Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! This story continues from A Happy White Day so it will make more sense if you've read that one. Japan is famous for hanami or cherry blossom viewing in the Spring. Details on hanami were sourced from / . /en/1202_sakurahanami. Enjoy :)
Warnings: Fluff. And maybe a craving to see the magnificent cherry blossoms in person by the end of this story :)
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
Orihime Inoue woke up to early morning sunlight filtering through her bedroom curtains. She sat upright and smiled, stretching her arms high above her head. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day - perfect for hanami!
Spring had arrived in Japan and the famed sakura or cherry trees were in radiant bloom. As the flowers would only last a week or so, the main topic of conversation in Karakura High turned from chocolates to picnics. Animated discussions were held between lessons and during lunch breaks on which parks had the best or the most number of sakura trees, how crowded they would be this coming weekend, how early the prime spots would be booked, and what food and drink were best for such outings.
When Rukia returned from Soul Society a few days ago, Orihime found out she had no idea what hanami was. She and the other girls lost no time in bringing Rukia up to speed during lunch break. Ishida contributed bits of history and notable places while the other guys were content to just eat and listen. Thanks to Rukia's wide eyed delight and almost childlike enthusiasm, the topic soon turned to planning a hanami picnic on Saturday to show her what she had missed out on.
The next day, Rukia came to school with a wide grin on her face and an invitation from Urahara who was planning his own picnic at the local park on Sunday, which was today. He assured her he had everything needed for a picnic such as straw mats, disposable cutlery and such; but any food or drink they cared to bring would be much appreciated.
Humming a happy tune, Orihime went to get washed up and dressed. Yesterday's girls-only picnic had been fun, but today's would be even better with Urahara's group, Ichigo, Ishida, Sado, Rukia and herself. Rukia had promised to bring Renji along even if she had to drag him all the way from Soul Society.
Orihime knelt at the small altar with the photo of Sora. She lit a joss stick, placed it in the holder and bowed her head in prayer.
"Good morning, onii-chan! I have another hanami picnic today with my friends and I'm sure it'll be even better than yesterday's!"
One of her most cherished memories was of Sora bringing her to the playground when she was small. He would push her on one of the swings for hours while she laughed and gazed up at the thick clusters of sakura flowers overhead. He was her whole world then and she was devastated when he died.
For a moment, Orihime's smile dimmed before it brightened again. She was no longer alone now. She had a group of firm friends which included a tall, orange haired boy whom she thought about every single day.
"So everything is fine, onii-chan," she said, smiling at the photo. "Please don't worry about me."
She bowed again before getting to her feet, long amber hair swinging around her. For yesterday's picnic, she had brought a pizza topped with red bean paste and cheese, something the girls had teased her over, but gamely consumed. For today, she planned to make sakuramochi, rice cakes filled with red bean paste and wrapped in salted cherry blossom leaves. It was a traditional Japanese sweet enjoyed during cherry blossom season... and one she hoped Ichigo would enjoy.
- o -
Ichigo woke up early as well, but didn't get out of bed immediately. He turned onto his back, placed his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling, lips turning down as yesterday's event came back to him.
The Kurosakis always visited Masaki's grave on the anniversary of her death in June as well as during hanami. The local cemetery boasted a small park with benches and a few sakura trees. In the spring, families would hold picnics there while the breeze scattered fragrant petals over the surrounding graves of their loved ones.
Ichigo's scowl deepened. Just like past years, Goat Face had gotten maudlin halfway through and jumped up to make a loud speech to the other picnickers about how big his three children had grown and how proud he and his beloved Masaki were of all of them. The spectacle included tears streaming down his face, arms flung wide and enthusiastic demands for family group hugs. As usual, Karin had scowled and ignored him with arms folded across her chest, soft hearted Yuzu had started sobbing for their mother, and Ichigo had just sat there with tightly clenched jaw and even tighter fists, barely holding himself back from tackling their dad just to make him shut up.
He was pulled from his thoughts by a knock on the door.
"Onii-chan, are you awake? Breakfast is ready. I'll heat up the leftover stew soon."
"Ah, thank you, Yuzu," Ichigo replied and sat up, running a hand through his hair. He wouldn't think about yesterday's picnic anymore. Only today's and the main reason he was looking forward to it.
Just the thought of her made him smile and he was pretty sure it was a goofy one. Kneeling on the bed, he slid the window open all the way and took a deep breath of the cool morning air.
