Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! This story continues from A Happy Hanami Day so it will make more sense if you've read that one. I meant to post this story last week since Children's Day falls on May 5, but couldn't get it ready on time. Children's Day is another of Japan's national holidays. Details were sourced from Wiki, but any mistakes here are my own. Enjoy :)
Warnings: Fluff. And maybe a wish to hang up some koinobori by the end of this story :)
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
A pair of brown eyes blinked open before sliding over to the open window beside the bed. Ichigo Kurosaki stared at the long pole outside with five long and colourful koinobori or carp streamers tied to it, fluttering in the breeze.
Koinobori were hung outside homes and schools, at parks and almost everywhere in Japan to celebrate Kodomo no hi or Children's Day. It marked the end of Golden Week in Japan which consisted of four national holidays very close to each other - Showa Day on April 29, Constitution Day on May 3, Green Day on May 4 and Children's Day on May 5.
Most companies and schools were closed during this period. Ichigo appreciated the week long holiday, but he could have done without the carp streamers outside his window. After all, Children's Day celebrated children's happiness and personality; neither he, Karin nor Yuzu qualified as such for a few years now.
Unfortunately, their father still persisted in the tradition of hanging the streamers outside their home each year. Despite his misgivings, Ichigo had found himself precariously balanced on his bedroom windowsill last week, putting life and limb on the line while Isshin yelled unhelpful instructions from below with his hands cupped around his mouth. Even Karin and Yuzu who had initially protested against the streamers had gotten into the spirit of things and stood beside their father, chipping in with, "You're gonna fall if you hang out any further, Ichi-nii!" and "Oh, do be careful, onii-chan!"
Sitting up, Ichigo swung his feet to the floor and glared at his bedroom door. No doubt Goat Face would come crashing through it any second now to ambush him before trampling all over his bed to admire the streamers, and then rushing back downstairs to wail to Masaki's poster about how pleased Ichigo had been to hang them up, and how big their children had grown.
The man was nothing if not consistent.
Right on cue, the bedroom door banged open. Ichigo dropped lightly to the floor, allowing Isshin to sail over his head and out the window.
The resultant crash from below was followed by a cheerful shout.
"Well, what're you waiting for? Your two sisters are ready to go out!"
"Yeah, yeah." Ichigo got up and went to close his window, pausing as the streamers caught his eye once more. The largest one at the top of the pole was black and represented the father. The next and second largest was red and represented the mother (Goat Face insisted it should still be hung up each year). The third was orange for Ichigo and then yellow for Karin and pink for Yuzu.
As always, the sight of that red streamer gave Ichigo a pang. He turned away from the window and strode off to the bathroom to get washed up.
- o -
After a simple breakfast of toast, eggs and coffee, Ichigo accompanied Karin and Yuzu to town. Both girls were in high spirits and eager to spend their pocket money.
Their first stop was the local park where hundreds of colourful streamers hung overhead on rows and rows of wire, contrasting nicely with the cloudless blue sky. As Karin and Yuzu darted from stall to stall selling miniature streamers and souvenirs, snacks and ice cream, Ichigo looked around for his friends.
Inoue and the others hadn't just brought Rukia up to speed on Hanami Day, but also the holidays for this past week. Ichigo hadn't been surprised when Rukia exclaimed over Children's Day the most. He had teased her about still being a child and that resulted in the bruise that was still visible on his arm.
There she was, waving at him from across the park together with Renji. Both were in their gigai form and laden with shopping bags.
"About time you came," Renji grumbled. "Rukia's been buying out the stalls for her nii-sama."
Rukia turned pink and glared at him.
"Who bought a big pack of seaweed flavoured snacks for his captain then?"
Renji's sputtering made Ichigo chuckle.
"What's so funny?" Ishida wanted to know as he walked up with Sado beside him.
Ichigo opened his mouth to explain only to close it again when Inoue ran towards them from across the park.
"Hello, everyone! Sorry I'm late!"
As always, the sight of Inoue's cheerful smile and bright eyes made Ichigo's heart skip a beat. She was wearing a peach knee length dress with a white cardigan over it and looked as pretty as a picture.
Renji started rattling off a list of what they had bought for Ishida and Sado's benefit. Karin and Yuzu appeared, munching on chimaki, sweet rice paste wrapped in bamboo leaf and steamed.
"Ichi-nii, we're meeting our schoolmates and will have lunch with them," Karin said.
"So you don't have to wait for us," Yuzu added.
"Alright, take care and don't stay out too late," Ichigo told them.
The twins waved at the others, but greeted Inoue with beaming smiles. They praised her Valentine's Day chocolates which they had only gotten a small taste of since their big brother had hoarded the rest for himself.
