AN: …. And the Procrastinator Award of the Year goes tooooo --drumrolls-- Rukiahana!
Sorry peeps, for the long overdue update. Life has been catching on, and what do I know, it's a brand new year already! And no, I'm not dead yet. Not the best I could come up with, and I apologize. That aside, Season's Greetings & Happy New Year everybody :)
"Are you trying to stare the phone to death, Ichi-nii?"
Startled, Ichigo almost dropped his Sony Ericsson while whirling to face his sister. "Uh, no," he stammered, before letting out a nervous laugh. He then narrowed his eyes at the sight of two duffels each sister was shouldering. "What's with the bags?"
Karin looked at him, perplexed. "Oh, Rukia-nee didn't tell you?"
He frowned. "Tell me about what?"
"Ririn said that they are understaffed in the orphanage since all the workers including the principal, Rukia-nee's brother are supposed to attend an emergency meeting in order to keep the orphanage running," Yuzu explained, while adjusting the strap of the bag.
"Yep. Really. So Yuzu and I thought we would go down there to Osaka to offer some help. Ririn sounded that she could use some."
Just like Rukia to keep mum about things, he thought, rolling his eyes at the thought of his raven-haired friend. "Hey, have you guys told dad about it? I thought the old man had been planning Disneyland since Christmas," he reminded.
Karin shrugged. "Yep, we told him. He said it's okay if it's for a good cause. Which reminds me, he kept on asking you to invite Rukia-nee along for dinner," she said, grinning.
Ichigo reached up to scratch the back of his head. "Uh, well. Soon. I promise."
Giggling, Yuzu rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure."
He threw a dirty glare which was effective in silencing both girls. Nevertheless, a giggle or two could still be heard. "Wait. How are you getting there?"
"Train, I suppose."
He made a rapid decision. "Wait here." He grabbed the keys off the hook. "Dad, I'm taking the van!"
Rukia suppressed a yawn as she reached over to close the car door after unloading the groceries. She had not been sleeping well since the beginning of spring break. Not that she's complaining, she loves running and being in-charge of the orphanage. And it's been so long since she had been around the kids and she savored every single moment of it.
"Tadaima," she announced, removing her Mary Janes to change into her house slippers while trying to balance both grocery bags in her hands.
"Okaeri," a man's voice replied and she felt the burden in her arms lessen as the bags were removed from her.
She frowned and looked up, before being rendered speechless, her mouth a perfect 'O'.
"Miss me much, Rukia?"
She felt her heart warming at the sight of Ichigo's smirk. "What are you doing here you turd? I thought your house is about 200km that way," she greeted, pointing aimlessly to the general direction of Karakura.
Ichigo laughed as he proceeded to enter the kitchen. "What? No 'hi, how are you? I've been missing you, Ichigo'?" he called from over his shoulder. He placed the bags on the counter and turned to face his housemate of one year.
Rukia laughed. "Why should we resort to normal greetings when you know it's nothing but boring?" she replied. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Really, what are you doing here, Ichigo?"
"Nee-chan, you're back," Ririn said, entering the kitchen. Her smile grew when she saw surprise evident on Rukia's face. "And you've found your surprise."
Rukia rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Oh, I was surprised alright. You're lucky I didn't have a heart attack," she replied, amused. A thunder of footsteps echoed in the hall and she gasped when two familiar faces appeared into the kitchen. "And you girls came too!"
Yuzu laughed, throwing her arms around the older girl. "We wouldn't miss it for the world, Nee-chan. Ririn called us saying that you guys are short of hand for the time being so we thought we could help."
Rukia's lips curved into a tender smile. Suddenly she wasn't as tired anymore. "Aww, come here, you girls. You sure are the sweetest," she murmured, as the twins engulfed her in a bear hug.
They broke the hug at the sound of Ichigo clearing his throat. The guy hung back, tapping his foot against the counter with an impatient look on his face. Out of a sudden, a cheeky grin broke out. "Hey, don't I get my hug too?"
Rukia was about to swing an oven mitt his way when a couple of kids skidded into the kitchen.
"Nee-chan, Ryou made my math homework dirty!"
"It wasn't me! Who asked you to put it next to the tea cup?"
"That was my study table you idiot. You purposely put your stupid cup there!"
Tired of looking back and forth between both children, Rukia snapped her fingers, calling for attention. "Hey, hey. Chill out before I put both of you in time-out," she warned. Like trained cadets, Ryou and Miyu immediately fell silent. Satisfied, Rukia crossed her arms in front of her chest. "So, who wants to go first?"
Rukia rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically. She dug into her jeans pocket and withdrew a coin. "Ryou?"
"Why did you ask that idiot first, Nee-chan?" Miyu whined, stomping her feet in the process.
Rukia explained patiently. "Cause he's older. You know it always goes by seniority in this house."
