Disclaimer: Tite Kubo is taking full responsibility for all things Bleach-related, and I'm taking responsibility for the sheer crack.
And yes, I know I should be working on or updating my next big story. Really, no one knows it more than I. I'm just currently working through some minor writers block, and this sprang into my head fully fledged. In the immortal words of Bat for Lashes – what's a girl to do?
Listening to: Judging from how this turned out, I'm going with 'the deranged voices in my head'. As opposed to the sane ones, which just stick to telling me what I should burn next.
Guess who's coming to dinner.
To Orihime Inoue 'family' was a flexible concept. To her it included a protective older brother, who may have become possessed by a hollow and tried to kill her but had still valued her life above his own. It didn't include two drunk and violent parents that she barely remembered, but it did include two creatures that were her captors turned protectors. It also encompassed the boy she had once loved, now a man whose friendship was all she sought, a tomboy best friend who fought off marauding lesbians, the last Quincy, who had brought her back to herself after years of captivity in Hueco Mundo, and a lot of dead people.
Ergo, a 'family' dinner at her house was an interesting affair…
It was a motley crew of more than a dozen who emerged from the Urahara Shoten on a brisk fall afternoon. Spectators couldn't help but gawk at some of the ludicrous hair colours (even the extremely vivid shades of red and orange paled against locks of blue, white and green). Stranger still were the various ages of the group, the way they addressed the black cat that padded along beside them as though it was human, and the fact that they seemed somewhat uncomfortable, almost awkward and unfamiliar in their bodies, with the exception of their apparent leader, with his frown and almost luminously orange hair.
Said frown deepened as he surveyed their surroundings, and one of the group, a tall man with vivid blue hair and a fighter's grace, bluntly stated, "You know, Ichi, you can admit we're lost. There's no shame in havin' the map readin' skills of a girl if you are one."
A petite woman with long dark braids immediately smacked him over the head. "Not the smartest thing to say when your superior is a woman, Grimm."
"Still", a slender, aristocratic dark-haired man added, "Lieutenant Jeagerjacques has a point. Perhaps Captain Kurosaki should relinquish this job to more… experienced and capable hands."
Blinking in shock, a busty redhead tugged on the sleeve of the tall gentleman at her side, his face youthful despite his white hair, and proceeded to stage-whisper, "Toushiro! Grimmjow and Captain Kuchiki just agreed on something! It was just so… wrong. I think the world may be coming to an end."
Shaking his head, he ground out something that sounded suspiciously like 'It's Captain Hitsugaya, dammit', only to sigh and glare at their fearless leader. "Really Kurosaki, should it be taking this long?"
A slim brunette woman with bright violet eyes rolled them as she added, "Nii-sama has a point, Ichigo. Things haven't exactly changed around here, so what's the hold up?"
"More to the point, do we really want to be rushing to Orihime's house to consume a meal created by her? As much as I would enjoy seeing her again, there is only so much my stomach can handle", a thin, pale fellow with bright green eyes and a shock of dark hair pointed out.
"Look, I only went there once", their leader (Ichigo?) growled out, "and it was to rescue her when her brother attacked her. I was slightly preoccupied with the whole 'saving her life' thing and tragically may have not remembered how many left turns to take. Hell, I think I was jumping over the damn rooftops anyway."
A rather brawny and very tattooed redhead looked thoughtful. "Huh. You know, if Shinji were here, I bet he'd be able to tell us where to go. Freaken pervert probably stalked her home a few times."
A voluptuous woman with green hair nodded. "Probably something to do with her possessing innocence in proportion to her bust size. She's probably been stalked home by all the perverts in the local area."
As one, the group halted, wheeling around to stare at the blond man bringing up the rear, a green and white striped hat on his head and a long, thin cane twirled in one hand. He looked decidedly indignant. "Now really, I may not have the best reputation, but following a beautiful young woman home? Do you really think an honest shopkeeper and upstanding captain of the Gotei 13 like myself would sink to such depths?"
The silence stretched on as they all continued to stare at him, disbelief etched on each of their faces. The black cat at his feet made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort.
Resigned, he adjusted his hat, looking more than a little sheepish. "You take the next right."
