A/N: Quite a few to thank for reviews: Black Sun Upon An Icy Sky, NieveDrop, badaax, novicestar, Quickslice, Quick-n-Popular, Assault Godzilla, curio cherry, Kireina-Ame, hollownature, onlytoask, Kitakana, Scaehime, Dragon and Sword Master, Phantom Claire, GRT, and Snowyncess. And thank you to everyone who put this or its author on their lists. This one is a long one. I've tried to make this essentially Ichiruki goodness so you might want to have a glass of water ready to wash all the fluffiness out.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Bleach characters, manga, anime, movies, etc. They belong by copyright laws to Tite Kubo et al.
The Kurosaki Affair
Byakuya was getting his marching orders when Ichigo returned to the living room. Rukia was going over the list she'd given her brother, explaining exactly the kinds of things she wanted as if he'd never been to a market before in his life. Of course, except for the one time the daiko had managed to drag him along, the noble had never shopped for food or other necessities before. Clothes were the only thing Ichigo knew of that Byakuya bought personally.
"Rukia, you need not worry. I will return shortly with what you require." Byakuya gave the orange haired man his sister loved a nod and exited the house with its dwellers staring after him.
"Should we tell him it's in the other direction?" Kon asked, watching as the captain made an abrupt turn and started going the right way.
"No need." Ichigo sank onto the sofa, holding out a hand to Rukia.
"Maybe I should have gone with him," she said, allowing her fiancé to pull her down into his lap.
"Nah, you would have just wounded his pride," he replied, tucking his arms around her and resting his chin on her head. "He'll be fine. I took him with me once. As smart as he is, I'm sure he made good mental notes on everything I did."
"You're sure?" Rukia questioned, running her hands over his arms. The steel bands hugged her tightly and she allowed herself to relax. His spiritual energy wrapped around her like a blanket and the petite woman felt her eyes drift shut. It was so good to be home.
"Yes, I'm sure," Ichigo answered, feeling his own eyes close.
Kon looked at the pair of Shinigami and shook his head. Liar, liar, pants on fire, the mod soul thought. Byakuya was going to screw the simple errand up for sure and then they'd have to use the memory modifier to cover things up. Leaving them alone, the mod soul motioned to his partner and together they made their way next door.
Isshin opened the door before they could knock, the doctor looking scruffier than usual. "Kon, Chappy, how nice of you to visit."
"You need to go rescue Nee-san's brother."
"Byakuya? I hardly think that he needs my help."
"He went to the store by himself and those two love birds are too busy sleeping to be worried."
"Hmm…" The ex-Shinigami captain stroked his cheek and considered whether he should help the other man or not. There was no doubt that Byakuya would be highly insulted if he interfered but there was also the chance that something major would happen if he didn't. "I guess I could go, keep an eye on the kid." He might even get some entertainment out of the whole thing.
"Thank you." Kon turned to go back home, only to have a large hand pick him up by the head.
"You two might want to hang out here for a little while. It seems my son and third daughter have woken up from their brief nap." Isshin chuckled and brought the stuffed lion and rabbit into the house.
"Huh?" the mod soul questioned only to have Chappy giggle.
"Rukia-sama is getting cuddly with Ichigo-sama."
Kon blinked several times before the light ball came on. "Ah, yeah, guess we'll stick around."
"Well, then I guess I'll be off. Suppose I could pick up a few things while I'm there. It'll make it seem like I just ran into him." The elder Kurosaki ran a comb through his hair and tucked his wallet and keys into his pants pocket. "Later," he said jovially and left the two alone.
"Kon-san, don't you think that you just made things worse?" Chappy tugged on his arm, bringing his attention to her.
"You might be right but I had to do something. It might have worried Ichigo and Nee-san a lot more if they weren't so enthralled with each other. As it is, they'll be too lost in their reunion to notice when the captain releases enough spiritual energy to make something explode or something else equally troublesome."
"Rukia-sama and Ichigo-sama deserve time alone," Chappy admonished, climbing up into the kitchen chair to wait for the doctor's return.
"I know, I just wish I could be more certain about things," Kon returned, wandering around the room.
"You've really become a worrywart, Kon-san," Chappy said, gazing out the window.
"Can you blame me?" he questioned before finding a place to rest. With all the Shinigami coming and going from the Soul Society and staying for longer periods of time, it was a wonder things hadn't blown up in their faces before. Unfortunately, with the wedding still in front of them, the chances for disaster just kept increasing. He might request asylum from Captain Unohana before everything was all over.
Just to preserve what little sanity he had left.
Ichigo fell to his side on the bed, his breathing labored as if he'd just finished a race. Rukia lay next to him in a similar condition, her eyes staring unfocused at the ceiling. They'd only slept for a few minutes before coming awake and fatigue had quickly given way to desire. Taking the chance given by Byakuya at the store and the two mod souls next door visiting his dad for some reason, they'd practically devoured each other once behind their bedroom door.