Ryou punched the air gleefully. "You heard that, kid?" he mocked. The adults, who were mere audiences for the last five minutes, snickered.
"Very mature, Ryou," Aya chastised. The younger boy stuck out his tongue.
"Hello, still waiting," Rukia interrupted, tapping her foot on the floor. The girls hid their grins, all were amused by how the petite woman was handling the situation. Ichigo on the other hand, snickered as he too, waited for the outcome of Rukia's impartiality.
Ryou cleared his throat. Wrinkling his forehead, he deliberated on his fate which was currently relying on the 100 yen coin. "Uh, tails," he blurted, before biting his lower lip.
Rukia flipped the coin into the air and caught it expertly between her palms. She grinned wickedly before revealing the result. "Pray hard," she taunted, before lifting her left hand to reveal a head.
Ryou groaned. Miyu shrieked.
Stifling a grin, Rukia schooled her expression to neutral and looked promptly at Miyu. "Okay, Miyu. Go."
The little girl took a quick breath, mentally preparing herself before launching into detailed account. "Like I told you, this moron here purposely placed his teacup on my math homework, which happened to be on my study table. How the heck am I going to pass it up to Soi Fong-sensei tomorrow now with that round cup-bottom print?" she finished, arms which had been flailing into multiple directions earlier returned to rest at her hips.
Rukia raised an eyebrow and darted her look at the anxious boy.
Shuffling on his feet, Ryou decided to try his luck. "Err, I was just helping her to show her creative streak?"
"That was a math homework you idiot! Not art class!"
"Miyu," Rukia disapproved gently. She turned her attention to the boy. "Ryou, now that we're on the homework subject, how come I haven't seen you getting around doing yours?"
Ryou visibly paled. "Uhh… Sixth grade is a piece of cake. We don't have homework."
"Right. What's the color of ferrous sulphate?"
The adults laughed.
Her decision made, Rukia clapped her hands twice. She looked pointedly at the boy, who hung his head down in shame. "You're doing your homework with me starting from today. Reading time from 8 til 10 every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday," she announced.
Ririn chuckled. "Ooooh, tough."
"But that's the time Hana Kimi on TV!" Ryou protested.
Rukia and the rest of the female population in the kitchen stared at the boy in disbelief. "Ryou, you watch chick flick?" Karin asked, incredulous.
Chuckling, Rukia bent down to level her gaze with Miyu. She placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "And Ririn nee-chan will help you with your math homework, okay, Miyu?"
Grinning, Miyu nodded her head in eager excitement. "Okay!"
Straightening her back, Rukia's eyes roamed within the parameter. A laughing Ichigo, four amused teenaged girls, an obviously ashamed little boy and a justified little girl. She was done for the day. "Any objections?" she called.
"No…" both kids echoed.
"And hereby the court is adjourned."
"Haruto, no mixing your tea with the miso soup!"
"Aya-nee, what happens if I put mayonnaise on my meatballs?"
"Your meatballs will explode."
Rukia threw the teenage boy a dirty look. "Takumi, stop scaring the kids."
"Rukia-nee, why aren't you sitting at Bya-san's place?" first-grader Souta chirped while munching on his broccoli.
"Cause it's Bya-san's place," Rukia replied, while passing the rice bowls to everybody.
8-year-old Misae frowned. "But I thought you're the head of family now."
Rukia smiled. "No, I'm just taking care of you guys but the big boss is still Bya-san."
Satisfied with her answer, the kids nodded their heads and mulled about their current situation. A girl about five with pigtails shot out a hand. "Is he coming back soon?" Aki asked, her big brown eyes were glued to Rukia's violet ones.
"I miss his stories," Jun announced, dropping a fish cake into his miso soup.
"I miss his hair," Miyu contributed.
"I wanna piggy-back ride!" Aki wailed.
Rukia opened her mouth to answer before Aya chirped in. "He and Suri-san together with Hanatarou-sensei will come back soon, okay? They are taking care of some things to make sure you guys are safe here," the teenager explained, and Rukia realized that she had her support system so well in-tune.
"Are the mean people giving them trouble?" Haruto asked as he squirted more mayonnaise into his soup.
"No, it's just some adult stuff that we shouldn't intervene," Rukia replied, holding out a hand. "Now, give me the mayo."
"I know what 'intervene' means!"
"I know it more!"
"Souta, don't talk with your mouth full."
"Kids, behave. We are in the presence of guests here."
"Rukia-nee, is Ichi-nii your boyfriend?"
"Ichi-nii, do you give Rukia-nee kikoo?"
Ichigo choked on his tofu. He cast a glance at a blushing Rukia, bemused. The older kids stifled a laugh as the adults shifted uneasily on their seats. "Uhh…"
"I know it! He gave her kikoo!"
Trying to suppress his own awkwardness, he cleared his throat before beginning to clarify to the kids. "Rukia-nee and I are just friends. She is one of my best friends now," he reasoned, giving a smile to them.
