I was thinking about having some special appearances at this little party."
Ichigo's heart began to race when Yoruichi paused, her lips frozen against his skin.
Patting Renji on the shoulder, Shinji continued.
"While I am not so sure about being able to get Orihime to come, Renji here is pretty sure that he can get Rangiku to come and strip for us. From the way she's talked about you, you could probably get a good lap dance or two from her. Hell, play your cards right and maybe she'd even put a good shine on your—"
He was interrupted by a loud crack from underneath the desk, shaking the entire piece. Ichigo cringed, knowing that Yoruichi had to have hit her head incredibly hard to jostle it so.
The raucous laughter that filled the room made Ichigo nervous. The faces of the men in front of him were red from their amusement, and they didn't seem to mind the fact that he was so…exposed. Obviously, Yoruichi wouldn't let them get away with that kind of prank, but he was bare from the waist down, and—well, he would rather not stand up at the moment.
This can't end well.
His heart was beating wildly in fear of what she could expose, not to mention the frustration of being interrupted. That frustration increasing quickly, he paused as a voice rose from beneath the desk.
"It's ok to be jealous, boys, but can you take it outside? Mom and dad need some alone time."
Ichigo gasped immediately after, his eyes screwing shut for a moment as the hot sensation returned with a vengeance. Peeking up to see Shinji and Renji staring with open mouths broke through his pleasure-induced haze long enough for him to shout, "Get out!"
Seeing crimson ceros building on the tips of his outstretched fingers, both men quickly made their way out of his office, laughing like children once more. The moment the door shut, Ichigo pulled himself away from Yoruichi's grip, shunpoed over and locked it.
Returning to his desk just as quickly, he pulled his deviously chuckling fiancé out from beneath.
"So you think that was funny, do you?" he growled, removing his haori.
Though his face was still burning, his pride and his frustration at her unfinished…treat…wouldn't let him back down from the predatory look she was giving him.
"Without a doubt, my love. However," she said firmly, pushing him back into his chair.
"However, I think that their idea to have you around those redheaded girls is a little misguided."
Stumbling back into his seat, Ichigo began to scowl at the reversal of control until he saw her hands slip to her waist.
Seductively toying with the hem of her shirt, Yoruichi met his gaze and purred, "Let me show you what a real woman can do."
Isshin whistled a light tune as he walked toward Ichigo's barracks with Nel humming along on his shoulder.
It had been a good afternoon so far, made even more enjoyable as Nel had run into his room first thing in the morning to jump on him, demanding to see 'Itsygo'. The girl was adorable, and her own adoration for his son was heartwarming.
It will be good for Ichigo to take care of her, he thought with a smile.
It had been too long since he had gotten to partake in the joys of looking after a small child. He loved his kids dearly, more than anything, but they were growing up and starting to enjoy their own space.
Ah, the perils of adolescence.
Still, while he always wanted grandchildren, this was a good start. Plus, with the look on Yoruichi's face when she had been called 'Mommy', it was likely that he would have to be satisfied with Nel as his lone grandchild for the time being.
As if in response to his thoughts, he looked up at Nel's excited gasp to see Ichigo walking toward them. Isshin's brow raised, however, when he saw his son's semi-steady gait and the ridiculously goofy grin that was plastered on his face.
I'd bet a year's salary that this has something to do with why Shinji and Renji were giggling like schoolboys when they passed by a few minutes ago.
"Itsygo!" Nel cried, leaping from Isshin's shoulder to run the rest of the way and distracting him from his line of thought.
Isshin felt his heart swell with pride as he watched his son, the man who had literally come back to life from the shell he had become, pick up the little arrancar girl and hold her as naturally as he had with his own daughters.
Masaki, you'd be so proud of our boy. He's grown into a fine—
"Hey Nel! Have you been making your crazy-old-fart of a grandpa behave?"
—cocky little shit. Yoruichi needs to quit giving him such a big he—ohhhhhh. Now it all makes sense. Why you little…
"I'll have you know, brat, that your ol' man is not some old fart. Just because you've gotten some really recently doesn't mean that you can turn into some cocky jackass."
Isshin almost broke character at the dumbstruck look on his son's face. It's hilarity was only matched by the further shock caused when Nel climbed to Ichigo's shoulder spoke as if he had taught her himself.
"Itsygo, do you get cocky when you get some?"
This time, he couldn't hold it in. Isshin began guffawing in the street at the red shade of his son's face.
"Nel", Ichigo groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. "For the love of all that's good, quit letting this old goat put thoughts in your head!"
"Ahh, that's the joy of parenthood, son. Your kids just say whatever the hell comes to their minds, and you just have to sit there and smile. Though, I think your little girl knows a quite a bit more than she lets on."
Looking from his father's face to Nel's, the slight blush in her cheeks as she tried to deny his words was as cute as it was damning.
With a loud sigh, Ichigo knew that the worst part was that he couldn't be mad. He could never be truly mad at Nel, Neliel, or any version of the girl. Looking to her flushed face, he smiled.
"Yeah, I think so too. What can I say? My Nel is a smart one, aren't you?"
Isshin chuckled at the enthusiastic nod Nel gave his son. It was good that he was able to relate to kids, especially after what Isshin had done a few days ago…
"You know, Ichigo, you've always been pretty good with kids."
Ichigo turned, a brow raised at the tone his father used. This tone never bode well for him. What had the old man done now?
"Yeah, I guess so. Something important about that?"
Suddenly finding the threads at the end of his sleeves inordinately interesting, Isshin mumbled, "Well, I just meant to say that you're really good with kids. Nothing really too important. Nothing that would cause too much trouble."
"It's not like I was trying to say anything crazy, you know…"
"Dad." Why was he acting like this? He seemed—guilty?
"It's not completely my fault that they know how you had your heart broken and had a battle to the death…"
Ichigo's jaw dropped.
"Dad, you didn't…tell me you didn't…"
Transforming back into his usual exuberant self, Isshin pointed a dramatic finger at Ichigo and yelled, "You're the one who worried them! It's not my fault that they found out. Take responsibility for your own actions you delinquent son!"
"What?! Dad, why would you tell your barely teenage daughters about what happened?! You're an idiot!"
This was bad. His sisters knew everything? What was his dad thinking? Yuzu would be worried to death while Karin would probably want to fight beside him!
Not to mention what they would want to do to Yoruichi.
Before he could become too lost in his worry, Isshin laughed loudly and clapped him on his free shoulder.
"Don't worry, son! At least I didn't spill the beans about your engagement, or about Nel. I told them that you'd tell them about everything in person. The old man even agreed to give you a couple of days off to come see them and tell them that their big brother now has a daughter and is getting married somewhere they can't go!"
Isshin's laughter ended at the near apoplectic look on his son's face. He knew that Ichigo was too protective of his little sisters, and he still remembered the horned form that he had seen merely days ago.
Ahh, the kid will be fine.
"I know, great, right? You could just take Yoruichi with you and…yeah. So, I am gonna go say hey to some folks and uh…you know, you may want to be ready to go by six because I told your sisters that you'd come see them tonight."
"See you at your barracks at six!" Isshin said as he disappeared in a flash.
Ichigo stood frozen in place.
Really? He just had to tell them, didn't he?
"Is Nel going to meet more family?"
Turning to see the excited look on her face, he sighed, the anger at his father faltering. Her eyes were shining, and her toothy grin wide as ever.
"You sure are, Nel. I can't say that it will be a lot of fun at first, but they'll love you."
"Is Mommy coming?"
The question stopped him short.
Would Yoruichi come when she knew that the girls were aware of everything that happened? Uncomfortable would be the kindest word he could use for that situation. His sisters would be livid, not to mention all of his friends.
Leave it to his dad to create the worst possible scenario for them to go into. Did he really have to tell them about what Yoruichi did? About him fighting to the death?
"Grandpa said that you'd wanna kill him this morning. Do you not want mommy to meet your family?"
"What?! No no, that's not it. Grandpa just told my sisters about the bad stuff that happened, but he didn't tell them about the good stuff. Yoruichi might not want to go with me if she thought she was going to have my sisters just getting mad at her the whole time."
"Ohhh," she said, her expression pensive. Tapping her fingertip to her chin, she hummed.
"Maybe Daddy Itsygo doesn't tell mommy that part."
Ichigo raised his brow at the mischievous look on the little arrancar's face. It was so easy to forget the mind behind those big, innocent eyes was far older than his own.
"You know, your old grandpa is teaching you some bad stuff."
Nel simply smiled innocently back at him.
"Avoiding things doesn't solve the problem."
