Chapter 10: The Happy Ending (Duh!)
Author's Note: While researching formal kimono for the wedding, alter3d.c0re came across a description of the Kubo family crest. To pay our respects, we adopted it for the royal family crest. And why not? None of this would be possible without Kubo-sensei!
Health and Safety Warning: Once again, due to the nature of the IchiRuki moments in this chapter, the authors would like to advise all IchiRuki shippers to be securely seated while reading. We will not be held responsible for any bodily harm that occurs during any potential IchiRuki fangasms that result from reading this chapter.
Ichigo lay dozing on his back, eyes closed, when he suddenly heard a terrifying sound: "Good morning, I-CHI-GOOOooph!"
Ichigo jumped up and ground his foot into his father's face, yelling "Shut up, old man! It's too early in the morning for you to be making this much noise!" As he pulled his foot from Isshin's face, he remembered where he was. "Dad! What the hell are you doing here?!"
"Oi, Kurosaki!" a familiar voice called from the doorway. Ichigo turned to see Ishida, Chad, Mizuiro, and Keigo watching wide eyed as Ichigo silenced his father.
"Ishida! Guys!" Ichigo said, surprised.
"Are you surprised, my son?" Isshin laughed as he sat up, rubbing his jaw. "I told you it was fairly easy to make arrangements to travel between the worlds as a member of the royal family, didn't I? Besides, you didn't expect me to miss my only son's wedding, did you?"
"N-no," Ichigo stammered, overwhelmed, "but where are Yuzu and Karin? You didn't leave them behind, did you?"
Isshin laughed and clapped a heavy hand on Ichigo's shoulder. "Of course not! The girls went with Inoue-san and Arisawa-san to visit Rukia-chan!"
"She'll be glad they got to come," Ichigo yawned, "and I'm glad all of you made it!"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Chad rumbled.
Ichigo looked at his friends. "Wait! How did you guys get here? Are you all dead?"
His friends looked at each other and broke down laughing. Ishida answered, "Urahara's spiritron-converting senkai gate, remember? The same way Chad, Inoue, and I got to Soul Society the first time."
"Ahhh," Ichigo said, nodding his head.
"He's here, you know. Kisuke, I mean," Isshin said
"How? I thought he was still considered a fugitive from justice as far as Soul Society was concerned?" Ichigo asked.
"Well, after the vizards helped during the Winter War, Yamamoto made an executive decision that Kisuke, Tessai, and the Vizards were unjustly condemned by Central 46. All was forgiven, and they were all given the opportunity to return to Soul Society," Isshin replied.
"Really? Did any of them take him up on it?"
"No. The vizards were still a little wary of jumping back into bed with Soul Society after what happened with them, and Kisuke said it would be bad for business."
Ichigo laughed, that sounded just like something the greedy merchant would say. "So, where is he?"
"He said he wanted to go visit some old friends. But enough about him, we've got to get you ready!"
Tatsuki, Orihime, Yuzu, and Karin stood outside the great gate of the Kuchiki Manor. "So, what do we do?" Yuzu asked, "Do we just knock on the door?"
"I guess," Orihime shrugged, reaching out to knock gently on the gate.
Tatsuki sighed. "That's not going to get anybody's attention!" she yelled as she pounded on the gate hard enough to dent the wood, shouting "Is anyone in there!" The great gate opened to reveal a confused-looking Kuchiki family servant.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?", the servant demanded, noticing the visitor's odd attire.
"We're here to see Rukia," Yuzu piped up.
The servant looked at the faces of the small group, unable to recognize any of them. "I will have to get permission from Kuchiki Byakuya-sama before I can allow you inside. May I have your names?"
Orihime answered, "I am Inoue Orihime and this is Arisawa Tatsuki, friends of hers from the living world. These two are Kurosaki Yuzu and Kurosaki Karin, the sisters of Kurosaki Ichigo."
"Kurosaki Ichigo? The same Kurosaki Ichigo who will marry Rukia-sama later today?" the servant asked nervously.
"The same," Karin replied. "Whether we like it or not, he's our brother."
"Allow me to go find Byakuya-sama. I'm sure he will want to meet you. Please wait right there!" With that, the servant disappeared and closed the gate in their faces.
"Oi! Come back here, dammit!" Tatsuki yelled, banging on the gate.
After a few minutes of this, the gate opened again, revealing Kuchiki Byakuya.
Orihime bowed and the other three followed suit, "Kuchiki-taichou," she said, "nice to see you again."
"And you as well, Inoue-san. I am sorry, but Rukia is still asleep. You may come inside and wait for her if you like."
"Thank you, Kuchiki-taichou. We actually came to surprise her and help her to get ready for the wedding," Orihime said.
"I see," Byakuya said, nodding his head.
"May we wake her up, Kuchiki-taichou?", Yuzu put in.
Byakuya seemed to consider this for a moment before sighing and nodding his head. "Inoue-san, do you recall the way to Rukia's chamber?"
"No," she said, "I don't."
"Very well," he said, turning to the servant who had been standing just out of sight, "please escort them to Rukia's chambers."
"Yes, Byakuya-sama," the servant replied with a deep bow.
Byakuya turned back to the girls and said, "Just follow her. I have my own preparations to make, so I will excuse myself now." He bowed his head and walked away.
The girls entered the massive gate and followed the servant closely until they reached their destination. The servant opened the door quietly and waved the girls inside. Inside, they could see Rukia burrowed under her blankets with a huge smile plastered on her face. Orihime and Tatsuki pushed Karin and Yuzu forward gently.
"Go on!" Tatsuki urged with a scheming grin.
"Rukia-nee!" Yuzu said quietly, shaking Rukia's shoulder gently. "Rukia-nee, it's time to get up!"
"Hrrrnnggng," the raven-haired shinigami replied, still dead to the world.
"Rukia! Oi!" Karin tried, louder than her sister, "Get up! Don't you remember? You're supposed to marry Ichi-nii today!"
Rukia rolled over, yawned, and opened her eyes, blinking at the ceiling. "All right, Karin, I'm up. What's Yuzu fixing for breakfast?"
Orihime and Tatsuki couldn't hold in their laughter any more, and Rukia sat bolt upright in bed, eyes wide. "Orihime! Tatsuki!"
"Good morning, Kuchiki-san!" Orihime said pleasantly.
"Yuzu! Karin!" Rukia cried, hugging the twins then pushing them back to arms length with a confused look. "Wait! What are you doing here?!"
"Did you really think we would miss the wedding, Rukia-nee?", Yuzu said with a smile.
"I didn't know you would get to come!"
"Well, Ichigo's dad does have a little bit of sway," Tatsuki said with a smirk, "so we got to come along to help you get ready for the wedding. Ishida, Sado, Mizuiro, and Keigo are here for Ichigo, too."
Rukia laughed and swung her feet off the bed. "Okay...where do we start?"
"Dad! Do I really have to wear this?" Ichigo moaned as he looked in the mirror at the formal kimono Amekaeru had brought him: a black silk kimono tied with a white obi. Both sides of his chest and both shoulders were adorned with the royal family crest, a circle with a pair of crossed falcon feathers in it.
"It's tradition, boy!" Isshin said, slapping him hard on the back. "Besides, it looks almost like your shihakusho!"
"It really is a beautiful garment, Ichigo," Ishida said, gently stroking the sleeve, "you should feel honored to wear something like this."
Ichigo pulled away. "Stop that, Ishida. It's creepy," he said, turning to see the back. There was a fifth, larger, copy of the family crest. "Tradition, huh? Well, it's just for a few hours after all." Ichigo sighed, thinking, "I wonder if Rukia's having this much trouble getting ready?"
"Inoue-san!" they heard Amekaeru calling from outside.
"Inoue?" Ichigo said, looking around at the other men in the room, "I thought you said she was supposed to be with Rukia?"
"Thanks for making breakfast, Yuzu," Rukia said, "it was great!"
"You're welcome!" she replied, "Thank your brother for letting me use his kitchen!"
Rukia laughed, "I doubt he minded. He doesn't spend very much time in the kitchen. Now, where do we start?"
While the girls discussed what needed to be done that day, a soft grunting sound could be heard from the corner as the zipper on Yuzu's backpack began to move. Wider and wider it opened until a plush lion stuck his nose out into the room. "Ahhh!" Kon sighed, "Finally I'm out of there!" He sniffed the air. "Hey! What smells so good?" he yelled.
"Did you hear something?" Yuzu said to Rukia, looking around the room.
"No," Rukia said, listening hard to see if she could detect what had stolen Yuzu's focus. "I don't hear anything."