"Ichigo…" Rukia managed on a sigh, still having difficulty breathing. She blinked several times, turning her head when she could finally see properly.
"Yeah?" he whispered, draping an arm heavy with contentment around her waist. He pressed a kiss to her neck, making a trail down her collar bone.
"Again," she ordered, tugging on his disheveled locks.
"Demanding midget," he returned, amused and willing to give into her commands.
"Just shut up and kiss me," Rukia said, circling his neck with her arms.
"As my lady wishes," he replied, enjoying the laughter that came into her violet orbs.
"Don't be a sap." The petite woman couldn't help the small laugh that came out. "And hurry up, Nii-sama will be home soon. I want to be respectable when he gets here."
"Oh? As opposed to looking freshly out of your fiancé's arms?"
"Yes!" she hissed when he touched a sensitive spot on her arm.
"I don't know, I think this look is nice on you," he joked, and winced when she pinched his side. "All right, all right, don't get your obi in a wad. I'll make sure you're completely dressed by the time Byakuya gets back."
"Thank you," she said primly and Ichigo couldn't help but chuckle. It sounded all out of proportion with her hair in disarray and flushed from making love with him the first time. Feeling the last of the tension leave him, Ichigo set about completing her orders. He hadn't realized just how much he'd missed her until now. Talking every morning and night had stemmed the feeling of loneliness but it had never made up for the lack of her at his side in bed. Even if it was only for a few days, he'd take every opportunity to have her right where she was now. Maybe after they were married he'd be able to sleep through the night without reaching for her.
Suddenly the wedding couldn't come soon enough.
Isshin wandered through the aisles of the store, keeping tabs on Byakuya but pretending to ignore the captain if the younger man happened to spot him. With a partially filled basket, the doctor stopped in the freezer section and contemplated the ice cream selection. It'd been a rather long time since he'd had any and as his darling Yuzu was safely at school, he could indulge without her worrying that he wasn't getting the proper nutrition.
"You are following me," an annoyed voice said from his elbow and the ex-captain didn't have to pretend to squeak. Byakuya had always had the annoying habit of sneaking up on people. An ability that had no doubt come from Yoruichi.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Byakuya-kun. I am merely here to get some food. Yuzu used to shop all the time so I have been rather lax in my dietary needs." Isshin hefted the basket as proof, not surprised when grey eyes continued to hold disbelief.
"Kurosaki sent you, did he not? He believes me incapable of a simple task."
"Ichigo has no idea what's going on outside of his own bedroom right now," Isshin returned, seeing the slight grimace. "Apparently when you left and Kon and Chappy came to see me, my son and third daughter took the opportunity to do a little reuniting."
"I understood you the first time," Byakuya gritted out, checking Rukia's list to make sure he didn't need anything else. He'd diligently crossed off the items as he'd gotten them, ensuring that nothing was left behind.
"I see. You were such a good brother for volunteering to go grocery shopping. Not as easy as it looks, is it?" the doctor prodded, noticing that the list in Byakuya's hand was shorter than the number of items in the cart. Perhaps he'd found a sale on something.
"I had no trouble. Several of the neighborhood wives were quite helpful." They had in fact helped him find the necessary items without him even having to ask. He'd learned of the daily sale items and how cheap they were, listening to their wisdom when they'd told him to stock up on certain things while they lasted.
"Ah," Isshin said, nodding in understanding. The housewives of their small neighborhood often came into the clinic to talk about Rukia's brother. He was a handsome and mysterious man who'd caught their fascination from the moment they'd met him. It was little wonder they'd jumped at the chance to come to his aid.
"I am finished here. I bid you farewell, Kurosaki-taicho," the noble said, leaving the man to contemplate ice cream.
Isshin watched him go; a thought occurring to him after the man disappeared around the corner. "I wonder how he's going to get that all home." He didn't doubt the man's strength but with the number of bags that was going to be necessary to hold all of the things he bought, there was no way he'd have enough hands to carry it all.
Byakuya, becoming aware of the problem only after he'd checked out, pushed his cart laden with bags outside and contemplated his options. If he got out of his gigai, he could carry half while his temporary soul pill carried the rest. However, it might be hard explaining floating bags of food to the small crowd of people that were around. He supposed that he could push the cart back to the house and have Kurosaki return it after he'd unloaded it but that was always presuming the orange haired fool was dressed by the time he got back.
"Oh, my, Kuchiki-san, it seems like you have a problem," a middle aged female voice said at his left shoulder.
"Sendo-san," he greeted politely, having met the florist a time or two over the course of Ichigo and Rukia's engagement. "I seemed to have bought more than I can reasonably carry in two hands."
