Omg, about time right? XD SO SO SO sorry about that, life's been crazy and plus I found it really difficult to find a good ending for this and I was stressing because I really wanted to give all you awesome people a great ending...but I still don't like it *sweatdrop* I feel like I've lost my edge...at least for this story... But oh well, if I don't put this up now, I'll never finish it XD
But ohmygoodness here we are at the last chapter! I decided to make Chapter 15 the very last one. It's a nice solid number and a good IchiHime number.
I wish I had a better way than just words on a computer screen to express how much I deeply, deeply appreciate all the unexpected and awesome support for this story. You guys are truly amazing for being amazing to me and this story. Your reviews were always encouraging and brought some light into my life when I was going through some dark times this past summer. Writing this was a great escape and reading your reviews was great encouragement. But life has been going better (and busier) lately, which is the reason for the long periods of time in between updates, which I feel bad about but you guys have been amazingly supportive despite that. This story would never have been any kind of success without your incredible reviews giving me encouragement, constructive criticism, and ideas. So anyways, big big big big THANK YOUs, GLOMPs, and HUGs to each and every one of you. You people are awesome!!!!! (ugh, I'm getting teary eyed while writing this, lol. XD On to the ending!!)
Disclaimer: Bleach (c) Kubo Tite
The week prior to the ball passed quickly in a flurry of frenzied servants, an overprotective husband, and a wife who, at this very moment, was trying to decide if said husband was a sadist or a masochist. He released her from yet another string of ravishments upon her person without following through, much to the duchess's well hidden frustration. She smiled up at the masculine face stretched with poorly hidden and painful desire. Oh, how she wanted to assure him that her body was more than strong enough to receive anything he wished to administer to her.
But she did not and he did not. The duchess for desire not yet overcoming shyness; the duke for desire not yet overcoming protectiveness, although each came dangerously close. Her eyes slid closed again as he murmured against her ear. "The ball is…in two hours…" She felt his lips drop to the side of her neck. "We must prepare…"
Ichigo's eyes opened and of their own volition found the large bed that stood in her chambers; a place he really shouldn't be visiting in the first place. He looked away and grasped her shoulders, gently pushing her away, and kissed her nose. "I will you seen then."
They looked at each for a few lingering seconds before finally he turned and retreated into his own quarters. After several moments Orihime's breathing began to return to normal and she softly smiled to herself, touching her swollen lips.
A knock at the door tore a small squeal of surprise from her as she broke from her thoughts. "Come in!"
Momo and Rangiku waltzed in with big smiles on their faces and bundles of dresses and ribbons in their arms.
"Oh my goodness! All these dresses!"
Rangiku chuckled as she and Momo spread them across the bed. "Mr. Ishida got so excited about making a fancy ball gown for you that he couldn't decide exactly what to make, so he just made all of his ideas. He hasn't had much chance to sew for real ladies, you know."
Orihime reverently fingered a bit of fabric. "They're all so beautiful. How will I choose?"
Momo smiled as she lifted a dark blue gown and shook it out before holding it under her mistress's chin. "That's what we're here for, my lady."
Rangiku tilted her head to the side as she examined the gown against Orihime's complexion and then smiled into her grey eyes. "We'll find the one that will knock his dukeness right on his dukely bottom as soon as he sees you."
"Renji? What are you doing?" Rukia folded her arms across her chest and frowned at her fiancé standing outside the kitchen, staring at the closed door.
"I can hear him in there."
"Those knives…chopping away…slicing and dicing…"
Rukia blinked twice. "Oh! You mean brother!" She grinned and strode over to Renji, grabbing his arm and tugging on it. "Come on, I was wondering when you would be coming so we could tell him about the engagement together."
Renji's eyes grew wide and panicky as he tried to retrieve his arm. "Rukia! I don't think that that's such a good idea! Maybe you should tell him first…without me…"
"What are you talking about? Why?"
His face began to drain of blood in remembrance. "Because last time I saw him he nearly killed me."
She rolled her eyes and tried again to tug him towards the door. "Nonsense."
"No, it's not, Rukia!" he insisted. "Your brother thought I wasn't looking at you appropriately and he sent five kitchen knives flying towards my head!"
"Oh, that was just him giving a warning."
He gaped at her nonchalance. "My head, Rukia! I kind of need that particular body part!"
She bit her tongue against joking that he didn't use it that much anyway. "I promise he won't throw any kitchen knives, okay? If you're still worried about it, I'll tell him that you're scared of him and-"
"Hell no! I'm not scared of him!" Renji scowled and grabbed her hand. "Come on, let's get this over with." Rukia covered her mouth to keep the chuckles from escaping as he nearly dragged her into the kitchen.
His scowl fell along with the blood in his face when Byakuya Kuchiki came into view, his knife poised above an onion awaiting its fate, his eyes calmly staring into Renji's wide ones. The chef's gaze never wavered from Renji's as the onion was completely diced in seconds. His eyes shed not one tear.
Byakuya wiped the blade back once and forth once on the towel laying next to him and then gently placed it down, keeping his fingers close to the handle. "Mr. Abarai," he finally greeted.
Renji nodded. "Mr. Kuchiki."
Byakuya's sharp eyes flitted over their joined hands and the temperature suddenly seemed to drop a dozen degrees. Renji almost released her hand on survival instinct, but a determined scowl settled onto his face and he squeezed her hand tighter. Rukia returned his squeeze and set her small chin with its own determination.
None of this got past Byakuya. "Is there something you wish to say to me, Mr. Abarai?"
Renji silently cursed the cotton balls that had stuffed themselves into his mouth and swallowed hard. "Yes…you see the thing is…I…I…I want to marry your sister!" he blurted loudly.
Rukia jumped slightly. Byakuya kept his gaze leveled on the man's nervous yet strong expression. "Do you?"
"I do indeed, sir." He gave her hand another squeeze. "Very much so."