"Nee-san!" they both heard suddenly as a yellow blur sped across the floor and launched itself at Rukia. Acting on instinct, she smacked him out of the air and sent him bouncing from wall to wall before finally settling in a heap on a high shelf by her bed.
"Kon! How did you get here?" Rukia cried, her brows furrowing with frustration.
Yuzu timidly raised her hand. "I brought him," she said, "I had put him in my backpack and kind of, well, forgot about him."
"Forgot!" Kon cried from across the room, only to be completely ignored by everyone.
"So," Tatsuki grinned, "Where's the dress?"
"Right here!" Rukia said, smiling as she opened her wardrobe to reveal a beautiful, if simple white dress with a high neck and closed back. "Nii-sama had it made, based on the pattern of the one Hisana wore when they were married. He's also going to let me wear the Kuchiki family wedding kimono. It's been passed down for generations!"
"Wow," Orihime breathed, "your dress is so pretty!"
Hidden behind the Chappy collectibles on the shelf, Kon had picked himself up and was readying himself for another attack. "I'm running out of time to be nestled in nee-san's heavenly valley!" he thought, "I'm just going to have to risk it!" He turned to face the last direction he'd heard Rukia's voice in and jumped blindly, only to find himself skidding across the top of the wardrobe. Directly in front of him was a small arrangement of lit candles. Try as he might to stop himself, the Kuchiki family servants kept the top of the wardrobe so clean he couldn't get any traction. He slid into the candles and knocked them over, causing one to roll off the edge. "Whew," he thought, "At least I didn't get burnt!"
"Ahhhh! My dress!" he heard Rukia cry and peeked over the edge of the wardrobe. What he saw filled him with dread: Orihime, Tatsuki, and Rukia all stomping on a pile of flaming fabric on the floor. By the time they managed to put the fire out, the dress had been reduced to a pile of unrecognizable charred scraps.
"I am going to die," Kon thought as he jumped down from the top of the wardrobe and looked around desperately for a place to hide.
"Oh, no, Rukia-nee!" Yuzu said, almost in tears, "What are you going to do?"
Rukia blinked back the tears in her own eyes and said, "I don't know. Nii-sama said he had our clothiers start working on it the first night I was back. It's taken them five days to finish it!"
"How did those candles get knocked down?" Karin asked, standing on her tiptoes to see what if there was any clue on top of the wardrobe.
Rukia caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye and spun to see Kon slinking across the floor. "Kon!" she bellowed, closing the distance between them in one burst of shunpo.
"N-nee-san," Kon stammered as Rukia's hand closed around his throat.
"I should kill you right now," Rukia growled, fury burning behind her violet eyes. "No. On second thought I should tear your arms and legs off and leave you completely helpless, then rip your throat out and crush your soul pill into powder. That was my wedding dress, Kon!" she screamed, tightening her grip on the mod soul.
"Aha!" Orihime cried, snapping her fingers causing Rukia to freeze and everyone to look at her. "I've got an idea!" she said, excitedly. "How long do we have until the wedding?"
"About three hours," Rukia said, her hand still squeezing Kon's throat.
"Hmmm," Orihime thought for a moment, "that should be enough time. I'll get my boyfriend to come and make you a new dress!"
"Your b-boyfriend?" Rukia said, dropping Kon to the floor and allowing him to escape.
"Mmhmm!" Orihime replied, "I'm sure Uryuu-kun would be glad to do it! I'll go get him!" She took off out of the room at a dead run, nearly flattening a passing servant on her way to get Ishida from the 8th division.
"So, Rukia," Karin said conversationally, "what do you think we should do with that bastard Kon for ruining your dress?"
"Well, you've seen how I deal with him most of the time, but just beating him won't be enough this time. What do you think?", Rukia answered.
"Well, when he's done something stupid or been perverted I usually just let Yuzu play with him for a few days until he comes crawling back in tears to apologize."
"I'm so dead," Kon thought from his hiding place. "She really is going to tear my stuffing out and kill me. I've got to get out of here!"
Tatsuki, who had been looking under furniture and in corners for him, spotted him crawling toward Rukia's window, about to make his escape. She crept up behind him and stepped on his tail, pinning him in place.
"Ahhh! No! Nee-san, I'm sorry! Forgive me!" he cried, turning to discover that it was not Rukia who had captured him. He was plucked from his perch by Tatsuki's strong hand and carried back to face judgment.
"Rukia, Karin. Look who I just found," Tatsuki said with a triumphant grin.
"N-nee-san," Kon stammered, "I-I-I'm sorry....I didn't mean to...I just..."
"Shut up, Kon," Rukia growled, her eyes narrowed in anger.
"Well, Rukia, what are you going to do with him?" Tatsuki asked.
Rukia's eyes suddenly brightened, and Kon thought for an instant she was going to have mercy on him, until she spoke, "Do you think Ishida would mind making a second dress?"
"A second dress?" Tatsuki said, wrinkling her nose, "Do you need two?"
"Oh, the second one's not for me," Rukia said with an evil grin, "it's for him. What do you think, Yuzu? Would you mind carrying Bostov here once he's properly dressed for the ceremony?"
"Sure!" Yuzu said excitedly.
Kon groaned and hung his head. "I think I'd rather die," he wailed.
"Good. That's exactly the reaction I was aiming for," Rukia said.
"Inoue-san! You can't go in there right now! Ichigo-dono isn't decent!"
"It's okay, Amekaeru-san," Ichigo called, "I'm dressed now. You can let her in."
Orihime came bursting through the door with an exasperated Amekaeru in tow. "She said it was an emergency, Ichigo-dono, but she would not tell me what it was about."
"I'm sorry!" Orihime panted, "But I'm in a hurry! Kon knocked a candle over onto Kuchiki-san's wedding dress."
"He did what?" Ichigo screamed.
Orihime nodded and continued, "The dress caught fire and was completely burned up!"
Ichigo could feel the blood pounding through his head, and a vein began to pulse above his eye. "That son of a...," he growled, "I'm going to kill that little bastard!" He picked Zangetsu up from the bed and began to move toward the door, his jaw set. "First I'm going to carve him up into tiny pieces. Then I'm going to make him apologize to Rukia. And then I'm going to Getsuga Tenshou his mod soul ass into oblivion!" Just before he could leave he was stopped by his father's strong hand on his shoulder.
"Hang on a second, Ichigo." Isshin said gently, "I don't think Inoue-san is done telling the story."
Orihime nodded her thanks to him and said, "So, after we got the fire out I had a great idea! I could get Uryuu-kun to make Kuchiki-san a new dress!"
Ishida's jaw dropped. "You told her I could do what?"
"You mean you can't?" Orihime's face fell and a tear was visible in the corner of her eye.
"N-no," Ishida said, raising both hands in an attempt to calm her down, "I can do it."
"Great!" Orihime said, grabbing his arm and dragging him toward the door, "Let's go!"
"Ishida!" Ichigo called in a warning tone.
"Don't worry so much, Kurosaki," Ishida said, leaning back into the doorway, "it will be my finest work ever. I promise." With that, he allowed Orihime to win the tug of war and lead him back to the Kuchiki manor.
Ichigo shook free of Isshin's hand and sat down heavily on the bed.
"Ichigo," Chad rumbled.
Ichigo looked up at his friend, worry lines etching themselves ever deeper on his face.
"Don't worry. Ishida will take care of it. You saw what he did for us before we left Soul Society, didn't you?"
Ichigo thought back, dredging the memory up. Ishida had indeed produced new clothes for everyone just before they left to return to Karakura. He sighed. "Yeah, Chad, I remember. I'm just worried about what else could go wrong."
"Typical wedding day jitters, my son!" Isshin grinned proudly. "Be glad you have friends like Ishida-kun and Orihime-chan here to help you and Rukia-chan!"
Orihime dragged Ishida through the streets of Seireitei up to the gate to the Kuchiki manor. She entered without bothering to knock this time and raced down corridor after corridor to Rukia's chambers. There, she paused for a moment to make sure Rukia was decent before barging in.
"Hello, Kuchiki-san," Uryuu said, adjusting his glasses.
"Did Inoue tell you what happened?" Rukia asked
"Yes. We'll need to move quickly," Ishida said, opening his sewing kit and pulling out a tape measure. He moved quickly, taking precise measurements, pausing only once to ask a question: "Kuchiki-san?"
The color rose in Ishida's face as he tried to figure out the best way to ask his question without offending anyone. "Do you...I mean, are you...?" he started and stopped, gesturing at her chest.
