Dinner Party

by debbiechan

Disclaimer: I do not make any money off these little stories. The characters therein were created by Kubo Tite, and what you are about to read is a fanfiction.

Description: R. An IshiHime parlor comedy with an IchiRuki revelation. A sentimental Ichigo, a jealous Ishida, a nauseated Orihime. Follows the stories "Life is Trying" and "We Forgot to Have Sex."

"…if she leaves, she'll become the life of the party." Groucho Marx

Mizuiro loosened his tie, leaned against the kitchen counter, and cocked his head towards the far-away explosions. "They're not going to kill themselves, are they?

"They're having fun." Orihime pressed a button on the dishwasher. "See? You don't have to help. This came with the house. It washes dishes for us."

Mizuiro glanced at the sink full of dishes, hesitated, and then spoke kindly. "You have to put the dishes inside it first."

"Really? That makes sense." She felt around the machine to find an opening. "Where's the inside?"

Mizuiro showed her and helped her load the dishwasher. The plates were licked clean; Orihime's dinner had been surprisingly tasty.

More explosions. Closer this time.

"Boys grow out of this competition thing supposedly." Mizuiro turned upside-down the teacups that Orihime had put in right-side up. "Women say that, but no boy I've known has ever grown up."

From the tiny curtained window, he saw the evening sky whiten with a flash like lightning. "Ishida's learned a lot of new fancy stuff, hasn't he?"

Orihime smiled proudly. "You wouldn't believe how much."

"Don't you think he's acting a little immaturely now? He was always so mature."

"Oh no, he's had to grow up about some things."

"Haven't we all. It's been--what? Eight years since high school?"

"You seem pretty much the same to me, Mizuiro-kun. Then again, you didn't have anything to grow up about. Well, except for being short." Orihime put her hand to her mouth. "You're not sensitive about your height, are you? I mean, you were always mature, just not very tall." She wiped her hands on a dishcloth and looked contemplative. "Maybe height has something to do with emotional maturity. But Sado-kun is very tall and--"

A sudden force shook the room.

"That would be Uryuu's Sprenger," Orihime said.

Mizuiro looked uneasy. "They're just having fun," he repeated.

"More tea? I suppose that would be proper. To offer more tea." Orihime looked inside the empty kettle that was about to be washed. "Get over themselves and grow up is what you hear women say about men, but I don't understand. Why get over themselves? I like a confident, proud man, and I can't imagine Uryuu ever being too different from the boy I fell in love with."

Another blasting force shook the room.

From the dining room came Keigo's voice. "They're way too close," he shouted. "They're going to destroy the suburbs!"

Orihime looked at Mizuiro who was looking alarmed. "There's nothing I can do to stop it," she said.

"Don't worry, Orihime," Mizuiro said. "None of this is your fault."

"Oh I know." Another blast rattled the dishes in the dishwasher. "That would be getsuga tenshou, I think…. Don't look so scared. I know that the reishi platform Uryuu built will hold up. Well …he's only ever trained with himself on it, so I don't know if can handle two strong powers up there--"

Mizuiro closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Here, let me help you with the tea."


The dinner party was supposed to have been low-key. "Somewhat celebratory," Ishida had conceded. "But no big deal. Okay, Orihime? No big deal."

Orihime was excited about socializing in the new house. She'd talked Ishida into buying a dark wood dining table with high back chairs instead of the low, un-ostentatious zataku he liked better. All her life, she said, she'd wanted to hostess a big, happy dinner party.

Ishida had disliked giving up the apartment. His growing family made a move from the old place necessary, but the cramped apartment had been a convenient excuse not to entertain guests.

Ishida was not the partying type.

Ishida's dread and Orihime's delight filled the house on the evening of the dinner party, and if Tatsuki hadn't taken an all-day train ride from university to show up early, the couple's anticipation might have turned into marital squabbling. In her efficient, practical way, Tatsuki helped Orihime set up and Ishida calm down.

"Just sit there and look all proud like the snobby Quincy doctor you are," she told Ishida. "You don't have to chit chat. No one's expecting you to."

Ishida sat, thin legs crossed, on the huge western-styled couch that had been a house-warming present from his father. When Tatsuki suggested that the couch be moved so there would be more space in the reception room, Ishida gave her a cold look, and that was that. His evening roost had been set.

While Orihime arranged pillows all around him, Ishida seemed to remember something. "Did you tell people about the pregnancy?" He shut his book. "Are we supposed to make an announcement or what?"

"Just be sure you aren't reading that book at the table," Tatsuki said.

Orihime patted her tummy, which was swollen under a fitted party dress. "You're not supposed to tell until after three months have passed. You know, in case something bad happens and it's awkward to un-announce the pregnancy."

"People are going to know," Ishida said. "You look further along than you are. You're pretty fat in silk."

Tatsuki took Orihime's arm. "Any other woman would take offense at the fat remark, Uryuu." She turned to her best friend. "Maybe we can leave him in the bedroom and tell people that he's sick."

"He's not always this rude," Orihime said. "He's nervous because he doesn't like to be around too many people."

The guest list wasn't large at all. It included Ichigo (his significant other, Rukia, was detained at a Soul Society meeting and probably wouldn't show), Chad and Karin, Mizuiro and his current girlfriend, Keigo (Tatsuki balked at sitting next to him, even though she was unpaired), and Isshin. Ten people total to sit at the high table with settings for eight.

Tsuyu, the four-year old who never went to sleep, was being entertained by Yuzu at the Kurosaki house. Orihime had seen nothing wrong with children at a formal dinner, but then Ishida had reminded her of Tsuyu's affinity for throwing fruit at people and squeaking "here, catch!" He said that one day she was going to knock someone out cold with a Fuji apple.

"I'm starting to get a little scared," Orihime bit her thumbnail. "What if everything goes wrong and people get uncomfortable?"

"No one expects perfection," Tatsuki assured her. "No one expects a tea chest in the dining room and silverware that's gold." Knowing Orihime's reputation for being a less-than-perfect cook, though, Tatsuki had called everyone ahead with the lie that the dinner would be catered.


Ichigo rarely got out of Soul Society except for Living World holidays and the occasional family celebration. Life as a substitute Shinigami had been rough, but Death as a Soul Society captain taxed him to his limits. Inoue's dinner party sounded like a nice break, but, without Rukia guiding him, there existed the possibility that he would eat something out of turn or use his napkin improperly. She knew more about Living World formalities that he did.

In a small way, though, Ichigo was glad that Rukia was tied up with Shinigami business this evening. Domestic Living World ways appealed to her for some reason, and Ichigo was afraid that one day she would insist on a house, a marriage certificate, and a koi pond.