Byakuya picked up his knife and held it upraised. Renji licked his lips. Rukia's brother looked at her face and studied it for several seconds, his knife still casually upright. Finally it came down and made quick work of a tomato. "Very well. You have my blessing."
Renji and Rukia stared at him in shock as he again wiped his blade clean. This seemed too easy… "However," Byakuya raised the knife and with a sudden flick of his wrist, sent it flying towards Renji, paralyzing the butler in fear until he heard a thump in the wood next to him. His wide eyes shifted over to his left as Rukia leaned over to look at where the knife had landed. It was stuck in the wood about five inches from Renji's ear, a fly impaled on its tip. "If," he continued, bringing the red and black heads back to his attention. "any harm comes to my sister, whether by you or by your failure to protect her, then I will deal with you myself and by my own methods." Amazing how such calm eyes seemed to bore into Renji's soul. "Understood, Abarai?"
The butler nodded enthusiastically. "Understood, Mr. Kuchiki."
"Thank you, Brother."
Byakuya glanced up at his sister and for a fleeting millisecond she could have sworn there had been a hint of softness in his gaze…but it quickly disappeared when he nodded and lowered his gaze back to his work. "Now are you two going to simply stand there like imbeciles or will I be receiving any help in preparation for this evening's festivities?" There was a rush of movement as the couple released each other's hands to assist the cold chef, missing the ever so slight upturn of one corner of his mouth as his thumb twirled the gold ring on his left ring finger.
If it was him, he would have chosen someone higher on the food chain for his beautiful sister-in-law. But Renji Abarai, although a bit of a clumsy fool, was a man of dedication, loyalty, and bearer of a heart that could love Rukia with the kind of love she deserved. That is mostly what he had wanted for her, and besides, who was he to be fickle about whom one fell in love with?
He twirled the ring once more. And most importantly, she would have approved of Renji Abarai.
Nearly two and a half hours later, the ball was in the beginnings of its full swing. The two large ballrooms adjacent to each other had been opened and aired along with many surrounding rooms and were now filled with many people milling about; music, laughter, and conversation filled the house as it once had all those years ago.
Ichigo kept one ear on the eccentric old colleague of his father's, Don Kanonji, who was excitedly telling him about his latest money-making adventure – something about hunting for ghosts? – and surreptitiously looked about at the party. It was good to see the house as it had been before the attack, but it also brought out a bit of pain as he expected to see his father peering about with a monocle placed in his eye and exclaiming over his wife's beauty to whomever would listen. Or Yuzu dancing with one of the many besotted men on her dance card. Or Karin sneaking off to converse with the men in one of the cigar lounges.
Or his mother warming an entire room with her smile.
"So what do you say, dear boy? Would you like to be my business partner?"
His attention snapped back to reality and he politely shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Mr. Kanonji. I've got new responsibilities now."
"Ah yes, and one of those new responsibilities is this mystery bride of yours. When are you going to let her out, your grace?"
The older man's loud voice carried throughout the room and everyone came to a near hush to lean in and listen to the duke's answer for all were immensely curious about this woman. Truth be told, it was one of the main reasons every invite had been accepted. One of many rumors was that it was she who had brought the reclusive duke out of his hole and they wished to see this miracle worker. Now that their curiosity of seeing the duke and the inside of the great Clermont had been somewhat sated, they were already clamoring to see the next item that had kept the rumor mills busy.
The duke turned to the feminine voice beside him that spoke with such familiarity and bowed to her. "Clarissa. You're looking well." He could almost detect a collective sigh as Mr. Kanonji's question was ignored, but that didn't stop them from observing this new interesting turn of events.
The blonde beauty with bouncy curls smiled coquettishly and curtsied. "Thank you, your grace. You are too kind." Her eyes ran the length of his black waistcoat and trousers and looked up at him with approving eyes. "You look dashing, as well."
Her flirtatiousness made him scowl deeply and politely remark, "I understand you were married six years ago." She who had been his…close companion, one might say, at the time of the tragedy hadn't wasted any time in getting herself engaged to another after his world had come apart.
Her face fell slightly, but quickly recovered. "Yes, that's right. To the Duke of Hartfordshire."
Ah, he realized, that is why she is here. He had invited him and with the British duke came his promiscuous young wife. "My belated congratulations."
She batted her eyes and placed a hand on his arm, leaning in to whisper. "But don't let that stop us…Ichigo."
Before he could respond to the offer, he heard his name bellowed from across the room and grinned at the new arrivals. "Excuse me, Lady Hartfordshire." And left said "lady" alone and pouting to greet his two friends.
"If you're gonna make us visit you this often, Kurosaki, you need to move closer to Paris," Grimmjow growled after the vaguely polite greetings had been exchanged.
"Or maybe you should simply move down here."
"Oh that's a wonderful idea, your grace!" Neliel interrupted as she bounced a little in her creamy white gown and squeezed her husband's arm. "Don't you think so, Grimmjow?"
Grimmjow frowned at his wife's expectant look. "We'll talk about it later."
She grinned. "Yay!" Before he could say another word against her assumption that she had already won, she started peering around and then turned sharply to Ichigo. "Where's Orihime?"
"Uh…I'm not sure. She should be here any minute now."
"Hmm…Oh!" She grinned when she spotted another couple coming there way. "Here come Mr. and Mrs. Kisuke!" Neliel waved at them and to Grimmjow and Ichigo's horror, Urahara unfolded a fan and waved back.
"Hellooo, Viscountess. Viscount." Urahara and his wife, Yoruichi, stopped before the group and the professor bowed to Ichigo. "And your grace. I trust you are all doing well."
Ichigo all but ignored the greeting as he rudely pointed at the fan in the older man's hand. "What the hell is that?"
Urahara looked at him from under his green and white striped hat and the fluttered the fan before his face. "Why it's a fan, my dear duke. What else could it be?"
"I know what it is," Ichigo growled. "But it's a woman's accessory! What is it doing in your hand?"