Orihime giggled. "I think what Uryuu-kun is needs to know is whether or not your bust is wrapped."
"Oh," Rukia said, blushing a little, "yes. Does it matter?"
Uryuu stood, cleared his throat and pushed his glasses up his nose. "For the design I have in mind, it would be better without the bindings. Also, I'd like to see the kimono you plan to wear with this dress, so I can incorporate some of the same elements into my design. I'll go do that, and when I come back I'll take the last measurement."
Ishida walked out the door and Rukia could hear him asking a passing servant where he could find the wedding kimono. Orihime pushed the door shut and turned back to Rukia. "He won't be gone long," she said.
"I know," Rukia sighed, as she began to remove her bindings.
After about ten minutes, Ishida returned and got his final measurement. "Okay, Kuchiki-san. The clothiers I spoke with here in the manor have given me access to all the fabrics I'm going to need. It shouldn't take too long. When it's ready I'll bring it back to you."
"Thank you, Ishida," Rukia said. She was about to let him leave when she noticed Yuzu holding Kon up in the air. "Wait a second, Ishida!"
"Measure Kon too," she replied with a smirk. "His punishment for burning the original dress is to wear one himself for the day."
Ishida laughed and pulled out his tape measure again, taking rapid measurements. "I'll make it an exact copy of your dress, Rukia. I'm sure he'll look great in it."
"Shut up, you four-eyed son of a...,"
"Kon!" Rukia warned, "You are lucky to be alive after what you did. Don't make me change my mind."
Kon's plush jaw opened and closed a couple of times before staying shut. He knew better than to push her when she was angry.
Rukia, Orihime, Karin, and Yuzu spent the next hour and a half making what preparations they could. They were just sitting down with a cup of tea when they heard a knock on the door. "Kuchiki-san? It's ready."
Rukia opened the door and Ishida came in with two wedding dresses. He handed the tiny one to Tatsuki, and the larger one to Rukia. "Here you go. I hope that you find my work satisfactory," he said, adjusting his glasses again.
Rukia looked over the dress, her mouth open in shock. "How did you? I thought it would take hours! It looks beautiful! Oh, Ishida, thank you!"
"Now, go, Uryuu-kun! We've only got an hour to get Kuchiki-san dressed, and you need to make sure Kurosaki-kun is ready, too!" Orihime said, giving him a quick kiss on the lips for his trouble before slamming the door in his face.
Ishida came dashing into the 8th division and nearly flattened Kyouraku Shunsui. "Woah! Slow down, Ishida-san!", Kyouraku said with a grin.
"Ishida!" Ichigo yelled from his quarters, "Get your ass back here and get ready!"
"Better get going, Ishida-san. Kurosaki-san isn't exactly in the best of moods today," he said with a wink, "something about Kuchiki-san's dress, I believe."
Ishida walked through the door to see his friends in various states of undress. "Dammit, Ishida! Where the hell have you been?" Ichigo griped as he tied his sandals.
Ishida adjusted his glasses calmly. "I just got done making Kuchiki-san's wedding dress," he replied, "and I think you'll appreciate it when you see it."
Isshin slid over and whispered something in Ishida's ear. Ishida whispered an answer back, causing Isshin to whistle. "Ichigo! You should thank Ishida-kun for his hard work to make sure your wedding is special."
Ichigo paused and looked up. "How did she look, Ishida? Rukia, I mean. Is she handling everything okay?"
The smart remark he was about to give died on Ishida's lips as he read the concern in his friend's eyes. "She's doing fine, " he said quietly. "Orihime threw me out so they could get her ready."
A visible wave of relief washed over Ichigo's body. He took a deep breath and blew it out, attempting to calm his nerves. "Thank you, Ishida."
The Quincy grinned and said, "Thank me after you've seen the dress."
Twenty minutes later, Ichigo stood up. "Well. I guess it's time," he said, looking around at his friends and family. He leaned toward the door and it felt like his feet were rooted to the stone floor.
Isshin chuckled softly and put his hand on Ichigo's shoulder. "Come on, son. Just put one foot in front of the other." Feeling the warmth radiating from his father's hand, he gathered his confidence and led the group from the 8th division to the arena where the wedding and coronation would be held.
Ichigo stood at the altar next to Yamamoto, surveying the assembled masses. His eyes scanned the crowd for familiar faces, touching on friends and family in the front row and respected captains and vice captains scattered here and there. He noticed Karin flashing him a thumbs-up before prodding Yuzu and pointing at him. Yuzu smiled and waved, and Ichigo could have sworn he saw a flash of white between them. He blinked as Yuzu lifted Kon into sight, dressed in a miniature wedding dress and forced his tiny paw to wave too. It was all he could do to contain his laughter as Kon started trying to escape only to be apprehended by Karin. As he continued to look around, Kyouraku Shunsui caught his eye and gave him a wink and a grin just as the processional began to play. The guests stood and looked toward the back where Kuchiki Byakuya was escorting Rukia in. Ichigo's breath caught in his throat when he saw her. Her formal kimono, passed down through generations of Kuchiki women, was a sight to behold: jacquard cranes to symbolize faithfulness, pine for endurance, and plum blossoms to symbolize her resilience and nobility were embellished with silver embroidery. The kimono was open at the waist, billowing behind her like a captain's haori to reveal the dress Ishida had designed for her.
"Damn," Ichigo thought, "Ishida can't sew guys clothes that amount to much but girl's clothes...Rukia's dress...it's just...fantastic!"
His jaw dropped as she got closer and he could see the dress better. A scoop front white gown with white and silver embroidery on the bodice to match the kimono. Ichigo caught a flash of skin as she moved, exposing the slit in the side that came up to her knees. "Wow," Ichigo thought, "she's beautiful. I can't believe how lucky I am."
As Byakuya and Rukia reached the altar, he whispered something in her ear that caused her to blush and presented her to Ichigo, before taking his own seat in the front row. Ichigo took her hands in his with a smile and they turned together to face Yamamoto, who tapped his cane on the stone three times to begin the quick royal wedding ceremony.
"Let us begin," Yamamoto said once everyone was seated. "Kurosaki Ichigo, do you take Kuchiki Rukia to be your wife; and do you swear to love, honor, cherish, and protect her until the end of time?"
"I do," Ichigo replied with a nod, turning to look at Rukia.
"Kuchiki Rukia, do you take Kurosaki Ichigo to be your husband; and do you swear to love, honor, cherish, and protect him until the end of time?"
"I do," Rukia said, turning to return Ichigo's gaze.
"Very well," Yamamoto said, "then as soutaichou of the Gotei 13 I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride..."
Ichigo took Rukia in his arms and pulled her body to him, feeling every gentle curve as he half-lifted her. For a split second, amber eyes met violet again and he felt a jolt run through his body as her soft lips met his own. They could barely hear the sounds of the crowd applauding over the pounding of their hearts. They deepened the kiss and the applause started to die off, leaving the guests standing in awkward silence. For a long moment they stood, lost in the embrace, tongues exploring and dueling for dominance before they broke apart, suddenly aware that the guests were just silently staring at them.
They didn't have time to be embarrassed, though, because Yamamoto tapped his cane on the stone again, and began to speak. "There is another ceremony to be performed today before we can truly congratulate these two," he said. "Kurosaki Isshin, please step forward."
Isshin stood and stepped into the aisle, walking down to stand behind his son. "Yes, Yamamoto-soutaichou?"
"So that all may be done in accordance with the laws of succession, do you now surrender the crown and allow it to pass to your son, Kurosaki Ichigo?"
"I do," Isshin said solemnly, producing an ornate golden crown seemingly from thin air.
"Very well," Yamamoto replied, "Amekaeru, retainer of the royal house, please step forward."
"Yes, Yamamoto-soutaichou?", she replied, producing an elegant looking, though slightly smaller, crown in the same manner.
"Are the two of you prepared?"
"We are," Isshin and Amekaeru replied.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, Kurosaki Rukia," Yamamoto said.
"Yes, Yamamoto-soutaichou?" Ichigo and Rukia answered.
"As this assembly has already confirmed your right to the throne and the two of you are wed, you are now eligible to inherit the crowns of your ancestors. Kneel before me."
Ichigo knelt for what he knew would be the last time, feeling the rough stone through his kimono. As he knelt, he felt the weight of the crown settling on his head and then Yamamoto's hands on his shoulders. "Traditionally, the royal household has been without a family name, but starting this historic day it shall bear the name of the king. I crown you now Ichigo, the first Spirit King from the house of Kurosaki, and Rukia, his queen. May you live long and govern well! Rise!"