She continued smiling.
The smile was still there, but the twinkle in her eye informed Ichigo that she was enjoying his inevitable consideration of her proposal. He sighed in resignation.
"Maybe you're right this time, but we're going to have to have a talk soon about the old man's influence on you."
"Yay! Nel corrupted Daddy!"
Rubbing his temple, Ichigo knew he couldn't argue.
"Yeah yeah, let's go tell Yoruichi that we're going before I say yes to any more bad ideas."
Within her dusty old room at Kisuke's candy shop, Yoruichi groaned while stretching as she watched Nel waiting for her body to adjust to her gigai.
The trip through the Dangai had been uneventful. Isshin had accompanied them, leaving almost immediately after their arrival in Urahara's basement to go check on his daughters.
Ichigo had been quiet the whole trip, not saying much of anything but to briefly answer Nel's endless questions about her new family.
Regardless, nothing seemed too out of the ordinary, and she would be the first to say that she needed some time away from Soul Society.
Planning a wedding was a pain no matter who you were, but planning one as a future clan head for a bunch of Edo-period nobles with more money than sense was a bitch. A few days away from the hassle were more than welcome.
Looking over to her fiancé—oh, how she loved the sound of that!— she noticed that he was slightly tense. His movements were somewhat jerky, and his eyes shifted often in the same manner as when he was dreading something.
What was there to dread? Was it really so bad to tell his sisters that he was getting married? Sure, it would be a shock to them, but wouldn't they be happy for their brother?
Well, this is Ichigo. Talking about any kind of feelings would be incredibly uncomfortable for him.
Still, she would keep an eye on him. Yoruichi never liked shifty eyes, no matter the reason, and seeing them from her fiancé before telling the most important people in his life that he is getting married…
She didn't like it.
Could it be that he was thinking that he had to tell his sisters and friends everything leading up to their engagement?
That would be a mistake, surely. It would make them all hate her, and cause more grief than anything. Their story sounded too like one of the human world's soap operas, and would only serve to stress whoever heard it, rather than excite them about their upcoming marriage and Ichigo's…adoption.
Maybe that's it.
A child, regardless of if it was a sometimes-adult-arrancar, was a huge responsibility, and while incredibly mature, Ichigo himself was not even in his twenties.
Could he be worried about my reaction to having Nel? Sure, I was not expecting to be called 'Mommy' in front of the whole Seireitei—I'm going to kill Byakuya, by the way—but I think I could do it. I've done well with Kisuke's brats for ages. Hm, probably shouldn't say brats anymore…
The conjecture was killing her. She had promised to trust him, and to be trustworthy, and while she wanted nothing more than to squeeze every bit of information that she could from him, she wouldn't.
Still, she had weeded out most of the more glaring possibilities. Ichigo had been adamant about them being seen together, so embarrassment was pretty much out of the question.
They had shared more intimacy with each other than most husbands and wives, even as recently as a few hours ago, so worries about performance could be marked off of her internal list, as well.
Yoruichi grit her teeth at the memories that their last bout of intimacy had created. While it had been amazing in and of itself, Juryoku had suddenly changed her demands for keeping Ichigo alive based on the conversation brought up by Shinji and Renji.
Thankfully that conversation hadn't occurred in full yet, so that was another worry that could be pushed aside.
At the sing-song voice within her mind, Yoruichi was forced to stop the almost immediate river of vitriol and fury in it's tracks. She would deal with her maddening zanpakuto when she had to.
Deciding—for the moment—to attribute his behavior to nerves, she finished her preparations and sat on the floor, all while trying to keep her imagination from running away with her.
Watching Ichigo interacting with Nel certainly helped to distract her.
The child herself was fascinating. Though quite young, at least in this current form, Yoruichi could still detect moments where it was clear that she was far more intelligent than her appearance would suggest.
Even now, as Ichigo fought with her to put shoes on her tiny feet, Yoruichi watched as Nel was doing a masterful job at cornering him into carrying her. Whether it was complaining that the shoes were too tight, that they itched, or even just a watery-eyed stare, Ichigo's patience and resolution were steadily being chipped away.
She always did this, it seemed. No matter the situation, Nel was always trying to get Ichigo to hold her or let her rest on his shoulder or in his lap. Close proximity to Ichigo was clearly important to her.
Had Yoruichi not seen her adult form, a child constantly demanding Ichigo's attention would have been the cutest thing she had seen.
Yoruichi fully believed Ichigo's and Nel's innocence. Both their story, as well as Nel's Soi-Fon-esque hero worship gave her no reason to suspect anything inappropriate was happening or would happen.
But damn it all if that blonde arrancar bitch hadn't put the thoughts in her head.
She couldn't say that she was surprised at her fiancé's ability to attract women, but did it have to be every buxom arrancar, shinigami, or human that he met?! Nel, Tier, and her fraccion put the term 'bombshell' to shame, and that annoying red-haired lieutenant and Orihime were in the same league!
Even Soi Fon had softened towards him. Now on friendlier terms, Ichigo had actually gotten her to smile. Soi Fon had smiled at something a man said!
Yoruichi rubbed her temples.
Ok, maybe watching Nel isn't helping.
She knew that Ichigo would never do anything to hurt her. She knew that Ichigo loved her and wanted her.
It was still worrisome that so much was happening while he was so young. Yoruichi couldn't help the little niggles of worry that plagued her mind, the natural insecurities that came from loving someone, but she would do her best to hide it from him. He always came through for her in the end.
Maybe tonight would help. Having his friends and family know about their relationship and marriage could only help her concerns, especially when it was his idea.
Her attention was pulled from her worries by an exasperated sigh.
"Fine Nel, you win! We're running late as it is, so just hop on and let's go."
"Yay! Thank you Daddy Itsygo!" Nel cried, wrapping her small arms around Ichigo's neck in a hug.
Yoruichi hid her laugh behind her palm as she watched Ichigo begrudgingly chuckle and shake his head.
"You're killing me, Nel. Just don't tell grandpa about this, ok?"
"Oh, I am sure that Isshin is just as big a sucker for her as you are."
Turning to look at her, he grinned. "Yeah, you're probably right."
Puffing his cheeks, he released a heavy breath and groaned. "Alright, let's do this."
Yoruichi's brow raised. Unable to stop herself, she asked, "Are you really not wanting to tell them about our engagement?"
She breathed a sigh of relief at look of shock on his face.
"No! No, nothing's wrong. Just a little nervous, that's all."
Getting to her feet and walking to the door with him, Yoruichi knew that she had not gotten the full story, but she'd give him the benefit of the doubt.
The walk to Isshin's house was uneventful, yet pleasant. Warm summer breezes guided them as the sun was setting, and they made it to the Kurosaki clinic doorway with the last rays of sunlight.
Stopping at the door, Ichigo held his fist up to knock, pausing just before he struck the door. As his arm slowly fell back to his side, Yoruichi looked to see a slightly sheepish expression on his face.
"So…you know we're here because they don't know about our engagement and about Nel?"
Where is he going with this?
"Well, there's something I haven't told you, and I think it's pretty important that you know."
She couldn't answer. What was going on? In all honesty, she didn't think anything was truly wrong between them, but Ichigo was acting like she was going to hit him or something.
Clearing his throat, Ichigo quickly raised his hand and knocked on the door.
"Yeah, so Dad already told everyone about you kissing Noburu and my reaction to it, and he told them about my fight, but not about our engagement."
"What?!" Yoruichi shouted, making Ichigo wince.
So that's why you've been so weird tonight, you set me up!
Before she could shout further, muffled footsteps grew louder and the door was suddenly jerked open.
Standing in complete disbelief, Yoruichi watched Ichigo's two sisters launch themselves through the doorway to hug him tightly.
"Ichi-nii!" the twins cried as they burst through the door to hug Ichigo. Though beyond afraid of what Yoruichi was going to do to him, he couldn't stop the smile that spread as he hugged his little sisters.
"And Nel!" Nel cried from his shoulder, interrupting his moment.
Feeling the pressure around his abdomen lessen, the twins released him enough to look up in shock to see an adorable teal-haired child on Ichigo's shoulder.
"Aren't you cute! And just who are you?" Yuzu gushed sweetly, reaching out to take the child.
"Nel is Nel! Nel came with Daddy to meet Nel's new family!"
He knew that he should have planned on Nel blurting out her new role in his life. Seeing stunned looks on the girls' faces, he knew that he was in for it.
With Yuzu still holding Nel, the girls stepped back quickly to try and take stock of the situation.