With a laughing glance at an embarrassed Ichigo, Inoue thanked them graciously and promised to make more. To Ichigo's increasing alarm - Rukia, Renji, Ishida and even Sado were avidly listening in - Karin asked Inoue how were the White Day chocolates they had helped Ichigo make. Inoue laughed and replied they were her favourite and thanked them for their help.
"Alright, alright," Ichigo cut in, scowling at his sisters. "Your friends are waiting. Go on."
They just grinned at him and turned back to Inoue.
"Do come over for dinner soon, Inoue-san," Yuzu said. "I'm sure onii-chan has forgotten to invite you like we asked."
"Oh, thank you so much! Please call me Orihime."
"Then we'll see you soon, Orihime-nee-san!"
Ichigo's scowl deepened, but Karin and Yuzu just waved cheerfully at all of them before darting off. Aware that everyone was wearing amused smirks and that Inoue's face was pink with pleasure, he cleared his throat.
"So, uh, what're everyone's plans for today?"
"Urahara's shoten for lunch," Rukia replied at once.
Ichigo frowned at her.
"Do you really think we should?" he asked. "Urahara-san already treated us to a barbecue on New Year's Day and invited us to join his hanami picnic last month."
Renji just rolled his eyes and lifted one of his bags.
"He already told us to invite you all. We've been helping him buy the ingredients for hot pot."
"Not everything here is for Byakuya-nii-sama, you know," Rukia added in a reproving tone. She raised her eyebrows at Renji who was trying to mask his snort as a cough.
"Well, what do you all think?" Ishida asked. "I'm quite free today."
Sado nodded his agreement.
"And I made kashiwa-mochi this morning," Inoue said happily, lifting a paper bag she carried. It was another traditional snack for Children's Day, made from glutinous rice flour, filled with red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves.
Ichigo couldn't help smiling at that. He had never realised just how many Japanese desserts and snacks had red bean paste in them, but Inoue seemed to know them all.
"Alright, I'm in," he decided.
"Good. My arms are about to fall off," Renji told him.
Without a word, Sado took both bags off his hands.
"We still have a few more items left to get," Rukia added, consulting a piece of paper in her hand.
"But we've bought so much already!" Renji complained, massaging his cramped fingers.
"Why are you complaining?" Ishida asked with a raised eyebrow. "I seem to recall you always eat the most."
"I do not!"
- o -
An hour later...
The first thing that caught Ichigo's eye when they reached Urahara's shoten was a tall pole with five streamers hanging from it. He wasn't aware that he had stopped walking until someone bumped into his back.
Startled, Ichigo swung around to see Inoue rubbing her nose.
"Oops, my bad, Inoue. Are you alright?" he apologised awkwardly.
"Oh, I'm fine!" She gave him a quick smile despite her pink nose.
Urahara, Yoruichi and Tessai came out of the shop. The former two welcomed their guests with big smiles, and the latter nodded at them, plucked the groceries from their hands and called for Jinta and Ururu.
"Come on in, everyone," Yoruichi invited. "Many hands make light work!"
The others followed her inside, but Ichigo's eyes were drawn to the streamers again. Jinta and Ururu were children, but Urahara didn't need to put up those streamers... unless they had insisted?
"Something wrong, Kurosaki-san?"
Ichigo glanced at Urahara who stood beside him.
"Why'd you put those up?" he asked, jerking his chin at the koinobori.
Urahara pushed back the brim of his green bucket hat, looking a bit surprised.
"You're not married - uh, I mean, Jinta and Ururu aren't your real children," Ichigo clarified with a wince, hoping his words weren't as rude as they sounded.
Urahara smiled, not seeming to take offense.
"But it's because I'm not married that I consider them as well as Yoruichi-san and Tessai-san my family. Hence, the streamers."
Ichigo's forehead wrinkled.
"So... the black carp is you, the red is Yoruichi-san and the dark blue is Tessai-san?"
"That's right." Urahara snapped open his fan and placed it over the lower part of his face.
Ichigo's frown deepened.
"So... you and Yoruichi-san are a couple?" he blurted out before turning red. "Sorry, I just wondered."
Urahara's grey eyes showed gentle amusement as he inclined his head in answer.
"Ah," Ichigo mumbled.
After a moment of silence, Urahara spoke again.
"Do you have koinobori hung up at your home too, Kurosaki-san?"
"Yeah, Goat Face insists on the same old thing each year even though my sisters and I have outgrown them."
There was a moment of silence before Urahara tipped back his hat a bit more and looked at the streamers.