"Ohohoho," Urahara laughed behind his fan. "You poor boy, you've been out of society for far too long. Fans for men are about to be all the rage these days!"
Ichigo's eyes swiftly turned to Grimmjow and Neliel. "Is this true? Tell me it isn't true."
Neliel giggled and Grimmjow slowly shook his head while still staring at the eccentric professor. "Not that I know of."
"I didn't say they are the rage, I said they will be the rage! Just you wait, this will catch on like wildfire as soon as I don this to all the best balls." Urahara snapped his fan against the duke's shoulder. "And they can be quite useful at expressing one's self."
Ichigo scowled at the professor and then glanced over to Yoruichi with sympathetic eyes. "How do you live with that?"
The dark beauty dressed in an elegant, emerald green dress smiled with cat-like grace and slipped her arm around her husband's. "The sex is to die for."
Even Grimmjow blushed.
Urahara unfurled his fan to hide his laughter.
Thankfully, Ulquiorra and Hisagi chose that moment to walk over and with greetings they disrupted the awkward moment that was being thoroughly enjoyed by the older couple. After a few moments, Ichigo turned towards sudden giggling to his right…and scowled at the two girls dressed in gowns that bordered on scandalous. "Miss Loli. Miss Menoly." He greeted stiffly. Who the hell had invited them?
They giggled again and Loli was the first to speak up. "So uptight, your grace! We'll have to get you more relaxed before the evening is out."
Menoly smiled and swayed her hips as she walked closer to him. "We've missed you, your grace. We have so much catching up to do!"
His scowl only got deeper the closer they got. He felt like a rabbit being cornered by starving hyenas. His eyes lifted to search the ballroom again. Where was his wife?
"Where is your wife, your grace?" Yoruichi suddenly asked, sending a quelling gaze to the two girls who obediently gave Ichigo some breathing space.
"Yes, we're all very eager to see her."
Ichigo turned at the voice behind him. "Starrk!"
He grinned lazily and patted Ichigo on the shoulder. "Hello, my boy." A gloved hand suddenly lifted to stifle a yawn.
"I'm amazed you actually got out of bed to come here."
Starrk's expression turned slightly distressed as he rubbed the back of his head. "Well my daughter, Lilinette, was just dying to come and wouldn't leave me alone about it, so I had to give in. Won't get any sleep either way so might as well satisfy the small curiosity of seeing you and your new wife. Where is she?"
"Oh, well, she…" Ichigo trailed off as suddenly Starrk's hand dropped from the back of his head and the lazy man's eyes grew huge.
Ichigo turned as the room quieted to a low murmur, Urahara's remark floating by his ears, "Kurosaki men sure know how to pick their women." There was a loud whap just as Ichigo eyes were running across the wide pathway that had been cleared to one of the room's entrances. "A-And Kisuke men, of course, my love."
The moment he saw her, the entire room disappeared. He took in the sight of her as her eyes quickly searched the room. Her red taffeta ball gown swished softly as she took a few steps forward, the train following her movements. His eyes lifted to the gold detailing on its high waist and then quickly rose higher to her beautifully accented breasts, rising and falling as her nervousness mounted. The small chain that shined against her neck indicated her brother's pendant that set below the fabric. Her ears were adorned with two simple pearls that dangled from her lobes. Auburn hair had been softly curled and gathered into a romantic Grecian style, a thin gold tiara holding it in place while transparent white silk fabric trimmed in small gold designs fell from within her hair, draping over her arm, and nearly trailing to the floor behind her.
She looked like a goddess. And he the gaping fool.
Unable to find her husband, and increasingly nervous at all the people staring at her, she managed a big smile and lifted a hand to wave at the crowd. "Um…hello everyone!" There were a few titters at her awkward greeting as she took another step forward, but then somehow got her feet caught a little in her skirt and stumbled forward slightly, putting her tiara slightly off kilter. "Oops…"
Ichigo grinned. And she was his adorable, wonderful, clumsy little goddess. He found his feet and strode over to her, grinning wider when her eyes caught his and her smile turned brightly genuine. Loli, Menoly, and Clarissa weren't the only ones to stare in shock at the blatant show of affection as Ichigo took his wife's hands in his and kissed her on the cheek after whispering something in her ear that made her giggle and blush.
Someone whispered, "Upon my word, it seems to be a love match."
"A love match? Why how astonishing!"
"Isn't she a lovely thing? And seems to be sweet too!"
"Don't they make a handsome couple?"
The whispering remarks quickly made their way through the crowd as Ichigo led his wife to the dance floor, and rapidly found their way to Clarissa's ears. Her cute as a button face scrunched with anger and jealousy, her teeth clenched, her curls shook. Who does she think she is? She's nothing! Clarissa had made sure to do her research…she knew…
Just then an older lady turned to her smilingly and said in a low voice, "Don't you think the new duchess is such a beautiful lady?"
This was her chance. She sniffed and flipped back her hair, "Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. But lady she certainly is not."
The old lady's eyes widened with curiosity. "Oh? Whatever do you mean, my dear?"
"Well…apparently she was his maid before she was his duchess." She tried not to smile at the woman's horrified gasp. "And that's not all…she was also Sousuke Aizen's mistress."
"No!" The woman's outrage was kept low, and she turned to scowl at the oblivious, dancing couple. Orihime stepped on his foot just then and started fumbling and apologizing. The old lady snorted. "She's not fit to be a duchess. 'Twas nothing but her filthy seductions that lured the poor duke in… Thank you for telling me, my dear."
"Oh! But I really shouldn't have said anything!" Clarissa's hand fluttered to her mouth and she made her eyes big and innocent. "I don't want to cause any trouble; you won't repeat any of this will you?"
She was given a motherly smile and a pat on the hand. "Of course not, my dear. Now if you'll excuse me…I think I see some friends of mine I have yet to greet."