The Living World wasn't home for Ichigo now that he was dead. He had taken to his Shinigami identity like a fish to a sushi roll, and as much as he enjoyed seeing family and friends, going back was always a little strange. He wasn't a high-schooler anymore.

Ichigo tucked his shirt into his pants. He already felt uncomfortable. This occasion called for a suit and tie as well as a gigai.

Chad was dating his sister. That was going to be weird, because Ichigo hadn't seen them paired at any social event before. Even though Ichigo had been to lots of celebrations with the Ishidas, that couple was a little hard to take for too long. Inoue could still babble at you until your head spun. And Ishida? If any man talked to Inoue too long, Ishida would interrupt with narrowed eyes and some deadly remark about how Inoue was hesitant to use her powers but he could kill a man on sight.

Why was Ichigo coming to this event again? Isshin would certainly do something embarrassing, Keigo would say something inappropriate, and at any moment a man could be elbowed hard in the ribs by Tatsuki for merely taking a peek at Mizuiro's girlfriend's cleavage. Mizuiro's girlfriends always wore low-cut dresses, even in the middle of winter.

Ichigo flash-stepped into the outlying suburb with its freshly cleared land and newly built houses. He was feeling irritated and anxious, but then the very sight of Keigo's ancient little kei car made him smile. He felt mooshy inside and was glad Rukia wasn't there to catch a dumb look on his face.

Once inside, he felt overcome with nostalgia to the point that he wanted to hug Keigo, but that would've been ridiculous, so he hugged Orihime instead. "It's great to see everybody." The stupid look on his face wouldn't fall off. "Inoue, you look very nice."

She giggled.

Ichigo was always forgetting it, but Inoue had been gob-smackingly ga-ga in love with him years ago. He realized his trespass too late and looked toward Ishida. As luck would have it, Ishida was engaged with Keigo and hadn't seen anything.

"What the hell is an aperitif?" Keigo was asking.

"The little bit of liquor you have before a meal. It's supposed to help you with digesting." Ishida held a bottle of red vermouth. "But I believe that its true purpose is to help you overcome the paralysis of having to socialize with people you don't like."

The reception room was traditional, arrayed with the tamati mats and seat cushions Ichigo was accustomed to in Soul Society. He noticed that he'd forgotten to bring a house-warming gift when apparently everyone else had brought liquor--there were many ribboned or boxed bottles of the stuff on the low table. This was odd. As far as he knew, no one but his father drank alcohol.

"I see you made it, Kurosaki." Ishida looked more severe than usual and sat alone on a hugely out-of-place couch. "Your father still isn't here."

"He always late."

There was pomegranate juice for the non-drinkers, and enough plates of appetizers to comprise a five-course meal. Orihime proudly brought the food from the kitchen and everyone praised the deliciousness of this and the clever presentation of that.

"Gingerbread?" Mizuiro picked up a flat cookie in the shape of a little person.

"A Christmas specialty," Ishida explained. "Orihime made every dish from her correspondence cooking course recipes."

Everyone simultaneously stopped chewing.

"This … this…." Keigo held a toothpick speared with a ginger shrimp. "This is really good, Orihime. Your cooking has really improved."

"Of course it's improved," Tatsuki snapped. "People don't stay frozen in time."

"We're bettering ourselves every day," Mizuiro added, and the slender blonde next to him beamed with adoration. Mizuiro had introduced her as a fashion model.

"You're so positive about life, Mizuiro," the fashion model drawled.

Ichigo found himself looking around for Rukia. He missed her standing between him and the inanity of society. Mizuiro's girlfriend wore a dress with spaghetti straps, though, and it was only a matter of time before Ichigo's bored gaze would land on her half-exposed bosom. So … maybe it was a good thing Rukia wasn't here.


Orihime worried about how long it would be until someone noticed her absence. Kitchens were the places hostesses usually disappeared to, but no one would find her there. She was in the house's only bathroom, and judging by how many bottles of pomegranate juice had been emptied so far, soon someone would be knocking on the door.

The knock came. Orihime put her hand on her throat and swallowed hard.

But it was only Tatsuki.

"What's wrong?" Tatsuki let herself in because Orihime hadn't bothered to lock the door. "Everything's going great. The only one who isn't eating much is Chad but Karin keeps yapping at him to broaden his horizons and try something besides sushi. They're pretty funny. You should--"

Orihime vomited loudly into the toilet.

"Holy fuck, what's the matter with you?"

Orihime whispered "I'm sick" beneath the roar of the toilet flushing, and Tatsuki kept asking, "Is the food poisoned? Is it? Should I call the hospital before everyone starts dropping or should I wait and see if it's only you."

"It's only me," Orihime said. "At first I thought I'd eaten too much because I was sampling everything I made, but I couldn't heal myself out of a stomach ache and then I remembered the obvious reason."

Tatsuki looked at her expectantly.

"I'm pregnant," Orihime said.


"I'm ten weeks along and I thought I wouldn't get like this. I wasn't like this with Tsuyu."

Tatsuki looked out of her element. "I suppose all pregnancies are different."

"That makes sense," Orihime wiped her mouth with a towel. "Babies are different, people are different--" She hurled again.

"Damn it, Orihime, you don't even have anything in your stomach to puke. That's gotta hurt."

"I'm okay, I'm okay. Don't tell Uryuu. I think I just have to puke a couple more times and then I'll be fine."

And Orihime was right. A couple more times and the nausea abated. Her eyes felt hollowed into her face when she looked at Tatsuki who, thankfully, wasn't as grossed out as Orihime expected. "If I go into the kitchen again, though, the food smells might trigger it again."

"Then don't go into the kitchen again. You can just be lie down and be sick. People will understand."

If Orihime's eyes hadn't been so dehydrated, they would've filled with tears. "I don't want to miss my first ever dinner party. I've read that ginger tea and something fizzy to drink helps."

"You've got ginger somewhere--we can make you a nice tea." Tatsuki took her friend by the arm. "Do you have tonic water … or coke?"

"No, but there's the vermouth."

"Orihime! You'll kill the baby!"

"It'll be just a little. I'm sure it will work."

Orihime hid on the back porch while Tatsuki concocted the medicinal beverage, and no one noticed that the hostess was missing because Isshin had arrived. He was bellowing his love for his dead son, his living daughter who was now a young lady, and everyone whose beloved presence graced the abode of the young Quincy couple.

"You put too little vermouth in it," Orihime complained and took the bottle out of Tatsuki's hand.

"Damn." Tatsuki watched Orihime down the ginger vermouth. "Are you sure about this?"