Ichigo stood and took Rukia's arm the way Amekaeru had instructed. He looked across the sea of faces again, seeing tears in Yuzu's eyes and pride shining in Isshin's. He locked eyes with his friends one by one, receiving a nod of acknowledgement before Yamamoto spoke again, his voice booming, "I present to you Kurosaki Ichigo and Kurosaki Rukia, your king and queen!" There was a great rustling of fabric as everyone present knelt and bowed their head to the couple. Ichigo squeezed Rukia's hand and spoke loudly enough for all to hear, "You may rise," he said, just as he had rehearsed the night before, "and we thank you for the blessing of your presence."
With that, everyone stood and began milling around, some drifting out of the arena, others rushing to offer their congratulations. One of the first to reach the couple was Inoue Orihime. "Kurosaki-kun! Kurosaki-san! Congratulations!"
"Thanks, Inoue," Ichigo said.
"Kurosaki Rukia," the former Kuchiki thought as a broad grin split her face, "that's my name, and I get to stay with him from now on until the end of time. The end of time! Wow. I wonder how many children we're going to have? I wonder when Isshin-san will start bothering us to try?" Rukia couldn't help but laugh at that thought and a dozen others that drifted through her mind at that moment.
"Kurosaki-san!", Inoue called, "Kurosaki-san!"
Rukia was lost in her own thoughts and didn't seem to hear, so Ichigo elbowed her in the ribs, "Oi, midget! She's talking to you, not me."
Rukia turned slowly, trying to process that statement. "Huh? Oh! Inoue!" she cried, giving her auburn haired friend a hug. "I'm sorry! It's going to take some getting used to," she said.
"Being called 'Kurosaki-san'," Rukia laughed. "Not that it sounds bad. 'Kurosaki Rukia'. Not bad at all," she thought.
"I kinda like the sound of that myself: 'Kurosaki Rukia'," Ichigo thought with a smile.
Orihime looked back and forth between her two friends, who were suddenly grinning like a pair of idiots. "Okaaay," she said, "so, are you ready for the party?"
"Party?" Ichigo and Rukia said in unison.
"Yeah!" Orihime said, nodding vigorously, "Ukitake-taichou and Kyouraku-taichou have been planning it for days! It's going to be at the 13th division's training grounds in an hour."
"We'll be there," Ichigo answered.
"Great! See you later, then!" Orihime waved as she ran off to find Uryuu.
"A party, huh?" Rukia asked, "And she said Kyouraku-taichou helped to plan it?"
"Yeah," Ichigo sighed, "but she said Ukitake-taichou planned it too, so maybe it won't be that bad."
Rukia snorted a laugh, "Yeah, maybe it won't be a total sake-fueled disaster."
"So, Ichigo, how come you didn't bring all of your stuff?" Rukia asked as they made their way back to the Kuchiki manor to change clothes after the ceremony.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, when the servants went to the 8th division to pick your clothes and things up, they didn't come back with much."
"Oh. Dad said that most of my things were sent ahead to the royal house. The only things I brought with me were the things I'd need for this week."
"That makes sense," she said, "that way you could focus on the important things."
"Like keeping Kenpachi, Yoruichi, and Kuukaku from killing me?" he said with a smirk.
"Something like that," she answered with a laugh.
Ichigo leaned over and kissed her softly, "I was always focused on the 'important thing', Rukia."
After their quick detour to change from their formal wedding clothes and crowns into their regular shihakusho, Ichigo and Rukia arrived hand in hand at the 13th division's training grounds. The looked around, taking in the streamers, balloons, and...
"Ice sculptures?" Ichigo said, raising an eyebrow.
"Hitsugaya-taichou did them," Rangiku said as she approached the couple. "He did a good job, didn't he?"
"Yeah," Ichigo said, nodding his head, "it looks great!"
"Thanks, Kurosaki," a grumpy voice said as Toushirou stepped out from behind Rangiku. "You'll never know how big a pain in the ass they were."
"Toushirou!" Ichigo exclaimed, holding out his hand, which the 10th division captain shook firmly.
"For the last time, it's Hitsugaya-taichou!" Toushirou said with a smirk. "Congratulations, Kurosaki...and Kurosaki-san," he said before walking off to join the party.
"I'd better go, too," Rangiku said, "Kyouraku-taichou put me in charge of the sake. Have fun!"
Ichigo and Rukia stared after her as she ran off. "Like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, isn't it?" Rukia murmured. Ichigo just nodded as they wandered deeper into the training grounds. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a familiar red-headed shinigami coming toward them.
"Oi, Kurosaki!" he called
"Yes?" Rukia answered with a maddening grin, causing him to redden.
"N-not you, Kurosaki," he stammered, "I meant Ichigo."
"Yes?" Ichigo said sweetly, mimicking Rukia's tone and facial expression perfectly.
"Congratulations, you two," Renji said, setting a hand on each of their shoulders.
"Thanks, Renji," Rukia said.
"Oi, Abarai!" a voice called.
"Ikkaku!" he yelled back.
"Matsumoto is opening a fresh bottle! You don't want to miss it, do you?"
"I'll be right there!" Renji called, then turning back to Ichigo and Rukia, "I'm going to get something to drink. I'll catch up with you later, okay?"
"Sure," Ichigo said with a laugh as Renji tore off through the crowd. "Hey, Rukia?"
"What?" she said.
"Do you see what I see over there?", he said, pointing to a familiar looking shinigami talking with Keigo.
"Oh, no. Please don't let him be that drunk already."
Across the training grounds, a half-drunk Keigo was talking with Kurotsuchi Nemu. "So, you're pretty cute," he said, "What do you say you and I go find something better to do when this is over?"
"I doubt Mayuri-sama would allow that," Nemu replied calmly.
"Who's this Mayuri-sama? Is he your boyfriend?"
"Nemu," Kurotsuchi Mayuri said, causing Keigo to jump. He turned around to see a literal freak of nature. His white face and oddly shaped ear and chin attachments were enough to startle him, but the cold look in his eyes caused a shiver to run down Keigo's spine.
"Yes, Mayuri-sama," she replied.
"Stop talking to this waste of flesh and come on, you dolt. We are ready to continue our experiment," Mayuri growled as he pushed past Keigo to leave the party.
"Yes, Mayuri-sama," she said, turning to follow behind him. She paused and turned back to bow slightly to Keigo. "It was nice to meet you," she said before following the 12th division's captain out the gate.
Recovering from the shock of seeing Kurotsuchi Mayuri for the first time, Keigo eagerly scanned through the crowd, searching for another female he could make a move on. A shy looking dark-haired shinigami caught his eye and he crossed the training grounds to talk to her.
"Hi," he said, "I'm Asano Keigo, a friend of Ichigo's. And who might you be?"
"My name is Hinamori Momo," she replied, bowing her head slightly, "nice to meet you."
"Yeah, hey...you look pretty bored, do you want to go for a walk or something?"
Momo blushed crimson and shuffled her feet, "I...er...I'm very, uh, flattered that you would ask...Asano-san, was it?"
Keigo nodded, leaning a little closer.
"Y-yes, th-thank you for the invitation Asano-san," she said, backing away a couple of steps, "but I...uh..."
"You don't want to go with me?"
"No, she does not," a voice answered for her.
Keigo turned to see a shock of white hair at eye level. He looked down into the speaker's turquoise eyes, narrow with anger. "Wh-who are you?"
"I am Hitsugaya Toushirou, and you are leaving."
"Why should I?" Keigo asked, just drunk enough to lack good sense.
"First of all, because you are hitting on my friend, who obviously wants nothing to do with you. Second, because if you don't, I'll turn you into one of these ice sculptures," Toushirou growled, fingering the hilt of Hyourinmaru.
Keigo put his hands up and backed away. "Sorry, sorry," he said, "I didn't know you were here with a date. It was nice to meet you!"
"Th-thank you, Shiro-chan," Momo said with a smile.
Ichigo laughed, watching Keigo strike out again. "He just doesn't know when to quit, does he?" Rukia asked.
"He never has," Ichigo replied as they got closer to the center of the party.
"Rukia! Kurosaki-san!" Ukitake Jyuushiro called from about ten feet away, "Come over here for a minute!"
The couple shouldered their way through to him. "Okay, Shun, they're here!" he cried, jumping up on the table he was sitting at. Kyouraku Shunsui sent a flare of kidou into the air to get everyone's attention. The crowd quieted and turned inward to hear what was said.
