Word Count: 3506
Warning: mild cursing
Disclaimer: all characters herein are the creative property of Kubo Tite, with the exception of a few small characters.
Scowling, he kicked at the leaves littering the path as he slowly walked along. With his hands buried in his pockets and his eyes trained on the ground, Ichigo followed the same path he did year after year. The path to painful memories, to raw emotions, and to guilty feelings.
It always led to the same place.
Glancing up at the sky, he sighed in defeat. Of course, it would rain today. He thought as he eyed the dark clouds that were waiting to drop their heavy burden. The dreary sky, brisk breeze and the depressing place had all the makings for a memorable morning.
Letting his eyes flick over his surroundings, Ichigo slowed before the granite marker. It never really got any easier to come here. He mused, pulling a hand from his pocket to rub the back of his neck. Closing his eyes for a moment, he ran his fingers through his hair, trying to smooth the tangled mess the wind had made of the bright locks. Opening his eyes slowly, he picked up his heavy feet and stepped forward.
He stood silently before her final resting place, trying to think of all the things he wanted to tell her. It was jumbled in his mind, the good, the unique, and even the maddening. In the end, he stared blindly at her stone and simply remembered. Her light floral scent that was reminiscent of a summer garden, her delightful laughter that sounded like the ringing of bells, and her radiant smile that warmed everyone who saw it.
Lost in thought, he ignored the drops of moisture collecting on his skin as the rain began to steadily fall. Ichigo recalled her soft warm hands, how they would clasp his small ones within their comforting grasp and the way her sweet smelling hair would brush over his cheek as she kissed him goodnight.
His memories took on a life of their own and he could swear he heard her laughter, light, free, and joyful sounding in the falling rain, while the wind carried the sweet gentle tone of her voice to his ears, playing a soothing melody in his mind. Drawing in a deep breath, Ichigo felt the years slowly slip away, back to a time of innocence.
Blinking his eyes in surprise, Ichigo glanced down. A small hand thrust a black umbrella at him from under the rim of bright blue canvas. His brow creased in confusion, curious at where the umbrella had come from even as he was poked with the pointed end.
"My mom said to give this to you."
Reaching out to take the now wildly swinging umbrella, Ichigo glanced at it and then back at the child before him before asking in disbelief. "Your mom sent you out in the rain to give me an umbrella?"
A sullen yes was the only reply he received.
"Really?" He drawled out in skepticism before opening it over his head, grateful for the covering. Brushing his wet hair back off his forehead, Ichigo reached out and tilted the bright blue umbrella back.
"What did you do now, Katsuro?"
Dark brown eyes narrowed in a stubborn scowl. "Who said I did anything?" Katsuro demanded with a belligerent pout.
Shaking his head, Ichigo arched his brow at the child before inquiring. "Your mother sent you out in the rain, and you're going to try and tell that you're not in some kind of trouble?"
Katsuro twirled his blue umbrella on his narrow shoulder before gruffly replied. "I might have pushed Mao-chan down."
"And made her cry."
Chewing on his bottom lip, Katsuro peeked up at the silent man beside him before dropping his eyes back down to the wet pavement.
"Maybe I stuck my tongue out at her, too."
Ichigo merely nodded his head in response.
Katsuro screwed his face up in a scowl, grinding the toe of his shoe into the path and blew out a harsh breath. "And I called her stupid bunny ugly."
Sighing softly, Ichigo reached out to ruffle the bright mop of orange hair beside him and wondered why Orihime always had him deal with their scowling headstrong son. He could only roll his eyes at her tactics. His wife was sneaky.
"I guess your mother told you to apologize and you thought you'd avoid it by running outside." He blew out a breath before continuing. "Then she said that since you were going out, you should bring me an umbrella so the rain doesn't make my brain soggy." Arching a brow, he glanced down at his son. "Am I right?"
Peeking sheepishly up at his father, Katsuro grinned gleefully. "You did miss the part where Mom said that you didn't have enough sense to get out of the rain."
Closing his eyes briefly with a groan, Ichigo watched his young son kick energetically at puddles before smirking slightly. Leave it to Orihime to make such a comment. And leave it to Katsuro to repeat everything that they said, usually at the most inappropriate times.
Resting the umbrella against his shoulder, Ichigo hooked his thumb in his belt loop and stood there silently as his young son splashed in the puddles. He could feel the tension he normally felt here melt away as his eyes traced over the characters carved into the granite of his mother's marker.
He now understood just what it meant to be a parent. And the great lengths one would go for their children. When wanting to protect them, pain or even death weren't given a second thought.
