A/N: Bleach and its characters belong to Tite Kubo and I claim no ownership whatsoever. Enjoy~!
"What is that bag for?" Ulquiorra poked his head into the bedroom where Ichigo was zipping up a small suitcase. The wedding was three days from today, and Ichigo hadn't called it off yet. Ulquiorra had already accepted his job at the new musical institute in Montana and he would be leaving tonight; therefore, he and the orange-haired boy had to escape tonight.
"Just a couple things for the hotel I'm staying at up until the wedding; I don't mean to overstay my welcome at your house and I need a place to think."
"I'm leaving for Montana tonight," Ulquiorra insisted, "so just cancel the wedding and come with me. It's going to be a long drive but we can enjoy the countryside and you can apply to a community college there…." He sighed and closed his eyes for a second, letting his daydream take over his sight.
"I'm not going," Ichigo turned away from Ulquiorra, "I have a wedding to attend."
"I cannot believe you! This farce…it was supposed to be cancelled before the bridesmaids received chiffon gowns, before caviar was imported from some foreign freezer, and certainly before the wedding planner handed out vanilla scented invitations to my coworkers!"
"The rehearsal dinner is tonight," Ichigo walked out of Ulquiorra's room and into the bathroom, "I just need to shower and we can go. Why don't you change your shirt?"
Ulquiorra scowled and pulled Ichigo close to him, pressing his lips to the shell of the boy's ear. "Cancel it. Tonight. Please."
"I need my towel." Ichigo slammed the door, almost bruising Ulquiorra's nose, and turned the shower on.
Reservations at some five star restaurant were made six months in advance to a rehearsal dinner no one bothered to show up. The night before Shirayuki had telephoned most of the guests and sent them the wrong address, Club Paako to be exact, where Gin and Koinosuke amazed the lost guests with bartending tricks and karaoke coupons. Karin and Yuzu picked at the cold hors d'oeuvre and ignored the glares of grandma Cifer and stepmom Cifer.
"To think the convent's gardener is at the same table with the rest of us," whispered grandma Cifer into some waiter's ear, "disgraceful that some Kurosaki brat is to marry my fair granddaughter. My grandson is no saint himself, associating himself with trash."
"You have a lot to say don't you granny?" Shirosaki suddenly spoke up, setting his fork down, "I believe some people in this room have something to confess. Don't they Mr. Bridegroom?"
"Why yes," Ichigo nervously cleared his throat. The audible gasps from the others and Grandma Cifer's evil eye certainly didn't help much. "Let's step outside and discuss things Mr. Gardener."
"I'd better check up on those two," Shirayuki pushed her chair back and stood up, "why don't you tell everyone about your days as a flapper Grandmother?"
"Yes, of course," Grammy Cifer cleared her throat, "back in the day…"
"Well are you ready to call it off?" Shirosaki whispered harshly, "because goddamnit Kurosaki if Shirayuki and I have to stand the evening any longer…."
"Just leave. NOW GARDENER." Ichigo yelled, his eyes pleaded with Shirosaki.
He pulled Shirosaki to the side and whispered back, "Look, I just heard my dad and Shirayuki's mom talking- since the rehearsal dinner was a fucking disaster, they moved up our wedding for tomorrow. Tomorrow because the catering company can, the caviar can, and apparently we can too. So you and Shirayuki can go pack your bags and just leave. NOW." He added the last now loudly and Shirosaki nodded begrudgingly.
"FINE. Fine. But listen up King," He yanked Kurosaki's collar, "I don't take orders from you and don't expect this to repeat itself understand?" Shirayuki stood by, observing mutely. She had wanted to ask Ichigo why he hadn't called off the wedding but anyone could see what he wanted to do: take the fall alone. And as much as it was wrong of her to take advantage, if Ichigo wanted to confess his promiscuity then so be it. Besides, this morning she found one special reason that would null her marriage availability anyway.
"No Yuzu that's a misconception about flappers," Stepmom Cifer gently added, "but Karin I'm surprised at your extensive knowledge of the fashion-especially of the gentlemen. Maybe we'll sit next to each other during the wedding ne?" Both girls grinned, glad to see the two women were amiable after all.