"First off, I want to thank everyone for coming, and especially the Shinigami Women's Association for helping us foot the bill," Ukitake said, pausing until the cheers and applause died down. "This party has two purposes," he continued, "the first is an official farewell party for Kuchiki...," he grinned and shook his head, "I mean, Kurosaki Rukia as she leaves the 13th division. The second is, of course, to congratulate the newlyweds. There's plenty to eat and drink, so enjoy!" There were many shouts of "Congratulations!" and some cheering, especially from Rangiku, who had just turned up her third bottle of sake.
As the cheering died down, Ukitake climbed down from the table and shook hands with Ichigo. "Congratulations, Kurosaki-san," he said, "I..."
"Jyuushiro! Oi! I need help over here!" Kyouraku Shunsui called from the direction of the bar.
"What's wrong?" Ukitake called back.
"Matsumoto is already drunk and she's wallowing on the bar! I can't get at the sake!"
Ukitake laughed and started walking toward his friend. "I guess I need to go help him. You two go and have a good time!"
"Thanks!" Ichigo called after him as he disappeared into the crowd.
"Ah, Kurosaki-san?" a familiar voice said in his ear.
Ichigo jumped and spun to see Urahara, Tessai, and Yoruichi standing beside him. "My, my," the shopkeeper said, snapping his fan shut, "somebody sure is jumpy today."
"Give the kid a break, Kisuke," Yoruichi smirked, "he's been through a lot today."
"So I hear," he said, leveling his fan at Rukia, "I told you that mod soul would be trouble, didn't I? Burning your dress like that!"
Rukia laughed. "Oh, about that...he's already been...dealt with."
Ichigo looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Do you really want to tell them about that?"
Rukia smiled at him, then turned back to finish telling Urahara, "I had Ishida make Kon a miniature copy of the dress he designed for me. Then I had Ishida sew him into it so he couldn't take it off."
Urahara grinned. "Sounds like you have him well under control, Kurosaki-san."
"I still get a shiver every time somebody calls me that," Rukia thought.
"I'm glad you guys got to come," Ichigo said, nodding at Tessai who kept his silent vigil behind Urahara as usual. "After all, you taught me most of what I know about fighting."
"About fighting, yes, but you never did get around to learning kidou, did you?" Yoruichi laughed, "I'll bet you're the first king in generations who doesn't know the first spell."
Now it was Ichigo's turn to laugh. "Actually, while I was out with Kasumi-Ouji-san, I bought a book on kidou: 'Kidou for Dummies: a pocket reference.' "
"Oh, really?" Yoruichi grinned.
"Yeah," Ichigo nodded, "but while we were on our date in Karakura it fell out of my pocket and Rukia picked it up. She told me she could teach me kidou, and even offered to give me private lessons."
"Oh ho! 'Private lessons', huh?" Yoruichi leered. "I gave some 'private lessons' once. We got awfully hot and sweaty, but we didn't get much studying done."
Ichigo and Rukia's faces flushed pink. Rukia glanced up to see Ichigo looking at her. When he caught her eye, they both raised their eyebrows as if to say "Well? Those kind of private lessons wouldn't be bad, either." Catching the shared glance, Yoruichi began to snicker, then cackle, then howl with laughter, leaning hard on Urahara's shoulder. With a nod to Tessai, he said, "Well, I guess that's our cue. Don't forget to invite us for tea some time Kurosaki-san."
"We will, Urahara-san," Rukia said as she watched him walk away, listening to Yoruichi's laughter fading into the distance.
"Unohana-taichou," Mizuiro crooned, "don't you want to take a day off? Go to the lake, try to relax a little?"
Unohana Retsu looked at the playboy out of the corner of her eye. "Surely you can't be serious?" she asked.
"Oh," he looked at her with half-lidded eyes, "I'm very serious. I love to spend my time with a...more experienced....woman."
Unohana rolled her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said, "I just don't think that's such a good idea. Besides, I have a job to do. If you'll excuse me." She stood and walked off, keeping her eyes open for any incapacitated drunks.
Mizuiro sat down heavily, "Surrounded by older women," he sighed, "this should be paradise. Instead, I'm having about as much luck as Keigo! Speaking of..." He looked around, searching for his luckless friend and found him talking to Yuzu and Karin.
"Dammit, Keigo!" Karin yelled, shoving him back, "for the last time, I'm not going to run around the party with you pretending like I'm your date!"
"But I'm lonely!" Keigo whined.
"You want a date?" Karin snarled, throwing Kon at his head. "Here!"
Keigo pried the plush lion off of his face to find that the Kurosaki twins had disappeared into the crowd.
"Oi!" he heard and started looking around to see who was talking. "Oi! Friend of Ichigo!"
Keigo looked down at the stuffed animal now climbing its way up his arm. "Aww, how cute!" he cried, noticing the perfect copy of Rukia's dress Kon was wearing. It was then that a plan began to formulate in Keigo's alcohol-clouded mind. "Cute, huh? Girls like cute things. If I carry this cute thing with me....," he thought, "I'll be a chick magnet!"
Disturbed by the odd grin spreading across Keigo's face, Kon was a half second away from jumping to the floor and making his escape when he saw her: enormous breasts heaving as she chugged sake, long golden hair blowing in the breeze. "Take me to that happy valley!" he yelled, turning Keigo's head to look in the same direction.
"Wow," Keigo said, taking a stumbling step in her direction, "check her out!"
"I'm trying, you fool!" Kon said, drooling slightly as Keigo staggered toward her.
When he reached her, Keigo leaned heavily on the bar next to her and smiled, his eyes tracing her bustline. "Hey," he said, "how are you?"
"Fine. What'll ya have, shorty?" Rangiku replied.
"A double dose of you," Kon answered, leaping from his position on Keigo's shoulder only to meet with an obstacle in midair. Caught in Rangiku's fist, Kon's eyes widened with fear as she swung him hard at Keigo, letting go as soon as her fist made impact with his head.
"I may be drunk," she slurred, "but not that drunk."
Picking themselves up, Keigo and Kon dusted each other off and began wandering together through the party looking at women. After half an hour of searching for a woman he hadn't hit on, he spotted Ise Nanao trying to organize cleanup crews while keeping an eye on Kyouraku Shunsui. Kon clambered up Keigo's leg as he made a beeline for the brilliant fukutaichou.
"Hey," Keigo began, causing Nanao to look up
"I was wondering..."
Kyouraku set down his sake as he saw a body fly past him. Turning his head to follow its path to the source, he saw Nanao adjusting her glasses and stomping toward him with a glare. "Did you put him up to that, taichou?"
"Put who up to what, Nanao-chan?" Shunsui asked, genuinely confused.
"Put that...boy...that friend of Kurosaki's up to hitting on me?"
Shunsui turned away to locate the 'boy' in question, and found Unohana ministering to him on the far side of the wall Nanao's attack had put him through. He chuckled. "What did you do to the poor guy, Nanao-chan?"
Color rose in her face as she replied, "First, he asks me if I wanted to sneak away with him, then that perverted little creature yelled something about 'the valley of the gods' and launched himself at my chest!" She crossed her arms protectively.
"So you hit him?"
"Yes, I hit him."
"As hard as you usually hit me?" Kyouraku asked quietly.
"Nowhere near that hard," she answered.
Kyouraku threw back his head and roared with laughter. "Nanao-chan, Nanao-chan! My dear, sweet, Nanao-chan. He's just a boy! A regular, human boy. Most shinigami I know couldn't withstand a hit like that! It's a wonder he's still alive!"
Nanao blushed slightly. "Well, he shouldn't have been fooling around like that," she said before marching off to start cleaning up the litter that was beginning to accumulate around the training grounds.
Shunsui chuckled again and walked over to where Unohana was just finishing her work on Keigo. "Is he going to be okay, Unohana-taichou?"
"Yes, I believe so. It was just a forceful punch, no kidou, so it was a fairly easy fix," she replied.
"Can I talk to him for a second?"
"I don't mind at all, I'm finished here."
"Hmmm?" Keigo said, his head lolling to the side as he tried to focus on Shunsui's face.
"Can I give you a piece of advice?"
"Uh huh," Keigo mumbled.
"Don't hit on the ladies wearing the shihakusho. They can, and probably will, kick your ass. Take it from somebody who's been there," he laughed at the memory of all the times Nanao had smacked him all over the Seireitei for something like this.
"O-okay," Keigo said, trying to stand and flopping back down on the ground.
"Are you going to be okay?" Kyouraku asked.
"Yeah, I think so." Keigo replied, slowly standing up. "Hey, what happened to the little guy?"