Feeling something damp and chilly brush against his hand, Ichigo blinked the world back into focus. Glancing down, he watched as Katsuro wrapped his small hand around two of his fingers.
Clutching his father's fingers tightly, Katsuro stood as close as his umbrella would allow. "If I promise to say I'm sorry to Mao-chan can I stay here with you a little longer?" He lifted dark brown eyes to meet his father's as he pleaded, "Please Dad?"
Arching a brow, Ichigo stated firmly. "You'll tell Mao you're sorry regardless." Waiting until he received a reluctant nod of agreement from his son, he squeezed his small hand and grinned. "You know you're lucky her older sister didn't pound you."
Scoffing in disbelief, Katsuro stomped his foot down, splashing water over his already soaked shoe and his father's pant leg. "She's just a scrawny girl with big eyes and weird hair."
Ichigo glanced at his jeans in disgust. Plucking at the wet denim, he reminded his belligerent son. "Size doesn't matter. Her mother is tiny and Rukia would always pound me."
"I wouldn't worry about Akane-chan, Katsuro." A soft voice sounded from behind them. "It's Renji-kun that I'd be concerned about if I were you."
Turning, Ichigo smiled at the sight of his wife peeking up at him from yet another black umbrella. She winked at him in return before turning her attention back to their mischievous son. Shaking his head, Ichigo watched a scene unfold before him that he'd seen many times before. Orihime opened her mouth to scold Katsuro just as his son jumped in before his mother had a chance to speak.
"Listen to this, Mom!" He exclaimed excitedly, ignoring his mother's small frown. "Dad guessed it right again. He said the rain would turn his brains soggy." Katsuro crowed, completely distracting his mother from her scolding.
Smiling delightedly, Orihime clapped her hands around the handle of her umbrella before gazing up at her clever husband. "Ichigo, you've truly come over to my side. We're thinking alike now."
Rolling his eyes, Ichigo gave a longsuffering sigh. "No, we definitely do not think alike, Orihime." Tilting his head at her, he teased his adorable wife. "I am still not convinced that what you do is actually called thinking. What you do is populate a world of fantasy."
Brushing his fingers over her petal soft cheek, Ichigo smiled down at her pouting face before glancing over at their content son, who had now graduated to jumping into puddles. He arched a brow at her before dryly commented. "I can't believe you let him distract you, again."
"I let him trick me." Orihime shrugged her shoulders and smiled innocently. "I know you already talked to him and made certain that he would apologize."
Lifting his eyes, he groaned at the sight of his younger son running towards them, grinning like a bandit. The rain darkened his normally bright hair and plastered to his forehead. And Ichigo could only wonder, what now? Between the two of them, he swore one day his sons would take over the world or bring about its destruction.
"Where were you, Seiji?" Katsuro demanded, letting his umbrella dangle from his hand. "I couldn't find you anywhere."
Still grinning, Seiji replied that he was in the bathroom before brushing his wet bangs from his forehead, leaving it in a spiky mess. "I was only gone for a minute."
Planting his small fist on his hip, Katsuro gave his brother a look of disbelief. "Huh, you were gone forever. And that's a lot longer than a minute."
Scrunching up his nose, Seiji tapped on his chin in thought, looking eerily like his mother. "Nope. I just went to the bathroom." His eyes suddenly widened when he remembered his earlier excitement. "Did you know there is a huge fountain behind the pavilion?"
"When did you find a fountain?"
"On my way to the bathroom." Seiji answered simply, smiling widely.
"There isn't a fountain anywhere near the bathroom."
"There is so." He stated with utmost conviction, scrunching up his nose at his brother's doubtful expression.
Frowning at him, Katsuro stomped his foot, splashing them both. "That's why you were gone so long, you went exploring, without me."
Blowing out a breath, Seiji shook his head as he stated. "And you got bored and started picking on Mao-chan. That wasn't very smart. Akane-chan will pound you for sure."
Katsuro shrugged his shoulders with false bravado, already bored with talking about Akane and her bunny-obsessed sister.
Remembering his mission, Seiji gestured wildly with his hands before exclaiming. "Oh, I almost forgot. Grandpa said that no one here is strong enough to fight him." Pumping his small fist in the air, he yelled excitedly. "I say we take him on."
"We'll win for sure. Grandpa doesn't stand a chance." Katsuro replied confidently before grabbing his twin's sleeve. He towed Seiji back to the pavilion, loudly planning their strategy that inconceivably involved trampolines and large quantities of rope.