Ever since White Day, he had been aware of Inoue in a way he hadn't been before. He found himself searching for her as soon as he reached school, found his hearing more sensitive to the sound of her voice, his senses more attuned to her presence than anyone else's. Even when he sat down at his desk to finish his homework after dinner, he would first reach out - very carefully - with his reiatsu to sense hers, making sure she was safe at home before doing the same for Rukia (if she were in town), Ishida, Sado, Tatsuki and even Keigo.
Without warning, his bedroom door crashed open. Using his well honed reflexes, Ichigo lunged to one side as Isshin sailed into the room and out the window, crashing into the conveniently planted bushes below.
"Argh! I didn't expect you to be awake already, Ichigo!"
Growling to himself, Ichigo slammed his window shut and stalked off to the bathroom. Goat Face's antics were always wilder than usual the day after visiting the cemetery which was exasperating to say the least. Ichigo wanted to finish off his homework before the picnic since that would only start at noon.
However, after the man - leaves still stuck in his hair and beard - charged into the kitchen to tackle him again at breakfast, Ichigo decided homework could very well wait until tonight. Leaving their father groaning on the floor where he had crashed headfirst into the wall, Ichigo put on his shoes, accepted the large thermos of chicken stew from Yuzu and pretended he didn't hear her sunny reminder to 'Please bring Orihime-nee-san home for dinner soon!'
- o -
Ichigo reached the park around ten thirty to find it already crowded with people. Colourful picnic sheets and tatami mats were spread out on the ground at every conceivable space, placed two feet apart to allow people to move around. The sakura trees were in full bloom, their branches thick with flowers. The cool air was filled with the delicate fragrance of the blossoms as well as chatter and laughter.
Ichigo looked around, his frown deepening. He realised he had no idea where their group was, only that Urahara had planned to claim a prime spot. Turning around in a slow circle, he tried to spot a familiar face in the crowd, but failed.
Well, there was an easier method to do so. Closing his eyes, he focused on the sea of minimal reiatsu around him... until a bright and familiar glow caught his attention. He turned to his right and opened his eyes, a smile tugging at his lips as someone waved at him from the centre of the park where the biggest trees were.
Ichigo lifted a hand in acknowledgement and started making his way there.
"Inoue," he greeted as he toed off his sneakers and stepped onto the rug, the cushiony feel hinting at thick tatami mats underneath for comfort and warmth. The rug measured almost three metres across, big enough for all of their group including food and drinks. "Why are you alone? Where's everyone else?"
Inoue beamed at him as she accepted the heavy thermos and set it down among an assortment of paper bags and containers. She wore blue jeans and a pink sweater patterned with sakura flowers, her clothes and bright hair a sharp contrast against the dark green rug.
"Well, Urahara-san and Yoruichi-san were here since six! Tessai-san, Jinta-kun and Ururu-chan relieved them at eight. Rukia and I were here at ten, but Renji didn't turn up so Rukia went back to Soul Society to get him."
"Yes. Sado-kun and Ishida-kun will be here at eleven. Urahara-san and the others will bring the rest of the things by noon. So it's... uhm... it's just us. For now."
Inoue blushed and quickly busied herself arranging the containers.
Ichigo sat cross legged in front of her after sweeping aside a few white, pink and red flowers that had fallen. A slightly awkward silence descended and he cast about for something to say.
"So, is all of that food?" he asked, pointing to the containers.
Inoue's head jerked up and she smiled, looking relieved that he had spoken.
"Yup! Well, not all of it I think, since the others haven't arrived yet. This one is from Yoruichi-san." She peeled off the seal of a large paper bag and peeked inside, pink lips forming an 'o' of surprise.
"It's full of hanami bento!" She took out a box and showed it to Ichigo. "Look, isn't it pretty?"
Ichigo nodded. The box was peach coloured with a transparent cover. Inside was a beautiful arrangement of flower shaped onigiri or rice balls, decorated with carrot flowers.
Inoue kept back the box and pointed to two large thermos jugs.
"Tessai-san made hot tea and miso soup. Urahara-san brought disposable containers, cutlery and napkins. Tatsuki will bring dango, Ishida and Sado mandarin oranges and strawberries, and Rukia promised to stop by a convenience store to get something. Oh, and this is my contribution, sakuramochi!"
She lifted the cover of a square container to reveal neat rows of tiny pink cakes, each half wrapped in a leaf.
