A/N: A lot of new folk to ask for reviews. And a lot of regulars too: NightEveMoon, DoingTheUnstuck, gonekrazy3000, onlytoask, Just Watch Me, robmauricio, Divine Grey, Sharps19, BiblioMatsuri, Thrivingonmynightmares, goodbyethankyou, "Alex," megasayangoku, Rukia's Reflection, minaHatoriiiiii, newskerzzz, Dashita Tichou, TheCresantMoonWolf, Cisusi, Qwerty321, novicestar, KitElizaKing, Dragon and Sword Master, uchika-sakura193, darklover, mintgil, Athletiger, Dark Inu Fan, curio cherry, DinieLuvYunho, Thunder Claw03, splitheart1120, Assault Godzilla, NieveDrop, laughingfox31, and Altheya. And thank you to everyone who put this or its author on their lists. I know it's been a while but I'm aiming to get a chapter out for each story in time for Christmas as a gift from me to all my fans. Guess it's a good thing that there's actually "Twelve Days of Christmas," huh?
The Kurosaki Affair
Here Lurks Evil
Orihime Inoue glanced up from the scads of bridal magazines she was reading when her own fiancé opened the door to their apartment. Uryuu Ishida looked like he'd gone ten rounds with an Arrancar and the healer immediately rose to get him a cup of tea. She knew better than to ask if it had been a bad day as he came home like that every time he lost a patient or the other doctors did things that were considered unforgivable to his Quincy nature.
"Why don't we order in and talk about the wedding?" she suggested when he had changed into more comfortable clothing and sat at the kitchen table where her reading material covered the surface.
"Ours, or the Shinigamis'?"
"Either, but I was thinking of Kurosaki-kun's and Rukia's. She asked me to be a bridesmaid."
"Ah, yes, I knew I forgot to do something today. I was supposed to tell you that she'd be calling you. Guess she beat me to it. Kuchiki-san asked me to make the dresses."
"That's wonderful! I know you'll do better than anyone else."
The archer smiled crookedly at his beloved. "Thank you, but I'm also the only logical choice. Can you imagine a bridal store filled with Shinigami? Especially since our dear friend insisted on appointing Yachiru as the flower girl?"
Orihime paused, her tea halfway to her mouth. "Yachiru? Oh, dear."
"Exactly." Sighing, Ishida rubbed his forehead. "I can see the chaos now. Flower petals will be all over the chapel and then Captain Kuchiki will release his shikai after the terror and create more havoc."
Going to him, the Rikka wielder leaned down so that she could embrace him. "Don't worry, I'll help you and I'm sure Zaraki-taichou will make her behave."
"Do you think he'd mind if I used some of my new techniques on her?"
The healer tilted her head and considered his question. "Well, I supposed he might let it go but if he finds out that you've gotten a lot stronger since the last big fight, he might turn his attention towards you."
Light glinted of slim lenses and a smirk formed. "I wouldn't mind testing my newly developed powers on that fool."
"Somehow I don't that he's the only you'd like to pierce with your arrows," she said perceptively.
"No, you're right. The administrators at the hospital would be my first choice but one has to make do at times."
"Uh-huh, how about you just put needle to fabric in the meantime?"
"As you wish, my dear. On the upside, I now have an assistant who will gladly do my shopping for me."
"So Rukia said. I always thought Ayasegawa had a flair for fashion." Moving to the phone, Orihime began to dial their favorite restaurant that delivered.
"That's not the only thing he has a flair for," the Quincy muttered before pulling a bridal magazine over to him in hopes of inspiration. Because of her petite stature, Rukia's wedding dress was going to be tricky to make. She needed something elegant yet nothing that would swallow her up. "Did Kuchiki-san happen to mention whether or not she had chosen colors?"
"Well, she was thinking about Chappy pink but several of the women on the other end of the phone immediately rejected the idea so she's going with lavender. Ise-san said it was a very nice color that would complement her eyes and it would look good on all of her bridesmaids. Rangiku-san even agreed. The only one I'm worried about is Yachiru because of her pink hair but I suppose if you make hers white with lavender trimming, we could avoid that."
"White and lavender, yes, I can see that working. Good, we have a color scheme." A snicker passed his lips at the thought of Ichigo with a lavender bow tie and cummerbund and Ishida pretended to cough in hopes that his bride-to-be didn't catch on to his amusement.
"You're thinking of Kurosaki-kun in lavender with his orange hair, aren't you?" Orihime asked knowingly.