Ten very awkward minutes later (especially if you were Kisuke Urahara), they had arrived at Orihime's apartment block. Grimmjow eyed the rather small building dubiously. "We all gonna fit in there, or are we eatin' on the roof?"
"Lieutenant Jeagerjacques, Orihime would hardly invite us all if she couldn't accommodate us. I have been here before and I assure you, there's enough room. That being said, it's rather nice on the roof." Toushiro Hitsugaya stared wistfully at the top of the building, temporarily lost in his own thoughts. Behind him, Grimmjow muttered, "Whatever you reckon, Snowflake."
Whipping his head around to glare at the arrancar, Toushiro's eyes narrowed. "How many times do I have to tell you, it's - "
As one they chorused, "Captain Hitsugaya, dammit!"
He blinked. "Well, if you all know it so bloody well, why can't you call me it?"
His lieutenant giggled as she led the way upstairs. "Because it's a hell of a lot funnier this way. C'mon Toushiro, we don't want to be late!"
The rest of the group trailed after her, leaving him behind as his eye began to twitch almost imperceptibly, the expressions on their faces unrepentant with the exception of Ulquiorra, who had to endure almost as many nicknames from Grimmjow. Slowing as he passed, the arrancar carefully looked to ensure the coast was clear before leaning forward and whispering conspiratorially, "Any ludicrous moniker he attaches to you can be dispelled simply be making reference to his release form. My personal favourite is threatening to suggest to Yachiru that she re-name him 'Pretty Kitty'. It has never failed to silence him. Another alternative is to take it up with Captain Soi Fon – she knows how to keep him in line."
"I'll keep that in mind." Toushiro let a brief smile cross his features as he followed Ulquiorra upstairs. It was good to be armed.
They had barely set foot on the landing in front of Orihime's apartment, when the door was flung open and the woman herself raced out with a squeal to almost tackle Rangiku, leaving Uryuu Ishida standing in the doorway, shaking his head wryly. The two women, however, proceeded to bounce up and down enthusiastically, chattering away excitedly, as every straight man in the group made an attempt to look as though they weren't staring at the scene before them. Given that both women were very attractive and in possession of considerably more cup sizes than most, these efforts had mixed success. Kisuke was openly ogling, ignoring the hissing cat stalking toward him, while Ichigo had suddenly become very interested in the wall of the apartment building, much to Rukia's amusement, and Uryuu focussed on cleaning his glasses, a blush on his pale face. Toushiro himself couldn't help but feel uncharacteristically warm, as he gazed at a point above both women's heads, and Grimmjow's eyes had taken on something of a glazed quality, as he muttered to himself, "Damn. A sight like that's enough to – make me realise how very, very much I love my captain", he finished hurriedly, as Soi Fon cracked her knuckles.
"Damn straight", the petite captain muttered, as strong arms pulled her into an embrace. "Silly Bee", Grimmjow whispered in her ear, "You know you're the only woman for me. No one else knows how to beat the crap outta me quite like you do." Rolling her eyes, Soi Fon punched him lightly on the arm, a faint smile on her face, as they were all invited in. "Idiot."
Still exuberantly welcoming everyone, Orihime led them into her house, keeping up a steady stream of talk.
" – Sado-kun and Tatsuki-chan are already here in the dining room, so you can all sit down there, but I have to go see to what's in the kitchen. Oh, Rangiku-san, will you come help? I just get the feeling that there's something missing from the mackerel and peach soup." Dragging her friend off, Orihime left a crowd of rather pale shinigami and arrancar in the hall, presided over by a smug looking Quincy.
"Did she say mackerel and peach?" Under his typical stoic mask, Byakuya Kuchiki was looking very alarmed.
"I really think she did", cat Yoruichi replied, her ears back.
"I was afraid o' that", muttered Renji.
"Surely", Uryuu replied, "you all wouldn't be so churlish as to refuse the meal that Orihime has been slaving over since early this morning?" The Quincy looked far too self-satisfied as he pushed his glasses back up his nose, staring at the rather guilty and slightly terrified looking bunch in front of him. "I mean, really Kurosaki, I was under the impression that, while you don't choose to demonstrate them, you do at least possess the most rudimentary of manners. And aren't the officers of the Gotei 13 supposed to be setting an example in such things in order to educate the lower ranks?"