"Don't worry; it happens often when the store has sales. If you wouldn't mind waiting a moment, I'd be glad to give you a ride back. I just need to pop in for a couple of things."
The captain debated with himself for a moment before accepting. "I would be most grateful for the ride," he said, feeling a bit of red creep up his neck when she gave him the keys to her van and pointed to it in the small lot. It was undoubtedly a florist van as it had flowers covering the majority of the otherwise white surface.
"Just go ahead and put them in the back of the van. I've finished my deliveries for the day so there's plenty of room." The older woman gave him another smile before going into the store.
Looking at the keys, he reluctantly did as she said, fighting with the doors a bit when he didn't open them wide enough for them to stay ajar by themselves. He carefully loaded the groceries into the cavernous interior, noticing the refrigeration that it contained. It would be perfect for food shopping on a hot day when someone had a lot of stops to make.
True to her word, Sendo-san came back quickly, a couple of items in a bag and a newspaper tucked into the crook of her arm. He handed the keys back, going so far as to open and close her car door for her in a show of gentlemanly manners. "Thank you, Kuchiki-san. Hop in the passenger seat and we'll get this show on the road."
Getting the gist of what she was saying despite not understanding the slang, Byakuya got into the other seat and buckled up like Ichigo had shown him. They drove the short distance in silence, the van's radio playing a soft tune that was, while not to Byakuya's liking, inoffensive as far as music went. It was a far cry from the stuff that Ichigo listened to when he was home.
Sendo-san stopped the van outside the young doctor's house, surprised when a petite young woman opened the door quickly. Recognizing her as the often times away fiancée and not the slightly childish cousin that usually stayed with them, the florist smiled in welcome. "Kuchiki-san, how nice to see you. It seems that your brother went a little overboard when he was shopping. Got some good deals no doubt and was advised to stock up."
"I see," Rukia answered, a brief moment of confusion clouding her face. "Ichigo and I saw the van stopping and wondered what was going on as he hadn't sent for any flowers. Thank you for bringing my brother home, Sendo-san."
"It was no trouble. This is on my way after all, and I was there when he needed a hand. It's a pleasure to help others when they need it."
"Indeed, I am in your debt." Byakuya began handing off the bags to Ichigo who'd come out to see what all the fuss was about.
"Oh, no, Kuchiki-san. As I said, I was happy to help. That's what neighbors are for." The middle aged woman shook her head, smiling softly when she saw the resolute look on the man's face.
"I insist," Byakuya persisted, shutting the van's doors when the back was empty. "I owe you a debt of gratitude that must be paid."
Rukia mentally sighed, knowing her brother's mind would not change. "You may as well accept, Sendo-san," she said quietly. "He's just going to keep on insisting."
"Well, if you really feel that strongly…" She thought a moment before an idea came to her. "I know, you can help me in the shop. The day after tomorrow, I have a large order of arrangements that need to be made and I'm afraid that I'm going to be short staffed. If you would not mind lending a hand for a few hours, we can call it even. How does that sound?"
Rukia and Ichigo held their breath, wondering what the noble would say. It was likely that once word got around that he would be there, Sendo-san would have more than her share of visitors. Whether they would become customers depended on whether or not she kept Byakuya in the back or used him as fodder for the handsome men starved women that populated the area. No doubt the high school girls that lived in the neighborhood would stop by just to get a look at him.
"It is acceptable. As it happens, I have some knowledge of ikebana and would be glad to help."
"Oh, good. Then it's settled. I open the doors at nine so if you could be there around eight thirty in the morning that'd be great." The deal having been met, she gave one last wave good-bye before going home.
Byakuya looked at his sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law and frowned. "What is the matter?"
"Nothing," they chorused and turned to go back into the house.
"Oh, there's my lovely third daughter!" Isshin called from the corner, not having heard the conversation but sure that something interesting had happened. Two bags hung from his hands, a large carton of ice cream clearly seen through the plastic.
"Isshin-ojisan," Rukia said, giving into the hug that he wrapped around her.
"It's so lovely to have you home. What are you all doing outside?" the doctor asked, politely ignoring the fact that he'd seen Byakuya get out of a florist van. The Soul Society would probably love that information but he'd get sliced to pieces if he ever uttered a word of it to anyone.
"I seemed to have gotten too much at the store," the captain admitted. "Sendo-san brought me home. In exchange, I will be helping her for a day in her shop."
"Ah," the ex-captain said in relief. It was a good thing that he'd gotten help. Of course, what would happen at the florist shop was anyone's guess but at least it was less dangerous than at the grocery store. Flying pink petals would be less likely to cause a big stir there than at a place that didn't sell flowers at all.
"Yeah, it should be interesting," Ichigo allowed.
"Why don't you join us for dinner, Oji-san," Rukia said, noticing the large amount of junk food the doctor had accumulated. "It'll take a bit but give us about a half an hour and we should have things pretty much done. You can bring Kon and Chappy back then."