"You have to admit that it's going to clash."
"Well, yes, but…" Orihime started but trailed off when she saw that he was in a better mood. "Fine but don't blame me if he thinks it was your idea."
"I would enjoy another duel with the daiko," Ishida admitted.
"Absolutely not!" Orihime admonished, shaking a finger at her beloved. "As one of Kuchiki-san's bridesmaids it's my job to see to that nothing goes wrong. And as I'm the only one currently in this dimension, that means I get to do whatever I have to in order to make sure that everything runs smoothly."
Raising a black brow, the Quincy Archer studied the woman in front of him. "Whatever you have to?" he question warily.
"I was afraid of that. Very well, I will not challenge Kurosaki to a duel."
"Good. Besides, you know he's one of your closest friends." Refilling their cups, she returned to the table.
"I'll deny that until the end of time," Ishida claimed.
"Yes, yes, but no one believes you."
"Now then, what do you think of Yuzu-chan's boyfriend?" The dark haired doctor blinked at his fiancée's topic change.
"I did not realize I was required to have an opinion."
"Rukia thinks that Kurosaki-kun is overreacting by sending guards to watch the twins but the boy is able to see not only spirits but Hollows and Shinigamis. He didn't even get frightened when Zangetsu appeared."
A frown marred the now attentive Quincy. "I was afraid of this," he said quietly.
"Uryuu?" she inquired.
"Things have been too quietly recently. I knew something was going to happen again. I don't suppose Yuzu-chan knew this."
"No, not from what Rukia told me."
"Then no, I don't think Kurosaki overreacted."
"I don't think so either. Something doesn't feel right."
Reaching out to lace his fingers with hers, Ishida squeezed gently. "Then I will trust your intuition, Orihime. Perhaps you should practice with your flower spirits, just in case."
"I always do," she answered. Like the rest of their group, she had a soft spot for the twins. There wasn't anything she wouldn't do to make sure that they were safe. "I wonder if your arrows could reach Tokyo from here," she mused as the intercom rang to let them know that dinner was there.
"Let's hope we don't have to find out," he answered.
It looked like the "Substitute Group" would soon be in the heat of battle again.
Kano sat across from his mentor and stared at the giant sword that the man had in front of him. The point was deep in the floor and he had to force himself not to show fear. They had done this exercise many times in case he came face to face with Ichigo Kurosaki's Zanpakutou but the college student had to admit that this sword was far less intimidating than "Zangetsu."
"Still scared stiff, huh? Well, that is to be expected, I guess." The man put the sword away, leaning back in his chair when it was out of sight.
"Sensei, it looks nothing like the picture you gave me. It still has that meat cleaver shape but it's even more evil looking than before."
"Then he's gotten more powerful. Your power might not be enough. Perhaps I should take a look around. Are you sure you haven't raised any suspicions?"
"I don't think so. Kurosaki-san doesn't seem concerned and I know she'd go running to her brother the first chance she got if she thought something was wrong. Plus, she has the ability to call her future sister-in-law with that weird phone of hers."
"Yes, the Shinigami would be here in a flash if they thought something was up. I'll nose around, see what I can come up with. You say that the other man with the orange haired daiko was named Byakuya."
"Yes, I think he's Kuchiki-san's brother."
The mentor grinned, making his student uncomfortable at the slightly evil tilt to his mouth. "Byakuya Kuchiki, huh? This gets more and more interesting."
"Nothing for you to worry about. Keep practicing those techniques of yours. I'll call you when I learn something."
"All right." Kano got up to leave, looking around the room at the other silent observers. "Who's my partner today?"
"That would me," a tall woman said, leading him away. Those that remained shook their heads.
"He's awful gullible," a young man said.
"Now, now. He's just what we need. He can go where we can't and his ability to hide his spiritual energy outclasses even mine."
"Aren't you afraid he'll turn traitor if he figures out what you really mean to do?" a woman with long hair asked. She looked only a few years older than the young man next to her.
"I have a back-up plan should that happen. Isn't that right, Shuu?"
A lanky man came out of the darkness to stand next to his friend. "I know exactly what to do should that come to pass. There's nothing to worry about."
"If you say so," she shot back. "Don't say I didn't warn you, though." Flipping one pigtail she walked over to the fridge standing against one wall and took out an orange juice box.
"You don't think I'll get my revenge?" their leader asked.
"Sure you will, it just won't be as simple as you're making it out to be. That kid's a liability."
