Disclaimer: I tried to sue Kubo Tite for the ownership of BLEACH, but the district attorney told me curtly that it's hardly a solid case. Le sigh.
Authoress' note: I'd like to say thank you to all of my reviewers for the first chapter! I can't reply each of you personally since my internet connection is being a major pain in the neck right now, so I shall take this opportunity to let you know that the reviews are appreciated! Thank you, everyone! As usual, any errors belong to me so all boo-ing and rotten strawberries shall be aimed this way –points to self-
Love and Truth
What Love says: strawberries symbolise love.
What Truth says: Ichigo swears he will forever hold a grudge against the little red fruits after Rukia turned their backyard into a strawberry plantation with a sorry excuse that the fruits reminded her of him.
"Only a week, right?"
Rukia had been tiptoeing in circles for nearly half an hour now. Her husband rested on a couch nearby, watching his petite wife going round and round like a cat chasing its own tail.
"Rukia," he gently spoke, flashing a smile at her, "I promise I will be back after a week. You don't have to worry."
"Are you going to be okay?" she asked again, frowning. "Why on earth does Ishida need you to go along with him to this…uh…bacteria and viruses show?"
"First of all, it's not bacteria and viruses show." Ichigo's smile spread wider. Trust Rukia to find the cutest name for any term she was unfamiliar with. "It's a compulsory seminar for doctors who are engaged in drug research. Plus, I won't be alone with Ishida. Eight other doctors will also come along with us."
Rukia sighed. "You promise you will be back after a week?"
A pair of puppy eyes stared at Ichigo intently. The orange-haired man stood up and walked over towards his wife, then hugged her from behind.
"Of course," he murmured, kissing the top of her head. Rukia shivered slightly at the contact.
"Fine, then." Rukia sighed once again, knowing full well that she would miss him tremendously while he was gone.
The day after Ichigo went for his trip, Rukia woke up feeling like crap. She would never admit it out loud, but let's face it—she was no longer used sleeping alone and the bed felt too big for her with Ichigo's side being vacant. When she stepped downstairs, there was no Ichigo stirring his morning coffee or putting the toast in the toaster. She glanced at the Post-Its Ichigo pasted on the fridge, then plopped herself on the nearest chair.
Don't forget to eat your meals, midget. The words were written on a bright green Post-It in Ichigo's handwriting.
Be careful when you use the microwave. Remember that egg incident? Don't blow the house down, we have yet to finish the mortgage. This time, he used a yellow Post-It.
Remember to shower using warm water, alright? I don't want you to fall ill while I'm away.
For this week only, my T-shirts are yours to violate. Rukia chuckled when she read this. He really could read her mind.
How was she going to pass a week without him around?
Her shoulders hung in defeat as she cleared the egoism off her brain. This is for Ichigo's sake, she slapped herself mentally. One week wouldn't be that long.
Right now, what she needed was something to distract her mind from the man she adored.
Around one week later…
Ichigo was very glad that their flight was changed to one day earlier since the seminar finished faster than expected. Truth be told, he missed Rukia tremendously. For the whole six days he had been dreaming of her every night, missing her smile, her laughter, her wicked grin, perhaps even her being frisky in the bedroom…a blush crept up his face when he realised what he was thinking about.
For short, he missed her. Period.
Flagging the first cab he could find after he landed on the airport, he rushed home as soon as possible after forcing the cab driver to drive as fast as he could. He smiled to himself throughout the trip home, imagining what Rukia's reaction would be when she saw him coming home a day earlier. Obviously, the orange-haired man was oblivious to the cab driver's plight as he tried his best to narrowly avoid a series of accidents.
The thoughts going round in Ichigo's mind were, however, those of this kind: Would Rukia be exhilarated? Did she miss me as well?
After paying the cab fare to the now-pallid-looking cab driver, Ichigo unlocked the front door impatiently and burst through.
"Rukia!" he chimed, expecting his wife to emerge from wherever she was. Instead, he was answered with silence.
"Rukia?" he yelled once again, raising one of his eyebrows. What, she went to the market? Rubbing the back of his neck, he waited for a few other moments but still, no Rukia.
He tried calling her cell phone just to check whether she really did go out, but he was directed to her mailbox.
Ichigo's blood ran cold. A thousand scary images filled his mind. Kidnapping? Robbery? Rape? Murder…? Hollow? Arrancar? Aizen? He wouldn't forgive himself if something bad really did happen to his wife.
"Rukia!" He searched every room, every cupboard, heck, every drawer…but the raven-haired woman was nowhere to be found.
A faint whimper could be heard from the back of the house when Ichigo toured the laundry area. Recognising the voice as Rukia's, he launched himself as fast as he could towards the origin of the voice.
