Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! This story continues from A Happy Birthday so it will make more sense if you've read that one. I wasn't sure if I could get this story done by today since it was a really tight squeeze, but yay, I did it! Enjoy :)
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
Earlier in the week...
It was lunch break at Karakura High. Ichigo and his friends were having lunch at their usual spot on the rooftop. Rukia and Renji were with them, having received a one week mission in the Living World.
Talk soon turned to the upcoming Awa Odori or dance festival. Rukia was enamoured with the idea of dance festivals held all over Japan from August 12-15, with the most famous one in Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku island. When she declared her intention of going there this coming Sunday, Renji shot Ichigo an 'I knew this was coming' look. Ichigo countered it with a 'Me too' look after Rukia urged him and Orihime to join her and Renji.
As the other girls cooed over the double date, an oblivious Keigo jumped up with an excited 'Yosh, let's all go!' only to slump back down a moment later, mumbling that his sister had already drafted him into playing host to a certain bald guy and his feminine male friend this weekend. Ichigo exchanged amused smirks with Renji, Ishida and Chad, and none of them offered to help Keigo out.
Tatsuki announced that she was going to Tokushima with her family on Sunday too, but her father would drive them there. Since it would take six hours to travel by train to and from Karakura to Tokushima in the south of Japan, Ichigo, Orihime, Rukia and Renji made plans to catch the first train on Sunday morning and return on the last train the same day.
- o -
Early Sunday morning...
"Alright, time to go." Ichigo ruffled his two sisters' hair. "Thanks for making our breakfast, Yuzu. I'll be back at dawn tomorrow morning."
"Have fun, Ichi nii," Karin said. "You're lucky that Goat Face is attending that medical conference and won't be back til tomorrow night."
"Take care of Orihime-nee-san, onii-chan," Yuzu reminded him.
"Yeah, yeah." Ichigo put on his shoes, hugged his two sisters and headed for the train station. It was still dark outside, but the first train was due to leave the station sharp at six.
- o -
The four of them breakfasted on the train - cucumber egg sandwiches from Yuzu and chocolate layer cake sandwiched with red bean paste from Orihime, all washed down with packets of coffee milk. They also brought snacks, drinks, newspapers, books and in house movies to while away the time, but the ride was still a long one.
By midmorning, Orihime had settled closer to Ichigo and closed her eyes with her head pillowed on his arm. He looked across the aisle to see Rukia already fast asleep against Renji's arm. Smiling to himself, Ichigo dropped a kiss on Orihime's shiny hair, dug out his book and began to read.
- o -
The train pulled into Tokushima station and stopped at noon on the dot. The four friends awaited their turn to disembark and exit the station, careful to keep in a group.
Tokushima Prefecture was a riot of colour, sound, music and movement; crowded with dance troupes and spectators from all over Japan. It was a feast for the senses with a lively, festive atmosphere in the air. The main spectacle would take place from six to ten thirty in the evening in blocked off streets of downtown Tokushima. There were six different areas with either paid or free seating, and numerous food and game stalls set up outside these areas.
Since they were leaving on the last train, Ichigo and the others decided not to purchase tickets. There was plenty to see by just wandering around. They took their time, strolling down the streets and watching the colourful costumes and the precise, synchronised dance steps, from the big stomping moves of the male dancers to the smaller graceful steps of the females. Ichigo and Renji were careful to keep a close eye on the girls due to the large crowds watching the performances.
They met Tatsuki at one of the streets and joined her for a while, buying souvenirs and munching on snacks like botchan dango, three differently coloured sweet rice balls on a skewer; red bean, matcha and original. After Tatsuki left with her parents to attend one of the staged performances, the four friends continued walking around, the girls enthusiastically applauding performances and taking pictures of themselves posing with the obliging dancers.
Time flew by and soon, it was evening and they were hungry again. Dinner was a steaming hot bowl of the famous Tokushima ramen at one of the numerous eateries. By the time they finished eating, it was night. The streets were packed with tourists heading for the bus and train stations to return home.