Staring after his two sons as they ran through the lightly misting air, Ichigo shook his head in wonder, and no small amount of fear. "Those two are so much alike that it's scary." He stated in amazement, wrapping his arm around Orihime's waist as she closed her umbrella and snuggled with him under his. "I almost feel sorry for my dad."
Rubbing her cheek against his powerful chest, Orihime laughed at her husband's misplaced worry. "Your dad can hold his own." Glancing up, she smugly reminded him. "He survived raising you, didn't he?"
Rolling his eyes at her teasing, he ran a hand through Orihime's hair and threaded his fingers through the silky mass. Pulling in a deep breath of rain fresh air, he hesitantly asked. "Was Renji really angry?"
Tilting her head back to look at him, she arched a brow. "What do you think? His little girl was pushed down and made cry by that 'idiot Ichigo's son'."
Groaning, Ichigo leaned his forehead against his wife's before complaining. "He's too damn overprotective of his girls."
Orihime slid her hand up his chest and smoothed down his damp collar before glancing up at his scowling face. "Honestly though, how would you feel if somebody pushed your baby girl down and made her cry?"
"Pissed off." He answered without missing a beat before lifting his head, glancing around in surprise. "Where is she by the way?"
Smiling softly at his overprotective tendencies, she traced the opening of his shirt and brushed her fingers along the base of his throat. "Your sister is rocking Miyako and trying to get our squirmy daughter to take her nap. Karin said something about needing the practice." Orihime replied, peeking up at him from under her lashes.
"Huh, Karin?" Ichigo asked dumbfounded, frowning down at her.
Orihime chuckled in amusement, much to his chagrin "Yuzu-chan has a baby. Renji and Rukia have two children. We have three of our own. And you still can't recognize the signs of a pregnant woman?"
Shaking her head, Orihime turned from him, leaving him sputtering in denial. She bowed respectfully before his mother's grave. "Hello, Masaki-san. I told you I'd get him here, sooner or later." She added with a tinkling laugh as she arranged the flowers Isshin placed there earlier. "I was right, too. He didn't realize Karin-chan was expecting."
Glancing over her shoulder at her exasperated husband, Orihime winked at him before returning her attention to Masaki's stone. "I do have a secret to tell you though, but I wanted to wait until Ichigo was here too." She admitted quietly, twisting her fingers together in a clear sign of anxiety. "I know I've told you this a few times already, but I don't think you get tired of hearing it. We'll be giving you another grandchild come the first of the year, trying again for a valentine's baby."
Ichigo stared at his wife's narrow back. He knew she continued speaking to his mother, but all he could hear was nonsensical murmuring. His damn hearing was acting up again. She couldn't have just said what he thought. Reaching out, he spun her around by her shoulder and looked down into her joyfully shining eyes.
"Hime-" He choked on his words and had to lick his dry lips before trying to speak again. "Are you saying… that is, are you… again? How?" His eyes dropped to her flat stomach as the information sank in. He rubbed his hand over his mouth as a shocked 'damn' escaped from between his fingers.
He really didn't have any idea, once again. Orihime patted his chest soothingly and grinned at his stunned expression."You do know that there is a way for this to stop happening, don't you?" She nodded sagely as Ichigo raised a brow at her questioningly, impatiently waiting for her next words of wisdom. "Keep your hands to yourself."
Shaking his head in the negative, he replied instantly. "Oh hell no!" Ichigo grabbed her around the waist, pulling her tightly to his chest as his words whispered through Orihime's hair, "Another baby."
Letting the umbrella fall to the ground, he wrapped both arms around her, burying his face in her neck. He closed his eyes and breathed in the familiar scent of Orihime's skin before squeezing her reflexively as he repeated, "Another baby."
Running her hand up his back, Orihime threaded her fingers through hair as bright and vital as the man himself. Turning her face, she laid a gentle kiss against his ear. "Are you pleased?" She murmured, already knowing the answer, but still wanting to hear him admit it.
His hot breath brushed her skin as he shakily exhaled. She could feel him swallow as his arms tightened further, molding her curves into his muscled strength. Orihime stroked his damp hair as she waited for his predictable reaction.
Blowing out a breath, Ichigo pulled back slightly, his eyes blazing as he scowled down at her. "Dammit, am I the last to know again?"
Yep, predicable as usual. She murmured in amusement before tilting her head to the side, teasing. "What do you think?"
Groaning, Ichigo let his forehead rest against hers, "Everyone?" He asked pitifully, waiting for confirmation, already dreading the jokes at his expense.