"Darn…Rukia! Hang in there!" he shouted. He hastily rummaged for his shinigami substitute badge in his pocket. Alas, the badge was nowhere to be found. The panicked man spat out a string of innovative curses at his tragic luck. To worsen the whole drama, Rukia's whimpers were even clearer and louder now. Damn it, he thought, as he fumbled to open the door which led to the backyard. When the knob refused to turn after he turned it twice, he kicked the door down without any further thought and rushed through as he called his wife out, "Rukia! Are you okay?"
What he saw was far from what he had imagined. He was expecting the midget being threatened with a knife or being cornered by a Hollow or being beaten up to death, but instead he found her standing on the lawn with a perplexed look all over her face.
"You…you're okay…" Ichigo stuttered, having his wild imagination shattered.
"Of course I'm okay. What were you thinking?" Rukia justified calmly, still unable to comprehend what happened to Ichigo.
"I heard you whimpering and…I couldn't find you anywhere…so I thought…" A blush started to creep on Ichigo's face, realising that he was dead wrong.
"I was dragging this bag of fertiliser, Ichigo," Rukia chuckled, restraining herself from laughing out loud. Ichigo being all protective and fussy was always the source of her entertainment. "Speaking of which, would you be a darling and drag it for me?"
Ichigo was stepping onto the lawn to comply with her request when he spotted the lush vegetation behind Rukia.
"Rukia, what's that?" He stopped dead on his track. The clump of leaves looked like…oh Kami, was that little red fruit he saw amidst the greenery?
"They're strawberry plants, Ichigo," Rukia replied in a defensive tone. She didn't really like the suspicion which laced Ichigo's voice a moment ago.
"S…strawberry plants?" For as long as he could remember, Rukia had never been the gifted one about gardening. Ichigo was the one who took care of the bonsai plant Ukitake gave her for her wedding. If Rukia had been the resident gardener, Ichigo bet his arm and leg that the bonsai would wilt before the third day.
And now…she had turned three quarters of their backyard into a strawberry plantation.
What mortified Ichigo further was when he took a closer look at the ill-fated plants; each and every one of them was named through the little oaktag Rukia had set up in front of every individual plant.
Hungry Ichigo, one oaktag blinked back at him. The one beside it read: Sleepy Ichigo.
To add to his bewilderment, the 'Ichigo' was written using the kanji of his name, not the kanji of the fruits.
"What is this, Rukia?" he questioned incredulously, pointing at one oaktag which shouted, Sulking Ichigo.
"It's their characteristics, Ichigo."
"Look, let me explain." Rukia smirked; her beautiful eyes were suddenly gleaming with mischievousness. She pointed at an oaktag and told her husband, "Read this."
"Rock-bottom Ichigo." The dandelion head felt a huge blow to his pride. "Darn, Rukia, I don't know what the hell crossed your mind but this is totally ridiculous, not to mention mortifying…"
"Damn right. This baby is Rock-bottom Ichigo," Rukia responded only to the statement which wasn't out of her topic. Ichigo could feel his head spinning. Baby?
"Rock-bottom Ichigo is of a wild cultivar," the lady went on with her explanation. "He doesn't need to be treated tenderly for him to bear fruits."
He, Ichigo noticed. Not it.
"He's just like you whenever you're at rock-bottom, since your depressed self doesn't deserve kind treatment."
"Then, there's this sweetheart: Smiling Ichigo." The smile painted on Rukia's face was as bright as the summer sunshine when she mentioned this particular plant—clearly that amongst the vegetation she had planted, Smiling Ichigo was her favourite. "Smiling Ichigo comes from a cultivar which produces very sweet and very delectable fruits."
So that's why she named it Smiling Ichigo, thought Ichigo.
Before Rukia continued with her explanation for Naked Ichigo, which he didn't really want to hear, he interrupted her, "Where did you get these plants from?"
"Inoue's gardening shoppe."
Darn, Ichigo whined mutely, just what the hell were the women up to when their husbands were away?
He really didn't want to know what Inoue probably did. He was sure something had happened though. It's really unsafe to leave those two—Rukia and Orihime—discussing and scheming together…
Snapping himself out of thoughts, he questioned again, "And where did you get this idea from?" Inevitably, the headache which had been bugging him worsened slightly.
Much to his surprise, Rukia's gaze casted downwards when he hurled the question at her.
"I…I missed you." Looking anywhere but her husband's eyes, she added, "I couldn't get the thoughts of you out of my head…I needed something to distract me…"
Ichigo's eyes softened at Rukia's words. He could feel his heart doing somersault.