"Ichi-nii, why is there a child calling you Daddy, and," Karin said, turning to look coldly at Yoruichi, "What is she doing here?"
Oh damn. Oh damn damn damn. Well, right now she's probably trying to decide if she wants to kill me or dad first!
This had gone downhill far too fast. He had to try to smooth things over before his body and Yoruichi's feelings were hurt. Ichigo had tried to plan for this moment as much as he could in the short time that his father had given him, but he was not prepared for any deviations.
"Karin, don't be rude. Yoruichi is here with me, and for a very good reason. As for Nel calling me Daddy…well, we'll have a lot to talk about tonight."
Karin and Yuzu said nothing, only eying the newly arrived pair warily. Huffing, Karin rolled her eyes as she turned to walk inside. "Whatever. It better be good."
As Yuzu followed behind holding Nel, Ichigo risked a brief glance to Yoruichi.
He immediately wished that he hadn't.
Her gold eyes were wide, angry, and unflinchingly focused on him.
"Uh…so…let's go get settled in my room, then we can all sit down and talk, huh?"
Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and she stepped closer to him.
"You and your dad are dead men."
Stalking past him, Yoruichi quickly walked up the steps towards his room. Following behind, he made it to the bottom step when he heard his father begin speaking.
"Well hello, princess! Welcome back to my— hurk!"
Ichigo rushed up the stairs and into his room to see Yoruichi's arm locked around his father's neck, choking him.
The moment he shut the door, she released him, kicking him to the floor.
"You assholes!" she whispered loudly, rounding on both of them. "I got all of that shit I could handle in Soul Society, but even the girls are asking why I am here!"
"Now wait, I didn't—" Ichigo began, only to stop as she turned her murderous gaze on him.
From his spot on the floor, Isshin wailed, "It was all his idea, Yoruichi! He made me tell everyone the bad stuff, but wouldn't let me say anything good!"
Ichigo's eye twitched as Yoruichi and his father stared at him. Seeing the old man wink, however, sent him over the edge. Jumping forward, he knocked his father to his back and began punching any opening he could find.
"You lying bastard! I'll kick your ass! I never told you to say anything to anyone! Don't blame me just because you and Kisuke are gossiping old hens!"
"Lies! I would never do such a thing!" Isshin roared from the floor.
Before either could say anything further, a long series of inhumanly fast slaps rang out in the room, accompanied by both Ichigo and Isshin shouting, "Ow!"
"What is wrong with you?! You're both a couple of idiots! Now, get your asses up because you are going to fix this. We are going downstairs and you are going to explain everything!" Yoruichi snapped.
Whirling towards Isshin, she growled, "You go get the girls into the living room, and if you try to start anymore drama, I am going to get Retsu to come talk some sense into you."
Whatever retort the old man had prepared quickly died on his tongue.
"But…but…that's not fair!"
Hurried stumbling could be heard from the stairwell, accompanied by muffled curses and grumbles.
Running his fingers through his hair, Ichigo sighed, "Yoruichi, I—"
"You were probably given this information earlier today, and were being a little coward about it. That sound about right?"
Ichigo dropped his hand to his side as his fiancé faced away from him.
"Yeah. Look, I know you've gotten all kinds of grief in Soul Society about this, and I didn't think you'd come if I told you what they knew."
Placing her hands on her hips, she turned to him with a skeptical expression.
"So you thought that the best plan was to spring that information on me once I'd already committed to coming? At the damn door, no less? How stupid could you really be, Ichigo?"
Ichigo decided to put his bravery to the test as he slowly walked to where she stood. Sliding his arms around her unmoving form, he pulled her into an awkward hug.
"Yeah, sorry about that. Look, I wanted you here with me when we told them the good news. I didn't know that dad had turned into that bad of a gossip, though I guess I should have known. Still, I should have been upfront with you. If it helps, I have it on several good authorities that I'm a dumbass."
Yoruichi snorted as she relaxed slightly, leaning into the contact. Sighing in exasperation, she looked up at her sheepish future husband.
You have no idea how much I hate that I can't stay pissed at you.
"Damn it, Ichigo, stop being cute. I wanna be mad."
While she buried her face into his chest, Ichigo chuckled as he heard her mumble, "You really are a dumbass. This is not how I imagined I'd tell the girls that I'm going to be their new sister-in-law."
"Or that you're a mother to my daughter."
"Ichigo, you were just forgiven. Why are you trying to get me ready to kill you again?"
"Sorry, dumbass thing acting up again. Obviously it's genetic."
All tension broke as Yoruichi giggled slightly. Pulling back, she laced her fingers through his.
"Don't think that this is the last that we're going to talk about this. I think I owe you after what you pulled."
Smiling at her, he leaned down and kissed her gently before pulling her towards the door.
"Whatever you say Kitten. Now, let's go give the girls the good news."
Isshin grinned as he quickly hung up the phone. Things were moving in the right direction for a very entertaining evening.
Ichigo and Yoruichi were coming down the stairs, seemingly made up, which was good.
Sure, he liked to 'stir the pot' with Kisuke more often than not, but he never wanted to do anything to cause the couple to really fight. They've had too much of that lately, but damn it all if he wasn't going to use his privilege as a father to both embarrass and aggravate the hell out of his son and his soon to be daughter-in-law.
You should have known what you were getting into, Yoruichi.
It just so happened that the candy shop owner he had just been talking to had a little surprise to bring tonight, something Ichigo probably never had a clue about.
Crazy scientist that Kisuke was, he was always finding ways of getting technology into Soul Society, in this particular case: a smartphone. A smartphone with video capabilities.
Isshin had been quite sad to learn that he had missed Ichigo's first interaction with alcohol shortly after he had been healed. Apparently, it had been one of the more humorous things that his friend could remember seeing, with even Shunsui mentioning how funny it had been.
Oh the joy he had felt when he learned of Kisuke's video taken that same night.
With all of the news that Karin and Yuzu were getting about their brother, it seemed only fair that they should get to witness as much of his romantic tale as they could. In all honesty, it would probably help to smooth things over with the mess he had made by letting the not-so-great details slip.
It wasn't as if he meant to do it. Kisuke had been over and they had been talking, when the girls had stomped into the room, obviously eavesdropping.
Shaking his head and looking to his watch, Isshin smiled again.
Yeah, tonight's going to be pretty entertaining, alright.
The atmosphere at the dinner table was uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable, my ass, Ichigo thought to himself. This is worse than dinner with Byakuya.
Yuzu and Karin sat across from Ichigo and Yoruichi, silent yet sending dark stares at the newly arrived woman. Isshin sat at the head of the table, seemingly oblivious to all but his food, while Nel sat opposite him digging into her own plate.
How was Ichigo supposed to start this conversation?
He was walking into an uphill battle, and he had no way to deliver the good news without it being tainted by what his idiot father had already divulged. Was he supposed to try to get them in a good mood? Regale them with some sappy story?
He was definitely going to kick his dad's ass for this, on top of what he owed him for selling him out upstairs.
Sighing, he realized that he had been contemplating what to do for far too long. The tension was growing, and after receiving a Will you get on with it, please? look from Yoruichi, Ichigo cleared his throat.
"So, Karin and Yuzu, it seems that dad has been quite a gossip, lately."
Raising a brow, Karin replied, "Yeah, you could say that. It seems that Little Miss Princess here can't keep her tongue to herself, and you're running around beating the hell out of people and having death-matches. Though, going by what Nel called you, I guess there's a lot more going on."
Though he had been expecting it, hearing his little sister speaking that way made still managed to cause his mouth to drop. Before he could continue, Yuzu chimed in.
"You shouldn't just go beating people up, Ichi-nii! That's mean. Not to mention, why are you fighting people to the death?! Why has your job gotten so dangerous? Do you know how worried we were?!"
"And you," she said, turning dramatically to Yoruichi, "You shouldn't be kissing people who aren't Ichi-nii! No matter who they are!"
Ichigo cut a look to his father, who had the good sense to at least look apologetic. Still, what had the old goat been thinking?! There was no way that he could go into all of the details about what had happened, they were just kids!
"So are you, King," Shiro muttered within his mind.
Breathing a sigh of exasperation, Ichigo looked to his sisters. "Ok, skipping over the fact that no one asked about Nel," he paused, patting the tiny arrancar on the head much to her satisfaction. Turning back, he continued.
"Let's tackle this one thing at a time, ok? The most I can say about fighting is that there were people doing very bad things, and hurting a lot of good people. I was the one in a position to stop them, so I did. I don't really want to go into it more than that."
Clearly unsatisfied, the girls seemed to have expected that answer.