It was a little more difficult to keep together this time. At one point, Orihime and Rukia even lost sight of their boyfriends.
"Good thing they're both so tall," Rukia said, standing on tiptoe and looking around. "I don't think they can even see me!"
Orihime looked around as well, keeping Rukia's hand firmly in hers.
"There they are!" she said, pointing. It was also a very good thing that Ichigo and Renji both had distinctive hair colour. "Ichigo-kun! Abarai-kun!"
The guys jogged over to them with barely hidden looks of relief.
"There's still some time before our train leaves," Renji said. "Let's wait out the crowd for a bit."
"Yes, please!" Rukia sounded relieved not to be pushed around.
They headed for a brightly lit park nearby which boasted a small, open air amphitheatre for holding small plays and concerts. The air was much cooler away from the crowds. One of the smaller dance troupes they had seen earlier was there, attempting to teach the dance steps to a dozen or so foreign tourists.
The four friends sat on the benches to rest their tired feet, but they were soon invited to join in the fun. Ichigo and Renji declined, but the girls jumped up and pulled at their hands until they gave in.
The steps weren't all that difficult after spending an afternoon watching the dancers. It didn't take long to be in sync with the others and it was fun! The males danced in a group first. Orihime, Rukia and the others females were hard pressed not to laugh at the fierce facial expressions which the guys exaggerated for their amusement. Then it was the females' turn where they impressed the males with graceful, synchronised steps.
By now, the cheering and music had attracted the attention of those heading for the train station. Those whose trains were leaving later came over to look and join in the fun.
Being part of a huge group, turning and stepping and twirling in unison was exhilarating and much more enjoyable than just watching. The four friends soon lost track of time and even failed to notice that the crowd had thinned out until at length, the leader of the troupe stopped the music. With a low bow, he apologised for interrupting their fun, but it was time for his dancers to return to their hotel to rest since they still had to perform over the next three days.
The crowd applauded and bowed in return to thank them before starting to disperse. That was when Orihime checked her wristwatch and gasped in shock. The last train to Karakura was due to leave at ten - and that was half an hour ago!
They had missed their ride home... and would miss school tomorrow.
The four of them stared at each other in dismay.
"Well," Orihime said with a brave smile, "uhm, maybe we can catch a bus home instead?"
Ichigo shook his head.
"I overheard a few people saying that the bus tickets were all sold out."
Then Rukia brightened up.
"We could all go back to Seireitei, there's lots of room at Kuchiki Manor!"
Renji had started to nod, but turned pale at the end.
"I vote we look for a hotel here," he suggested hastily. "No need to let Kuchiki Taicho know about this little incident."
And so it was settled. Ignoring their aching feet, they started enquiring at the nearby hotels only to find them all fully booked because of the festival.
After an hour, they finally found a family room available at a small hotel due to a last minute cancellation. Ichigo paid for it using the emergency-only credit card Goat Face had given him a while back and prayed he wouldn't be asked too many questions once he got back. The other three promised to pay him back as soon as they could.
- o -
The room was of average size by Japanese standards with two semi-double beds set against the walls and two feet of carpeted space in between. Rukia tossed her bag on the nearest bed and made a beeline for the bathroom.
"Me first for the shower!"
"I'm going ask the front desk for a hairdryer," Orihime told the guys. "That way, we can can dry our hair after showering without hogging the bathroom."
After she left, Renji plopped himself down on Rukia's bed and gave a wide yawn.
"This is the girls' bed," Ichigo said and jerked his chin at the other placed near the window. "That's ours."
Renji frowned up at him.
When Ichigo shook his head, Renji looked down at the bed and then up at him again.
"It's just four feet wide! If we share it, one of us is going to end up on the floor."
"That's beside the point," Ichigo said.
Renji looked even more surprised.
"Then what is the point?" he asked. "It's not like you and Inoue aren't a couple, right?"
"That's not the point either!"
"Then what is?" Renji looked completely baffled.
Ichigo ran his hands through his hair in frustration. Was Renji being deliberately obtuse?