"That's right, after tomorrow we will all be a family! And as future matriarch," Grandma Cifer paused to wet her lips, "I say we're all dismissed. Go home everyone! Pick up your dry cleaning, shine your shoes, and for god's sake no one but the bride wear white!" She stood up, with the help of her trusty cane, and her daughter in law followed suit. The waiter, who had been a temporary confidante for the old bat, wrinkled his nose and called his goons to start clearing tables. Tomorrow the restaurant would witness the union of Ichigo Strawberry Kurosaki and Shirayuki Cifer.
Meanwhile, Ichigo pulled Shirayuki close for a hug in the garden. He sniffed the top of her white hair and swore it was powdered sugar. Warm tears stained his shirt and together they cried. After a while, he let her go to Shirosaki who smoothed her hair and whispered something.
"Where is my brother?"
"Montana." Ichigo murmured, wiping his face clean. Shirayuki nodded sadly. She had Shirosaki, thankfully, but Ichigo needed Ulqui. And from what Ichigo told her, they kept each other sane enough to live. The bickering reminded them that they cared about each other in their own way.
The week they lived together, she knew, was so out of place for both of them. No father to lie to or grandmother to please and endless sunrises sharing a bed. Realizing that they were both health nuts and jogged before breakfast; realizing that Ulquiorra showered with the door open because he was afraid otherwise, realizing that going to sleep was a curse if it meant closing your eyes and fearing the strawberry or the violin tutor would disappear.
So that night, Ichigo stayed up, with the hotel covers over his head and wished sleep, the thing he feared the most during that precious week, would chain him once more.
In the corner of the room were his tux and his small suitcase with his bear Kon and his violin. Whatever savings he had from his part-time jobs would probably be enough to leave the state until he found a new job and a new college. His sisters would miss him terribly, if they weren't disillusioned in him after tomorrow, and his father…Ichigo stopped and decided if he wanted to sleep then it was best to not worry about the utter failure his father would see tomorrow. Mary's little lamb was coal black.
"Hey kid do you need a lift?" Neliel rolled her passenger window to properly see the white-haired boy. He was out of breath and wearing a sweaty penguin getup.
"Yeah," Toshiro huffed, leaning on her car door. He eyed the busty green-haired woman in a teal cocktail dress with two kids in overprotective car seats that contrasted the minivan's dingy appearance.
"Get in brat I have a wedding to attend," She spat, unlocking the door, "where are you headed at?"
"Same as you Mrs. Neliel," Toshiro climbed in the van, "same as you….the Kurosaki-Cifer wedding in the Red Peach Restaurant."
Neliel whistled in approval. Small world it was indeed. But why would Ichigo talk about her to the boy?
"So how much do you know about Ichigo? You his friend?"
Toshiro collected his breath and wondered if he would regret admitting what he would say next, "we slept together."
"Ooh," Neliel's interest was definitely piqued, "another flower for the butterfly boy to land. So kid, when did he prick your flower?"
Toshiro's ears and face reddened. Innuendos made this situation ten times worse. He could care less if mama Neliel was trying to protect her kids from the dirty sex truth especially when she was asking all these evasive shit about him.
"It was a year ago," He muttered, "he was my English tutor and out of the blue said my lips could be put to better use and kissed me." Neliel, a sucker for romance stories, squealed but kept her eyes on the road. The restaurant was on the next right and she hadn't anticipated the trip to be so short. How much could she ask she wondered?
"I get it kid," She eased, "from now on; you plan to keep your legs closed like popsicle sticks. Good luck," She parallel parked and got out of the car. "Oh, and call me when you're legal. Maybe I can help you find use for that pink pucker of yours…."
Toshiro got out of the car and sped into the restaurant opening. He hoped there were enough guests in between him and Neliel.
It's customary for the bride to make all her preparations alone. She is to be locked in her room where she bathes, clothes, and prims herself until the groom's watcher picks her up. Then the two share tea and discuss a few things the watcher has learned about the groom-as a sort of warning to the wife-to-be. The bride then confesses her sins to the watcher who assures absolution and together they go the wedding.