Orihime was a healer and she was sure. When she walked past the kitchen again, it was without a single tremor of symptoms. She put her hand on her tummy and felt aware of the tightness of her dress there. She should've asked Uryuu to re-fit the dress before the party. She checked her hair again for vomit spatters, straightened her shoulder and with a smile at a frowning Tatsuki, walked into the reception room. No one seemed to notice her entrance except for Ishida, and when he saw the open bottle was in her hand, his eyes widened with shock.

Orihime held the bottle up triumphantly. It wasn't morning sickness medicine; it was an aperitif! "Who wants some of the fizzy?"

"The lady has wonderful taste!" exclaimed Isshin. "One should always toast a new home with something bubbly! Where are your champagne glasses, my lovely girl?"

Everyone, even the most obstinate tee-totalers acquiesced to Isshin's demand that a toast be made with the festive liquor. The guests gathered in a cramped circle and held up their glasses. Orihime was gleeful. At last someone was acknowledging the magnitude of the occasion and marking it with a dramatic ritual.

"Your father lets you drink?" Chad whispered to Karin.

"Believe it," Karin said.

"Here we stand," Isshin's loud voice proclaimed, "among friends, family, Quincy and Shinigami."

Mizuiro's date shot him a puzzled look, and Mizuiro ignored her.

"We are survivors of war and the unsung defenders of the universe."

Mizuiro's date looked uncomfortable.

"May the best days of our past be the worst days of our futures."

Ishida stood next to Orihime and under his breath, demanded to know why she had circles under her eyes.

While Orihime explained, Isshin went on, "To the courageous archer who saved the life of my own dear boy countless times--"

"I saved him sometimes too," Ichigo muttered.

"To the princess of all our hearts--!" His voice lowered. "Especially Kon's. Why doesn't he get invited to more of these events? He's been so angry with me ever since we buried Ichigo's body. Kon's just a lonely little lion plushie who should be counted among us--"

"He is," said Karin. "Yuzu's using him to entertain the Ishida's kid."

"A talking walking plushie," said Keigo and sipped at his glass even though the toast wasn't finished. "What a trip for Tsuyu. I bet she loves it."

"We wish them health, happiness, and many Quincy children. Salud! Kanpai! Chug-a-lug! With liberty and justice for all!"

After the drinks were downed, Ishida pulled Orihime to a far corner of the room and insisted that she lie down with a plain rice-cake and water and lay off the vermouth. Orihime smiled at her husband's concern and assured him that she had read about these pregnancy things. If her fairies couldn't heal the morning sickness and Uryuu didn't want her imbibing spirits, she knew several home remedies. If she felt sick again, she would try them all before missing the party. And she planned on tasting everything in the dinner from the goose to the Christmas cake topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Ishida looked skeptical. "So if you feel nauseous again, what's up next?"


Ishida's hands fell away from Orihime's shoulders. "What?"

"I'll need your help with that, of course," said Orihime brightly. "Only you can give me a really big orgasm."

Isshin was passing the couple on his way to the kitchen. "What a sweet thing to say." He winked at Ishida. "You're the man, Uryuu."


As the before-meal festivities continued, Ishida was surprised that no one else saw how pale Orihime looked. She was laughing and acting like herself, but she didn't look quite right. Maybe people were being polite. Maybe he should call the whole thing off, send everyone home and put Orihime to bed. But then he remembered how much the party meant to his wife.

Ishida's role this evening became more active than Tatsuki had expected it to be. Instinctively, he took groups of guests around the rooms and showed off the new house. There really wasn't that much to brag about in terms of grandeur--Ishida's father's house was five times the size of this one--but Ishida found himself feeling a little territorial as he talked about the earthquake-secure walls and the state of the art bathroom.

"One day," said Mizuiro's date. "I would love to live in a little Japanese family home just like this one."

Ishida would've guessed that a fashion model used to fancy parties would be bored here, but so far the young woman seemed more than happy to gaze adoringly at Mizuiro. And apparently, she hadn't minded Isshin.

"You're so lucky, man," Keigo said. "Beautiful wife, beautiful kid, and this is an awesome house."

The inspector had given the house a passing grade, but Ishida considered the water pressure to be unacceptably low, the front yard parking area to be too small, and the reception room with its altar alcoves to be too Buddhist. "It's alright for the neighborhood." He sat on his couch and wanted to reach for his book but remembered the act was forbidden.

Keigo was right; Ishida had everything. He should have been more amenable to the idea of a dinner party. More so than the house, Ishida's happy life deserved to be displayed. He was conscious of having made decisions his father wouldn't have. A brief summer internship in the United States had soured him on a complicated, business-centered approach to medicine, and he'd turned down attractive positions abroad to return to Karakura Hospital, where he served as a resident in neurology. Years ago, he would've never predicted that Karakura would feel like home, but it was home. Even Ryuuken was here.

Ishida crossed his arms. Ryuuken was missing the party because of work.

For the fourth or fifth time, Kurosaki Isshin came out of the kitchen with a piece of roasted goose. This time he had a whole leg. "Stop me now, Uryuu, or I may go after the side dishes!" He'd polished off the second bottle of vermouth and was now drinking plum wine. "Really, people, don't fill up on appetizers. You should see what's back there."

Isshin, a Shinigami powerful enough to serve as the general of Soul Society, had opted to remain on Earth for the remainder of his daughter's lives.

The son, Kurosaki Ichigo, had opted to leave the Living World to serve as a full-time Shinigami captain. The thought of leaving Kon to inhabit his physical body for the rest of its natural life scared Kurosaki so much that he demanded a funeral. It had been an odd occasion. People who weren't close friends were told that Kurosaki the Younger had died, and Isshin had even cried for a whole week. Orihime believed that the burial of the body represented Kurosaki's complete break from the Living World, but Ishida knew that the funeral happened mainly because Kurosaki didn't want Kon in the body. Imagine what sorts of disgrace he could've strewn all over town in Kurosaki's name.

Kon had been resentful ever since the funeral. He didn't leave the Kurosaki house, though.

Orihime passed by and Ishida grabbed her hand.

"How do you feel?"

She fell into his lap. "Wonderful!"

Ishida considered for a moment that it wouldn't be altogether bad if Orihime got nauseous again, but then he remember how loud she could be during sex. As long as Isshin was around, it should be hard to top him for most outrageous moment of the evening, but sex during a dinner party would definitely do it.


Even though Ichigo mostly kept to himself while people caught up with one another, his nostalgia over old friends hadn't diminished. Everyone was still young, of course, and looked pretty much the same, so he didn't understand why he was feeling like a sentimental old grandpa. Inoue, really, was the only one who looked different. Her hair was shorter, she didn't giggle as much as she used to, and her attitude seemed … matronly? Maybe she was play-acting at being the formal hostess so she could have a formal party. Ichigo hoped that dinner wouldn't be a ceremonial ordeal.