"Whenever I started to think about you again, I would come here and tend to the plants. They're sweet creatures, Ichigo. I feel happy when I'm taking care of them."
God, I never knew she's such a softie, Ichigo thought painfully. Moreover, he was the cause of her misery! A pang of guilt hammered his chest.
"For short, whenever I miss you, I could always tend to these lovely plants and imagine that I'm tending to you, big strawberry!"
His head snapped up at this unexpected confession. No matter how touching the previous words were, the 'big strawberry' reduced all of them into mere rubble.
"What big strawberry?"
Rukia tsk-tsked him. Gone were her earlier heart-wrenching acts. "Don't you know? You're like their big brother, Ichigo." Pausing for a while, she even added, "Of course, if being a daddy is more comfortable for you, then by all means be my guest…"
Ichigo was flailing wildly. "Daddy? What daddy? No way in hell I would be the father of a bunch of strawberry plants!"
"Well, you both share the same name…" Rukia turned to face her strawberry plants and chimed happily, "Right, Ichigo Jr.?"
What's more, Ichigo swore the strawberry plants even bobbed up and down slightly, as if they were agreeing with his impish wife. He quickly made a mental note to never go missing in action for such long period anymore. Not after this incident.
"Oh, by the way, will you take care of them together with me?" Rukia inquired in a saccharine voice. "And…the fertiliser, Ichigo! Carry the bag here, will you?"
Ichigo couldn't help but felt that from then on, he would have to stock up on aspirins.
"Hello?" Ichigo picked the ringing phone up from his spot on the sofa. He was reading his evening newspaper after dinner, whilst Rukia was upstairs, taking a bath.
"What's wrong, Ishida?" Ichigo's voice turned serious. The last time Ishida called at this hour, three teenage punks were admitted to hospital in critical condition after having too much fun with their motorbikes. Fun, apparently, ended up plunging them straight against a speeding truck. Who knew what kind of accident happened this time?
"Did Kuchiki-san do something to your house?" the quincy whispered into the phone, his voice barely above a hush.
Ah, the pain of having fresh wound re-opened… Ichigo closed his eyes scornfully. "Well, she did crowd my backyard with a flock of strawberry plants…" he answered, heaving a deep sigh. He added as an afterthought, "She said she obtained them from your wife's shoppe."
"Right." Ishida's voice was hoarse. "Look, I don't know what Orihime did with Rukia when we were away, but I came home to a humongous rain dragon statue today…"
Frowning, Ichigo tried to recall the character contained in Ishida's first name. When he realised it, he burst out laughing.
"Stop laughing, Kurosaki!" Ishida growled angrily. "Really, I wonder what those two were up to when we were away!"
"Isn't it obvious?" Ichigo rolled his eyes even though Ishida couldn't see it through the phone. "They were scheming together."
Five minutes later, just after Ichigo ended the conversation with Ishida, Rukia walked into the living room and settled herself beside her husband.
"Who was that?"
"Ishida," Ichigo answered with a grin in his voice. "Apparently, he didn't really appreciate your idea of adding a rain dragon statue to his crib…"
Raising her brows, she retaliated, "Oh, tell him he should thank me. You won't want to imagine what Inoue initially wanted to do—she wanted to pave their whole house using stones."
"Yes," Rukia said, barely able to contain her smile. "Ishida literally means stone field, doesn't it? Well, Inoue seemed to have this idea that since she wanted her husband to be everywhere around her, she might as well turn their house into a stone field…" When she saw her husband's face changed colour, Rukia snorted, "Oh come on, this is Inoue we're talking about!"
Ichigo's remained static for a little while more before bursting into laughter. Amidst his laughing fit, he informed his wife, "Aw, man! You shouldn't have done that—I would really love to know what Ishida would say when he found out that the expensive parquet in his house was replaced by stones!"
Rukia grinned. "Well, as much as I wanted to do the same…I don't think the plan could be carried out within a week so we had to let it slide, Ichigo."
"You know," the carrot top whispered as he ruffled Rukia's hair affectionately, "now I think strawberry plants are not that bad."
Ichigo nodded. "Yeah…compared to Ishida's rain dragon…"
Flicking Ichigo's nose playfully, Rukia smirked before replying, "Another plus point, Ichigo: the entire strawberry yard cost less than the dragon statue."
A sudden realisation hit him. "Uh, Rukia…" He looked at the petite lady, who was nestled in his arm. "Where did you get the money to purchase those plants from?"
She grinned sheepishly at his question. "Well, where else but from our joint bank account?"
Smacking his forehead, Ichigo let out a painful groan. He didn't even think he wanted to know how much money Rukia sapped out of their savings.
He'd need a lot of aspirins, alright.
END OF CHAPTER TWO