Clarissa watched the woman hurriedly leave to animatedly chat with her friends, spreading the gossip no doubt. Gossip which would be a tall tale indeed as soon as it made a few turns around the ballroom. Clarissa turned to the couple and lustfully gazed at the graceful movement of the duke's hips, her face contorting in repulsion when his whore wife blocked her view. That should have been her, dancing with the Duke of Clermont. She glanced over at the buffet and saw her slightly rotund husband heaping his plate with food and turned away, disgusted by the sight of him. She refused to lose to this…peasant without a fight.
As Clarissa turned to employ the help of Loli and Menoly, Orihime was blissfully unaware of the slander sweeping across the room as she tried not to melt into a happy little puddle of taffeta and silk. To make matters worse, Ichigo leaned down and brushed his lips against her ear. "Have I mentioned yet how exquisitely beautiful you look tonight?"
Orihime bit back the self-conscious giggle as she turned her head into his chest, attempting to hide her blush. "Yes… A-And you look rather beautiful, yourself."
Ichigo scowled as he felt a blush creep up his neck. "Beautiful? Now that is something I've never been called before."
"Well…I suppose it's like walking up to Michelangelo's David and saying to it, 'You are beautiful.' It's rather silly when you think about it since it's an established historical fact that David is beyond beautiful."
The duke's shout of laughter startled a few bystanders as the swept past them. Talking to a statue would have been the silly part in his mind, but apparently not his wife's. He kissed her hair – producing a few astonished gasps from their guests – and asked her, "Have you ever seen David?"
"In person? No…only in sketches in books and things."
He held her a little tighter and whispered in her ear, "Then I'll take you there. We'll go see it together."
She pulled back slightly and stared up at him. "Really?"
"Yes, really. Wherever you want to go, I'll take you there. Anywhere in the world, Hime." He found himself grinning as he imagined revisiting sights he'd seen and experiencing new ones, all with her by his side. She would make things beyond interesting and probably see them in ways he would never have thought. And he wouldn't be sending her away this time…
Just then the music stopped and another song started up right away, ushering in dozens of couples to the dance floor as Ichigo led her away, towards his…their group of friends who stayed behind to be introduced to the new duchess. Nel nearly pounced on Orihime and squeezed the life out of her, causing her tiara to dangle from her head, which Neliel laughingly replaced.
Ichigo retrieved his wife's arm as he introduced her to the Kisukes. Orihime, of course, adored and highly approved of the professor's fan accessory which instantly put her in Urahara's high opinion. The duke then turned to his American colleague. "And this is Starrk Coyote."
Starrk bent over her hand and placed a kiss on it – Ichigo struggled against the urge to kick him in the shins. "It's a pleasure, my lady."
"Mine as well!" She smiled up at the tall man. "Coyote! What an interesting name!"
He grinned. "Thank you, my lady. It comes from my father who was an Indian."
The duchess' eyes grew wide with interest. "Really? A real, live American Indian?"
Starrk laughed. "Yup, a real, live one. My mother was a Frenchwoman and they met and ran away together when her family came to America on a political visit."
"Oh, how romantic! But what about her family?"
He laughed again. "Yes, well my grandparents weren't too keen on the idea, but they eventually came around and welcomed him into the family. However, when they returned to France, my mother chose to stay behind with my father. And so here I am, a Frenchman and an American. Although in my American circles, I don't let that French side be known too widely… Have you ever been to the Americas, my lady?"
"No, I'm afraid I haven't had the opportunity."
"Well, as soon as you find the opportunity, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the land of the free and the home of the brave," Starrk remarked with a sweep of his arm and a low bow.
"Well I'll be hanged." Grimmjow gaped. "He must really like you, duchess. I've never heard him string so many words together at one time."
Starrk grinned lazily. "Her beauty compels the words from my mouth." He grinned a little wider when he caught the glare of the duke that clearly said, 'that better be all that's being compelled or I'll be compelled to relieve you of your genitalia.'
"Ichigo." They looked over to the woman with a practically purring voice standing next to the duke. "Aren't you going to introduce me?"
Ichigo's mouth pressed into a thin line and he nodded tersely before turning to his wife. "Orihime, this is Clarissa, Duchess of Hartfordshire."
Orihime curtsied. "How do you do, my lady?"
Clarissa giggled and waved her hand at Orihime. "Oh no, you don't have to curtsy to me. We're on equal footing, aren't we?"
"Oh!" Orihime laughed at herself. "I suppose we are. No matter how many times I hear it, it's still difficult to remember that I'm a duchess."
Neliel noticed something flash across Clarissa's face and narrowed her eyes as it recovered into its overly sweet state. She glanced over at the unassuming duchess as she engaged the woman in conversation and then Neliel leaned up to whisper in her husband's ear. "Grimmjow, was the duke once involved with that woman?"
"Yes, he almost married her in fact."
"Well, he wasn't serious about her… I remember him flippantly talking about it as if it just seemed like the thing to do. But he's clearly annoyed by her presence here, so I wouldn't worry about it."
"Yes, but…that woman seems to be up to something…"
"Ichigo," Clarissa suddenly pouted. "I would so love to dance, but no one's asked me yet! What are you going to do about it Mr. Host?"
"Oh that's terrible!" Orihime exclaimed before Ichigo could say a word, and she turned to her husband. "Ichigo, you should dance with her!"
Ichigo looked down at his sweet, beaming wife and fought back a groan of frustration. He turned and would have offered his arm to Clarissa, but she already had a firm hold of it. Glancing back helplessly at the group one last time, he finally led the persistent woman out onto the dance floor, keeping her at a good distance from his person despite her efforts to get closer.
Hisagi quickly stepped in and offered the duchess his arm, which she took and allowed him to lead her into the dancing couples. And as soon as the song ended Hisagi released Orihime and cut in to dance with Clarissa, hardly giving either woman a chance to blink. Ichigo grinned gratefully at his friend, who winked back as he swung the stunned woman away, and gathered his wife back into his arms. "I missed you," he murmured as he pulled her close.