"Oh, I get it," Renji said with a smirk. "You haven't made any progress with her then?"
Ichigo folded his arms across his chest.
"What about you and Rukia?" he shot back, opting not to answer that question.
Renji scowled at once, face turning the same shade as his hair as he mumbled something about not wanting 'death by Senbonzakura'.
It was Ichigo's turn to smirk as he went to sit on the other bed. Orihime soon returned with a hair dryer, her cheerful smile turning into a puzzled frown when she noticed the guys glaring daggers at each other.
"Why, what happened?" she asked.
"Nothing," Ichigo and Renji chorused at the same time.
Orihime's frown deepened, but no explanation was forthcoming. Then the bathroom door opened and Rukia emerged, dressed in a knee length yukata in pale yellow.
"Here you go, it's battery operated." Orihime proffered the hair dryer.
"Thanks, Inoue. It's your turn now."
As Orihime went inside the bathroom, Rukia sat beside Renji and started drying her hair.
"Rukia, you're sharing a bed with Orihime, right?" Ichigo asked.
"The beds are pretty small so it's better if I share with Renji and you share with her," Rukia replied without batting an eye.
Renji grinned at Ichigo.
"Besides," Rukia contiuned, "Renji will be out like a light."
Renji gave a put on sigh and held out his hand.
"Whatever. Here, pass me that thing."
As he started drying Rukia's hair, Ichigo sat down on the other bed and turned away to give them a bit of privacy. The beds were just a couple of feet apart and their soft conversation only half muffled by the sound of the hair dryer.
When Orihime emerged from the bathroom wearing a similar yellow yukata, Ichigo was immediately distracted by how well she filled it out and how short it was, something he hadn't realised since Rukia was much more petite.
Orihime saw his look and her cheeks, already pink from the hot water, turned a darker shade. She explained that she and Rukia were wearing the two child size yukata provided, leaving the other two adult yukata for the boys. Meanwhile, Renji took the opportunity to dive into the bathroom, saying he needed a longer time to dry his hair than Ichigo did.
Seeing Orihime glance from one bed to another, Ichigo stopped scowling at the bathroom door and patted the space beside him in invitation. Rukia handed the hair dryer to Ichigo with a meaningful look at Orihime before stretching out on the bed and smothering a yawn.
With Renji belting out a song in the shower - something about a Shinigami's hard won pride - in deep, surprisingly good voice, Ichigo started on the pleasant task of attending to Orihime's hair. He had dried Karin and Yuzu's hair numerous times when they were little, but their hair was short and he was just keen on completing the task so he could attend to his homework. Now, he found himself taking his time, transfixed by long amber tresses and how the strands felt like silk against his fingers even when wet. Orihime's back was towards him but he could see the delicate curve of one flushed cheek and smiled to himself.
When Renji emerged from the bathroom, dressed in a knee length dark green yukata, Orihime's hair was still damp, but she took the hair dryer from Ichigo and urged him to have his shower.
By the time Ichigo came out, having dried his hair in the bathroom, Rukia was asleep, curled up beside Renji who mouthed a silent goodnight to Ichigo. Ichigo nodded and turned to Orihime who was lying with her back against the wall, her eyes on him.
Ichigo switched off the bathroom light and the room plunged into darkness with only a sliver of light coming from the window where the blind was not fully pulled down. Sitting on the bed, he looked down at Orihime.
"I could sleep on the floor," he murmured, half hoping Orihime would say no.
"There's plenty of room on the bed."
"No, there isn't. Not really."
"Well, I wouldn't be able to sleep, knowing you were lying on the floor."
"It's a very thin carpet."
"I know, but-"
"Besides, we're not alone, are we?"
"Hm. More's the pity."
Orihime giggled softly and Ichigo grinned. Then a loud sigh sounded from the other bed.
"Some people are trying to sleep here," Renji hissed in a whisper.
Ichigo and Orihime froze.
"Sorry," they whispered in unison.