"You know", Ulquiorra muttered, "it might be nice if you weren't so determined to be so insufferable about this. You are just as familiar with Orihime's cooking as we are – you know what you are about to face. You're hardly in a position to mock us."
"Ah, but I've developed an… immunity, of sorts. And she really has improved", Uryuu added, the reassurance in his voice somewhat offset by the smile threatening to overwhelm his countenance. "It's just one meal. What are you afraid of?"
"Severe gastro-intestinal distress", growled out Toushiro.
"Well, you never know", Rukia said with forced brightness, "it might not be that bad…" She took in Ichigo's look of disbelief. "Oh hell, at least I brought plastic bags in case it gets too much for our digestive tracts to handle. Do you want one, Nii-sama?"
"Undoubtedly. Incidentally, very good, Rukia - a Kuchiki is always prepared."
"Huh", muttered Ichigo, "I could've sworn that was the girl scouts, not the Kuchi – Oh shit!"
A black blur of motion rocketed down the corridor and straight into Ichigo, throwing him backwards with a grunt and threatening all sorts of violence. Rukia brightened up again, this time sincerely. "Hi Tatsuki!"
Pausing in the middle of beating up Ichigo, the slender, spiky-haired girl grinned. "Hey Rukia. Mind if I kick the crap outta this baka for a while?"
"Be my guest", Rukia returned with a somewhat sadistic grin, as Ichigo turned pale, shaking his head vigorously.
"Man, I love your sister", Renji whispered to Byakuya with a grin.
Only those who knew the Kuchiki heir well would've spotted the gleam of amusement in his eyes, despite his stoic façade. "As do I, Renji, as do I. Rukia, have you considered assisting Arisawa-san in this endeavour? Captain Kurosaki may need additional subduing."
Sniggering, Renji nodded. "Yep, that's the man I love, right there. Quick Rukia, before Berryhead breaks free!"
"Shared interests", Byakuya mused with a slight smile on his face as Ichigo continued to yell somewhat muffled expletives between punches, "are so very important in a relationship, don't you think Renji?"
"Glad ya see it my way, Byakuya. Oh, hey there Sado. Are you here to watch the fun?"
The giant of a man stood in the doorway, shaking his head at his friends' antics before striding in and lifting Rukia out of the fray, depositing her by Byakuya and Renji. She blinked, trying to get her bearings once more, as Byakuya let out a faint sigh. "All good things must come to an end, I suppose."
Sado had turned his attentions back to Tatsuki and Ichigo, the latter of whom was now face down on the floor being bent into a distinctly uncomfortable position, whatever he was yelling still indistinct, but forceful nonetheless. Picking Tatsuki up, Sado held her aloft as he gave her a very definite look. "Dinner first, then beatings."
"Fine", she huffed as he put her down, before turning to Ichigo. "I'll deal with you later. Your left hand blocks still suck."
"Thanks for the heads up", Ichigo wheezed.
Nel grinned, before murmuring to Ulquiorra, "Wanna bet on the outcome?"
He snorted. "Neliel, we both know Kurosaki is going down. There's nothing to bet on."
She raised an eyebrow. "Well, I reckon he'll last more than five minutes."
Ulquiorra surveyed the scene, as Tatsuki calmly stood there and Ichigo struggled to get back up, still gasping for breath. "You're on, Neliel. It will be a wrench to part you with your money, but I suspect I'll cope."
"I'm with Ulqui on that one", muttered Grimmjow, who flinched as Ulquiorra glared at him. "Fine, Ulquiorra then. Shit, you know how to threaten a guy, dontcha?" Ignoring Toushiro's thoughtful, 'Huh, so it does work', Grimmjow continued, "Anyway, what was Sado sayin' 'bout beatings and dinner? Do we get a choice? I know which one I'd be pickin'."
"Well, as delightful as all this is", Yoruichi began, "I can hardly eat at the table like this." Before anyone could process her intentions, she had transformed back into her usual form – that of a short but curvy woman with dark skin, gold eyes and hair of an unusual shade of purple. Unfortunately for the more puritanical members of the group, she also reappeared utterly naked. This, however, did nothing but amuse her, as she watched Ichigo and Uryuu in almost hysterics. "Honestly, all you hero-types can't handle women to save your lives. It's just a body." Shaking her head, she nodded to Soi Fon. "Hey Bee, got a spare uniform?"