"Oh, my dear third daughter, how you care for this old man. Count Daddy in. See you in a few!" Leaving without major dramatics, the doctor went in to put his things away and call an old friend. Byakuya's foray into flower arranging should really be documented.
"Okay, that was weird," the daiko said, shutting the door behind the siblings. "I could have sworn he was going to tease Byakuya a bit more about his grocery shopping."
"I only had a brief conversation with him at the store. He did not follow me around like a lost puppy although I do believe he kept track of my whereabouts. At any time I could have applied to him for help," the older Kuchiki said, handing the perishables to his sister.
"I see, well, that only means one thing," Ichigo said, pulling a large box of cereal out of another bag. "He's going to make a pest of himself later," the daiko added, finding another box of cereal the same size in another bag. "Geez, Byakuya, how much did you get?"
"There were sales," the other man defended, seeing Rukia's eyes widen on the third carton of eggs.
"How economical of you, Nii-sama," Rukia said and made a mental note not to let him loose in a store again by himself. No doubt the local aunties had been a little too helpful in showing him the ropes.
"The housewives got to you, didn't they?" the orange haired prince said knowingly.
"They were quite helpful," he agreed.
Yes, mental note, do not leave Nii-sama alone in a store, Rukia thought. If she ever let him go shopping for her again, she wouldn't have cupboard space for anything else. She might even have to invite Renji over just so that some of this would get eaten before it spoiled. Even though she didn't want anyone else horning in on her time with Ichigo, at least she was assured of one thing.
Her brother's troubles would not go unappreciated.
The next day came with the soft dew left over from a night rain and the sweet music of the birds as they waited for their breakfast to break ground thanks to the water that coated the dirt and grass. Rukia turned her head on her pillow to watch a couple of larks pass by, their conversation bringing a smile to her face. Thinking back on dinner the night before, the smile continued to tug at her lips as she remembered the lively family feast that had taken place. Ichigo and Isshin did what they always did to make things noisy and she'd watched her brother insert little jibes here and there to make things more interesting. The only thing that she'd wished for was that the twins and their mother were there to complete the tableau.
"Hey," Ichigo said softly, seeing the slight frown mar her features. "What's wrong?" he asked, reaching to bring her into his side.
"I was just thinking about last night and how it would have been good to have the rest of the family at the dinner table. It didn't feel quite complete without the girls, you know?" And Kurosaki-san, she added silently.
"True," he agreed. "Don't worry, though, we'll be gathered in one place soon enough. I'm glad you invited the old man though. He gets pretty lonely by himself. I should have gotten him to come over sooner."
"And his food choices are abysmal. Did you see what he bought at the store? Both bags were filled with junk food. If Yuzu found out that he intended to eat an entire carton of ice cream, she'd have a fit."
"Maybe you should call her, let her know that he needs a good scold."
"Hmm, that actually sounds like a good idea." Rukia stretched and reached up to pat him on the head.
"Hey, I get them sometimes," Ichigo protested lightly, finding one of the few ticklish spots she had and attacking her without mercy. When she was a giggling mass of Shinigami, he kissed what little breath she had out of her and rose to take a shower. "I have another idea. Why don't we take a little walk around town before going to our appointment with the pastry chef?"
"Are you asking me out on a date?" she asked, rolling so that she could watch him gather his clothes.
"Sure, I guess you could call it that. We used to wander around when we were in high school. Maybe go through the park and stop by the ice cream truck that's usually there this time of year." The Soul Prince shrugged his shoulders to act as if her answer didn't matter.
"I think that's rather sweet. Yes, let's have a little date before getting down to the business of our wedding. You know, I read somewhere that a couple should always do that even after they're married. It keeps the romance alive or some such thing."
"Huh, what do you know?" Ichigo responded, taking his things and wandering down the hall. The TV was on in the living room so he knew that Byakuya was already awake. Normally he would have left his clothes in the bedroom but after his unexpected visitor the week before, he felt rather uncomfortable wandering around in nothing but a towel.
Rukia stayed where she was, a smile floating across her lips. Closing her eyes, she thought about where they should go. There wasn't a lot of time before they'd have to leave but a nice stroll through the park would be just the thing. Plus, a little exercise wouldn't hurt to burn a few calories before they tucked in several pieces of cake. With all the paper and office work that she'd been forced to complete in the last month, there hadn't been a lot of time for a workout. Some of the women that had commented on her nuptials had warned her that she didn't want to gain any weight and thus not fit into her Quincy exclusive gown.
Of course, had they known Ishida like she did, they'd have understood that he'd never let that happen. The archer was meticulous in his measurements and would be there to make sure that everything was perfect the day she wore it down the aisle. Although, after last night and early that morning, Rukia was pretty sure that any extra calories had been burned clear away.