She giggled. "It was only a few minutes."
"Was that all?" he groaned. "Why are we having this ball again?"
Orhime laughed up at him. "Oh but I love meeting all your friends! They're all so interesting!"
"Interesting? How very diplomatic of you," he replied dryly. "I call them downright bizarre."
He just grinned boyishly at her reprimand and lightly tickled her side, chuckling at the giggle-squeak combo he got out of her. They danced for a while in silence before he said, "Do you think they would notice if we just left?"
"Well, I don't know…but why would you want to leave?"
"Oh…I can think of a few things I'd rather be doing right now."
He pretended to think for a moment and then pulled her closer to whisper in her ear exactly what he wanted to do, grinning as he felt her cheek flame up and her grip on his hand and shoulder tighten. It was a miracle she didn't stumble. He pulled back to look into her eyes and found that they were darting around the room…as if she were assessing something…
"Well," she finally said. "Maybe we should stay for just a bit longer, and maybe they won't notice after that."
Ichigo held back a shocked laugh at her serious answer. Actually, quite a few people would notice their conspicuous absence, but far be it from him to enlighten her. He swung her around one last time before the song ended, intent on making final conversation with a few friends before he carried her upstairs. They had their whole lives to get to know these people and dozens of balls ahead of them. Granted, it would seem that they also had plenty of time with each other, but both of the Kurosakis would beg to differ.
He wrapped her hand around the inside of his elbow and started to lead her through the thick crowd. Suddenly she heard someone say something and it felt like they were speaking to her, but when she turned her head she saw nothing except people looking away. She smiled at them and turned back, shrugging off the feeling, but then she felt it again.
And then the murmuring words started to become more clear…
"She seduced him…"
"Can you believe…used to be his maid?"
"Well I heard she used to be the mistress of the Marquis of Carginan."
Orihime lightly gasped, but she kept her face forward, praying her husband didn't hear them as her face flamed with shame.
"Look at her, strutting about like she's so high and mighty. She's nothing but a lowly, manipulative maid."
She recognized that voice and looked up, stunned when she saw Clarissa looking straight at her. Her heart sank when she felt Ichigo's muscles bunch tightly beneath her hand. He'd heard. She stole a glance to his face and saw his face was hard, his jaw tightening. "Ichigo," she whispered softly when he halted them in their tracks. "Let's just ignore them. It's fine. Really."
"The whore duchess…"
Ichigo's eyes snapped in the direction of the voice, searching to find which head he was going to snap off, but was interrupted when his wife grabbed his hand and stood in front of him. "Ichigo!" she whispered urgently. "Ichigo, stop! Your hand!" He looked down at her and then at his hand which was turning ivory white, and only then did he notice the pain that had been hidden by enraged hate. Ichigo paused his emotions and looked into her concerned gray eyes and breathed deeply, willing the murderous rage to simmer down to a low burning anger. They both watched as his hand returned to normal under her soothing strokes.
Now that his rage wasn't blinding his thinking, his mind was racing as he looked around the ballroom. He suddenly took his wife's hand in his and strode towards the corner where the musicians sat, signaling for them to stop and leaned down, whispering in the ear of a confused Orihime, "Trust me."
She nodded and he turned back to the crowd that had quieted when the music stopped and forced a grin on his face while still holding on to her hand. "I apologize for interrupting. I hope everyone is enjoying themselves." A murmur of affirmation rolled across the crowd. "Good. I just wanted to make an introduction, the entire reason all of you are here. She is also the entire reason I'm standing here in front of you today, alive. She has become the entire reason for my life. And despite being ostracized by her family, forced into growing up as a peasant, and finally almost sold off by that same family, not to mention putting up with me, she is the sweetest, smartest, most beautiful woman this side of the Atlantic and I dare you to find one with a bigger heart than hers. She is the daughter of Count and Countess Inoue, she is the Duchess of Clermont, she is my wife, she is the woman who saved my life, and she is the woman I love. Lady Orihime Kurosaki." He then folded his slack-jawed wife into his arms and kissed her in front of the entire room, causing them to go completely still in shock.
It didn't take but a few seconds for the room to swell with the sound of applause and laughter of approval from the crowd who only moments ago had reduced the duchess to dust under their expensively clod feet. Ichigo smiled against her lips when he heard hoots and hollers that could only come from Hisagi and Grimmjow and…Neliel?
Orihime giggled when a loud "yeehaw" came from Starrk, and reluctantly they pulled away. He motioned for the music to begin again and, with her in tow, he slipped back behind the musicians to a small door that led into a dark, narrow hallway and quickly shut the door behind him, pressing his back against it. She looked down at the hands that held hers and felt them shaking a little. He glanced down at her and smiled nervously. "I'm not so big on public speaking…"
Orihime smiled softly and squeezed his hands as she leaned up on her toes and kissed him. "Thank you."
He smirked and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight. "Well, at least we got to leave sooner than planned."
She smiled and then looked around at the plain little hallway. "But where are we?"
Ichigo grinned and grabbed her hand. "I'll show you." He reached over to the opposite wall and ran his hand along the wood until suddenly it popped open. Orihime followed him into the room with wide eyes.
He didn't answer her, just led her to the other end of the library as she looked around at the place where they'd first met. Again, he ran his hand along the side of the bookcases and then pushed, opening the hidden door into a narrow, spiral staircase. He looked back at her big, wondering eyes and smiled. "My father liked being able to slip away from functions with my mother. He…uh…built it for this exact purpose, actually. Um…" He looked around and scowled. And then suddenly Orihime found herself being scooped up into his arms. He smothered her protests with a kiss. "These steps are a little difficult to navigate. I don't want you hurting yourself."
"But-" His lips cut her off again, mostly just as an excuse to kiss her again, and then he continued up the steps as she quietly wrapped her arms around his neck. At the top he kicked against the wall and it opened into his private sitting room.