"Whatever," Karin snapped, aggravated but resigned to the fact that her stubborn brother wouldn't speak about it if he didn't want to, no matter what they did.
Changing topics, she snarked, "There's still the fact that Loose-Lips here seems to be passing it around more than my football team. Why did you bring her here when she'd do that?"
Silence fell over the table, yet everyone's faces were saying enough.
Isshin seemed to be doing all he could to not burst out laughing at his daughter's colorful descriptions. Yuzu, while in agreement with Karin, was blushing and looking scandalized at the words her sister used. Ichigo was simply dumbstruck, and Yoruichi groaned as she brought her hand to her temples.
A sharp gasp broke the silence, and Yuzu suddenly squealed. Catching everyone's attention, all present turned to follow her gaze, landing on a glistening stone on Yoruichi's finger.
Seeing his sister's mouth gasping like a fish, Ichigo groaned.
Sure, why not this way?
Clearing his throat, he said, "Uh…so…we're engaged!"
Karin's flat stare was slightly unnerving, but Yuzu looked as if she were fighting whether to be outraged or ecstatic about the news.
"Look guys, a lot happened recently and I know you've heard the worst of it, but Yoruichi and I came through it together. We fought through hell and made it out alive, and we've decided to make sure that we are together forever."
Seeing that his words were being heard, he continued.
"You guys know that Yoruichi saved me. You know what I was, and what I'd been. She brought me back, and I'll never stop thanking her for that. Somewhere along the way, we both realized that we love each other. Yeah, we've tripped up a few times, but like I said, we came through it together. This is something that we're both incredibly happy about, and we wanted to share it with you."
Ichigo smiled as he saw Yuzu wiping tears from her eyes. Even Karin had turned her head, rolling her eyes, yet clearing her throat. Isshin had a uncomfortably dreamy expression on his face, and Nel was sniffling loudly.
Turning to look at Yoruichi, Ichigo was glad to see that she was smiling at him. Seeing him smile back, she whispered, "I guess you can sleep in the bed tonight, too."
Ichigo's snort and laughter broke the tension around the table. The sight of him acting in such a way was something the Kurosaki family had missed dearly.
Turning to Yoruichi, Karin grunted, "Fine, I guess. Just make sure you're only giving it up to Ichigo from now on."
"Karin!" Yuzu yelped in dismay, covering her mouth with her hands as the rest of the table's occupants broke into laughter.
"Is that what Grandpa was talking about when he said you were cocky because you got some this morning?" Nel asked, looking innocently up at the quickly flushing Ichigo.
Aside, from Isshin, the table fell quiet once more.
"Nel, what have I told you about saying that stuff?" Ichigo groaned from behind the palm that was covering his face.
Peering at the stunned faces across from him from between his fingers, he quickly tried to change the subject.
"So this is Nel, as you've no doubt deduced by now."
"Yup! Nel is Nel!" she chirped happily.
"Ichi-nii, why does Nel call you Daddy?" Yuzu asked, clearly glad to be on a different topic.
This question sparked the interest of Karin, who looked curiously at the beaming child.
Blowing out a deep breath, Ichigo struggled to find the words to say. Before he could find them, Nel stood up in her chair.
Spreading her hands dramatically, she said, "Itsygo came to Hueco Mundo to save the red head girl. He met Nel and played tag! Then he saved Nel from the mean guys, and Nel helped, and then Itsygo left! Nel was sad, but then Itsygo came back! Nel found Itsygo again and Itsygo became Nel's Daddy! Nel gets to live with Daddy and Mommy forever!"
Finally coming to a stop, the girls had surprised looks on their faces as Nel tried to catch their breath, while Yoruichi grit her teeth at Isshin's mocking laughter.
"Nothing's ever easy with you, is it?" Karin asked, looking at her brother.
Sighing, he simply said, "Nope."
"Daddy, does this mean that Kawin and Yuzu are Nel's family now?"
Ichigo smiled at the hopeful look on the small arrancar's face.
"Yeah, Nel. Karin and Yuzu are your aunts."
"Yeah…no, not ants…I mean, they're family."
"Yes, Nel, like Kuku."
Unable to contain her joy, Nel leapt from her seat to run to the twins.
"Nel is so happy to have more family! Nel loves having family!"
Easily caught up in her charm, both Karin and Yuzu abandoned the table conversation to turn their attention to Nel.
Ichigo leaned back, breathing in relief. Talking to the girls had gone so much smoother than he had expected, even with Karin's smart-ass mouth. Watching the twins, he smiled as he saw them take the excited arrancar girl into the living room.
"See?" he said, turning to Yoruichi. "That wasn't so bad, was it Mommy?"
Raising her brow as she also sunk into her chair in relief, she met his gaze. "Ichigo, I may love you more than anything, but that doesn't mean that I won't kill you."
"Aw, come on Kitty-chan," he chuckled, dodging a half-hearted swipe.
"Ah, young love," Isshin sighed from his own chair.
"Shut up," the couple grumbled together, laughing at their unison.
"Yeah yeah, brats. I'm going to make myself a drink. Ichigo, I think the girls were wanting to watch a movie with you tonight," Isshin said as he stood.
Rolling his eyes, Ichigo also stood and grumbled, "Probably another one of Yuzu's sappy love stories. Whatever, I'm going to go get changed."
Following suit, Yoruichi ruffled his hair as she teased, "A love story? That should be right up your alley, my romantic strawberry."
The elder Kurosaki laughed as the couple continued trading barbs all the way up the stairs.
Ichigo smiled as he sat on the couch. Bundled snugly under his arm was a purring Yoruichi, contentedly curled as tightly as possible into his side.
It had been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise to learn of her affinity for cuddling. All he had ever heard about the subject was men grumbling about how women demanded cuddling far too much, particularly instead of more physical activities.
Dumbasses, the lot of them, Ichigo thought to himself as he tightened his arm around Yoruichi. From what he could tell, holding her in such a manner seemed to put her more in the mood.
Rolling his eyes at the thoughts, Ichigo looked forward at the glowing television. Unfortunately, his father had been correct about Yuzu's movie choice. Isshin had been lucky enough to get himself excused from the film as Kisuke had arrived to share a drink.
Ichigo's only luck seemed to be that the romantic drama was close to wrapping up.
Apparently, the title that she had selected was supposed to be a romance for the ages, a modern day Shakespeare. The very thought had him wanting to laugh. Whatever it is that they were watching was simply a half-hearted attempt to get girls crying.
Hearing a slight sniffle, he did his best to contain his exasperation as he looked across the room to see Yuzu curled up in a large chair, gently wiping tears from her eyes.
His gaze flicked back to the screen, the current scene showing a man pledging his unending love to a young woman in the pouring rain as the music crescendoed.
Whatever deity is out there…what did I ever do to you?
Yes, he could admit that he now understood the exhilaration and wonder of declaring his love, and even understand the desire to experience the overwhelming joy of its reciprocation as many times as was possible.
Was it really necessary to get so choked up about seeing people do it in a cheesy movie? Ichigo supposed that he just didn't possess the emotions get to the place where his sister was.
Admittedly, he had always enjoyed the epic romances within the Shakespearean plays that he had read, but he couldn't say that he had ever been brought to tears by them.
Regardless of his own tears, those stories were legendary, lasting centuries and translating through every generation. Yuzu should have loved them above all other tales, yet it was this movie that had his sister in tears?
Another delicate sniff from his sister, and Ichigo sighed.
"Come on, Yuzu, it's not really that—"
"Shut up!" three feminine voices shouted at him in unison.
Caught by surprise, a wide-eyed Ichigo looked down to see a teary Yoruichi glaring up at him from her cozy perch. Even Karin, who was sitting at the end of the long couch, turned an annoyed look on him before quickly hiding her face from scrutiny.
Karin and Yoruichi, too? When had his world turned so sappy?
"This coming from the ultimate sap, himself? I mean, sure your story had a few more explosions in it, but in the end, you were just as gooey and romantic as this sad excuse for a movie."
You're full of it! Yoruichi and I went through Hell to be with each other, and we were never like this.
"Ichigo, in order to save you from Shiro playing every memory that would prove you wrong, I will offer the same advice that your bride-to-be has: Shut up."
Ichigohuffed as he leaned further back into the couch. It was beyond sad that he couldn't even get his own zanpakuto's to agree with him.
A pair of ghostly chuckles were the only responses to his internal muttering.
Looking back to the television, Ichigo was immensely relieved to see the credits rolling.
"Finally. Thank whatever gods are out there that it's finally over," he muttered.
A nearly inaudible creaking of furniture springs was his only warning.