"Your father may have hidden secrets from his children, but he's never hidden his pride at being a father. And while I can't speak for him, I would always want to celebrate Jinta-kun and Ururu-chan's personalities and happiness no matter their age."
Ichigo stared at him, startled, but Urahara didn't say anything more.
Rukia and Renji came out of the shoten, holding a pole and a handful of streamers. Rukia insisted on setting them up with a large grey one to represent Byakuya, a smaller brown one for Renji and a purple one for herself. Renji was adamant the red one was his until he learned of its significance and subsided, his face taking on the same colour.
Looking around at Ishida, Sado and Inoue who had come out to see what was going on, Urahara added three more streamers to the pole - a light blue one despite Ishida's sputtering protests, a brown one which got the thumbs up sign from Sado, and a pink one which made Inoue smile. Then he grinned at them and clapped his hands.
"Well then. Let's all go back inside before Yoruichi-san decides we don't get a share of that hot pot!"
- o -
The shabu shabu or hot pot was one of the best meals Orihime had ever tasted. Of course, anything eaten in the company of Ichigo Kurosaki was delicious, but there was something special about sharing a meal with a big group of friends, especially one they had all chipped in to prepare.
The large simmering pot of broth made it a bit too warm to eat indoors so they set up a big round table in front of the shoten. It was midday, but the weather was still cool enough to make it enjoyable. Tessai's miso broth was light at the start of the meal and turned rich and flavourful after all the meat, seafood and vegetables had been cooked in it.
Orihime found herself seated beside Ichigo. She was pleasantly surprised when he placed choice pieces of food in her bowl during the meal, nodding at her murmured thanks as if it was something he did everyday.
The others noticed, but beyond a smile or two, said nothing. Renji even followed suit after a while, something which earned him a frown from Rukia and a hissed, "I can serve myself." She only relented when Renji jerked his chin at Ichigo who pretended not to notice.
Looking at the familiar happy faces around the table, blowing on their food and enjoying each bite, Orihime hugged herself in glee and did the same.
After lunch was cleared away, Tessai served hot tea, home made chimaki and Orihime's kashiwa-mochi. Despite the hearty lunch, everyone tucked in again, exchanging banter about who had eaten the most. Orihime beamed when Ichigo helped himself to her dessert and pronounced it delicious, his brown eyes showing he meant every word.
They finally left the shoten in the late afternoon. Rukia and Renji returned to Soul Society with a bagful of goodies for Byakuya, while Ishida and Sado headed off to their respective homes. Inoue found herself walking home with Ichigo.
"That was very nice of Urahara-san to invite us for lunch," she said after a while. "And nicer still to put up koinobori for Ishida-kun, Sado-kun and myself."
Ichigo glanced at her.
"Didn't you have them when you were younger?"
"Mmm hmm!" Orihime nodded, linking her fingers together. "Sora-nii-chan used to hang them up every year when he was alive, but... well, it always seemed a bit sad to me because we only had two streamers - a big blue one for him and a small pink one for me."
Ichigo nodded solemnly and pushed his hands in his trouser pockets.
"Well, you'd better not mention that when you come over for dinner," he said. "Otherwise my dad will hang another streamer just for you, Children's Day or not."
He rolled his eyes a bit as he said that, but didn't look too annoyed. Orihime laughed, thrilled that he had brought up the subject of dinner despite looking none too pleased earlier when his sisters invited her.
"Oh, I think it would be wonderful to see my streamer next to yours, Kurosaki-kun!"
When he stopped walking to look at her, she clapped a hand to her mouth and blushed. That had sounded so presumptuous! She opened her mouth to apologise, but with those intense brown eyes gazing into hers, all she could picture was a pole with a large black carp for him and a smaller red one for her. And below that would be a much smaller one in...
Orihime blinked and realised she had spaced out. She laughed in embarrassment, hands fluttering before her.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Kurosaki-kun! Did you say something?"
"Yes. But first, call me Ichigo."
Orihime stared at him, lips parted in surprise as something warm filled her from head to toe.
"O-only if you call me Orihime," she managed.
Ichigo's lips quirked in a half smile.
"Alright. Are you feeling cold, Orihime?"
Orihime felt her breath catch in her throat.
"No," she managed. Then she glanced down and saw his hand outstretched towards her, waiting.
"Oh! Oh yes, my hand is cold... Ichigo-kun," she said and placed her hand in his.
They walked hand in hand for the rest of the way to her home. Ichigo didn't say anything else, but Orihime didn't stop smiling for a single moment. Her hand was warm in Ichigo's large one and her eyes were alight with happiness.
This... was one of her brightest memories yet!
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! Please leave a review if you enjoyed. The sequel to this is A Happy Father's Day :)