"But you still want to give her kikoo, right?"
"Erm, sure. She's a very pretty lady, lots of men have been wanting to give her, erhm, kikoo."
Rukia rolled her eyes. "Not helping."
"Ichi-nii, we want to see you smooch up with Rukia-nee!"
"Smooch up!" "Smooch up!" "Smooch up!"
Raising a brow, she tapped her teacup with her chopstick, indicating an upcoming warning. "No desserts if you guys don't drop it."
The table fell silent. After a few moments, there was a whisper at the end of the table. "Dude, what's for dessert?"
"I smelled peach cobbler this evening." Another hushed whisper.
It was a silent agreement.
Rukia cleared her throat. "That's more like it."
"Need any help?"
Rukia whirled on her feet, her hands clutching the ceramic plate tightly. She smiled when her gaze settled on the loud-haired man. "Hey. It's okay. You've helped plenty already. Why don't you rest up in front," she suggested, resuming her chore drying the dishes.
Grabbing another rag off the hook, he proceeded to stand next to her by the sink. "Nah. I tried being helpful with the kids' homework. But now they're hogging the PlayStation, I think I should just join you up in the kitchen."
"It's okay, really. I just sent the girls up to catch up with their college application, anyway,"
"The kids are something."
"They are something, alright."
"I could see why you're so hooked up on them. Everybody is special in their own ways."
"And you handle them all like a pro."
"I'm their Nee-chan, Ichigo."
"Yeah, you're that. You're the Super Nanny, like that one on TV? Except maybe with a few lesser pounds."
"So, what's on tomorrow agenda?"
"Breakfast, carpool, report book day and maybe a day at the dentist. Jun complained he felt ants biting his gums."
"You don't have to do this, you know? I thought you guys had Hokkaido planned."
"Yea well, we could always hike another day."
"Don't say I didn't warn you, Kurosaki."
"I'll tell you what. I'll take carpool and maybe the dentist. How does that sound?"
"You're a Godsent."
"Is it me or did Rukia drop off the planet?"
"She has her hands full at the orphanage. Her brother and the teachers there have to attend an emergency meeting with the board."
"So what's up with Hokkaido?"
"I'm not too sure myself. Mizuiro said Ichigo had bailed out."
"He did? Why?"
"Wouldn't you want to know."
"According to reliable sources, said orange-haired has been spotted driving to Osaka two days back."
"Coolness. Maybe they don't need the extra nudge after all."
"Hey, what are you doing? You're supposed to eat your bento during lunch, not now!"
"Aya-nee, do you think the frog will die if I put it in Souta's shoe? I know it reeks enough to kill me."
"Yuzu-nee, Karin-nee, can you both hold my hands on each side?"
"People, no breaking your bento this time."
"Okay, Rukia-nee," came the practiced chorus.
"But can I smash it?"
"Breaking and smashing it is the same you moron."
"No, it's not. If you bother to open the thesaurus, you would know both have two different meanings -."
"Okay, okay. I mean, no breaking, smashing, vandalizing, anything indicating destruction of your bento. Now, remember I want everyone under 12 home at 3, no later. Takumi, I'll meet you at school for your report card day, okay?"
"Now, herd along."
"Ichi-nii, do you like Rukia-nee?"
"Of course I like Rukia-nee. She's my good friend."
"No, I mean, do you like her, like you want to marry her?"
"Hey, they don't give kooky. They won't marry each other."
"How do you know?"
"Of course I know. I spied on them last night while they were having tea in the kitchen," Haruto announced proudly.
Ichigo visibly cringed. The kids spied on them?
"You're so stupid, Haru. They don't have to kiss to like each other."
Takumi snorted. He gave a sideway glance to the driver, who was having a hard time keeping a straight face. "I pity you."
Ichigo nodded, swallowing nervously. "Oh yeah. Been a long time since I felt nervous around a bunch of pre-scholars."
"So, what's the deal with you and our sister?"
"Yeah, I mean, you don't exactly expect me to buy the 'good friend' part, do you?"
Ichigo smiled. Takumi might look like he couldn't give a damn about the world, but he was protective of his siblings, all right. "No hidden agenda, buddy. She's really a good friend," Ichigo insisted.
The younger kid snorted again. "You college guys should know girls and guys don't just stay 'good friends'."
Ichigo cleared his throat. Guess they wouldn't be dropping the subject anytime soon. They came to an intersection and he glanced at Takumi, asking for direction. The boy raised his left hand.
"But you're good for her."
Ichigo raised an eyebrow. "I don't know what that means, Takumi. But I take that as a compliment."
"Yeah, whatever. But just so that you know, you have eleven pair of legs ready to kick your ass if you break your heart."
Somehow, Ichigo felt that he would do anything, anything, to keep his word.