Ichigo blinked in shock as a large throw pillow fell from where it had struck his face. Turning his gaze, he saw a pouting Yuzu's hand outstretched.
"Ichi-nii, you don't have to be such a grumpy-butt! It was a beautiful movie about true love, and you could clearly learn a few things from it!"
His retort was cut short by a soft snort. Yoruichi had clearly hidden her face in his chest to keep from laughing too loudly at the affronted look on his own, but it proved to be a losing battle.
"Geez, Ichigo," Karin added. "Are you really that bad at romance? It's not a good sign that your fiancé is cracking up about your trouble with understanding love."
"Yare yare, ladies," a jovial voice rang out from the doorway leading to the kitchen. Everyone turned to see Kisuke and Isshin standing in the doorway.
Stepping into the room, Kisuke continued.
"It's not poor Ichigo's fault that he thinks the movie is lacking in quality. I must say, I quite agree with him."
"About damn time somebody did," Ichigo grumbled, glad to finally have someone on his side, even though it was an unlikely source. Kisuke usually liked to make Ichigo the butt of his jokes, rather than assist him.
Beggars can't be choosers, I guess.
"Ah shove it, Kisuke," Yoruichi called from her spot, throwing some of her uneaten popcorn at him. Winking at Yuzu, she turned back to her old friend.
"You wouldn't know romance if it bit you in the ass. I happened to think that it was a cute movie."
"How you wound me, Kitten," the smiling shopkeeper replied. Suddenly adopting a philosophical facade, he pointed a firm finger at Yoruichi.
"Regardless, I am afraid that you are wrong, Yoruichi! I happen to know exactly what true love and romance look like, and it is nothing like this farce of a movie!"
Giving the room a subtle smirk, he removed his hat to hold over his heart as he knelt by the clearly interested Yuzu and continued.
"You see, young Yuzu, I have witnessed true love blossoming before my very eyes. Would you like me to tell you the tale?"
Thoroughly absorbed by the man's theatrics, the youngest Kurosaki could only nod eagerly while her father tried to contain his mirth behind her.
Gently gripping her shoulder, Kisuke waved his hat before them, looking out across the room and began to speak.
"Why, it was here in this very town! Mere months ago, a handsome youth was dealing with a terrible heartache…"
Yoruichi smiled as Kisuke wove a compelling tale of her and Ichigo's relationship. While he had clearly gotten more information than she had been aware of, she couldn't deny the slight thrill of reliving some of their moments together.
Ichigo's expressions had been her favorite part by far. Though leaning against him, she could feel what he thought as the story progressed. Whether tensing his muscles or warming as he blushed, it was easy to tell his take on the stories.
"…and then they wanted to come see you, to tell you of their impending marriage. Do you see, dear Yuzu? That movie you just watched was a paltry telling of what true love could be!"
Yuzu could only nod amidst her bawling, her shirt sleeves dampened with tears. Even Karin had grown uncomfortable, covering a few questionable coughs and finding an inordinate amount of dust in her eyes.
"Is…Is it really true, Mr Urahara?" Yuzu asked, hope shining brilliantly in her eyes.
"Of course it's true!" Isshin interjected. "Ichigo's a Kurosaki! We are known for being unparalleled lovers!"
Giving a withering look to her father, she quickly turned a searching gaze back to Kisuke.
"I assure you, Yuzu, it is true. Why…", he paused, turning to give a smug smirk at Ichigo.
"Why I happen to have a video that shows one of the early days of their romance, a moment of enchanting innocence and endearing chemistry. Would you like to see it?"
"What the hell—" Ichigo began, only to be cut off.
"Yes!" Yuzu cried, loudly clapping her hands together as hearts nearly poured from her eyes.
"You videoed them? That's kinda creepy…" Karin muttered.
As another pillow found its mark, the room fell silent.
"Shut up, Karin! We finally get to see Ichi-nii fall in love and be romantic, don't ruin this for me!"
Karin only stared wide-eyed at her sister, stunned silent in shock at the second showing of violence—violence for Yuzu, at least— from her sweet and innocent sister. Her head turned owlishly to where her brother and Yoruichi sat, looking varying degrees of worried, and she silently asked the question that was on all their minds.
When had Yuzu begun to turn into Rukia?
The loud hiss of static from the television, followed by a series of muffled snaps and clicks, distracted all present and brought the room's attention to the glowing screen and the man standing beside it.
"Now I must warn you, ladies, in the eyes of Soul Society, Ichigo is an adult. So…uh, yeah, keep that in mind," Kisuke said, trailing off as the sisters were giving him strange looks.
With a final tap of a button, an image appeared on the screen.
Loudly shushing everyone, Yuzu turned with rapt attention.
"…Hey Pineapple, let's have a race!"
"Dude, did you just run through a door? How freaking drunk were you?" Karin asked over the sound of the television, earning another shush from Yuzu.
"You seem to be in high spirits tonight. Something got you excited there, Ichigo?"
"Yup, hey… you know what?"
"What's that, Ichigo?
"I hate peacocks!"
"Peacocks? You're a dumb drunk, Ichi-nii," Karin mumbled once more, earning a round of hearty chuckles from everyone present aside from Ichigo and Yuzu.
"Why do you hate peacocks, Ichigo?"
"Because they're always chasing after my kitty! Peacocks are trying to keep my kitty away from me. My kitty!"
"You call Yoruichi Kitty? Aww, Onii-chan! That's so sweet!" Yuzu gushed as she leaned forward, clapping her hands together excitedly as she continued watching, seemingly oblivious to Karin's derisive snort.
"Yorrrrreeeeeeeccchhheeeeeeee, did you see how fast I was?! I ran to the gate and back! Hey! Watch this!"
"Yare yare, this hat looks good on me, ne?"
With another click, the screen froze on an image of Ichigo giving a goofy grin to a clearly amused Yoruichi.
"Ichigo, that was so cute! You shouldn't be drinking, obviously," Yuzu started, wagging her finger at him. However, her stern nature lasted only a moment.
"But it was so cute! You two are adorable together!"
Rolling his eyes in exasperated amusement, Ichigo chuckled.
"Really?" Karin asked, a brow raised. "I thought he looked like a jackass."
A loud scoff drew everyone's attention to Isshin, as he pointed accusingly at Ichigo.
"You're right, Karin. Ichigo, you got that drunk off of just a little sake?! Kukaku is going to kick my ass for raising such a pansy! Don't you worry, though, as I will teach you to drink like a Shiba, so you don't continue to end up like that!" he exclaimed, pointing at the stupidly grinning Ichigo on the screen.
A soft slap and rustle could be heard as Ichigo dragged his fingertips down his face.
"My family is insane," he grumbled. Turning to Kisuke, he continued with a shudder.
"I would say that I'm concerned about you videoing us in the bar, Kisuke, but in all honesty, I'm more disturbed that I put that nasty damn hat on my head. There's no telling where that thing has been."
After a moment of astonished silence, Isshin and Yoruichi erupted in laughter simultaneously, pointing mocking fingers at the scandalized face Kisuke donned.
Wiping a tear from her eye, Yoruichi yelled, "I told you! I told you that hat was a piece of crap!"
The stunned expression on the shopkeeper's face soon melted into a disturbing smile.
"Why Ichigo, I do believe you just declared war."
"War?" Yuzu asked, a slightly concerned expression on her face.
Turning back to her, Kisuke once more transformed into his dramatic storytelling persona.
"Young Yuzu, fear not! What you have just witnessed was only the beginning to the wondrous love that your brother shares with my dear friend Yoruichi!"
The screen came to life once more, quickly changing from Ichigo's drunken grin to both he and Yoruichi standing in a large cavernous area.
"Ichi-nii, why are you so dressed up to go to a cave?" Karin asked, her expression and tone calling him the idiot she clearly thought him to be.
"Who cares?!" Yuzu cried, covering her mouth with one hand and pointing with the other.
"Look! That kiss is better than the one in the movie!"
"So what is all of this?"
"Well, I have us some dinner, but I had Hat-n-Clogs make a radio for this world. I know you love to dance, so...I wanted to do something special for you."
"Aww," the youngest Kurosaki began.
"May I have this dance?"
A loud, piercing squeal from Yuzu matched Yoruichi's in the video, her hands fluttering excitedly in her face.
Yet, what caught everyone's attention was the beginning of softly playing music from the video. Music that was not playing during the original scene.
Turning to Kisuke, Ichigo asked, "What in the hell is this?! It's creepy enough that you videoed us so much, but the music?"