When dinner was served, Ichigo was relieved to find out that chopsticks were lain over the napkins. Strange Christmas food was alright, but it would have annoyed him to eat a Western meal in which a different utensil was required for each dish.

The goose wasn't half bad. Isshin had eaten a good third of the bird, so Ichigo found himself leaving a little on his plate in case Rukia showed up. Maybe Inoue would give him a to-go bag.

"Tatsuki." Keigo had discovered the joy of glazed pecans and talked with his mouth full of them. "I thought you said this thing was going to be catered."

Tatsuki gave him a discounting look. "Well, surprise."

"Tatsuki?" Orihime raised her eyebrows.

"Catered by Ishida Orihime Delectables," Tatsuki quickly added. "Straight from the Martha Stewart Living Christmas cookbook. Isn't everything great?"

A plate of roasted potatoes was being passed around, and Ichigo noted, with a little sadness, that the potatoes weren't covered in grape jelly.

"I think," he said without realizing that he was speaking aloud, "I miss the old Inoue."

Heads turned.

"The old Inoue?" Ishida's tone was suspicious.

"I mean--" Ichigo sank into his chair. "I don't know. It was fun when she still made horrible food."

Orihime didn't look offended in the slightest. She blinked. "You never said it was horrible, Kurosaki-kun."

"My son is being sentimental!" Isshin clasped his hands. "I know what you mean, Ichigo. It touches the heart to remember days gone by. People change, they move to other dimensions, they leave a hole in your heart--well, not a hole like an Arrancar would leave, but you know what I mean."

Oddly enough, Ichigo understood. As much as he loved being dead, he missed his old life with these odd characters. "I'm sorry, Inoue. This food is great. The new you is great too."

She giggled and shrugged. "Really?"

Maybe it was the second glass of vermouth his father had forced upon him, but Ichigo didn't stop talking. "I think that what I meant to say by I miss the old Inoue was … that when we were in high school, you were this very special person and I don't think I noticed that then. You weren't just beautiful--"

Ishida narrowed his eyes.

"You were so kind to everybody and you did all these funny girlish things and it's a little weird to see you being this adult who … can throw a dinner party. The dishes, the fancy napkins, your dress--"

"Gorgeous dress." Isshin gestured with his chopsticks and a potato chunk fell on the tablecloth. "Gorgeous dress for a gorgeous lady. Red silk is so … clingy."

Ishida looked like he was going to choke.

"You like my dress? Uryuu said it made me look fat."

Ishida put his hand on Orihime's hand as if that could stop her from saying more embarrassing things.

"You have gained a little weight," Ichigo said, "but it looks good on you."

"Truly," said Mizuiro's girlfriend. "I'd give anything to have a figure like yours."

"Did you make that sexy dress for your wifey, Uryuu?" This time Isshin's chopsticks flung a potato chunk behind his back. "You really know how to pay attention to a woman's curves." His eyes flirted with Mizuiro's date. She looked taken aback. "A talented boy we have here," Isshin told her. "He can sew up a patient in surgery and come home to sew a dress. Oh don't look so humble, Uryuu. Anyone can tell you are an artist with those long sensitive fingers. And…" Isshin dropped his voice to a fake whisper. "You give the little woman the biiiig orgasms!"

The room roared with laughter, and Ishida pushed back his chair.

"No, no, no," said Isshin. "Don't leave, Uryuu. We don't mean to embarrass you--we're admiring you. Big doctor, fancy house. And after all, you're the boy who won the affections of Orihime-chan away from my son. And my son is very good-looking."

Mizuiro's date turned to Mizuiro. "What's this about?" She looked eager to hear a soap opera tale.

Ichigo shook his head and waved his hands. "It was nothing. I didn't do anything with her at all." He sighed with frustration. "Please don't start this again, people. I didn't even know she was in love with me."

"Lady killer." Isshin cast a wicked look at his son. "Didn't I teach you not to break the hearts of young women? Where's Rukia? Don't tell me you two broke up. Love can be so tempestuous."

It was Ichigo's turn to push back his chair. Then he looked at Ishida who looked back at him. An escape from the party would mean that the two of them would encounter one another on the porch. What with Ichigo feeling nostalgic and Ishida looking jealous … they might be required to have one of those male-bonding moments.

Ichigo shuddered, and then simultaneously, he and Ishida pushed their chairs forward and turned their avid attention to their dinner-plates.

Normality appeared to return. Pairs of people held separate conversations at the table where they sat elbow-to-elbow, surrounded by correspondence-course gourmet dishes.

Karin wondered aloud how a big guy like Chad could sustain himself on sushi. Mizuiro tried to "explain" Isshin to his date without going into any details about the supernatural. Tatsuki kicked Ichigo under the table when his gaze seemed to veer in the direction of the spaghetti strapped breasts, and Ichigo kicked her back because he hadn't been looking there at all. He'd been tormenting himself over whether or not his little sister and his best friend were having sex yet. Isshin asked Chad if he was going to finish his plate and was handed yet another full serving of goose.

Then Orihime burped. It was one of the loudest burps ever heard by anyone.

All heads turned.

"Have a little bit too much of the fizzy stuff, Orihime-chan?" asked Isshin.

She turned blue-white, almost as white as Ishida. She lost her cheery smile and lay her head on the table, right next to her goose.

While everyone expressed concern and offered to bring her water, Orihime's hand tugged on Ishida's jacket sleeve.

Ishida looked forlorn, and surprisingly, he seemed to be trying to ignore his wife.

Tatsuki rose from her seat. "C'mon, Orihime, I'll take you to the bathroom."

"No!" Orihime's voice was weak but insistent. "Uryuu has to do it."

There was much affirmation around the table. "Yes, Uryuu, you have to do it."

When the Ishidas got up, Ichigo took a second look at Orihime's weight gain. Now, he was no doctor but either her belly was full of gas or it was full of baby. The significance of the fact struck him: Life is always changing. One can never go home again. The generations come one after another, and souls float back and forth from the Living World and Soul Society without end.

I need another drink. Ichigo reached for the carafe of wine and wondered how Shinigami babies happened. He'd never bothered to ask, but some of the Shinigami had talked about being born in Soul Society.

I hope Rukia doesn't show up because I'm in the mood to impregnate her.


"Can't you drink some more vermouth?" Ishida was unbuckling his belt.

"We're out." Orihime stepped out of her stockings. "Isshin-san finished it all."