"Little guy?" Shunsui asked.
"You know, the plush lion!"
"Plush...? Oh! You mean Kon?"
"That's him! He was with me when that girl hit me."
Kyouraku shrugged and pointed. "I saw him take off running that way."
"Great. There goes my wingman. Now what am I...," he trailed off, spotting a shapely female form over Kyouraku's shoulder. The woman was a knockout, her curves accented by the plain black yukata she wore, Her long, blond hair cascaded down her back, almost touching the white obi that tied her kimono. "Excuse me, Kyouraku-taichou," Keigo said, "I've got to meet her."
Shunsui turned to follow Keigo's path as he walked away and spotted Amekaeru walking into the training grounds with Kurosaki Isshin on her arm. "Good luck, Asano-san," Kyouraku thought with a smile, "you'll need it."
Keigo shouldered his way through the crowd, keeping an eye on his target. When he finally caught up to her, Isshin had stepped over to the bar to get them something to drink, and she was alone. "Hey, there, lovely lady," he began, "I'm Asano Keigo. What's your name?"
"My name is Amekaeru," she replied coolly, "I'm a retainer from the house of Kurosaki, and no, I'm not interested."
At that moment, Isshin returned, carrying two small cups of sake. "Asano-kun!" he cried, greeting the younger man with a hearty slap on the back. "How are you? Not having any luck with the ladies, I see."
Keigo's eyes were filled with tears as he answered, "No."
Isshin handed him one of the cups and watched him drain it in one swallow. "There, now, that's better, isn't it?" Keigo didn't answer, but reached out and grabbed the other cup and drank it as well. Eyes still wet, he turned and staggered three or four paces before slumping into a chair and falling asleep. Isshin laughed until Amekaeru thought he was going to fall over as well, before regaining his composure. "Wait a minute, Amekaeru-san, and I'll get you that drink," he said as he dried the tears from the corners of his eyes.
"I really don't have time, Isshin-dono," she said, "I need to return to the royal house and make sure everything is ready for the king and queen to arrive tomorrow morning!"
"Are you sure?" Isshin prodded, "It won't take but a minute to have a drink with an old friend!"
"I am sure," she said gently, "I need to find Yamamoto-soutaichou so he can open the gate for me from this end. Please tell Ichigo-dono that the gate to the royal household will open atop the hill where the Soukyouku stood at precisely ten o'clock. Do not forget, Isshin-dono, ten o'clock."
"I won't forget, Amekaeru-san," he said pulling her into a quick hug. "Good luck with him. Make sure he takes care of our Rukia-chan."
"I will, Isshin-dono," she said, "and I will see you again the next time you come home to visit. You are coming to visit?"
"Oh, yes, absolutely," Isshin said, bowing his head to her, "I'm sure Ichigo and Rukia will give me grandchildren soon, anyway!"
"Take care of yourself, Isshin-dono," she said with a deep bow as she took her leave.
As the sun began to set, the guests finally began to trickle out the gate. Ichigo, Rukia, and their friends began to gravitate back toward the center of the training grounds where Ukitake sat at a table sipping tea and talking with Chad. Soon, they were the only ones left and the mess from the party had been cleaned up around them under Nanao's direction. Ichigo stood, holding Rukia's hand while Isshin passed the message from Amekaeru. "Ten o'clock, huh?" Ichigo asked, "that should work."
Ukitake cleared his throat. "There is actually one more piece of business to attend to before we go our separate ways," he said, "and that's the matter of Rukia's official discharge. Kiyone! Sentarou!"
The two seated officers appeared kneeling behind him. "Yes, taichou!" they said in unison.
"Present to Kurosaki-san the badge of her office."
Kiyone stood up and held out a fukutaichou's armband bearing the insignia of the 13th division, which Rukia accepted with a confused look on her face. "What's this?" she asked as Kiyone stepped back to kneel behind Ukitake.
Jyuushiro chuckled, "Something I always wanted you to have, but Byakuya would never allow it. Kurosaki Rukia, you are hereby promoted to fukutaichou of the 13th division."
"Th-thank you, Ukitake-taichou!" Rukia stammered, "but I..."
"Sentarou? Her papers, if you please?"
Sentarou stood up and handed Rukia a scroll bearing the seals of both the1st and 13th divisions before returning to his position next to Kiyone.
"And now," Ukitake said softly as he reached out to shake her hand, "you are officially discharged from the 13th division with our blessing. Congratulations, Rukia, and good luck."
"Thank you, Ukitake-taichou!" she said.
"I did a better job helping him with Kurosaki-san's discharge!" Kiyone said out of the corner of her mouth.
"No, I did! I was the one who took the scroll to Yamamoto-soutaichou!" Sentarou argued.
Ukitake sighed and turned to address them. "Thank you both. You are dismissed," he said. "Oh, and Kurosaki Ichigo?"
"Yes, Ukitake-taichou?" Ichigo said, accepting the hand Ukitake offered him.
"Take care of our Rukia."
"Of course," Ichigo said, bowing his head. "Of all the captains, I have always had the most respect for this man," Ichigo thought. "He took Rukia in and helped her to find her place. If not for serving under his command, Byakuya would probably never have let her go on a solo mission to the real world, and we never would have met. Not to mention he and Kyouraku destroyed the Soukyouku." He grinned broadly, giving Ukitake's hand a firm shake. "Thank you, Ukitake-taichou."
"Thank you, Kurosaki-san. And farewell," he said.
"Oh, you'll see me around," Ichigo laughed. "I plan to be very active in what goes on here in Soul Society, not just locked away in the royal dimension making up rules. I can't let history repeat itself."
Jyuushiro saw a look in Ichigo's eyes that betrayed his true emotions despite the smile on his lips. "I hope so, Kurosaki-san. See you soon then."
As Ukitake walked away, Yuzu caught something yellow moving out of the corner of her eye. She turned to see Kon sneaking from table to table. "Bostov!" she cried, racing over to snatch him from the ground. Everyone's eyes turned to her as she returned clutching Kon tightly.
"No!" Kon yelled, "Get off of me! Let me go!"
This was the first chance Ichigo had to get a good look at the dress Ishida had made for Kon. The dress was perfect, even down to the embroidery on his chest. Ichigo started to laugh, softly at first then so hard he was crying, leaning on Rukia for support. "Kon," he called, "you look beautiful!"
"Doesn't he, though!" Rukia joined in. "You did a great job, Ishida!"
Uryuu adjusted his glasses. "Of course I did," he replied calmly.
Kon was livid. He raised his tiny fist and shook it at Ichigo. "Shut up! It was an accident! An accident! Bastards. You didn't have to sew the damn thing on," he yelled, tugging at the stitching that held the dress fast to his plush body.
Everyone was so busy laughing that they didn't notice the pair of shinigami walking across the training grounds toward them. "What's so funny?", Renji asked.
"Renji!" Rukia exclaimed, turning to face him. As she did, she noticed the other shinigami with him. "Matsumoto!"
"The heavenly valley!" Kon cried.
"Shut up, Kon or I'll tell Ishida to just leave that dress on you when we get home!" Karin yelled, balling him up and stuffing him into Yuzu's backpack.
"So," Renji smirked, "congratulations to the both of you."
"Thanks, Renji," Ichigo said.
"Yeah, thanks," Rukia said quietly, looking at her feet.
"Oi!" Rangiku said, lifting Rukia's chin, "It's not like this is goodbye, right?" She looked at Renji.
"That's right," Renji said, "I mean, sure you guys will be in a different place, but how is that any different than when we were here in Soul Society and you two were living in Karakura?"
"I think we can arrange to have some old friends come by from time to time, don't you, Rukia?" Ichigo said, catching the drift and looking back at Isshin, who nodded.
Rukia laughed and wrinkled her nose at the odor of sake emanating from the pair. "As long as they don't get too drunk."
Renji blushed a little as Matsumoto tugged on the sleeve of his shihakusho. "Well, uh, I guess we need to get going," he said. "See you later!"
"We?" Ichigo murmured to Rukia as he watched them walk away together. She shrugged and squeezed his hand, turning back to their family and friends.
Isshin leaned in and whispered something to Yuzu and Karin, then straightened and said, "I think it's time for all of us to go as well. It's getting late."
Karin stepped forward and hugged Ichigo and Rukia. "So long, Ichi-nii," she said. "Rukia-nee? Keep this idiot in line."
Rukia chuckled, "I will, Karin. I promise."
Yuzu had tears in her eyes and clung to Ichigo. He hugged her tight and barely heard her whisper, "Mom would be so proud, Ichigo."