"You don't understand, Ichigo! For a truly epic love story, there must be an equally epic score!" Urahara proudly replied, Yuzu nodding enthusiastically beside him.
Turning quickly to Yoruichi, who had just nudged him, he heard her worriedly whisper, "Isn't this where we…you know…in the hot springs? Right about this point, actually…"
"Holy crap, Ichi-nii. How does her throat taste?" Karin scoffed, sporting bright pink cheeks and shifting uncomfortably as she watched the screen. The couple were kissing passionately, all thoughts of dancing clearly replaced by…
"Oh my, and that's the end of that video!" Kisuke shouted.
"Wah!" Yuzu cried, her own face slightly flushed. "They were so in love! Why did you turn it off?!"
"Ah," Kisuke hedged, clearly not having intended for the video to have played that long.
"Well, you see, young Yuzu," he began. "Ahem, the thing is…the rest of this video isn't available for someone your age. Morality and all that, you know."
Though clearly enjoying his former mentor's discomfort, something Kisuke had said bothered Ichigo, he just couldn't put his finger on it.
"…isn't available for someone your age."
What. The. Hell?
Yoruichi seemed to catch on more quickly, as an Unohana-esque voice called sweetly from where she had curled into his side.
"Kisuke, you mentioned that it wasn't available for someone her age. Are you trying to tell me that it is available for someone other than myself and my fiancé?"
"Ichi-nii's in a porno!" Karin whispered loudly to Yuzu, who was sitting slack jawed just like her father standing behind her.
The telling step backwards toward the door that Urahara took was accompanied by Yoruichi's body tensing.
"Now, that's reaching…" he began, making more steps towards the doorway.
"What the hell is your problem?!" Ichigo shouted. "Are you seriously just showing this to other people?!"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Kisuke exclaimed, suddenly looking affronted. Standing tall, he held his hand over his heart and declared proudly,
"I would never just show this to someone! My website requires a paid membership, and the DVD's are quite expensive, too!"
All noise stopped at the admission. Yoruichi, standing fully now, stared wide-eyed as what little color remaining drained from Kisuke's face.
"You mean to tell me," she snarled, her reiatsu rising, "That you've been showing my ass and what is clearly my future husband's body to whoever has a credit card?!"
"Of course not! It's going to soon be available to purchase with Soul Society's currency, too. Your faces and identities are only visible in the 'Special Strawberry Edition', the distribution of which is tightly controlled by me! Which reminds me," he said, touching a finger to his chin as he seemingly forgot the rising danger mere feet from him.
"Yoruichi, after watching a preview of a couple of videos, the Shinigami Women's Association wanted to help me with arranging your bachelorette party. They seemed quite enthusiastic about it after watching the one from Ichigo's office."
"Speaking of enthusiastic," Kisuke continued, looking to Ichigo and remaining oblivious to the quickly rising murderous aura emanating from Yoruichi.
With a wink, he added, "Captain Unohana was quite impressed with your overall technique and your…um…attention to detail, Ichigo."
Kisuke's screams of pain drowned out the loud, wooden thud of Ichigo's unconscious head hitting the floor and the scandalized cries of the twin teenage girls.
Later that night, as the lights in Ichigo's bedroom fell dark, Yoruichi hummed in satisfaction when she felt him climb into bed beside her, cuddling her closely.
The night had grown quite awkward, once she had gotten enough of a message across to Kisuke. As the budding…videographer…limped back to his store, she had returned to a blushing trio of Kurosaki teenagers.
She remembered the burn in her own cheeks as she met the eyes of her soon-to-be in-laws.
Nothing had really been said past that point. Yuzu seemed torn between embarrassment and adoration for their romance, while Karin had simply gone to bed, muttering 'Perverts'.
Shifting herself within the bed to try and get even closer, she smiled in the darkness as she heard sheets ruffle and the mattress creak. Strong arms wrapped around her and she felt Ichigo bury his nose in her hair.
"What a night," he grumbled, his voice muffled by the pillow and her hair.
Giggling lightly, she reached behind her, gently touching his cheek.
"That's one way to put it, huh? Even with all of Kisuke's joking on the matter, I never thought I'd actually be in a porno. Though, he did give me a copy of that special edition. You've got a nice butt."
"Thanks," he sighed, rolling his eyes as his cheeks warmed.
"You know I love yours," he continued, "But the idea of anyone else seeing it pisses me off to no end."
"I think that you have less to worry about than I do," she huffed.
"If you listened to what he actually said, Kisuke has clearly only shown those videos to women. I'm sure he'll eventually show it to Shunsui, but I really don't like the idea of Unohana seeing the goods, much less the SWA. That bitch Matsumoto probably got an eyeful."
A deep groan was his only response for a long moment. Thinking he had gone to sleep, she began to close her eyes, only for a contemplative hum to grab her attention.
"That had better not be you thinking about her seeing you naked."
"Nah, didn't really cross my mind, actually."
"Then what?" she asked, rolling over to look at his shaded eyes.
"So the SWA saw us doing it, right?"
Hearing him sigh frustratedly, Yoruichi urged, "Your point being…"
"Well, I was just wondering which one of us Soi Fon was more excited about seeing. I think we both know who she really wanted to see, so should it be offensive if someone hates a sex video because I'm in it?"
A loud bark of laughter broke the stillness of the night, and Yoruichi had to hide her face in her pillow to stifle her humor.
"You're such an ass, I love it," she chuckled, bringing her laughter under control.
"What can I say? It must be genetic."
"Uh huh, seems to be a lot of that going on," Yoruichi said with a smile.
"Though," she continued. "I heard that she got to see you in all of your glory while we were…apart…"
It was Ichigo's turn to snort.
"I guess I can laugh at it now, because her face was so damn red. She even started stuttering and looking all around the room."
"Sounds familiar, huh?" Yoruichi added, a smirk on her lips.
Giving a sleepy chuckle, he leaned forward and gently kissed her.
"Yeah yeah, but as the videos clearly show—I got over it. Goodnight, princess."
"Goodnight, Berry Boy."
Tatsuki's shouting voice echoed throughout Chad's modest apartment, though not enough to truly break through the shock of those gathered.
Ichigo's core group of friends had been more than happy to quickly convene, each eager to see him. There had been an air of excitement, an anticipation of adventurous stories and humorous tales from the afterlife.
His reception had been overwhelmingly positive, with everyone glad to see him, Yoruichi as well.
Then Karin had decided to change the topic.
"Damn it, Karin! What is wrong with you?!" Ichigo snapped, his whisper harsh. He had brought her here because she wanted to see his friends, but he didn't know that she was just going to throw him to the wolves!
He would have left her with Yuzu and Nel, had he known that she would be just as bad as they were at blurting things out.
"What's wrong with me? You're the one making porn movies. What's wrong with you, horn-dog?"
A loud slap rang out when Ichigo's hands smacked his face. A soft snort from behind Yoruichi's own only made him sigh.
Will there ever be a time that I can get ahead of these things?
"K-Kurosaki-kun made a-a dirty movie with Yoruichi-san?" Orihime's timid voice questioned.
Yeah, didn't think so.
Hearing a slight ticking noise, Ichigo looked to Uryuu, who was adjusting his glasses. "Living amongst the Shinigami has certainly brought you out of your shell, Kurosaki. I never knew that you had such depravity within you."
Looking frustratedly at his suddenly-loquacious sister, he paused as an expression much the same as his own looked back at him.
Damn Kurosaki genes.
"So let me get this straight," Tatsuki muttered, her fingers dragging her hair from her face. "You hook up with your Shinigami teacher, adopted an arrancar, and got into the adult video business? Are you not making enough as a captain, or something?
Seeing the uncomfortable expressions on his friends faces, Ichigo finally snapped, "Could you give me two seconds to talk, or do you want to keep listening to the random stuff Isshin-Jr here blurts out?"
"Hey!" Karin cried, offended at the comparison.
"Ah can it, you're just like the old man," Ichigo muttered. Sitting back on Chad's long sofa, he sighed as he tried to ignore his fiancé who was having difficulty containing her mirth.
Though clearly uneasy with the current course of discussion, Chad added, "I assume that there is more to this story, Ichigo."
Thank you, Chad.
At least he had one on his side.
"Yes, there definitely is," he began. "Look, you guys last heard from me when I had come back to visit the twins for their birthday. Well, that's not the only reason I had come back…"
Tatsuki Arisawa sat in stunned awe at the tale she had just heard. Every possible scenario that could have happened to her oldest friend, had.