"Oi, Rukia, it's all yours," Ichigo said from the doorway, his pants hanging low on his hips and a tee-shirt fitting snuggly against rock hard abs and broad shoulders.
"Hmm? Oh, you're back already."
"Yeah, thanks to med school it no longer takes me very long. What were you off in Lala Land thinking about?"
"Just bride stuff," his petite love answered with a smile and rose to take her time in the bathroom. "I hope you mean to change before we leave for the hotel."
"I'll put on a suit," he reassured her, selecting a belt that would make sure his choice of underwear was out of sight.
"And comb your hair," Rukia reminded when she was halfway to the bathroom.
"And comb my hair," he muttered, taking his hair to task. It wouldn't stay put for long but there was plenty of time to try to tame it later. Stuffing his keys and wallet into his pocket, he made his way downstairs for a bowl of cereal.
Byakuya sat in his chair, a vase of flowers in front of him and intense concentration on his face. The flowers looked to have been taken from Yuzu's garden and he briefly wondered whether or not he should warn the captain that the quiet twin didn't like her flower bushes messed with. "Do I even want to ask?" Ichigo inquired, pulling a bowl and the first of two large boxes from the cabinet.
"If I am to help the florist, I must brush up on my skills. I have been remiss in practicing this art form."
"Makes sense, I guess. Just don't let Yuzu know that you stole from her garden."
"These are actually from the bushes in your own yard. They have become over grown and need intense pruning. I will take care of it after I have finished any paperwork that comes to me later today."
"Ah, if you're talking about that line of bushes between my house and the clinic, then they're Yuzu's. There wasn't enough room for all the types she wanted at home so I let her put them there. You might want to tell her your intentions first. I've let them get wild because I didn't want to get her mad at me for doing something to them that she didn't want done."
"I see. I will inform her," Byakuya said and went back to his arranging.
Ichigo put the noble on ignore and started to eat, keeping track of Rukia by where her spiritual energy was in the house. He noticed that she was taking extra care with her appearance. Grinning to himself, he rose and made her something, making sure it was a large portion as she was no doubt hungry from her night's activities.
When she finally joined them, Rukia was dressed up far more than she would be usually, making her brother pause in his efforts to look her over briefly. "Good morning, Nii-sama. Ichigo is taking me out on a mini date before we go to the meeting with the pastry chef. Isn't that sweet of him?"
"Rather unexpected," her sibling returned before turning his attention back to his task.
"Hey, I do things like this every once in a while. Too often and it gets predictable and boring. Besides, I can't very well take my fiancée out on a date when she has to work all the time. Here you go, Rukia. Thought you might be hungry."
The lieutenant looked at the large offering and flushed at his words. "Thank you." She ate slowly, knowing that she'd never finish everything. While she was hungry, she wasn't that hungry. "What time is our appointment again?"
"Not until two in the afternoon. We have plenty of time." Ichigo rose to get some coffee, putting the kettle on to get Rukia tea. "Was there any place you wanted to go in particular?" he asked, offering the pot to Byakuya only to be completely ignored.
"I thought a simple walk in the park sounded perfect. We could catch lunch and that ice cream before coming back and getting the car."
"Fine with me." Washing his cereal bowl, Ichigo took a sip of his coffee while waiting for Rukia to finish eating. "Are you ready?" he asked when it became apparent that she wasn't going to finish what he'd given her.
"Yes. Nii-sama, have you eaten?"
"I have. You need not worry about me. I am sufficiently knowledgeable about the kitchen to feed myself."
"Then I guess we'll be going. Have fun with your arranging, Nii-sama." The noble bid his sister farewell, too caught up in honing his skills to pay attention to the orange hair man walking out the door after her.
"You know, if I didn't know how dedicated he is to his duties as a captain, I'd be worried that he's lost in his upcoming job as an ikebana florist." Ichigo put one hand in his pocket while the other casually reached over to lace his fingers with Rukia's.
"He was rather lost in his practice, wasn't he? You'd have thought that he was practicing with Senbonzakura."
"Maybe he's communing with his Zanpakutou over flowers." A smirk graced his mouth, the thought of the two beings contemplating over how to arrange the blooms amusing to the daiko.
"It is possible," Rukia agreed, wondering why Ichigo burst out laughing at her statement. "I'm serious, Ichigo. As our sword spirits are a part of us, finding a common interest would not be all that farfetched."
"I know, and that makes it even funnier." The prince kept laughing until she dug her elbow into his side. "Sorry, it's out of my system. Now that we're alone, why don't you tell me how things are in the Soul Society."
"It's mostly the same old thing. Paperwork piles up, the two third seats argue about taking care of Ukitake-taicho and all the other squads are acting as they always have when there isn't an emergency. Kyoraku-taicho visited the other day and waxed poetic about that cheeseburger you let Ise-san take back. Captain Unohana happened to be there at the time to check over Captain and didn't like what it's made out of. I believe she called it a 'heart attack waiting to happen.'"