Blinking back tears of his own, Ichigo patted her back and whispered, "I know."
Pulling away from Ichigo she wrapped her arms around Rukia and squeezed her tight. "Make sure he brushes his teeth after every meal, or he doesn't get the next one."
"I will," Rukia said, smiling.
Isshin stepped forward and put his hands on Ichigo's shoulders. "You chose well, my son. I know you'll make me proud."
"Thanks, Dad," Ichigo said, absently lifting his hand to block his father's punch.
Isshin laughed. "I have nothing more to teach you. From here on, you're on your own...but I think you'll be able to handle it."
He stepped over and pulled Rukia into a hug, lifting her off the ground. "Rukia-chan, you really are my third daughter now," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "I know you'll keep this idiot son of mine straight. I only have one thing to ask of you."
"What's that?" Rukia asked.
"Don't make me wait too long to be a grandfather!" he laughed.
"Dad!" Ichigo groaned, watching Rukia blush.
"Come on, girls," Isshin said to the twins, "Kisuke's waiting for us." He turned to address Uryuu, Chad, Mizuiro, Orihime, and Tatsuki. "You guys can come on when you're ready," he said, guiding Yuzu and Karin out of the training grounds.
Mizuiro hefted Keigo, still passed out, onto his shoulders. "I think I'll take this fool home, too. I'll see you when you come to visit, right?"
"Right," Rukia said.
"Great. Good luck you guys!" he said, waving with his free hand as he walked away.
"Wow," Orihime said, looking around at the small group of friends that remained. "I guess this is really it, huh?
"Yeah," Ichigo said. "By the way, I've been meaning to thank you and Ishida for helping Rukia with her dress."
"It was nothing, Kurosaki," Ishida said, pushing his glasses up his nose.
"You always say stuff like that, Uryuu-kun!" Orihime chided.
"It meant the world to me, Ishida," Rukia said. "You'll never know how much I appreciate it."
Ishida blushed. "You're welcome, Kurosaki-san."
"See! That's not so hard!" Orihime said, giving Ishida a peck on the cheek. She crossed to Rukia and gave her a hug. "Take care of yourself, Kurosaki-san."
"I will. Thanks, Inoue, for everything."
Orihime brushed a tear from her cheek. "You're welcome, of course. What are friends for?"
Ichigo reached out and shook Ishida's hand. "In almost every battle I've faced since I became a shinigami you guys have been right there, backing me up. Thanks, Ishida, for being there."
Ishida smirked, "Don't go getting all sentimental on me now, Kurosaki."
Ichigo smiled, but lowered his voice and said, "Take care of yourselves, Uryuu."
"Don't worry about us." Then, raising his voice so Orihime could hear, "Are you ready to go?"
"I guess so," she sighed. "Goodbye you guys!"
"So long, Kurosaki....and Kurosaki," Ishida said with a nod as he took Orihime's hand and led her away, leaving Tatsuki and Chad alone with the newlyweds.
"Well," Tatsuki said, slapping Ichigo on the back, "I guess this is goodbye for now."
"Goodbye?" Ichigo said with a smirk, "Where have you been this whole time?"
"Oh! I've been talking with Yoruichi-san and Soi Fon about teaching me some of their reiatsu-based hand to hand techniques."
"Really?" Rukia asked, "Even in your human body you can do that?"
Tatsuki put on a feral grin. "Yep. Yoruichi said she could teach me Hohou and Hakuda at least, and a little bit of kidou."
"Wow!" Ichigo said, "That's great!"
"Soi Fon said they could even teach me some shunko if I could master everything else."
"Wait," Ichigo said, suddenly concerned, "you're not going to use this in your next tournament are you?"
Tatsuki laughed. "No way! I'd probably kill somebody if I tried!"
Ichigo could feel a cold sweat breaking out in the small of his back. "So, why do you want to learn all that?"
"To fight hollows, you moron!" she replied, exasperated. "Just because the great Kurosaki Ichigo is leaving doesn't mean the hollows will stop coming," she said sarcastically. "Urahara told all of us that as long as we're still living close to one another the concentration of reiatsu is high enough to attract gillian class menos. So can you understand why I want to learn how to fight them?"
Ichigo whistled. "Yeah," he said.
"Rukia," Tatsuki said, "make sure this idiot behaves...and thank you."
"Thank me? For what?" Rukia asked.
"For bringing back the Ichigo that I used to know. For letting him smile again."
"Y-you're welcome, Arisawa-san."
Tatsuki punched Ichigo in the shoulder and walked off waving. "See ya!" she called over her shoulder.
"Ichigo," Chad said.
"Thank you, Chad. For watching my back like nobody ever could. For following me to Soul Society even though you didn't know Rukia very well at the time. For always standing with me, even when I was doing something dangerous. Thanks."
"You're welcome, Ichigo."
"Chad," Rukia began, "thank you for keeping an eye on Ichigo all those times when I couldn't, and for coming with him to rescue me. Without your help, neither one of us would even be here today."
"Rukia-san," Chad rumbled, surprised at her words.
Ichigo reached out and shook Chad's hand, pulling him into a backslapping hug. "Chad," Ichigo said as they parted, "I want you to promise me something."
"Anything that is in my power to do," Chad replied.
"Watch out for everybody. Keigo, Mizuiro, Ishida, Inoue, Tatsuki, my dad, Yuzu, Karin...I want you to watch their backs since I won't be there to do it anymore."
"You have my word, Ichigo."
"Thanks, man," Ichigo said with a smile
Chad turned to Rukia and extended his hand to her. She set her tiny hand in his much larger palm and felt him gently squeeze it. "Thank you for taking care of Ichigo, Rukia-san. I know he will be safe and happy with you. I'll see you when you come to visit. Maybe you can come hear the band again," he said with a smile, "I'll try to work on some more slow songs for you since your last dance got cut short."
"That would be great, Chad," Rukia said as he released her hand.
"See you around, Ichigo," Chad said, walking away.
"Guess it's just us, huh?" Ichigo said, turning to Rukia.
She hooked her arm through his and looked up at him with a smile. "Yeah," she sighed, "just us. Are you ready to go home?"
"Home?" Ichigo asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, either you're coming back to the manor with me or we're staying at the 8th division, and I can tell you where I'd rather spend my wedding night," she said with a wink.
Ichigo blushed and asked "What about Byakuya?"
"What about him?" she replied, before it occurred to her what he was asking. "Ohhh. Don't you remember me telling you his chambers are on the opposite end of the manor?"
Ichigo thought hard, his eyes widening as the memory came back to him. "Oh, yeah," he said with a smirk.
"So, does that mean you're ready to start those 'private lessons'?" she asked with a grin.
Instead of answering, Ichigo just kissed her and lifted her off the ground, carrying her to the Kuchiki manor as fast as he could shunpo.
Rukia stood in front of her wardrobe in the dim candlelight, looking at herself in the mirror. "Is he going to like this?" she thought as she tightened the obi on her kimono. "Will he even remember?" She turned with a start at the sound of the door opening. "Ichigo," she breathed.
Ichigo's heart skipped a beat at the sight before him: Rukia, his wife, dressed in nothing but a lavender kimono with a flower pattern on it. "That kimono!" Ichigo thought, "Is it the same one? Only one way to find out."
"Rukia," he said quietly as he walked over to her, "is that kimono....the same one you wore the day that I left for Karakura after Aizen went to Hueco Mundo?"
Rukia smiled and put her arms around his neck. "Yes. I'm surprised you remembered."
"How could I forget," he replied, "it was the first time since we met that we parted on our terms, without being torn apart."
"And now we'll never be apart again," Rukia said, trailing kisses along his jaw. Ichigo felt a shiver of pleasure run through his body as their lips met, tongues clashing, her hand snaking inside his shihakusho to stroke his chest. As they broke the kiss to catch their breath Ichigo covered her hand with his, stopping its movement.
"Rukia, I've never...I mean you're my...," he panted as she covered his trembling hand with hers.
"Me too, Ichigo. We'll learn together," she said softly, leading him to the bed. As she reached the edge of the bed she pulled him to her,opening the front of his shihakusho and kissing her way up his chest and neck. Ichigo allowed her to slide the shihakusho off his shoulders and let it fall to the floor. She pulled back and looked over his body wide eyed, tracing battle scars with her fingers. "My God, he has a fantastic body," she thought, running her palms up his belly, across his chest and wrapping her arms around his neck, standing on tiptoe to kiss him again.