It was half past noon and neither the bride nor the groom's watcher had arrived to the restaurant for the wedding reception. Ichigo had received a text from Shirayuki that they were boarding a plane back to Spain and wished him the best of luck. He sucked in his breath and scanned the room.
Toshiro just rushed in and found a seat next to Rukia and her brother, the uptight Byakuya himself. Next to him was Grimmjow who occasionally looked at Ichigo but was mostly chatting with Neliel who arrived shortly after Toshiro did. She came with her two kids, a boy and a toddler girl who weren't all too fazed with Grimmjow's electric blue hair. Szayel Aporro and his brother, how those two got an invitation Ichigo will never know, pat each other and keep to themselves. Though Ichigo can't help but catch a glimmer in his dentist's glasses. Gin, his best friend who purposely arrived early to give Ichigo a pep talk and avoid Aizen had his arms crossed and eyes narrowed.
"What do you mean you're leaving?" Gin shook Ichigo's shoulders, his eyes focused on the dejected friend in front of him.
"Well what do you expect Gin? That after this dad, the girls, and I go for a sundae?"
Gin sighed, and let go of Ichigo's shoulders.
"You could have stayed at my place," He quietly added, "and I say could have. I know you won't change your mind you stupid strawberry. You would at least stay within the same county as your family until everything cools down and they can accept your apology."
"And Aizen?" Ichigo challengingly asks Gin who looks as if he's seen a ghost. The foxy bartender masks his surprise with dejection.
"You mean that I would choose a man I've met for a couple of weeks over my best friend? Shocking as this sounds Ichigo but I care about cha. When I saw you slumped over your pink panty dropper because Starrk the resident playboy decided to have you for dinner, I knew I had to save your ass. I knew you could be fun and learn how to play this fucking game. And when we finally had sex and laughed at how stupid it was to be together, we didn't end us. We became something better than fuck buddies- we became hangover friends. Shopping chums. Drinking pals. And ya know what else? I'm going out there and sitting with the rest of your fuck buddies so you can have your fucking piece of mind."
He stormed out and left Ichigo alone in the bathroom stall. It was probably the most unlikely place to be dumped by your bestie, but it was a full circle. Gin was a fucking liar. They met in a bathroom stall where Ichigo was puking out his pink panty dropper, vowing that Coyote Starrk wouldn't leave the bar without a black eye.
Ichigo exhaled and took in the scene unfolding. Grandma Cifer yelling through her cellphone obscenities while stepmom Cifer was bawling. Aizen was trying, to no avail, to calm down his ex-wife and mother. His father had pressed his lips into a thin line and refused to look at anyone but the Cifer clan. His sisters, thankfully, had wormed their way out of their seats and had gone-where he couldn't find them he supposed. The murmurs escalated to jabbering and a few guests had pulled out their hankies to wipe their brows. The clock now chimed one o'clock. Ichigo cleared his throat and cupped his hands to his mouth.
"EVERYONE! CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION EVERYONE!" He shouted, whistling a couple times after to really get everyone's focus to him. Grandma Cifer's digusted visage turned to Ichigo and everyone followed suit. The room fell into an awkward silence as they waited for the strawberry.
"There's a lot I have to say," Ichigo began, leaving his place at the side of the altar to the podium in the middle, "but first things first: Shirayuki won't be coming. I told her I didn't love her and she left." The restaurant escalated to loud jabbers and excited whispers at the news. No wedding? The Kurosaki boy was a liar and the Cifer girl proud at heart? What?
"BE SILENT!" Grandma Cifer's hoarse voice resonated in the room. She stamped her cane a few times and did her best to muster the most evil glare at the Kurosaki boy.
"Let the traitor speak." Was all she said. His father was shocked, to say the least, but kept quiet. Almost as if he waited for his son to tack on an "April fools!" at the end of his speech.
Ichigo sighed and continued, "The truth is everyone: I don't love Shirayuki. I can't marry her to get her out of the convent or bring her to America either. I knew this since I was a kid and dad, girls, I'm sorry for lying." He threw glances at his father who was looking strained. Was he breathing? Ichigo had to continue.