Ichigo raised an eyebrow at her.
"That's a traditional dessert," he said gravely. "What happened to one of your special creations?"
Inoue laughed again as she closed the box.
"You know me too well, Kurosaki-kun! Not everyone enjoys my uh, creations, but I guess everyone knows how much I love red bean paste!"
"Yeah, you even put some in the Valentine chocolates you made for me."
Inoue's eyes snapped to his.
"Yes, I did," she said softly.
"They were very good," Ichigo said in a low voice.
"Thank you," Inoue said, cheeks turning pink again.
Another silence fell, heavy with unvoiced thoughts. Then the breeze picked up and more flowers fell onto their rug. Inoue tipped her head back to look at the gently falling blossoms. She reached out and caught one on the palm of her hand before turning to him, smiling.
"Isn't this the most perfect blossom you've ever seen, Kurosaki-kun?"
Ichigo leaned forward to give the flower a cursory glance before looking at her again.
"It is. Almost as perfect as you." The words were out almost before he realised he had spoken.
"Oh." Inoue stared at him, grey eyes wide and lips parted in surprise.
A jumble of words danced on the tip of Ichigo's tongue, each one fighting to be voiced first.
They both jerked back somewhat guiltily before turning around. Urahara, Tessai, Jinta and Ururu were approaching them with Yoruichi perched on Urahara's shoulder in her feline form. Behind them were Tatsuki, Ishida, Sado, Rukia and Renji, all of them carrying bags.
After the flurry of greetings and laughter, everyone sat down on the rug which was just big enough to hold all of them comfortably. The picnic got underway with Urahara passing out the bento boxes and Yoruichi waving aside the thanks she received. Tessai poured out cups of hot miso soup and the conversation soon turned to how good everything tasted and how sweet the fruit and pastries were.
- o -
A few hours later...
Orihime felt like she hadn't stopped smiling once today. Everyone was in a good mood, teasing and bantering. There were lots of food to go around and she ate until she couldn't eat another bite, her sides aching with laughter.
She was in the company of her friends with Ichigo seated beside her. Sakura flowers fell on them like a gentle blessing from the skies. No one minded when their food or drink were garnished with petals.
As the afternoon grew late, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. Those who had brought coats, jackets and gloves started putting them on. The others just sat closer and rubbed their hands for warmth. Tessai excused himself and strode off with the two empty thermos jugs, followed by Jinta and Ururu. Yoruichi decided it was too cold to stay out and promptly jumped inside Urahara's coat with just her head and ears sticking out, the man's half hearted protests about her sharp claws making the rest of them snicker.
They watched a spectacular sunset from across the river, the water sparkling with a thousand diamonds until the very last rays disappeared from view. There was a pause... and then the lanterns strung from the tree trunks came on, turning the park into a fairy wonderland.
Like the others, Orihime ooh'd and ahh'd at the sight. Leaning into Ichigo's side, she was grateful for his body heat and even more grateful when he didn't move away, but leaned even closer. She gave a happy sigh, ignored Tatsuki's smile and only sat up when Tessai returned, Jinta and Ururu trotting behind him with armfuls of blankets.
"How'd you all get back so fast?" Tatsuki asked with in surprise. "The shoten isn't that near."
"Oh, Tessai-san has his ways," Urahara replied with a quick wink. The others grinned at each other. Tessai was a kido master; it wouldn't surprise them if he knew of a teleportation kido.
Tessai stayed silent, but looked pleased as he poured out another round of piping hot, fragrant miso soup. Ururu passed around the blankets and apologised that they would have to share. Ishida declined one, having wrapped himself in a knitted white blanket with blue cross embroidered on it.
Ichigo accepted a blanket and shook it out before handing Orihime one of its corners.
"Here, hold this tight."
Orihime grasped it and Ichigo swung the blanket over their heads, letting it drape across both their backs. It smelled clean and Orihime sent Tessai a grateful smile as she pulled it closer around her.
Orihime turned to see Ichigo's eyes on her, warm and intense. When she nodded, his lips quirked in a tiny smile.
Orihime smiled back before looking at the happy faces around her. Renji and Rukia were also sharing a blanket as they sipped hot miso. She then tipped her head up to look at the colourful lanterns strung in the trees.
Her heart felt full as she stored this precious memory with the others already nestled there. There were more to come, she was sure of it.
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! Please leave a review if you enjoyed. The sequel to this is A Happy Children's Day :)