"Well, sure, if you make a steady diet of them. Once in a great while isn't too bad though."
"Well, combined with the soda and the amount of sake Captain Kyoraku drinks on a daily basis and she prescribed a healthy workout schedule for him."
"Now that wouldn't be a bad idea. He is one of the older captains and shouldn't get lazy about those things. I think he's around Oyaji's age so it's probably a good idea all around."
"She also told me to tell you that she hopes that as a doctor you're not making a habit of eating them either."
"I've been good," Ichigo promised, knowing that letting Ise-san take a cheeseburger back was going to cause problems. "There are healthy alternatives," he continued. "Turkey burgers and tofu burgers have become popular in recent years. If I'm going to have one, I usually grab one of those. I don't want a heart ache at a young age."
Rukia looked at his tone physique and smiled. "Somehow, I don't think that's going to be a problem. I'll tell her that Ichigo Kurosaki is going to be around for many, many years."
"Good. If I don't watch things, she'll insist on becoming my personal physician."
"She'll probably do that anyway."
"Well, considering all the times she patched me up when Inoue wasn't around, I can't say I blame her." Ichigo stopped talking, wondering how they got the subject. "Forget all that. Have you made any other decisions about the wedding? We'll do the cake today and Ishida's well on the way to completing the dresses, Yuzu tells me that she handed over the menu she made to the caterers of the hotel and the organizer will no doubt contract a florist so I don't think there's too much more to do."
"You and your groomsmen need tuxedos, there's music to choose and we have to find a priest."
"Right, formal wear. Should probably get on that," Ichigo muttered. He'd forgotten that small detail. "I guess I should round up the guys and get them fitted. You've made your final decision on who you want to stand up with you, right?"
"I've limited it to seven. The twins, Orihime, Arisawa, Ise-san, Matsumoto-san, and Hinamori-san."
"Well, then, that means it'll be Chad, Renji, Ishida, Toushiro because he'll never let another guy partner his childhood friend, and…"
"You're short three people."
"I realize that." Ichigo stroked the back of his head, trying to wrack his brain for three more people he could add to the list.
"There's always Asano, Kojima, Madarame, Ayasegawa…"
"Yeah, but that's four… Wait, if I use the first three and then leave Yumichika to ride herd on Yachiru that should even things out, right?"
"You forgot your own flower girl?"
"If you'd known what havoc she's wreaked since I asked her, you wouldn't be saying that."
Ichigo paused and contemplated the pink haired demon child. "Sorry, didn't know what I was thinking. What'd she do now?"
"She's littered the grounds of her division with flower petals of all kinds, tried to cover the grounds of several others and has even gone after the personal garden of Commander Yamamoto. He nearly burnt her to a crisp for that."
"He must have been livid. Normally he ignores her antics." Ichigo was surprised that he hadn't heard any complaints because of that incident. "Speaking of the flowers, what did you end up choosing? I didn't get to see your selections. Ise-san just handed the whole thing over to the organizer."
"Well, I couldn't think of ones that said exactly what I wanted, but I finally settled on irises, white roses, and a single Japanese peony in each bouquet that would be displayed around the grounds and reception area. I know the pink doesn't exactly go with the purple and white but it rather fits with who you are."
"Because it's known as the 'king of flowers?'"
"No, because it stands for good fortune, honor, daring, and masculine bravery. Although, the nickname is rather appropriate."
Ichigo felt his face heat up and could do nothing to stop the blush that had taken over from head to neck. His ears felt like they were on fire and the daiko suddenly wanted to find a hole and bury himself in it. "Geez, Rukia, you really know how to embarrass the hell out of me."
"I think it's rather sweet," his fiancée replied, narrowing her eyes at him.
"It is, that's why it's so embarrassing. I don't try to be all those things. I'm no hero, you know that."
"Ah, but now that you will sit on a throne one day, you are those things to a lot of people. You have brought good fortune into my life, and I do think that you're honorable, daring (sometimes foolhardy) and you are brave beyond belief." She squeezed his hand when he continued to blush bright red.
"You're a lot of those things too, Rukia; and now I sound like I'm spouting Shakespeare again." He hung his head when she giggled and tried to find a way to regain his tough guy image.
"I'll forgive you for sounding like a sap this one time since you complimented me so beautifully. Anyway, that's what I chose. I'm leaving it up to the experts on how to arrange them."
"Maybe we should offer Byakuya's help if the florist is short handed." He grinned, thankful that the mushy moment was over. While he was all for saying things without words, there were times when he'd rather not say anything at all. Some things just didn't need expressing.
"Baka, my brother's far too busy to become a full time florist," Rukia scolded, her eyes falling on something purple at the edge of the park they'd come to. "Are those roses?" she asked, stepping around the bush that blocked her view from the profusion of color.