"Yes, of course." Sarcasm laced the petite captain's voice. "Because I obviously anticipated this, Lady Yoruichi. Can't you ever pack your own change of clothes?"
"Uh, I forgot." Scratching her head, Yoruichi looked beseechingly at Kisuke, who resignedly shrugged out of his green coat. "Fine, but you'd better keep it closed Yoruichi. We're already cheating death today by eating Orihime's food, and I don't want to make the odds worse by having to calculate the likelihood of someone choking to death because they catch sight of a little too much cleavage from across the table."
"This meal just keeps getting better and better", scowled Toushiro. "look, we're cramped enough in the hall as it is, without even taking into consideration the sheer amount of foolish behaviour you all exhibit. Perhaps we should relocate?"
"Of course." With a derisive glance at Ichigo, who was still breathing heavily and looking rather pained, Uryuu lead the way into the lounge, which had been set up to accommodate a fairly sizable dining table. "We may as well be seated, I'm sure Orihime and Rangiku will be out with the food soon."
"I'll go help", Nel volunteered enthusiastically.
"NO!" The entire group chorused, panicked expressions on their faces.
With a sigh, Nel took a seat. "I only ever burned a house down once. I've gotten better, I swear."
Behind her and well out of sight, Ulquiorra stared back at the rest of the guests, shaking his head with a distinct grimace on his face.
They seated themselves, a delicate operation as Rukia and Ichigo wanted to sit together, Byakuya wanted them as far apart as possible, neither Ichigo or Uryuu could sit next to (or across from) Yoruichi without twitching, no one wanted Grimmjow near anyone he'd pick a fight with (almost everyone at the table), and Ulquiorra refused to sit anywhere he'd have to watch Ichigo, Renji or Grimmjow eat, on the grounds that it was almost as harmful to his digestion as Orihime's cooking. Ten minutes later, they'd reached a suitable compromise, hurried along by the frost that was starting to build across the table near Toushiro. Ichigo threw a disgruntled look at Byakuya before smiling across the table at Rukia, who rolled her eyes at the antics of both her adoptive brother and her friend. Byakuya elected to ignore them, instead talking to Renji, as the occupants of the room caught one another up on what had occurred since they had last met. Suddenly, Byakuya broke off his conversation, he eyes narrowed at Ichigo.
"Kurosaki, that is my leg you are attempting to caress with your foot. Cease and desist."
From his vantage point at the head of the table, Grimmjow couldn't help but laugh as Ichigo blushed and attempted to stammer out an explanation. Renji, on the other hand, looked torn between attacking Ichigo for trying to put the moves on the woman he saw as his little sister, and attacking Ichigo for trying to put the moves on Renji's own partner. Either way, the extended Kuchiki family did not look happy with Ichigo Kurosaki.
Kisuke Urahara fluttered his fan, looking his one-time student over. "Now really, Kurosaki-kun, and they call me a pervert. Seducing your friend's partner and your would-be girlfriend's brother at the dinner table? I'm so proud of my favourite strawberry! I knew you'd be a good protégé!"
Silence greeted this, interrupted only by Orihime and Rangiku's faint noises in the kitchen and Ichigo's occasional enraged spluttering. Yoruichi surveyed the room. "Would it make things any less awkward if I transformed into a cat and back again so you could watch Ichigo freak out?"
"NO!" Came the chorus, with the exception of Grimmjow's "Hell yeah!" which earned him another punch in the arm. "Dammit Bee, not like that! Berryhead looks hilarious with his panic face on an' his arms flailin' about. Is it so wrong to wanna see that again?"
"Odd. I was under the impression that manoeuvre was your typical battle stance, Kurosaki", Ulquiorra added blandly.
"Why the hell are you all pickin' on me?" Ichigo seemed more than a little disgruntled.
"Because you make it so very easy", Uryuu replied, the light reflecting off his glasses masking his eye-roll.
"Might be time to call a truce", Nel grinned. "As much fun as Ichigo-baiting is."
Across the table, Renji leaned over to inquire of his lover, "Was his leg even anywhere near yours, or were you just trying to make them too awkward around one another to do anything?"
