Author Notes: Happy New Year, everyone! Enjoy a small offering of one of my favourite Bleach pairings :)
Warnings: Spoilers for Episode 303 (Real World and Shinigami! The New Year Special!).
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
Orihime Inoue woke up on New Year's Day with a bright smile on her face.
Exactly one year ago, she had started this day knowing she would be all alone since her friends would be with their respective families. Thanks to bumping into Rukia and Renji however, that day had still turned out to be a wonderful one.
Rukia had dragged them to Urahara's shop where they had fun pounding rice and playing games. Urahara had lent Orihime and Rukia beautiful kimono to wear after their clothes got dirty. Later that night, when they visited the deserted temple to pray for a good year, they had been joined by Ichigo, Ishida and Sado, thanks to Renji.
Orihime's smile widened. This year, it would be even better. Her friends would spend the morning with their respective families, but had promised to meet up with her after lunch. They would all go to Urahara's shop to hang out and enjoy a barbeque.
Last year, she, Rukia and Renji had turned up at Urahara's shop unannounced - and uninvited - but Orihime was determined not to go empty handed this time. She went to get washed up and dressed before kneeling at the small altar with the photograph of Sora, her cherished older brother. She lit a joss stick, placed it in the holder and bowed her head in prayer.
"Happy New Year, onii-chan. I have a feeling this year will be even better than last year. I'll be sure to do my best!"
Sora's photo seemed to smile at her and Orihime took that as a good sign.
After a simple breakfast, she went shopping for the ingredients to make daifuku, glutinous rice cakes stuffed with sweet red bean paste. She still loved coming up with unconventional recipes by pairing red bean paste and savoury dishes, but well, today was New Year's Day. It was auspicious to start the new year with something sweet. Besides, Orihime knew her friends' tastebuds weren't as adventurous as hers.
If she were truly honest with herself, she wanted to see Ichigo eat something she had made, not with resignation, but with true enjoyment.
- o -
The morning flew by. Before Orihime knew it, it was time to pack her daifuku, get dressed, and meet her friends. Ishida had whipped up kimonos for each of them last week for this special day. Orihime was delighted with hers, done in salmon pink with little white flowers. It was modern and not as elaborate as a formal kimono, but still warm enough for the cold weather and very comfortable to wear.
First stop was Tatsuki's house. The front door opened before she could knock and there was her best friend, dressed in a dark blue kimono.
"Tatsuki-chan, Happy New Year!" Orihime cried and hugged her, mindful of the bag of daifuku she carried. When they separated, she looked Tatsuki up and down, hands clasped under her chin. "You look so pretty, you should wear kimono more often!"
Tatsuki tried to push her hands in the pockets of her jeans, realised she wasn't wearing them, and rolled her eyes instead.
"I'm only wearing this because you and Rukia promised to wear the same," she said and grinned. "You look great. Happy New Year, Orihime!"
Orihime laughed. Ishida had wanted to make a kimono for Tatsuki too, but she declined, saying her mother had already given her more kimonos than she could wear in a lifetime.
Chattering happily, the two friends made their way to the meeting point. Renji and Rukia were already there, waving at them and looking as excited as Orihime felt. Rukia's kimono was a light purple while Renji's was a dark red. Orihime had to admit Ishida had a keen eye, the colours suited the two Shinigami perfectly.
The next to arrive were Ishida dressed in white and light blue, and Sado in rich brown.
Ichigo rushed up a few moments later, apologising as his father had tackled him before allowing him to leave home. Ichigo's kimono was in a warm brown hue matched his eye colour exactly. Orihime found herself blushing as he smiled at her and wished her a Happy New Year, his eyes glowing with approval.
They thanked Ishida for his New Year gifts again, grinning as he pushed his glasses higher up and airily brushed off their praises for something 'that took no effort at all', his thin cheeks pink with pleasure.
- o -
Urahara and Yoruichi greeted their guests warmly. Amid New Year salutations, Urahara thanked Orihime for her daifuku, and Tatsuki for her mum's dango. Everyone was in high spirits, even Jinta who kept his grumbling to a minimum. They took turns at the ceremonial rice pounding to make mochi, a traditional rice cake.