"Looks like it, why…?" the prince began but got ignored when she decided it was better to drag him over to coo over the multiple blooms. Several different shades of purple, lilac, and lavender nestled in among the more traditional red, pink, and white. There was even a bucket of rainbow hued roses that had no meaning whatsoever as far as Ichigo knew.
"A flower for your girl, young man?" the elderly woman asked, smiling almost toothlessly at him.
"Rukia?" he questioned, only to have her turn her excited eyes on the woman.
"Do these purple roses mean something specific like the other roses?"
"Well, I don't know about in our tradition, but in the West, they have several meanings. The lighter the color, the more new a love is. Usually the lilac ones indicate love at first sight, or maybe just enchantment or bewitchment. They can mean the mysterious and unknown, wonder and magic, or even something that's impossible. A recipient of one of these blooms knows that the sender treasures them for their unique qualities and since they aren't common flowers, the recipient is even seen as rare. A darker bloom is usually for an established relationship, such as an engagement that already is or will be. The further it is bloomed, the more meaning it has. Even the number of flowers gathered together in a bouquet changes the message."
"Whatever you want, Rukia," he said in return, not needing to hear the rest of her question. He pulled out some change and handed the coins to the old woman. She in turn pulled a few small, deep, rich purple blossoms from the bucket closest to her and clipped them so that she could make a corsage for Rukia's wrist. It would swallow the delicate bone but by the starry twinkle in his beloved's eyes, he knew that she didn't care.
"Thank you, Obaa-san," Rukia said softly, accepting the gift. "Thank you, Ichigo."
"You're welcome, child. Those are the deepest purple ones I have. I can tell just by looking at you that you have a deep and abiding love for one another. You will prosper and continue to grow to an old age as long as you remain by each other's side."
"We have every intention of doing so. Thank you for your kind words, ma'am. I think you just changed my fiancée's mind about the kinds of flowers she wants at the wedding."
The old woman chuckled, recognizing an indulgent bridegroom when she saw one. "There is no harm in that, young man. No harm at all. Good day to you, and may fortune smile upon you." She watched them go, content to watch two lovers wander hand in hand down the park's path. "Ah, to be young again," she whispered and turned her attention to the next young couple that approached her. With any luck, she'd have these all sold by early afternoon and could return to her nice air conditioned apartment.
Ichigo glanced at the top of Rukia's head as they meandered towards the ice cream truck, his eyes falling on the flowers at her wrist. "So what was your idea, Rukia? Do you still want to use them despite not knowing what they mean in hanakotoba? I mean, for all we know, they represent some sort of curse."
"I don't care. We're mixing Western and Japanese traditions anyway so why not do it with the flowers too? I like the enchantment meaning of the lighter shades and the deep abiding one of the dark purple. If we stick the white rose in there for some devotion, wouldn't it sort of symbolize the journey of our relationship? From fascination to devotion to an everlasting bond. Sprinkle in some magic and a usually impossible relationship and you've got a really interesting story to tell. We can even insert some irises to show good news and loyalty, if you want. Maybe even work in a peony here and there."
"And you call me the sap. Like I said, whatever you want. Just make sure you tell Byakuya that it was your idea so he doesn't have a heart attack when his sense of balance is destroyed."
The petite lieutenant looked at her fiancé and smiled. "Sure, whatever you say. Now get me some strawberry ice cream." She pushed him towards the line of young mothers and small children, taking a seat on a nearby bench while she waited for him. Tilting her head back so that her face was in the sun, Rukia closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The impromptu date had worked out well, giving them much needed time alone.
Feeling his hot reiatsu wash over her, she opened her eyes and raised a brow at his manipulation of spirit energy. Normally he didn't try to spread his power about while in his human body but when she was with him, he often tried to blanket her in his power just so that he knew she was safe. Rukia wondered if it was intentional or if like most other things, he did it without really knowing.
Considering how lackadaisical he seemed about his power at times, it was likely the latter. Even though he trained hard with his Zanpakutou, more and more lately he was taking to inner world spars than actual ones. Perhaps that was because he was getting stronger each day and was afraid of hurting one of his friends seriously.
"Here you go, midget. One small strawberry surprise, just how you like it." Ichigo handed the cone to her, noticing the bug-under-the-microscope look she was giving him. "What?"
"You tried smothering me in your reiatsu again."
"Sorry, it just kind of happens sometimes. My body doesn't contain it as well as it used to. I have to learn more control but haven't had the time to seriously practice. Even Zangetsu is complaining about the lack of consistency."
"Maybe we should go to the Soul Society for our honeymoon and spend the time honing your skills."