"Why do we have to do it in the bathroom? Why can't we just go to the bed?"

"Because." Orihime put her hand to her throat and made a sick face. "I might throw up at any moment. I have to be near the toilet."

"That's the sexiest thing you've ever said to me--ow!"

Orihime had yanked one of Ishida's long hair-locks. "It doesn't have to be sexy. It just has to be orgasmic."

"This makes no medical sense, you realize. If you shake your uterus up with an orgasm, you'll probably just make things worse."

"But I feel terrible right now," Orihime whined. "At the very least the en-dolphins in my brain will take away the pain."


"Work with me, Uryuu. You know I'm no good at this standing up." She slid her hands into her husband's underwear and began petting.

Ishida closed his eyes. "At the very least," he said. "You'll feel better."

Then he yanked a bath towel off a rack, and Orihime let out a little "Wooo!" as he dropped her to the floor with the towel under her head and hiked up her too-clingy party dress.


Tatsuki had been reluctant to answer questions about Orihime's condition until Karin piped up that their hostess had to be pregnant. Chad nodded his head.

"You think so?" asked Keigo. "Again? They already have Tsuyu."

"Didn't you see the cute little belly?" said Isshin.

Soon everyone was talking baby showers and family names and whether this one would slide out unexpectedly before getting to the hospital like the last one did. When someone mentioned that another grandchild could only mean the further softening of Ryuuken's hard heart, Tatsuki knew she had to set things straight.

"She's pregnant," she confirmed. "But please don't let on you know because I think she wanted to tell you herself."

Ichigo wanted to know why she looked so sick, and Karin snapped at him, "Will you grow up, Ichigo? Pregnant women get morning sickness. Do you even know how people get pregnant? Do you know anything about sex at all?"

"Yeah, well how much do you know?" Ichigo glanced at Chad, and Chad's hair was covering his eyes so no one could read his expression.

"Have you ever noticed," said Keigo who was still crunching pecans, "that sooner or later every single party conversation ends up being about sex?"

At that moment, a high-pitched exclamation of delight resounded from somewhere in the house.

The table refused to believe what they had just heard. Every guest looked to another to check if his or her brain had sent out an impromptu audio-hallucination.

"I can't believe they're doing it in the bathroom," Tatsuki sighed. "The acoustics are going to make her sound louder."

Mizuiro's girlfriend looked to him for an explanation, but Mizuiro was looking at Keigo whose eyes were gleaming with enthusiastic interest.

"This is certainly new," Mizuiro said. "I think we should pretend that it's not happening."

"And this is why they're having another baby," Isshin said as he casually picked his teeth with a chopstick. "Uryuu is a love machine."

The table fell silent. Orihime's little yelps got louder, turned into whimpers, then got loud again.

"This is not good," said Chad.

Everyone, even Isshin, startled at the remark.

"Why?" asked Tatsuki. Chad had never been a prude, exactly. After all, he still played guitar in a band.

"This is not good," Chad said, "because I need to take a piss."


Ishida's hand was over Orihime's mouth, but it was no use. The woman was a four-octave soprano when she was making love. Ishida wasn't even trying hard, but when Orihime came, she screamed like she was being killed.

He gave her a puzzled look as he continued to thrust at a moderate tempo.

"I love being pregnant," she said.

Oh! He'd forgotten how pregnancy hormones made her extra-exuberant about sex.

"And the nausea is gone too," she said. She patted Ishida's head while he strained himself. "See. I told you so."

She then started humming, and Ishida wondered if the dinner guests could hear that too.

Despite the fact that he never wanted to come out of the bathroom, he hurried finishing and then slumped against his happy wife. It was going to be dreadful to go outside, but it was something that had to be done. He would hold his head up high. He would act like he and his beautiful wife had sex in the bathroom all the time. Maybe he'd even get a few nods of kudos from the guys.

When husband and wife entered the room, the diners was chattering and passing dishes of vegetables and looking like they hadn't heard a thing. Only Kurosaki seemed not to be busy socializing, but then he always looked a little put out.

"I'm sorry if you had to listen to all my noises," Orihime said. Then, to Ishida's horror, she adjusted her tight silk dress around her thighs. "I make lots of weird noises."

"As long as you feel better, honey," Isshin said. "It's perfectly normal to make weird noises when you're vomiting your guts out." He winked at Ishida. "Maybe you got sick from all the excitement."

"Can we not talk about vomiting at the dinner table?" asked Karin.

"Oh I wasn't vomiting," Orihime said. "Uryuu and I were having sex."

The pretense around the table disintegrated. "Oh don't worry, we couldn't hear much." "That's okay, we know you're still a young couple." "What a perfectly good way to inaugurate a new home. Is it a Quincy custom?"

The couple sat down, and amazingly, the party continued. The food was more than pleasing, and the plum wine was starting to take effect. Ishida started to breathe easy. He could even taste his food. He had a second helping of something exotic and glazed with mint. Keigo and Mizuiro were recounting old times, and Tatsuki mentioned that she'd heard Ms. Ochi was a grandmother twice over. "She's not old, she has this promiscuous young daughter."

And then, amidst the reminiscing, Orihime started to get emotional. Ishida had forgotten that this too was part of pregnancy.

"I'm so happy everyone's here," she said and dabbed her eye with a napkin. "I hope everyone's got room for dessert because I made the prettiest Christmas cake."

"Wow, Orihime," said Keigo, looking a little teary-eyed himself, "You've gotten to be, like, this domestic goddess."

Orihime looked around the room, wrinkled her nose like she was about to sneeze but burst into loud crying instead. It couldn't have been over the domestic goddess remark, but Keigo apologized profusely, and everyone said, "there, there, tell us what's the matter." The sight of an unhappy Orihime was disturbing to all.

"Preg-nant," Karin silently mouthed at Ichigo.

Orihime blew her nose and spoke in a voice thick with tears. "I don't know. Sometimes I'm so proud of myself for all that I've accomplished--like with the cooking and Tsuyu and the mechanical engineering degree that I'll make use of one day." She looked at Uryuu, and he nodded supportively. "But the years will go by and maybe I'll never build that robot, and then it's only a matter of time…." She swallowed a sob. "It's only a matter of time before we're all old and then we die and go to Soul Society--"

"What's Soul Society?" Mizuiro's date whispered.

Mizuiro held up his hand. "Sshhh."

"And maybe we'll never find one another again," Orihime continued. "And look at me. I'm the oldest--"

"I'm the oldest," interrupted Isshin.

Orihime didn't let him finish. "I'm already acting like a granny. I make pies everyday, and will you look at me? I'm fat."