Orihime and Rukia were amused to note that Renji stayed well away when it was Ururu's turn to wield the wooden pestle. He stayed even further away when Jinta and Ururu brought out wooden paddles and a colourful shuttlecock for hanetsuki, a traditional game similar to badminton, but without the net.
"Would you play with me, Abarai-san?" Ururu asked.
"Ah, I'll pass. Thanks," Renji muttered.
Ururu asked a few more times, but despite her soft voice and puppy dog eyes, Renji refused to oblige, mindful of what had happened last year. He scowled at Orihime and Rukia for snickering at him.
Ichigo had no compunction playing against Ururu and gave as good as he got with the others cheering them on. It was a wonder the wooden paddles and shuttlecock didn't disintegrate from the force they were put through. He held back when Rukia played against him and held back even more when it was Orihime's turn, a gesture she appreciated very much.
After everyone had a turn to play, they rested and enjoyed tea and freshly made mochi thanks to Tessai together with Orihime and Tatsuk'i's treats. Orihime hugged herself in glee when Ichigo polished off two pieces of her daifuku without prompting.
Getting dinner ready was a lively affair. Urahara not only had everything needed for a barbeque, he had spared no expense on the food either. As they all helped to clean tables and utensils, wash vegetables and slice meat, Orihime could not remember a time when she had enjoyed herself so much.
The barbeque was held in the open yard beside the shouten. It was a success with everyone's appetite sharpened by the cold air, exercise and delicious aroma of grilled meats. Urahara and Yoruichi were in high spirits, keeping up a constant banter that had the rest of them in stitches. Tessai was his silent, unobtrusive self, keeping the drinks and food flowing while the others enjoyed themselves.
It wasn't until Orihime and her friends got up to leave that Tessai brought out a birthday cake and set it down on the table with a flourish.
"A birthday cake for Yoruichi-dono whose birthday was yesterday, and the boss whose birthday is today," he announced with great ceremony.
Urahara and Yoruichi beamed happily as they accepted congratulations and implored their guests to eat some of the cake before leaving.
It was an hour to midnight by the time their guests thanked them and left, protesting that they had eaten way too much. The guys talked of sleeping it off while the girls and Ishida declared they would go on diets the very next day.
By silent agreement, they made their way to the temple. Most of them had already gone there earlier in the day, but no one minded a second visit.
It was a very cold night, but Orihime was happy. She had spent today in the company of her dear friends, especially Ichigo Kurosaki. She could not ask for anything more than this, she thought to herself as she rubbed her hands together.
"Are you alright, Inoue?"
Startled from her thoughts, Orihime looked at Ichigo on her right and nodded quickly.
"I'm fine, Kurosaki-kun. Just forgot to bring my gloves, that's all," she explained with a smile.
Startled, her gaze dropped to see Ichigo's left kimono clad arm held out towards her, gloved hand palm up and fingers outstretched. Her eyes flew back to his, breath catching in her throat.
It was an invitation. One that was echoed in his eyes, one that she wasn't about to refuse.
Not now. Not after all they had gone through and the numerous times she thought she would lose this man. She knew she was smiling foolishly, but she didn't care as she laid her hand in Ichigo's palm, seeing those long fingers curl around her much smaller hand with a sense of wonder.
He had held her hand before, of course. More than once, but those were life and death situations.. while this was not. It might be detrimental to her heart though, it was pounding so fast!
"Better?" Ichigo was staring at her with those brown eyes that were so intense, she swore they could see right down to her very soul.
"Mhm hm!" Orihime nodded vigorously, beaming and feeling as toasty warm as if she was sitting right by a fire.
"Good." Ichigo's gaze lightened, his lips quirking in a tiny smile before he looked straight ahead.
A part of Orihime wanted to squeal and skip about in glee, but she forced herself to continue walking at a sedate pace beside Ichigo, the man she would give her life for.
She would stay by his side for as long as he would let her, and the promise of that strong hand clasping hers told her that it would be a very long time.
Orihime smiled, her eyes shining like a thousand stars.
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed it, please leave a review. The sequel to this is A Happy Valentine's Day :)