Unknown family, death matches, terrorist attacks, inter dimensional treaties, adoption…
"…and we wanted to come here, not to tell you all of that—thanks Karin—" Ichigo continued, cutting an accusing glance to his sister who only rolled her eyes.
"But to also tell you that Yoruichi and I are engaged. We'll be getting married soon."
"What?!" she shouted, unable to contain herself any longer.
Okay, she knew that Ichigo was pretty much a walking target for fights, and that he made friends out of the strangest of…beings…but marriage? Ichigo was way too innocent for something like that. Hell, he hadn't even kissed a girl before he met this woman.
And, well, what about Orihime? Tatsuki knew that her best friend had been head-over-heels in love for Ichigo for years, and…
Well, in love was a stretch. Tatsuki cared deeply for the sweet girl, but wasn't she too old to have this kind of hero-worshipping love? Being able to hold a conversation with someone was something she considered a prerequisite of love, butterflies be damned.
Still, this woman, she comes in and blinds Ichigo with sex, and now…she…well… What was this woman's angle?
Barely noting the shocked expressions on those gathered, she snapped at Ichigo.
"What in the hell has gotten into you?! You fight everyone you find in the supernatural world, you adopt a kid who isn't even human, bang your super-ninja teacher, and to top it all off, you are getting married?!"
"That's a pretty good summary. Ichigo, you may want to call her up if you ever need to write a memoir," Yoruichi snarked, her expression amused.
Unafraid, Tatsuki rounded on her, "And you, Little-Miss-Ninja-Robinson, you're cradle robbing your own student?"
"What can I say? You can't beat the stamina of youth," Yoruichi replied with a simple shrug.
Rolling her eyes at the violet-haired woman's additional flirty wink and predatory grin, Tatsuki directed everyone's attention from her own reddening face as she pointed to Ichigo's.
"He is just a teenage boy who hasn't even kissed a girl before he met you, much less had a girlfriend! How could you possibly be ready to marry him? How could he possibly be ready to marry at all?!"
Pausing to catch her breath, Tatsuki had to bite her tongue to keep from snapping further. The woman sitting beside Ichigo hadn't gotten angry, frustrated, or offended the whole time she had been talking. She didn't know exactly what it was that she wanted, but some kind of acknowledgement would have been nice.
All she had gotten in response was a raised, purple eyebrow.
"Now look, Tatsuki," Ichigo began, only to fall silent as a dark skinned finger tapped his lips, silencing him.
"It's okay, Ichigo. I expected that at least one of your friends would have some kind of issue with our engagement."
Tatsuki couldn't help the flare of indignation at the woman's behavior. It wasn't that she wanted Ichigo to be unhappy, far from it, but who was this woman to him? It made no sense for an older warrior-princess to fall in love with a student so many years her junior.
"I can agree, Ichigo's kissing needed a little work once we finally realized what we meant to each other," Yoruichi began, again silencing a rebuttal from Ichigo, this time with a sweet peck to his lips. "But I can gladly tell you, he's a fast learner."
"What you have to realize, though, is that we didn't just wake up in love. It took a lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of dancing around the issue before we both understood just what it was that we had between us."
Sitting down with a huff, Tatsuki replied, "But it doesn't make any sense. He's just a teenager, and you're—"
"—old?" the dark skinned woman asked, a dangerous flash in her eye. "Let's not go too far with that line of thought, Tatsuki. Yeah, we're—a few— years apart, but is Ichigo really still a kid in your eyes? Think about who he is, what he's done, and tell me if he really is still 'just a teenager'."
"Just because they're both pervs doesn't mean they aren't in love," Karin added from her perch on the arm of one of Chad's chairs. "That creepy shop-owner guy showed us some videos of them, and it's pretty clear, even for me."
Clearing his throat, his own chair squeaked in protest as Chad shifted uncomfortably. "You mean, Mr. Urahara showed you one of the videos that you mentioned?"
"What? No! Kami, no," Karin replied, quickly waving her arms in front of her.
"We aren't talking about that, anymore! Bottom line is, we love each other, and we got you guys some soul passes so that you can come to the wedding," Ichigo said, taking back control of the conversation.
Sitting in amazement, Tatsuki could only shrug. "Fine, fine. We haven't even graduated, Ichigo's getting married and they have a kid. Let's just go with that as our bar for normal."
"Now that we've gotten all of that out in the open, tell us more about what's going on with you in Soul Society. How are you faring as a captain?" Uryuu prodded, eager to change the topics.
Appreciating the change of pace, Ichigo leaned back and grinned, "It's not so bad. You should see my office…"
Quietly excusing herself from the group, Orihime Inoue slipped outside the apartment door, releasing a long-held breath as she leaned against a railing across from the opening.
This was not how she had planned her next visit with Ichigo.
To be honest, she had no actual plans, as far as he was concerned.
Not that I ever will, given what's happened.
Touching her fingertips to her forehead, she tried to focus on stemming the tears that threatened to fall. She wished that she could say that she didn't know how things had gotten to this point, that she was blind to the fact that her secret romantic adoration for Ichigo Kurosaki was simply that; secret.
What was she supposed to have done? Just shed her fear and tell him? Ridiculous! She wasn't brave or strong, like Tatsuki. She wasn't virtually bulletproof, like Chad, or trained with finesse like Uryuu.
She was a survivor. That was all she knew, all she ever had. Providing, preparing, living out her life day-to-day, it was all on her for far longer than she cared to remember. Orihime didn't have time to focus on being stronger, not when all of her strength was focused on keeping her life together.
She wasn't ungrateful for what she called a life. Orihime Inoue was far luckier than some, she knew. She had kind friends, a mind capable of learning, and a roof over her head. She could do far worse.
But why couldn't I just tell the man I love that I love him?
Why couldn't it be that simple? Why did she have to think more on it?
More than that, why did he have to choose Yoruichi? Of all women in any dimension, Yoruichi Shihoin?
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she answered her own question.
The woman was a princess, miles beyond any league, circle, realm, or any other of the millions of ways to say what was so painfully obvious. She was more than Orihime. Yoruichi was stronger, prettier, braver, smarter, more confident and clearly better for Ichigo than she was.
But…I could have made him happy…
Yet, the thought was tainted, almost bitter in the face of what she had seen.
Why, why, why did they have to look so perfect together?
It was so perfect that it was sickening. The way that Yoruichi fit so flawlessly in Ichigo's arms, the way that he leaned into her contact, rather than his usual avoidance. Even the way they spoke to each other, the small smiles and fluidity in how they shared their stories…
What they had was everything Orihime wanted, everything she dreamed of. What she desired so badly that her stomach was rolling at the thought of the man of her dreams in the arms of another woman just on the other side of a chipped, faded apartment door.
Wiping the tears away, a rare emotion made it's way to the surface. Anger. Burning, unreasonable, consuming fury. The whole situation made her so angry that she wanted to do something—anything—something to vent her displeasure.
Tightening her hands into fists, she looked around her. Orihime Inoue could get angry! She wasn't only the air headed sweetheart who could only play the damsel in distress!
She could…she could…she could hit something!
Yeah, she could totally—
"Ow! Owowowowowie!" she cried, gripping her throbbing hand. What had she been thinking? In her fury, she had attacked the nearest thing to her—the low, dark, metal railing that she had just been leaning against.
"That looks like it didn't feel too good," Tatsuki's voice muttered from behind her.
Spinning quickly, Orihime gasped in surprise at the unexpected arrival of her best friend. The dark haired girl had just quietly closed the door behind her and was now staring dubiously at Orihime.
"I…uh…I hit the railing."
"I'd ask why you did, but I don't think I really have to," Tatsuki sighed, walking forward and leaning onto her forearms on the metal in question.
"I suppose not," Orihime whispered, gently cradling her hand.
"So, besides beating up metal railings, how are you holding up?"
Using her free hand to wipe another tear, she muttered, "I am ok. Don't worry about me, Tatsuki."
Sighing deeply, Tatsuki pushed herself upright, the metal bars rattling slightly as she released them. She turned, wrapping her arms tightly around the auburn haired girl.
"I'm sorry it went down like this. I know it's gotta be tough."
A humorless chuckle was the only response. Looking into her friend's heartbroken eyes, Tatsuki wondered if now was the best time to say what she had to say.
Ah, the hell with it. She needs to hear it.
"Will you answer a question for me, Orihime?"
"What, exactly, is it that made you this upset?"
"Just what I said. Why—exactly—are you this upset?"
"Tatsuki, that's not funny. You know exactly why I am upset! He's taken, Tatsuki. He's getting married!"
Realizing that she had begun shouting, Orihime bit her lip, looking worriedly to the faded door.