Ichigo, apparently still twitching over his I miss the old Inoue remark, spoke before he thought--as usual. "Stop that, Inoue. You look nice. And that dress Ishida made looks very sexy on you."

Orihime smiled. "Really?"

"You said sexy," gasped Karin. "Ichigo, what's the matter with you?"

"What?" Ichigo looked miffed. "Why does everyone have to pick on me when it comes to sex stuff?" He stuck his tongue out at his sister. "I said Inoue looks sexy. Sexy, sexy, sexy."

Ishida assumed his Pride of the Quincy stance. "That's it, Kurosaki. You and me. Outside. Now."

"Huh?" Ichigo looked dumbfounded.

Everyone, even Isshin, looked scared. "Now Uryuu," said Isshin. "There's no really no need--"

Ichigo seemed to have recovered his senses. "Stay out of this, Dad. Ishida and I have had this one coming for a long time."

The room watched as the two men left--each looking mysteriously solemn. The duel had an air of High Noon. Ichigo and Ishida hadn't always been the best of friends, but no one believed that their disagreements had ever been that serious. Ichigo admired Ishida; Ishida respected Ichigo. That was a fact.

And although Ishida had threatened other men who were a little too forward with Orihime, he'd never once called Ichigo on it.

It was at the porch door that Ishida told Ichigo, "I'm not mad. I just had to get out of there. I figured you wanted to get out of there too."

Ichigo shot Ishida a lopsided smile. "Great thinking."

Ishida took off his jacket and pulled out his tie. "We're out here, so we may as well fight."

"We can do that?'

"I infinitely prefer fighting to conversation," Ishida said. "And it's been a long time, hasn't it, Kurosaki? Allow me to show you my training ground." He gestured towards the uncleared woodland behind the house. "About five thousand meters up, you'll see the reiatsu platform I built." As he lifted his arm, he allowed his Quincy pentagon to fall from his sleeve cuff.

Zangetsu materialized in the black night, and Ichigo rested the giant sword on his shoulder. "Let's roll," he said.


Rukia grabbed the gigai she always used for Living World excursions, but she didn't bother changing into a pretty kimono. She was going to be terribly late and by the time she got to the Ishida house, everyone was going to be less formal than when first arriving. Ties would be off, jackets would be draped on the backs of chairs, and maybe even Mizuiro's current girlfriend will have donned a shawl because she couldn't bear the cold any longer.

It was always a sweet occasion when she visited Orihime and Ishida. They were her best human friends, and the rightness of the two of them being together never failed to impress her. Rukia was a little envious that Ishida had proposed marriage as soon as he and Orihime recognized their love for one another. Lace, flowers, white cake, and then a honeymoon in local hotel. So romantic.

Still, Rukia and Ichigo worked, fought, and breathed together, and that sort of rightness didn't really need to be commemorated with lacy things.

As soon as Rukia stepped out of the dangai, she felt it. Ichigo was blowing stuff up in Karakura Town.

Glowering, she leapt into an extra-speedy shunpou towards the reiatsu bravado. Ishida was up there too. What's this? The two of them were fighting? What dumb thing had Ichigo done to get Ishida to challenge him to a duel?

She landed right before the address she'd been given and didn't bother to knock. She punched the door open with her foot.

"What the hell," she exclaimed, "are they doing up there?"

Keigo was sitting on an over-sized couch with a girl in spaghetti strap dress who was obviously Mizuiro's latest. The girl stared at Rukia, and Rukia remembered that she was wearing her black clothes and still carrying her zanpakutou.

"She's always dressed like that," Keigo explained to the girl. "It's a religious thing."

"What did Ichigo do this time?" Rukia asked. She took a deep breath and tried not to get any madder.

"Um…." Keigo gestured with his head to the spaghetti strap girl. "Sure is thundering really bad out there. The storm started right when Ichigo and Ishida went out to discuss something."

"Discuss something?"

Isshin appeared next to Rukia and offered her a tea mug. "You missed the vermouth," he said. "It was the strangest thing but Orihime burst into tears and Ichigo said she was sexy and then Uryuu asked Ichigo to step outside."

Rukia blinked and shook her head. "What?"

"It's nothing really," Keigo said. "Orihime's pregnant, and Ishida… well, Ishida's always been uptight."

Rukia sat down on the floor with her mug of tea. "Orihime's pregnant again? Well that explains everything. Human pregnancies can cause a lot of drama."


Mizuiro's girlfriend, thought Rukia, must be really dense. Dating a dumb girl was one way of assuring that she would never find out about your super powers. Maybe Mizuiro did that on purpose? On second glance at the girl's cleavage, though, Rukia decided that Mizuiro prioritized other criteria when choosing a girlfriend.

"Where's Orihime?" Rukia asked. "If she's upset, maybe I should talk to her."

"Oh she's right as rain now," Keigo said. "Pregnancy must do way crazy things to a girl. She cheered up in a flash and went to get dessert. Mizuiro went to help her. We're just sitting around waiting for the cake." Keigo looked sleepy. "It's supposed to be an awesome cake."

"Where's Tatsuki?"

"Outside looking at … um, the sky."

"Weren't Chad and Karin supposed to be here?" Rukia looked around the room and felt disappointed that the festivities were already dwindling down. "Where are Chad and Karin?"

"I think they're making out in the bathroom," Keigo said.

"Really?" Isshin set down his tea. "Let's go listen!" And he was skipping down the hallway before anyone could say anything.

"Isn't Karin his daughter?" Mizuiro's girlfriend asked.

"They're not a very exciting couple," Keigo observed. He was licking the last traces of gooey glaze off his empty plate. "I tried listening at the door for a little while, but you know Chad. He's pretty quiet. You'd think Karin would be loud, but she's not."

The room shook as if hit by an earthquake.

"That can't be an earthquake," said Mizuiro's date. "That's the fourth one."

"They're way too close," Keigo shouted to the kitchen. "They're going to destroy the suburbs."


"The thunderstorms," Keigo explained. He gave Rukia a pleading look. "Maybe you should talk to Orihime after all. Maybe she can stop it."

"Orihime can stop a thunderstorm?"

If for no other reason than she couldn't bear being around Mizuiro's girlfriend for another second, Rukia headed for the kitchen. Maybe Orihime could tell the story in a rational manner….

Rukia paused at the threshold. Orihime? Rational? The crazy dinner party and pregnancy vibrations in the house were already effecting Rukia's thinking.


"Kuchiki-san!" Orihime sped to Rukia and threw her arms around her. "Kuchiki-san!"

All these years and Orihime still addressed Rukia by her surname. She admired her. She looked up to her. Rukia would always be her idol.