"We'll see. If he's too much trouble, we'll just kill him." The others nodded, apparently in agreement with that plan.
"Whatever you say."
Kano met up with Yuzu the next day, surprised to find her accompanied by two strangers. She smiled openly, any punishment or lecture she's received apparently not as severe as he'd thought. "Kurosaki-san, I'm glad to see you're okay."
"Why wouldn't I be, Kano-kun?"
"Your brother was awful angry yesterday."
"Oh, Onii-chan would never hurt me. I just got a lecture by Byakuya-niisama instead. Then they quickly forgave me and I dragged them all over getting things for the wedding and they even bought me gifts." She smiled sweetly and he realized that she had ways of getting her what she wanted that she kept hidden. He would have to remember that.
"Kurosaki-san?" the man with short hair and feathers attached to one eyebrow questioned.
"Oh, I'm sorry. This is Kano-kun, my dear friend. Kano-kun, this is Ayasegawa-san and Madarame-san. They're my brother's friends. They'll be helping with the wedding too. Rukia-nee and Onii-chan are letting me prepare the food."
"That's rather nice of them."
"Yumi volunteered so Ichigo and Kuchiki accepted gladly. With the bride away on business all the time, it seemed the least we could do."
"I wanted to be a bridesmaid but that was rejected. I guess 'Assistant to the Seamstress' will have to do."
If it had been anyone else introducing the duo, Kano would have been immediately suspicious. Since it was Yuzu Kurosaki, he didn't think twice about meeting two men right after revealing part of his true self to her brother. Too bad for him. "Your brother has interesting friends," he said when they followed them to their next class.
"Oh, he has a lot of friends like those two. Some are even stranger."
"They're good people though, so you don't have to worry."
"I'm sure they are. Do you know how long they'll be here?" he asked, trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice.
"Hmm, now that you mention it, they didn't say. Ayasegawa-san is going to be busy shopping for Ishida-kun so probably for at least a week, maybe more."
"I suppose I should say Ishida-sensei since he's a doctor like my brother, but he's been Onii-chan's friend since high school so I've known him a long time."
"I…see, no, actually I don't. What is Ishida-sensei going to do?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. He's going to make the dresses for the wedding. I'm sure you'll meet him along the way too."
"Is he like your brother?" Kano tried to sound casual.
"A lot like him, but don't tell them that," Yuzu grinned. "Most of my brother's friends treat my sister and I like their own siblings so we're nearly always surrounded by busybodies."
Kano frowned, beginning to realize that his mentor's plan might be in jeopardy. Opening the door to the lecture hall for the young woman at his side, he was surprised when the two tails didn't follow. Instead they took up positions outside, obviously intending to wait until they were done. "They don't pester you, do they? I mean, I can talk to them if you want me to."
"Oh, no. Sure, it gets on my nerves sometimes but they're just overprotective. You know, if you help me cater the wedding, you'll get to meet them all. Then you can see what I mean." Yuzu looked up at him, smiling winningly.
Unable to resist, he smiled back and agreed. If he helped her, he could keep tabs on her brother's friends, most of whom were likely to have powers. "When is the wedding?"
"I have no idea. Onii-chan and Rukia-nee have really crazy schedules so it's going to be tough. Depending on how organized they can get it might be in a few months, maybe a year."
"Kurosaki-san!" he protested but she only laughed.
"Don't worry, I'll press Rukia-nee for a date the next time I talk to her, promise." Yuzu sat down, her textbook flopping open to the first chapter. As she turned to the correct page, she caught sight of a feather out of the corner of her eye. Obviously Ayasegawa had found her classroom and was taking up a post nearby.
Kano sat next to her and they watched as the professor searched her belongings for something. Knowing it would be a while before class started, her friend turned to her. "So tell me what other personalities I'm likely to encounter. You said some of Kurosaki-sensei's friends are even stranger than those two. Should I be on the lookout for anyone in particular?"
"Well…" Yuzu began, hiding a frown. Kano had become a little too interested in people he didn't know. Perhaps there was something to her brother's suspicions after all. Deciding to be vague just in case, she began to sketch details of members of the Gotei Thirteen that he would likely meet. The younger Kurosaki princess noticed that he was attentive, almost like he was taking mental notes.
"They really do sound interesting," Kano commented when she was done. He never noticed that he had started a kernel of doubt in her mind.
He'd soon find out how detrimental for his health that could be.