"Oh! How convenient!" she exclaimed, not really thinking about what her devilishly grinning husband was thinking about.
"Yes, isn't it?" He kicked back at the hidden door and continued on towards his bedroom.
Finally he set her on her feet once his chamber door was closed behind them and they stood alone in his room.
"Well," he said after a slightly awkward moment. "Here we are."
They both laughed nervously and Orihime said, "What were you going to say?"
"Oh…well…um…" She stopped fidgeting and looked up at him through the black fringe of her lashes. Was he really, finally going to-? Or did she read everything wrong? She dropped her eyes and took a deep breath. Here goes everything… With a jittery hand, she reached up and untied the ribbon at her chest, loosening the bodice. She dared to raise her eyes at that moment and saw that his eyes had darkened to a deep chocolate brown. Encouraged by the familiar gaze, her hands reached back to unbutton the back of her dress.
One second she'd just let out a small grunt as she tried to stretch her fingers to the out of reach buttons, and the next his lips were on hers, his fingers fumbling through the rest of her buttons as his mouth moved against hers. She slid her hands under his jacket and pushed it off his shoulders, moving straight to work on his necktie and shirt.
In a sudden flurry of tossed fabrics and deepening kisses, he'd picked her up again and gently tossed her onto his bed, both completely undressed except for the turquoise necklace lying between her breasts. Ichigo rose above her and simply gazed for a moment, looking at every curve, memorizing every freckle, getting lost in her stormy eyes and knowing he'd never tire of it.
He pushed a curl from her cheek and then captured her lips, moving his hands up and down her sides as he gently and roughly massaged her mouth with his. She wrapped her legs around his waist and felt his muscles quiver under her fingers as they gently raked up and down his back. A moan sounded from deep within her throat as his tongue burned down her neck and across her shoulder. He growled and bit into the soft skin when her hips lifted and rubbed against him.
Orihime gasped and pulled him closer. Liking the reaction she got from it, she again lifted and rolled her hips. Her name rumbled from his chest and he sank his teeth into her breast. She arched against him again and his hand slid down her side and up her thigh that was wrapped around him, squeezing it. He looked back into her eyes when she hissed and gasped his name. He dropped his head to sink his tongue into her mouth, and entered her with an almost desperate thrust, their moans vibrating into the kiss.
Skin rushed against skin, lips moved against lips and skin, fingers burned into skin, thrust after thrust was met. Orihime's hands snaked down his back and gripped his rear, urging him deeper. He let out a strangled groan and gripped her waist with one arm, pushing her thigh with the other, and flipped her over causing her to cry out breathlessly. He kept one arm wrapped around her waist and ran the other hand down her scarred back, following it with searing kisses, and then again plunging deep into her.
Ichigo crossed his other arm across and between her breasts, gripping her shoulder with his hand, freeing his other hand to move down and touch her. She roughly sighed as her head fell back onto his shoulder, her arm reaching back to him as he moved inside and against her, her other hand gripping the hand on her shoulder.
And when finally she cried out his name, stiffening and trembling and finally melting against him, Ichigo gripped her tighter, nearly roaring as she clenched around him, his head dropping to her shoulder when he'd found release. Moments of catching their breath passed before he pulled out and fell back onto the bed, bringing her with him on top of his chest.
She splayed her hand against his heaving chest as he reached around and caressed her back. They lay there, silently, for several minutes until finally Ichigo's husky voice broke the warm and comfortable silence. "We should do this more often."
Orihime laughed softly against his shoulder. "I agree."
His hand lightly moved down her back, over her hip, and gently lifted her thigh across his legs. "We could start a pattern now…"
She smiled and bit her lip before shifting so she sat on top of him, watching as his smoldering eyes traveled the length of her body, his palms rubbing her thighs that surrounded his. "Yes, we could…" She lowered to softly touch his lips with hers, her hair cascading around his face, moving her kisses down his neck, his chest.
His fingers sank into her hair as she licked at his nipple. "You are…never sleeping in the other…room again."
She smiled and moved back up to his lips, planting another kiss on them, lifting again so that her eyes sparkled into his. "Yes, my lord."
Ten Years Later
"Would you like some more tea, daddy?"
Ichigo shifted and bit back a curse when his head struck the top of the low ceiling. "Yeah."
"Daddy." He looked back at his dark haired daughter's reproving tone. "Where are you manners?"
"What's the magic word?" his other daughter asked while shaking her little finger at him, her auburn curls falling down in her face.
His eyes darted from daughter to daughter. "Uh, please."
The girls nodded with satisfaction and the older turned to pour more invisible tea into his cup. He took the offered cup and after a scowl from his daughters he muttered his thanks.
The younger auburn haired girl turned to yell out the small door of their miniature castle. "Are you sure you don't want to have tea with us, Toshio?"
A little boy's voice trying to sound gruff answered her from his post outside the castle. "No, Emiko. I can't protect you from dragons if I'm inside drinking tea!"
Ichigo smirked at his son's protectiveness, but his smirk quickly fell away under his older daughter's quelling glare and obediently took a sip of his tea before it got cold.
Emiko turned to her sister with big eyes. "Amaya, do you really think there are dragons out there?"
Amaya rolled her grey eyes. "Don't be silly, of course there are dragons. Do you think Toshio would be out there if there wasn't?"
Emiko nodded and sipped her empty cup while Ichigo tried to stop his shoulders from shaking. Just then Ichigo turned his head towards a voice coming from outside.
"Here you are, Toshio! Where are your sisters?"
"They're inside the castle with Daddy." Toshio puffed his little chest out. "I'm protecting them from the evil dragons. You should get inside too, Mommy, so I can keep you safe."
Orihime grinned at her youngest child and reached down to place her hand on his cheek. "Oh my goodness, you're so brave. But I'm afraid I won't fit in there!"
Toshio frowned and looked at the ground, orange tendrils falling in front of his eyes. Suddenly he looked up with a determined look on his face. "Daddy is strong, he can take on the dragons." He turned back to the castle. "Daddy? Can you get out so we can protect Mommy?"