"I was going to drag along Renji," Rukia said, "but he fell asleep at the meeting, and I didn't want to wake him up."

Orihime smiled. "Big strong men are so adorable when they're sleeping, aren't they? Would you like some tea? I'm brewing some more. And Mizuiro just finished slicing the cake for me. Have some cake?"

Rukia pointed a finger skywards. "That doesn't bother you?"

"They're just letting out some steam," Orihime said. "You know those two. They wouldn't hurt themselves or anybody else. It's been too peaceful too long, and I think they need to fight every now and then."

"I know." Rukia put her elbows on the counter. "I wanted to see Ichigo in a suit, that's all. When he gets back, it's going to be all ripped up."

"He looked very handsome."

"Hmmmm." Rukia raised an eyebrow. "Isshin said that Ichigo said something about you looking sexy? That doesn't sound like him. Is he drunk?"

"I don't think so. He was just trying to be nice."

Mizuiro noticed that he was standing in the way of a tete a tete. He picked up the tray of cream-covered dessert. "I'm bringing the cake out, okay?"

Orihime thanked Mizuiro, and the two women stood in the kitchen looking at one another with fond, smiling faces. Orihime was thinking that Rukia led such a glamorous life and that her windswept hair and Shinigami uniform were gorgeous. Rukia was thinking that Orihime led such a serene life and that she looked pretty as ever but somehow more dignified with her new short hair.

Outside the window, the skies flashed with the tremendous force of Quincy battling Shinigami.

"Congratulations on your pregnancy."

"You know?"

"I think everyone knows."

"Really? I guess my getting nauseated at the table tipped everybody off." Orihime put her hands on her hips. "That and my having sex with Uryuu in the bathroom."

Rukia didn't ask.

Tatsuki walked through the back door. She was punching her hand with a fist and looking excited. "It's over," she said. "Ichigo got serious with the ban kai business and all those seele schneiders went flying. Then Ichigo threw a long mean getsuga tenshou and Ishida fell off the platform. Ichigo fell off too, but Ishida fell off first so that means Ichigo wins!"

"Where are they now?" asked Rukia.

"Ichigo's on the ground, but I think Ishida's stuck in a tree somewhere."

Rukia and Orihime locked eyes for a second and then erupted into laughter. Tatsuki looked confused. "What?"

Orihime put her hand on her tummy as she shook with giggles. "Oh my. I think I know what's been making me sick. This dress is too tight."


Losing to Kurosaki was not humiliating. Ishida had known from the start that the Shinigami was the better fighter, even if Ishida's strength as a tactician had delayed the inevitable for a satisfying time.

He jumped out of the tree and landed next to Kurosaki. His own shirt was merely frayed, but Kurosaki's had been blown off completely. That made him smile.

"What are you looking so cocky about?" Kurosaki said. "I won."

"I'd have to say that we both won." Ishida rubbed his singed palms on his pants. He noticed one thigh was bleeding. One cut was pretty good when dealing with a slash and hack swordsman like Kurosaki. "We both managed to escape the dinner party."

Shinigami and Quincy sat on the ground. It was too early to return. Women might be upset. Isshin could be trying to start up a game of strip poker. And neither fighter was interested in dessert--the concoction Orihime described had sounded a little scary. Ishida had noticed how much whipped cream she'd purchased for it, and the combination of drunken guests and whipped cream was just asking for trouble.

"I'm sorry about my dad," Kurosaki said.

"Don't be. He doesn't bother me. My own father is less preposterous but more annoying." Ishida lay back on the wet earth. It'd been so long since he'd had his clothes mussed like this.

"At least your dad had the good sense not to show up." Kurosaki took Ishida's cue and lay on the grass, spreading his arms and legs so that his body looked like a pentacle. Ishida took the exhausted formation to mean that Quincy had somehow knocked down Shinigami reiatsu--even if the fight technically belonged to Kurosaki.

"I was fighting in a gigai," Kurosaki said. "I would've beaten you sooner if I'd gotten out of it."

Sometimes Ishida forgot that Kurosaki was dead. Ishida's perception of barriers between worlds had faded since marrying Orihime. For Orihime, there had never been barriers. People were all the same; the Living and the Dead were merely souls in different forms, and there were no enemies, none at all, in the universe.

It occurred to Ishida that only Orihime could throw a dinner party with ghosts and humans and even a clueless guest like Mizuiro's date and expect it to go smoothly.


Kurosaki seemed to want to ask Ishida something.

"What is it?"

"I don't want to stick my nose in your private life here, so just tell me if this question isn't right, but…." Kurosaki's voice sounded nervous. "Do you and Inoue always do things like have sex in the bathroom when there are other people around?"

"Her name's not Inoue," Ishida said. "It's Ishida now."

There was a long silence while Ishida considered whether or not to answer Kurosaki's question. He knew that the Shinigami had no prurient interest in Orihime and that Kurosaki wasn't an indecent person, just someone given to saying inappropriate things. It amazed Ishida that Orihime had ever idealized Kurosaki so much. The Shinigami was strong and heroic, yes, but he was more than a little goofy.

"It was a special circumstance," Ishida said and left things at that.

A light rain had started to fall. The fighters welcomed it. The fresh water would wash away some of their blood and grime and make them more presentable when they returned to the house.

"By the way," Kurosaki said. "Congratulations on the new kid."

"You know?"

"Everybody knows."

Ishida frowned, not because the word was out but because, unbeknownst to his own keen Quincy senses, Kurosaki could have developed notable reiatsu-detecting powers over these years. Ishida himself couldn't yet sense the new baby's life force, and it was easy for him to forget on occasion that Orihime was even pregnant.

"I know I asked you this before," Kurosaki began in an earnest voice.

Ishida closed his eyes and turned his face to the rain. Isshin had been right; his son was having some weird spell of sentimentality.

"The babies you and Inoue--I mean Ishida Orihime--have. Are they going to be Quincy?"

"Of course," said Ishida. "Being a Quincy has to do with a culture and a code of ethics as much as it has to do with the power to manipulate reiatsu. Tsuyu seems to be spiritually gifted, though. I've already started training her."

Kurosaki was silent, and the rain fell and fell.

Ishida got up on one elbow. He wondered why Kurosaki's hair had the ability to stay spikey even when drenched. "Kurosaki," Ishida said sharply.


"When are you and Rukia going to make things official and start your own family?"

The question seemed to hit the Shinigami like three steele schneiders through the heart. He covered his eyes with the heels of his palms. "Oh man, I don't know. Damn it, Ishida. I just don't know."


When Tatsuki convinced everyone that the boys were not dead and probably reminiscing and playing in the mud like twelve-year-olds, the party was allowed to end.