Kneading his tense shoulders, Orihime smiled serenely. "No silly, not everyone." She replied and he let loose a premature sigh of relief. "I'm sure that there are lots and lots of people who could care less that we're having a baby, tons in fact." She nodded her head decisively, a gleeful smile stretching her lips.
Leaning forward to drop a light kiss on her smiling lips, Ichigo growled out in exasperation. "That's not what I meant, Hime." His irritation was short lived as he thought about their new baby. It was a good thing they finally bought a house right before Miyako was born. Four children in their original apartment didn't even bear thinking. The twins had been more than enough.
Feeling Ichigo shiver as the wind picked up, Orihime wrapped her arms around his waist and ineffectively tried to tug him back to the pavilion. "Come on. Let's go get you somewhere dry and warm."
He rubbed his cheek against hers and stole another quick kiss before curiously asking. "Aren't I supposed to be taking care of you, not the other way around?"
"You take care of me just fine." She breathed out over his lips, closing the distance between them as their lips met tenderly in a gentle expression of their love and happiness.
Slowly dragging his hands up and down her back, his words whispered out over her cheek. "Let's go. We have a celebration to plan for later tonight."
Lifting her head, Orihime blinked up at him before curiously asking, "A party, who's invited?"
"You are most definitely invited." Ichigo stated firmly before leaning back to look at her fully. His expression grew soft as he watched his lovely wife smile knowingly up at him before he continued, "Actually, I'd go so far as to call you the guest of honor."
"Hmm, anyone else?" Orihime inquired teasingly as she walked her fingers up his chest to fiddle with his buttons.
Pressing his hand over her busy and inquisitive fingers, he shook his head and smiled. "No, I do believe that the two of us will be plenty for this party."
Standing on her tiptoes, Orihime brushed her lips over his. "I love you." She whispered fervently before stealing another tender kiss from her wonderfully cooperative husband.
Catching her up against him tightly, Ichigo pressed her hand over his pounding heart. The fact that it still beat in his chest was immaterial. Orihime held it in her dainty hand for years now, it was completely and unequivocally hers.
Squeezing his eyes shut, his voice was quiet, but sincere. "I love you too, more than you can imagine. And I always will." Orihime's arms wrapped around his back, holding him tightly as he whispered, "Thank you."
They stood in comfortable silence, savoring the tender moment. Orihime knew that his 'thank you' covered many things, his pleasure over the new baby and gratefulness for the children they already had, but mainly, he was thankful that she loved him.
Silly man. He knew that thanks weren't necessary. For all the things that he was thankful for, she was equally indebted to him, as well. Closing her eyes, she snuggled deeper into her husband's embrace, enjoying the rare moment of quiet time with Ichigo. Three children, soon to be four, didn't leave them a lot of quiet, let alone time.
Sighing softly, she felt the wind blowing more rain their way and knew they really should go. Miyako was at the terrible twos and was undoubtedly giving her Aunt Karin fits by now. Plus, she was curious, and frightened, by what Katsuro and Seiji were up to, as well.
Looking down at her upturned face, Ichigo gently kissed her before he slowly released her. "Are you thinking the same thing that I am?" he asked, smiling crookedly.
Brushing her fingers over his cheek, Orihime returned his smile before guessing. "That our children are probably creating some kind of havoc or world-class destruction?"
"Yeah." He bent down to pick up the umbrellas and grinned, shaking his head. Ichigo still couldn't believe the trouble his sons' could cause; world-class destruction wasn't too far from the truth sometimes. "You ready?" He held his hand out.
Placing her small hand in his, Orihime glanced at granite marker. "Goodbye, Masaki-san. I'll see you soon. Maybe I'll get Ichigo to come back with me, even if it's just to herd the children." She smiled brightly as she expounded on her train of thought. "You know, to keep Miyako from eating the flowers and to stop the boys from starting a game of Kurosaki Tombstone Dominos."
Shaking his head at his wife, Ichigo blew out a breath as he turned to gaze at his mother's grave. "Goodbye Mom. And thank you." He said with a small smile before walking with his wife through the rain to their waiting family.
He was truly grateful for the life that he had. He was blessed with a loving wife, three –soon to be four- wonderful children, and great friends and family. And it was all made possible by his mother's selfless sacrifice.
Ichigo still missed her, but he understood now that this was all she could have wished for. His happiness.
A/N: just a light fluffy one-shot, I had to get it out of my head so I could work on Always and Forever. I did end up cutting almost a thousand words from this one. I was setting it up for another chapter without even realizing. Bad, so bad.
Thanks for reading. ~Rairakku