A grunt came in from inside the castle and then a crash followed by a duet of "Daddy!"
"Sorry," Ichigo muttered as he tried to arrange the tea set again. Finally he got his body turned around so that he was on his hands and knees and slowly crawled out of the castle…and then cursed under his breath when his hips got stuck. Orihime started giggling and he lifted his head to glare at her. She clamped her hand over her mouth and walked over to help him. "No, no," he waved at her. "I'm fine…"
The duchess struggled to suppress her laughter as she watched her scowling husband wriggle out of the miniature castle. He hated cramping into the small playhouse, but he could never resist his daughters' sweet faces. Finally he got to his feet, and brushed the grass off of his knees.
Orihime walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Are you sure you can protect me from the dragons?"
Ichigo smirked down at her as he pulled her in closer. "It's not the dragons you need protection from."
She blushed and bit her lip. "Oh? Then what, your grace?"
He leaned down and brushed his lips against her smiling mouth. "This."
Toshio wrinkled his little nose and quickly crawled into the castle.
"Toshio?" Amaya frowned. "What are you doing in here?"
He frowned and took the cup Emiko offered him. "Mommy and Daddy are doing mushy stuff again."
Both girls mirrored his wrinkled expression. "Ewww."
Could there be a weirder ending? XD Ah well, it'll be interesting to see what people think of it. Like I said, I had difficulties with the ending...but I do like the cute father/daughter stuff. So there it is XD
Orihime's dress is heavily influenced by this: http://www. sensibility. com/vintageimages/1800s/images/veritysdress. jpg (without spaces, of course)
Children's name meanings (partially picked for meaning, mostly picked cause they sound good xD):
Toshio – Genius leader, hero
Emiko – Beautiful blessing child
Amaya – Night rain
And the miniature castle is the one in the middle of the hedge maze from a few chapters back ^^
Final review reply list!! D: (But you'll still be getting replies to this chapter's reviews of course) Again, do ya'll even remember what you said? XD Gah...anyways... Thank you again for all your faithful support!!!!
And thank you for all the birthday wishes!!! You guys are too kind to me :3 *HUGS ALL AROUND*
VergilTheart: lol, Ichigo does love children (evidenced by the way he's so good with his sisters :D). And especially the mechanics involved in getting children :heehee Thank you so much for reviewing!!!!
Blitch: Waaah *smother Blitch in running glomps* Thank you so so so so much for your continuous support for the very beginning of this thing. It's been so encouraging and you're amazing for it!!! So glad you've enjoyed this story! It really, really means a lot coming from you!! *HUGS*
Tia-Chan18: Omg your review so beautifully long and wonderfully encouraging!! I LOVED reading it!!! Thank you so much for squeeing on all the details, you are awesome and your support has been greatly loved. Thank you!!! :D
princesss-myu: Yay! Here's your babies XD Hope you enjoyed this chapter of lemon, love, and children. Thank you so much for you reviews!!!
Euphy Azula: Oh wow, I'm so happy you gave this story and chance and like it to boot!! :D I really appreciate your review and it's good to hear how you enjoy it. Thank you!!!
x3Sn0w: *sniffle sniffle* No seriously, reading your review again brought tears to my eyes...I'm such a sap XD It made me "madly happy, mushy,
ecstatic, squee-ish, astounded, contented" XD I don't know how to thank you enough for your incredible support for me and this story!! You're such an awesome person and it really means a lot coming from you!! So thank you thank you thank you and my deep penetrating love right back to ya! :D *GLOMPS*!!!!
Fostersb: Thank you so much for your lovely review!! I'm especially glad that you especially enjoyed the switching among couples cause I was a little nervous about how that would go over. Thank you!!!
Rochelleteentitan: Oh wow! Your high praise made me blush and I don't feel this story deserves, but I deeply appreciate it and thank you just the same. It really means a lot!! Thank you so much!!!! :D
alice hattercandy: *sinks into green goo at review* Thank you :3 So good to hear such nice words from an amazing fellow author! Thank you oodles for this and all your reviews!!! *hugs*
Twix10: Wow! Thank you so much!! I love hearing that I got the emotions across (it's always one of the biggest things I'm nervous about XD). So thank you for your awesome review!!! :D
miss. dramatikkkk: Oh no!! *runs over to resuscitate miss d's soul* Dont' die D: But thank you so much for your enthusiasm over my little story!! It makes my soul all warm and fuzzy :3 THank you so much for reviewing!!!
Miss "L": lol, you're Aizen hate made me giggle XD He's a great character in terms of development and whatnot, but he's one that's meant to be hated, lol. Thank you so much for all your support!!!