Mizuiro kissed Orihime goodbye on the cheek and thanked her thoroughly for the lovely evening. His date put on her shawl and echoed Mizuiro. As the two left the door, the fashion model was heard to say, "I've been to bohemian parties before, but your friends take the cake for strange."

Keigo waited and waited because he wanted to see Ichigo again before leaving, but then after a second piece of cake and a yawn, he said he had to go home because he had work the next morning.

Isshin fell asleep on the huge couch.

"You'd think," Karin said, "that someone of his constitution could last a few more hours. But no, Dad burns out quickly."

"He looks peaceful there," Chad said.

The two left, and as they did, Orihime noticed that they were holding hands. "Ahh, young love," she said to Rukia, and Rukia looked a little wistful.

When the men returned, the women had a good laugh over their ragged appearance, Ichigo looked embarrassed, and Ishida--ignoring the teasing--pointed to Orihime's abdomen.

There was a palm-sized hole in the silk over Orihime's pregnant tummy. It was in the shape of a triangle and except for looking a little frayed where the scissors had cut, the design looked rather natural.

"There pressure there was making the nausea worse," Orihime said.

"You could've changed into something more comfortable," Ishida said.

"Don't you like the triangle? I think it looks great. Maybe I can cut triangles into all the dresses you've made for me instead of wearing pregnant clothes."

Ishida put his hand on his chin. "It would be easy to make that design a five-pointed opening. I can cover it with stretchable fabric so it's more modest."

"What a great idea!"

Ishida walked around Orihime and appeared deep in concentration. "The everyday clothes can have simple pentacles, but more formal dresses can take a shimmery fabric. Maybe tulle in a muted color."

"I have some tulle in my sewing box!" Orihime was elated. "C'mon, Tatsuki, let's go help Uryuu pick out some Quincy stars for my new pregnant clothes."

Tatsuki wasn't as thrilled about the task as the two sewing geniuses, but nonetheless she followed them to the sewing room.

That left two conscious people in the reception room: Ichigo and Rukia.

Rukia was eating the goose that Ichigo had saved for her. "What are you staring at?" she asked him. "I'm better dressed for a dinner party than you are."

"Can Shinigami make babies?"

Rukia stopped chewing. A piece of meat balanced between her teeth like a cigarette, and she spit the piece to her plate. "Of course they can."

"I never see in any babies in the Seireitei."

"You haven't been paying attention to anything for the last eight years, have you? We live in a military compound. We don't visit nurseries as a general rule."

"But you're saying the babies are there?" Ichigo leaned his back to the wall, put his hands behind his head and looked at the ceiling. "We just don't see the babies?"

Rukia resumed eating. "I think you're drunk," she muttered. "I bet you won't be able to shunpou a straight line home."

"I'm not drunk," Ichigo insisted. His face got serious and his jaw tightened. He looked directly at Rukia. "I'm trying to talk to you about something here."

Rukia lay her plate down and looked at Ichigo warily.

The two stared at each other. The tension felt like pre-bickering tension, so Ichigo relaxed his shoulders and tried to sound casual. "Babies are great, you know. I've always like babies. And little kids are better. No one can be in a bad mood about around little kids."

"Shows how much you know," Rukia said. "You've never spent much time with the Ishida kid. She's mean and she throws fruit at people."

"Ishida calls her spirited," Ichigo said.

Time stilled into what could only be called a pregnant pause.

"So what do you say, Rukia--do you want to have some kids?"

Rukia's eyes grew even larger than they usually were. The black dots in the center of her blue pupils expanded. "You're kidding."

"I'm not." Ichigo's face softened now that the hard part had been spoken. "I've been thinking--"


"Be serious. Sometimes I can get thoughtful, and tonight I was thinking that Ishida and Inoue are growing up and doing different things. We fight and train and all that every day, and it's great but…."

Rukia stared. She hadn't blinked in such a long time that her eyes were getting dry.

"We've done that old stuff for a long time," Ichigo went on. "Don't you think it's time we tried to do new stuff … like starting a family?"

"I don't know, Ichigo," began Rukia in a hesitant voice. "This is a big decision. It's a lifestyle change. My brother's going to want a wedding--"

Isshin sat up straight, hugging a couch pillow. "Do you hear that, Masaki? We're going to be grandparents! They're finally doing it. Our boy is going to marry Rukia-chan!"

"Wait," said Rukia and she held up her hands. Before she could continue, though, Isshin was hugging her. Then he was hugging Ichigo. Then he was hugging them both together, smooshing their bodies against one another until Ichigo said "ow."

"This is the happiest day of my life," Isshin said.


In the sewing room, Tatsuki stood frozen to the spot. Her mouth hung open.

Ishida and Orihime were calmly examining swatches of fabric and exchanging the lovey dovey looks that made Tatsuki feel like she belonged on another planet.

"Did you hear that?" Tatsuki finally said. "I think Ichigo's lost his mind. I never thought I'd see the day when he finally grew up and accepted that he and Rukia were meant to--" Tatsuki was sputtering her words. "I mean, he's actually going to do grown-up stuff. Like--like--being a father."

"Ichigo's not grown up," said Orihime.

"Well, I know that," Tatsuki said. "But he's decided to get married. That's the weirdest thing that's happened at this party, and lots of weird things happened at this party."

While Orihime was fingering a piece of light blue lace, Ishida put his hand on top of hers and looked into her eyes.

"Orihime," he said in a velvety, amorous voice. "Was this evening everything you'd hoped it would be?"

"It was more," Orihime said in a whisper. "It was perfect. It felt full of love."

When Orihime and Ishida leaned towards one another and exchanged a delicate kiss, Tatsuki figured that she needed to leave the room.

"Sex maniacs," she grumbled, and she walked to the front room where Isshin stood holding a glass of something brownish.

There was still liquor in the house?

"Ah, Tatsuki-chan!"

Ichigo and Rukia sat side by side, both smiling weakly and holding up their glasses.

"You're just in time," Isshin said. "I'm about to toast the new couple. To toast the wonders of Life! And the wonders of Death, of course. Here, have a glass."

The stuff smelled strong. Tatsuki pulled up a pillow, sat down, and steeled herself for what would be an effusive teary-eyed celebratory toast by Isshin Kurosaki.

He always made toasts like that. But maybe…. Tatsuki sipped her glass as Isshin's voice went on and on.

The rain pattered peacefully on the roof of the new house.

Rukia and Ichigo exchanged fond looks even as they sat, slumped with embarrassment.

Orihime's humming could be heard from the sewing room.

Tatsuki took another sip. Horrible stuff but….

Maybethe evening called for an Isshin toast, after all.