"The latter", Byakuya returned in a whisper, "but I also had the urge to put the fear of Kami in him."
Renji looked at his friends, neither of whom could face one another without blushing, and focussed on the way Ichigo's panicked gaze would flick to Byakuya every so often. "Mission accomplished then, I'd say."
A ghost of a smile flickered on Byakuya's face. "So it would seem."
Orihime and Rangiku's triumphant entry into the dining room, carrying a large, steaming pot together and wearing very decorative over mitts, brought this exchange to a halt. "Dinner's ready", the young human girl proclaimed as she ladled out the concoction in the pot to everyone. "It took me a while to work out what was missing, but Rangiku-san figured it out on the spot!"
"I know that I will regret asking this", Ulquiorra muttered as he prodded something floating in his bowl with a spoon, "but what was missing?"
"Honey and chilli sauce", Rangiku replied with a grin, settling herself down next to her captain, who in turn looked a little queasy as he added, "I was afraid it'd be something like that."
"Dear Kami-sama", came Grimmjow's murmur from the other end of the table, "I know I ain't always been on my best behaviour, but if I live through this – GAH!" He was cut short by a judiciously placed elbow to the ribs from Soi Fon.
Sitting down at the head of the table, and utterly oblivious to all, Orihime smiled broadly at her guests. "There's no need to stand on ceremony with me – go ahead and eat."
Several people around the table gulped visibly. The same thought process went through their heads. Could they really disappoint Orihime, the affectionate young woman with a heart the size of the entire Rukongai and the power of the gods, by not eating a meal she had spent all morning preparing?
There was really no choice in the matter.
Steeling themselves, the guests took up their spoons, and dipped them in the soup. Even Sado looked a little nervous as Tatsuki grimaced and shrugged. "Bottoms up."
They all took a mouthful.
There was a lengthy pause, a pause that conveyed mingled confusion and wonder.
They all took another spoonful. And then another. And another.
As Ichigo stared at his soup, utterly baffled, while Rukia laughed and Uryuu smiled smugly. "I told you she'd improved."
Captain Hitsugaya stared at his empty bowl, before turning to Lieutenant Jeagerjacques next to him. "Are you going to finish that?"
Grimmjow snorted. "Damn fucken straight I am, Snowflake."
Toushiro's eyes narrowed. "I don't think so… Pretty Kitty."
The former Espada froze, before shooting a glare at Ulquiorra and shoving his bowl at Toushiro. "Whatever. Hey Bee, you gonna eat all o' yours?"
Across the table, Renji was looking at Byakuya with some concern. The noble had taken the first sip of his soup, only to shut his eyes and sit perfectly still from then on.
"Uh, Byakuya? "
A pale hand was held up. "Renji, please. Do not interrupt me when I am in the throes of gastronomic ecstasy."
Rolling his eyes, Renji turned to Orihime. "I don' suppose we could get the recipe?"
"Yoruichi", Kisuke begged, "please stop eating so enthusiastically. That coat wasn't made for someone with a bust – it can't take the strain of such exuberant movement!"
He paused, considering what he'd just said. "Actually, keep going. I'll watch."
Sado sighed with satisfaction as he eyed his empty plate, before turning his gaze to Tatsuki's. She curled her arm around the bowl protectively. "I don't care if you are a growing boy, this is mine."
Nel grinned. "You know, if Orihime is capable of such a change in results in her kitchen, maybe you could start letting me back into mine."
Ulquiorra blinked. "Maybe. Here, would you like the rest of mine? I'm suddenly not feeling hungry."
Her grin widening, Nel took it. "Thanks. Mmmm… there's nothing quite so tasty as a failed attempt to deflect a question, don't you think Ulquiorra?"
"You are incorrigible, Neliel", came his reply as he smiled wryly.
"Shucks", she returned, "You say the sweetest things."
Still grinning smugly at the head of the table, Uryuu rose and opened the lid of the pot. "There's still some left. Who wants seconds?"
Sixteen bowls that appeared to have been licked clean confronted him.
I have no idea why it took me so long to finish this, but here it is! This is utter crack set in the Bleach universe I've created in my stories, so if the pairings and situations seem bizarre to you, that would be why. First time I've gone strictly for humour, so let me know how it pans out – R and R, y'all.