Ichigo leaned into the kiss and slid his arms around her, pulling her up to him as he savored the taste of her. He shifted slightly, moving his arm down under her thigh and lifted her into the air, setting her gently on the bed before breaking the kiss. Violet eyes met amber as Ichigo pulled away, kneeling beside her on the bed and sliding his hand down her bare leg. She moaned at the sensation, half-closing her eyes. He rested his hand on the knot of her obi and tugged gently, never looking away from her eyes, seeking her approval before taking it any farther.
"Ichigo," she breathed, nodding for him to continue, "I love you."
"I love you, too," he said, pulling the obi loose and opening her kimono to expose her body. She gasped at the sudden rush of cool air. He smiled as he pulled the silk back, watching the goosebumps spread over her belly, taking a moment to survey her creamy skin before laying beside her and wrapping his arms around her waist. He pulled her close and as their naked skin touched for the first time a thousand new sensations at once overloaded his brain. Ichigo slid his hands up to her shoulders and discarded the kimono, leaving them both completely naked.
"My god, Rukia," he sighed as she kissed the side of his neck, sucking gently. She slid her hands down and grabbed his behind, pulling him closer to her, feeling him poke gently into her leg. He jerked back reflexively at the sudden stimulation, then surrendered to her guidance, taking advantage of the opportunity to stroke her side while he shifted to capture her mouth with his own, running his tongue along her bottom lip until she allowed him to enter, teasing the tip of her tongue and causing her to moan softly into his mouth. She ran her fingers through his hair, clinging to him like a drowning man to a life raft. She brought a hand down and pushed his shoulder gently, urging him to roll onto his back. He complied and she threw a leg over him, straddling him to kneel on the bed. He sat up, allowing Rukia to wrap her legs naturally around his waist. She shuddered as she leaned in, her breasts pressing into his chest as she nibbled his earlobe. He took a ragged breath as she wrapped her arms around his neck and held herself there for a moment before letting him lean back. He cupped her breasts, and she let out a whimper, her eyes closing. He could feel her nipples harden against his palm and the heat radiating from between her thighs.
"Make love to me, Ichigo," she whispered, looking into his eyes as she leaned down into him. Ichigo made no response except to wrap his arms tightly around her and roll her onto the bed.
When Ichigo awoke, his first thought was the realization that something warm was snuggled up against him. He almost panicked until he opened his eyes and saw what it was: there, lying in his arms, was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Her dark hair hung into her face, and he could feel her naked body shifting against him with every slow, even breath she took. He smiled and lifted his arm to brush the hair out of her eyes and stroke her ivory cheek. "Wow," he thought to himself, "this is real. All of this is really happening."
"Hmmmm." Rukia sighed as her eyes opened slowly, "Good morning."
Ichigo stopped stroking her face and pulled her close, rubbing her back, "Good morning to you, too."
Rukia smiled and kissed his chest, not wanting to move, afraid she'd wake up again and it would all be a dream. "Last night," she whispered, "was...incredible."
Ichigo chuckled softly into her hair, "Incredible doesn't even begin to describe it. More like 'mind-blowing'."
"True," she said, letting the memory play back in her mind's eye for a moment before pulling back a fraction to look up into his eyes. "I love you, Ichigo," she said, gently kneading the small of his back with her fingertips.
"I love you, too, Rukia. More than you'll ever know."
She tightened her grip on his waist and snuggled up to him again, planting kisses on the hard muscles of his chest. Ichigo shivered as she suddenly grazed his breastbone with her teeth, causing goosebumps to spread all over him. She looked up into his eyes and pushed herself forward to kiss him, feeling him surround her with his arms and his reiatsu. He held her tight and rolled onto his back, surprising her. She broke the kiss long enough to gasp before meeting his lips again with renewed passion. When they parted, gasping for air, Rukia was laying flat on his stomach, her chin resting on his shoulder. "Oi, Ichigo," she whispered, loving the way his body shook as her breath caressed his ear, "how about a quick encore of last night before we get ready to leave?"
"Hmmm, that sounds good," Ichigo said, and Rukia could feel his words vibrating in his chest.
She ran the tip of her tongue along the outside of his ear, causing him to moan softly. She could feel his body responding as she moved her hands between them to caress him gently, hearing the catch in his breathing as she found a particularly sensitive spot. She smiled, releasing him and sliding her hands up his sides to stroke his hair. He rolled, the weight of his body pressing her into the bed as he kissed her tenderly from her temple, down her cheekbone, across her chin and continued down. He raised himself up slightly and she arched her back as he worshiped her, teasing her and causing her to bite her lower lip. "Ichigo," she panted, "now."
"Now?" he asked with a smirk, pulling away from her.
"Now," she said, her violet eyes shining in the dim light. She suddenly gasped at the sensation of his hands moving from her shoulders, down across her breasts, across her belly, to the her inner thighs. "Ichigo!" she cried as he teased her, taking her right up to the edge before drawing back.
"Now," he said with a smile, leaning in to kiss her deeply as she wrapped her legs around his waist.
Ichigo shrugged his way into his shihakusho and ran his hand through his hair before looking over at Rukia. She was already ready and was adjusting Sode no Shirayuki while she waited for him.
"Come on, Ichigo," she said as he looked in the mirror, "you look fine."
Ichigo could hear the smile in her voice and used shunpo to appear in the doorway behind her. He rested his hands on her shoulders and planted a kiss in her hair. "Thanks," he said, "I guess this is it, huh?"
Rukia took one last look around her room. Most of her things had already been moved on Amekaeru's orders once Ichigo had made his choice official, but it still tugged at her heart. "I have lived in this room since I was first adopted into the Kuchiki family," she thought, "It's a room full of memories: I did some of my very first sketches in this room, recovered after Ichigo rescued me from Aizen in this room, planned our first date in this room, made love to him for the first time in this room, and we're leaving Soul Society to start our life together from this room." She sighed contentedly. "Yeah, this is it."
Ichigo caught the strange tone in her voice and wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her tight for a moment before she took his hands in hers and turned to smile up at him. "Come on," she said, "we're going to be late."
They walked through the Seireitei holding hands, making the long, slow climb to the hill where the Soukyouku once stood. There, they were surprised to find Kyouraku, Ukitake, Renji, Rangiku, and Byakuya waiting under the ruins of the execution stand to see them off.
Rangiku ran to give Rukia and Ichigo a crushing hug. "Well? How was it?" she said with a wink, causing Rukia and Ichigo to blush crimson. "Good luck!" she said, laughing as she stepped away.
Renji was the next to step forward, shaking Ichigo's hand. "Good luck, Ichigo," he said.
Rukia gave Renji a hug, causing him to blush. "R-Rukia!" he stammered.
"Take care of yourself, Renji," she said.
"I will," he said confidently, putting his arm around Matsumoto's waist, "don't worry about me."
Byakuya approached the couple and embraced Rukia tenderly. "Do not ever forget what I told you," he said, "I am proud of the lady you have become, Rukia."
"Th-thank you, nii-sama," she said as he pulled away.
"Kurosaki Ichigo," he said, moving to stand in Ichigo's path.
"Byakuya," the younger man acknowledged.
"You are taking with you the Kuchiki family's greatest treasure. Guard her with your life."
"I will," Ichigo said solemnly, extending his hand, "Thank you for entrusting her to me."
Byakuya looked down at Ichigo's hand and Ichigo thought for a moment that he would scoff at the attempt to make peace. Just as he was about to withdraw it, Byakuya shook it firmly, and as their eyes met Ichigo could see the weight of the emotions barely held in check behind his icy demeanor.
As they stood there saying their goodbyes the gate began to materialize before them. At first glance, it looked like a regular senkai gate, only made of pure gold with the royal family crest stamped into the doors. Shunsui clapped Ichigo on the back. "Well, looks like it's time for you to go, Kurosaki-san."
The gate slid open to reveal a dazzling corridor and two white swallowtail butterflies flew out. "These are...hell butterflies?" Ichigo asked, confused.
"I've only ever seen them once," Ukitake said with a grin, "but they are here to guide you on your way to the royal dimension. Good luck, Kurosaki-san."
Ichigo swallowed hard and took a last look around. He felt Rukia put her arm around his waist and lay her head on his side. He put his arm around her shoulders and looked down into her smiling face. "Come on," he said, bending to kiss her forehead. The two stepped forward as one, following the butterflies through the gate. He felt Rukia squeeze him tightly and only dimly heard the cheers of their friends behind them as the gate slid shut. Ichigo and Rukia walked down the corridor side by side, hand in hand, toward the new life that awaited them.