"And now that I'm up here, I might as well finish what I started. Neliel," He gestured to the busty woman, "you were my first love, and you know that. Honestly I wanted a distraction from everything. I'm sorry that was all we could be and I'm sorry for dumping you for Rukia." Despite the gasps in the crowd, Neliel nodded and Ichigo knew he was forgiven by her.
"And Rukia, sorry for driving you into Bulimia- first of all. You were my best friend in class and when you agreed to be my girlfriend, I was ecstatic. We did everything: movie dates, homework dates, and held hands everywhere. But I was going to get married and I had this strange urgency. I needed to be with as many people as possible. But I never cheated on you Rukia. Never. So I did the next worst thing: I dumped you. I told you I fucking hated Chappy the Rabbit and humiliated you in front of your friends by spreading rumors of us. And I had no right to ruin your life."
By now the crowd had gone beyond silent. To think the nice girl in a yellow dress with her angry-looking brother was also Ichigo's lover! Byakuya had let the Kurosaki boy talk but only because Rukia asked him to. It was up to her to decide if she forgave the boy or not. She shook her head, if she hadn't forgiven him then she wouldn't have shown up; however, she made it clear to him that just because she forgave him didn't mean she could be his friend or speak to him again. She showed up, and forced her brother to accompany her because it was the right thing to do for his fiancée who probably had the shock of her life, as Rukia had, upon realizing who Ichigo really was.
"Toshiro-gosh I was your tutor and somehow that didn't matter to me. You wanted someone to help you with school and perhaps make a new friend, not someone tormenting you. As your class mate, I've abused your trust. I'm so sorry." Toshiro burned with all the stares; everyone else was probably thinking so young or so slutty. He was surprised when that wasn't the case and in fact all the glares were directed at Ichigo.
So far everything was going according to plan, Ichigo supposed. The guests he invited were forgiving him as the other guests hated him more. He purposely kept his eyes away from his father. Soon he could disappear.
"Grimmjow, honestly I apologize for dragging you into this but yes I also used you for my entertainment and even if you understood this, you deserve an apology." Grimmjow also nodded. The audience crowd waited, there was still the silver-haired man sitting on the row with the other people Ichigo had apologized to. Said silver-haired man was slumped down and wondered if the apology he would receive was worth the evident stares. And yet
"Gin, please hear me out. Even if I have to talk about us in front of this audience you of all people need to hear my apology. I've been the worst of all friends. I've risked your job, disrespected your private life, meddled in your sexual life, and questioned your integrity. When I realized I would pathetically become a slut, I didn't think I would have someone who would hear my problems or love me despite who I am. When the world around me was becoming a lie, you were the only truth I could return to. I'm sorry I used you like this."
Gin raised his head to lock eyes with Ichigo, and his frown softened. He loved Ichigo and he was glad that Ichigo admitted that as well. The anger ebbed out of him and was instead replaced with worry. Would the strawberry leave the restaurant alive? He braved a glance around the restauraunt; it was mostly empty. When the guests had started to disappear, he hadn't noticed since his row was mostly sitting down and waiting for Ichigo to finish. The only ones who stayed were Shirayuki's mother and grandmother, and Ichigo's father. He made a point of not glancing at Aizen, who was also in the restaurant. He finally decided to stand up and walk over to Ichigo.
"Ichigo," He whispered into the boy's ear, "ya better have a speedy getaway because I don't care how much ya want to set things right, it's not worth waiting for everyone's reaction. Look, I can take you as far as ya want or all the way or whatever."
"T-take me to the hotel," Ichigo finally spoke. The boy had shrunk, as if sadness shriveled him up. He couldn't waste any more time. He turned to the small guests one last time and bowed before making his leave. The tears that had threatened to spill fell over. But they were anything but regret; he was filled with an empty joy the truth brought. He let Gin guide him to the car before he finally broke down into Gin's stiff blazer.
A/N: Thank you for everyone who patiently waited for this chapter. I hope I didn't disappoint y'all but feel free to leave any opinions. Feels good to be writing again~