"I know, 'Hime, I know. But…well…"
Narrowing her eyes, the gentle healer's patience had been tested too far. Not only had Ichigo been placed permanently beyond her reach, but now her closest friend was dangerously close to telling her that she was being ridiculous?
No. Not today.
"Well what, Tatsuki?"
It was apparent that Tatsuki had reached her limit as well. Rounding on Orihime, she snapped.
"Don't give me any crap, Orihime Inoue! I've watched you dance around your infatuation with Ichigo for years. Years, Orihime. Do you want to know what I've seen?"
"What?! Just what have you seen, Tatsuki?!"
Sighing deeply, Tatsuki once again ran a hand through her ebony locks. Mustering all the love and compassion that she could, she gently reached out and grabbed the hand of the girl who had been her best friend for too long for her to offer anything less than the truth.
"You don't love Ichigo the way you think you do."
"I know that you care for him, and that you are attracted to him, but—c'mon Orihime—think about it."
"I mean it. When have you ever really interacted with Ichigo more than just an awkward hello? Only when he's got a sword in his hand, fighting to protect you or somebody else. Every other time I've seen you around him, you're either babbling endlessly, or scared to death. Face it, you love the hero, Hime."
Orihime was speechless. The one person who had always taken her side, the one who had always had her back, was now looking her in the face, telling her that her heart was lying to her, filling her head full of fairy tales.
And she wasn't lying.
She had known Tatsuki for years, and the two couldn't lie to each other. They could keep secrets, sure, but when it came down to it, the two could not lie to each other, and—at the moment—Orihime really hated that fact.
Could it really be true? Was she really just in love with the idea, the persona Ichigo was?
Stomping viciously on the small voice within her mind that answered, she tried to think on the rest of what Tatsuki had said.
Sure, she had a hard time being coherent around the gorgeous man that was Ichigo Kurosaki, sue her. And sure, she may not have much in common with him…possibly… That didn't mean that she was afraid—
Freezing mid-thought, Orihime knew that she was wrong. As an image of roaring fires, sharp horns, and a hollow hole within his chest passed through her mind, she knew that she couldn't claim to be unafraid of Ichigo.
She shuddered, remembering the nightmares that still occasionally haunted her.
Damn it, Tatsuki.
Registering that she had not only cursed, but had just cursed her closest friend, Orihime instantly turned, waving her hands before her face, crying "I'm sorry!"
"I didn't mean it, I was just angry and I—"
"What are you talking about?"
"I just—" she said, trailing off as she slowly arrived at the realization that she had only thought the words, not actually said them aloud.
Burying her face in her hands, she mumbled, "Tatsuki, what am I going to do? If I don't love Ichigo, then why does it hurt so bad?"
"Owie! You didn't have to hit me!"
"Use your head! It hurts, I am sure, but as for what you'll do? Who is it that you talk to more often than not? Who is the guy who also fights to keep you safe? Who asks about your day, and actually listens to the whole convoluted, insane, out-of-this-world—"
"—Right, right. Look, get your head out of the Ichigo clouds, and maybe take a look at the guy who's been with you all along, fighting just as hard for you, being there for you, and is someone that you can actually talk to."
"Ow! Tatsuki, stop being such a bully!"
"Stop asking stupid questions, and realize what's been in front of your face the whole time! I mean, has he ever shown interest?"
"Well, he did ask if I wanted to have dinner this weekend."
"I said yes," Orihime whispered, looking up.
"See?" Tatsuki asked, a smirk on her lips. "If you take your eyes off of the orange haired baboon for a second, you can see what's right in front of you, and—in my opinion—far better for you."
Watching Orihime process the information, Tatsuki knew that she had been heard. Sure, an infatuation as long-lasting as Orihime's had been for Ichigo wouldn't change overnight, but there were clearly steps that could be taken in the meantime that would help speed the process along.
The auburn haired girl would be fine…given time.
"Now come on, we have a golden opportunity to see Mr. Tough-guy himself act like a lovesick schoolboy. Let's not waste a chance to make fun of that idiotic grin," Tatsuki said, turning the doorknob once more.
Ichigo was in high spirits as he walked back to Kisuke's shop hours later, hand in hand with Yoruichi.
The rest of the visit had gone surprisingly well.
His friends had all been congratulatory, once over the immediate shock of their announcement. Chad's stoic resolve never wavered, which Ichigo took as a positive, while Uryuu bugged the hell out of Yoruichi about designing her wedding dress.
Okay, maybe he just bugged the hell out of me. Still, who cares so much about a damn dress? It makes no sense…
Once she had come back inside, Orihime had been quite entertaining as well. Though something was clearly bothering her, he had laughed heartily with the group as she retold the stories of their invasion of the Seireitei.
Of course, Tatsuki had made plenty of sarcastic remarks concerning everything from his naiveté, to his 'goofy-lovesick-grin'.
Rolling his eyes, he smirked. Yoruichi had responded well to those comments, each earning him a pleased kiss.
Bring it on, Tats. All of your crap just gets me more attention from my fiancé.
Fiancé. Kami, I can't wait to say 'wife'.
Hearing his hollow spirit question his masculinity, Ichigo once more rolled his eyes.
At least Yoruichi doesn't have to worry about a pain-in-the-ass inner spirit…
Wind whistled lowly amidst barren tree limbs, the gentle breeze a small comfort for the crimson haired woman standing within Yoruichi Shihoin's inner world.
Staring at the endless tangle of limbs before her, Juryoku smiled deviously at the images within her mind.
Yoruichi had just returned to Kisuke Urahara's training basement with Ichigo, the pair decompressing after a long day of explanations and embarrassing situations.
Her wielder had been quite adamant about having the time to reconnect with Ichigo not only physically, but emotionally. They had been through quite a traumatic series of days, and they deserved the time it took to recapture the magic of their romance.
She could understand that. Sort of…
Juryoku understood the real reason behind the delay. Though she thought it to be unequivocally stupid, she could understand it. There were things that Ichigo needed to know, deserved to know, before they ever finalized a marriage, and her idiot of a wielder still worried about what his reactions would be.
If there was one thing that Ichigo Kurosaki had proven, it was unconditional love. The boy oozed sincerity, and did everything he could to have her understand the depth and blindness of his love. There were no qualms, no reservations, just acceptance and passion.
Raw, inexperienced, eager passion.
Mmm, maybe not so inexperienced.
The romance between them had been incredible, their chemistry undeniable. Ichigo and Yoruichi had established a clear, long-lasting love that could be bent, but not broken long ago.
And they had clearly reestablished that the first morning they had awakened next to each other.
Juryoku was no fool, she could feel the faint wisps of jealousy, the hints of hesitance her wielder had at the notion of letting her kiss Ichigo. Hell, the fire that had been kindled by the arrancar named Tier had been consuming enough, but now to willingly share him with another?
Sure, it was too much. Well, it could be, if the 'other' wasn't an actual part of herself. Juryoku had still waited, still watched everything from within her wielder's mind, awaiting the moment that Yoruichi finally met her part of their agreement; and recalled the truth of their spiritual bond.
Days, it had been. Days of waiting through gentle kisses, of loving caresses, of lovemaking so passionate that Juryoku had been left panting. Days of sensual frolicking, of romantic and sexual rendezvous…
Coming back to the present, Juryoku looked to her hand in shock. In her fevered daydreams, she had inadvertently ripped a large limb from the tree that she stood upon.
This had gone on for far too long. The zanpakuto spirit was slightly worried about what she would actually do to her wielder's betrothed once unleashed, and that worry only grew with each passing moment.
Being a part of Yoruichi, the needs of her wielder were naturally needs of her own. Needs that went unmet, untamed, and only exacerbated with each encounter with Yoruichi's beloved.
"The time has come, Yoruichi," she called aloud, knowing that her wielder heard her. Feeling a pull to the outside world, she continued quickly.
"You will do well to remember that you are the one who has kept me from what is mine for so long, and to remember that though I am separate, I am truly a part of your whole."
Rolling her eyes at the waves of confusion and alarm that arose from Yoruichi, Juryoku knew that the old cliche held merit.
Sometimes it was better to ask forgiveness, than permission.
So this was a fun chapter to write. I wanted it to be lighter, especially with how heavy its been lately. For those who want a wedding and done, sorry. After seeing Yoruichi's true form in the manga, there's no way this could finished just yet!
Thank you all for being so great, well, those who aren't being incredibly rude with personal attacks. I appreciate all of your interest in the story, and it's flattering how attached to the characters many of you get. More to come, but that's all for now. Thanks!