LunarStar77: You're review was so sweet and encouraging!! Thank you!! And you should definitely write an IchiHime fic!!! I can't wait to read it!! And don't worry about how it will turn out, my very first oneshot was complete crap D: I don't think you can do worse, lol. Just have fun with it!!! Thank you so much again!!! *hugs*
-Books. R. Magic-: ZOMG!!! Theatres in February???!!! Thank you so much for the info!!! Weee, I'm so excited now XD And I'm so there!! Anyways, thank you for your lovely review and for catching that little prince moment XD You've been so awesomely supportive and it's been a joy to read your reviews! Thank you!!!! *hugs*
The Lord's Fallen Angel: Nothing about your review was lame, your words made me grin like a fool!! :D Thank you so much!!! And about the GrimmNel sidestory, interesting idea!! I might put something like that in my GrimmNel drabble thread, but we'll see. I've got so much on my plate right now D= But thank for the good suggestion and the support!!! :D
Fate-chan!!!: lol, I was hoping to get a few giggles out of my silly ending to the last chapter XD Perhaps a few more out of this one? XD We'll see... Anyways, thank you as always for your awesome, awesome review!!! I'm so glad you liked all the little bits :3 It's funny that you say I'm good at braiding a story because in real life I can't braid. No, seriously. I don't know if it's a mental issue or what (I'm slightly dyslexic, but I don't think that would contribute XD), but no matter how hard I try, I can't braid!! I understand the mechanics...but it's just impossible for me to do for whatever reason XD Anyways, rambling about nonsense again *Sweatdrop* Thank you so much stalker-promoted-to-wifey chan!!!! (how may stalkers can claim that? XD) You. Are. Awesome!!!!! *HUGS*
Ellie0223: XD Thank you so much for your review!! I muchly appreciate :3
elmosrevenge62: *wipes away teariness* Awww, thank you!!!!! You're review was such love :3 I'm so glad to have made your day better and hopefully this one will do the same! Your incredible support throughout this entire story has been so awesome and deeply appreciated and you are top notch for it!!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!! *hugs*
Batsu Espada: lol, no, you are awesome for reviewing despite being tired!!! And all your support has been awesome and loved. Thank you ever so much!!!! :D
DancerGrl16: Aw, that's so good to hear your dog is fine! And you're very welcome for the dedications :3 I'm so glad you enjoyed the chapter!! It means a lot! And yeah, the ChaTatsuki was there if you squint XD But I left it up to the readers to decide where their relationship went because there was just getting to be too many couples in this story XD And I kind of prefer them to be friends... But anyways, thank you so much for your review!! They're always such fun and encouragement to read and I deeply thank you for that!!! *HUGS*
Sakura Uchhia: Thank you so much!! :D
Shirochan21: Thank you oodles for your encouraging review!! I'm so glad you like my fluff :3 (Sometimes I worry about getting to fluffy XD) Thank you again!! :D
sally-wu-99: Thank you! Hope you enjoyed the update :D
Fufu-The-Ninja: Omygoodness thank you so much for your review!!! Don't worry about not reviewing before, I just love that you've reviewed :D And it was so encouraging! Thank you!! And that's so cool you share a birthday with Kakashi! I've never read or watched Naruto, but I'm vaguely familiar with some of the characters and he seems like a pretty cool one. He looks awesome anyways! XD Thank you again!!! :D
antica: Glad you enjoyed the chapter!! There has been a lot of intensity in this story, and this author needed a break from all of it as well as many of the readers I'm sure XD I love teasing!Ichigo XD I have a feeling that as he gets older and gets more comfortable he'd definitely tease Orihime. She's just so teaseable XD Thank you so much for your review!! I really appreciate it and glad to hear you are enjoying!!! :D
bleachbabe03: Omygoodness thank you so much for your awesomely enthusiastic review!!! It made me so happyz :3 Hopefully I can get some more IchiHime goodness stories out eventually XD Thank you for the awesome support!!! :D
haruka798: Thank you so much! I'm happy to hear that you are enjoying! And yes, there's definitely a story that's been eating at my brain for a couple of months now XD So hopefully you'll see a new one from me soon :D Thank you again for your lovely review!!! :D
Sweet Yet Painful: Awz, I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed the last chapter!!! It's a big relief :D Thank you oodles and oodles for all of your continuous support! I've really appreciated it!!!
copperheadfightingninja: Thank you so much copper-wifey-chan!!! You iz awesome and hearing that you're enjoying is a big encouragement and has been throughout this story with your support from the very beginning :3 And yes, I'll start working on the next story soon...ish... hopefully XD Thank you again, love!! You're amazing!!! *GLOMPS*
duchesscarml: lol, one lengthy review is wonderfully perfect and deeply appreciated! Your review made me blush like crazy and I thank you for all the amazing words and support!!! Thank you!!!! :D
Vampyre Heartbreak: Wifey-poo!!!!!!!!! ... !!!!!!!! *GLOMPS* :D Oh...you didn't your wife was crazy? Ahahahaha, it's too late now *devil horns* Muahahah...ah...*ahem* ANYways, as you know, I think you are spilling over with awesomesauce and your reviews have been AWESOME throughout this fic!! Thank you a million times, love!!!! You don't know how much I appreciate it!! Thank you!!!! (And yeah, Rob Patt's acting skills are something to be desired...actually anyone's are XD And although New Moon is looking up considering all the shirtless males it seems like that's pretty much the only improvement...ah well XD) Another THANK YOU and a HUG for the road :3
Blackheart214: Holy crap thank you so much for your incredible review!!!! You have no idea how encouraging it was to me :D Thank you!! I'm so happy to hear that it even got you back into IchiHime! Recently I've been kind of falling back in love with them, I know that seems weird since I'm writing this huge story about them...but I don't know, I guess I'm remembering why they're my OTP in the first place XD Anyways, ugh I'm rambling xD Thank you again for your amazing review!!! *hugs*
Wolfy-chan08: Aw, thank you for your lovely review!! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed :3 *hugs*
hannehbuns: lol, don't worry about not reviewing! Believe me, I understand!! Especially since my updates have been taking so long lately *sweatdrop* And your review was awesome and so much fun and encouraging to read!! Thank you!!!! I deeply appreciate your love and support for this story!!! *hugs*
Kenkai: Aha, using that name because that's how I know you XD Thank you so much for giving this story a chance and it's so good to hear you've enjoyed it!!! Lol, and yeah one of my favorite parts was giving all the characters their various positions XD It was so much fun so I'm glad you liked it too! Thank you so, so much for your support!!! I really appreciate it! :D
Omg, I wasn't really feeling much sadness about this story ending, but after re-reading all your reviews I'm all teary and sad! XD You guys are more than awesome!! I wish I could like...I don't know...force Kubo to give us an IchiHime spread or go back to HM or something for you guys...but just know I totally would if I could!! How about some virtual cookies and hugs instead? (wheat-free cookies to those who are allergic like me XD)
Thank you a gazillion times for alerting, faving, and reviewing!!!!! LOVE YOU PEOPLE!!!!
*passes around cookies*