Giving into the inevitable, Ichigo stretched out beside Orihime and immediately realised there was no way he would be able to avoid touching her. Also, it seemed like Rukia and Renji's bed was larger than the one he was in.
"Well... goodnight, Ichigo-kun," Orihime whispered and turned around, facing the wall with her back towards Ichigo.
Goodnight," Ichigo said, holding himself very still.
Unfortunately, his arm seemed to have a mind of its own and snaked around Orihime's narrow waist, tugging her closer. He froze, but Orihime just wriggled closer without protest. Gulping, Ichigo ordered his arm to stay put and not move any higher or lower as there were dangerous territories either way.
When Orihime looked over her shoulder with a shy smile, Ichigo raised his head and gave her a quick peck on the lips before settling down again, all too aware of the two people lying just a couple of feet away.
This was both heaven and hell, he decided, unknowing that Renji was thinking the exact same thing.
- o -
Orihime fought to stay awake even after the others had fallen asleep judging by their deep, even breathing. She was very tired and sleepy, and a part of her was worried about missing school, but she also wanted to relish every moment of being in Ichigo's arms while she could. Besides, she could always sleep on the train ride back home.
Right now, she couldn't think of anywhere else she would rather be. She was securely tucked against Ichigo's muscled chest with a strong arm around her waist, his body heat obvious through the thin cloth of their yukata. Orihime placed her arm over his, smiled to herself and closed her eyes.
When she next opened them, it was to see a thin line of sunlight on the wall opposite her. Then she realised she had turned during the night and was now half draped across Ichigo with her cheek on his shoulder, her hand on his chest and one leg thrown over his. Ichigo was lying on his back, his breathing deep and regular.
Orihime blushed from the top of her head all the way down to her toes. She took a deep breath of Ichigo's scent before raising her head, wincing at the crick in the neck. Over in the other bed, Renji was lying on his side with his back facing them, long red hair spilling across the pillow. There was no sign of Rukia but a slender arm was draped across the back of Renji's waist.
Smiling, Orihime pillowed her head on Ichigo's shoulder once more and closed her eyes.
"Hey." The low voice rumbling from Ichigo's chest made her head jerk up again, eyes flying open. Sleepy brown eyes looked up at her and then Ichigo offered a crooked smile.
"Nice way to wake up," he said and then he glanced downward, eyes widening in surprise.
Looking down, Orihime found the front lapels of her yukata gaping wide open, displaying her sleeping bra. Her eyes snapped up to Ichigo again, noting the faint flush in his cheeks as he stared at the sight. She quickly reached down and tugged the lapels closed, cheeks flushing hot.
Ichigo looked up at her with a sigh of regret that made her hide her hot face in his neck. Chuckling, he tightened his arm around her waist, pulling her closer to his side.
"That was a very nice way to wake up," he murmured.
Orihime squirmed, legs tangling further with his, but she didn't say anything.
A loud, jaw splitting yawn made her lift her head as Renji bolted upright, causing Rukia to squeak in surprise as she tumbled onto the bed. As she berated an embarrassed Renji who protested that he had forgotten they were were sleeping together, Ichigo looked at Orihime and they both grinned.
It was time to get washed up and dressed, to see about checking out, getting breakfast and buying tickets for the train ride home.
This time, Orihime called dibs on the bathroom first. The mirror over the sink reflected a girl with long tousled amber hair, flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes and she knew why - she had a brand new memory to add to her collection, of Ichigo holding her all night long.
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! Details on Awa Odori were sourced from japan-guide website, but any errors made are my own.
A couple of points of interest - there's some speculation on the internet that the fictitious Karakura Town in Bleach is based on the Western Tokyo suburbs like Suginami city, which is a six hour train ride from Tokushima. There's another festival held in Suginami in August, the Asagaya Tanabata Festival which features huge, hanging decorations of animated characters and lots of street food. However, having the characters stay so close to home wouldn't have helped my story in the slightest so Awa Odori in Tokushima it had to be.
The sequel to this is A Happy Birthday Again. Please leave a review if you enjoyed reading it :)