"As much as I would love a honeymoon right after the wedding, we both know it isn't going to happen. I'm a new doctor and there is no way Ishida's dad is going to let me have a week or more off to spend it with you. Not unless some weird miracle happens." Personally he thought that if the older Quincy could get away with it, he'd never see a day off ever again.
"But we will have one," Rukia stated, licking the sweet treat to make sure it didn't drip on her hand. She noticed that Ichigo was making short work of his own cone. Doctor or not, chocolate was still his Achilles' heel.
"Course we will. If I could figure out how to get you a passport, we'd go overseas where no one's likely to interrupt us. As it is, the farthest we can go is to the most northern island or most southern island of Japan." Taking a bite of his cone, Ichigo took a look at his watch. It was almost time to have lunch although he wasn't sure she'd be hungry after the ice cream.
"We'll think of something. Is it time for lunch yet?" she asked, wiping her hands on the napkin he'd given her along with the cone.
"Then let's go to that little restaurant you showed me when I was here on vacation. It's not far from home and it shouldn't be too busy this time of day."
"Fine with me." He tossed his dirty napkin away, offering a hand to her when he was done. Walking hand in hand once more, they left the park and went in search of food. So far it had been a good day and he hoped that the rest of it would be that way too. There was still the cake surprise to share and he was debating about when to tell her that she'd be getting her precious Chappys on her wedding cake. Maybe he'd let it be a surprise all around and wait until the big day.
Nah, he wanted her reaction all to himself.
With lunch having passed in relative peace (if one didn't count the short and excitable call from Keigo), Ichigo and Rukia were now making their way to the hotel for their appointment with the pastry chef. He'd changed into a suit like he'd promised her, his hair once again briefly tamed by a comb in an effort to look professional. They'd left early, hoping to catch a moment with the organizer so that they could tell her about the change in Rukia's choice of flowers. Byakuya had been too engrossed in trimming Yuzu's bushes to care and Ise-san had told them to call back later as she was too busy forcing her captain to exercise to go digging for her planner to make a note of it.
Feeling slightly in control of the situation for the first time since the whole thing had begun, Ichigo reached over to turn on the radio only to have Rukia grab his wrist. "Rukia?"
"It came to me that we could use this time to think about what kind of music we want to have. The traffic isn't going to get any lighter and with the radio, we could go through several genres without too much effort."
"Sure, I guess. Have to think of it at some point, why not now?" Had he really thought he had any control over things?
"For the procession, I want some traditional music. I'm sure there's something out there that fits the occasion."
"There's always "Bridal Chorus" by Richard Wagner from his opera Lohengrin. That's the traditional 'Here comes the bride' melody that Westerners use."
"You watched too many soap operas as a child," Rukia said in return. "No, as nice as that is, I mean a traditional Japanese processional."
"Ah, okay, no problem. Hey, why don't we extend that to the reception while we're eating? The traditional Japanese music, I mean. That kind of music is usually quiet and nonintrusive so people could have decent conversations if they wanted to. After the cake gets cut, then we could go more modern."
"I see. And I want waltzes. The first dance we do should be a waltz, and the one I do with Nii-sama."
"Now who's been watching too many dramas? Sure, I guess we could throw a few in there. Guess that means we'll have to get some lessons. Too bad Mom's not around anymore. She could have taught us to dance like she did my dad. If she could teach that goof ball, she could teach anyone." Too busy with the traffic light, he didn't notice the widening of her eyes or the smile of craftiness that came across her lips.
"I'm sure that we can find someone with Teineina-san's help. Oh, is that the hotel?" Rukia asked as they pulled up. She could spot luxury like a pro and knew that this was going to be everything that she'd hoped for.
"Yeah, come on." He got out, allowing the valet to open the door for Rukia. Going to her side of the car, Ichigo held out his hand, tucking her hand in the crook of his elbow when she finally gave it to him.
Rukia took in the scenery, nodding in approval at the choice she had made with the help of her friends. "This will do."
"You haven't seen the garden yet. We'll take a stroll through it after we try out all the cake we have to choose from." Stopping at the reception desk, he asked for the wedding organizer and was directed to an office on a different floor.
Violet eyes took in everything as they wound their way upstairs and passed the numerous rooms until they found their destination. She'd spotted a couple of restaurants along the way and would have to keep that in mind for a later date. Perhaps she and her brother could have afternoon tea at one of them if she got to come back here before the wedding date.
A secretary greeted Ichigo when he announced their arrival and Rukia focused back on the task at hand. She bowed politely at the other woman who looked like she'd just gone a round or two with the eleventh division. After being told that Teineina-san was busy with another couple at the moment but would be free soon, the Shinigami pair sat down in the offered chairs and accepted the glasses of mineral water that were given to them.
"Hmm, I could get used to this treatment."
"They're only being polite. Your brother made quite the impression on Teineina-san I'm told. Giving you free reign with what you wanted helped as that jacked up the price, and thus her commission. Ise-san added to the wealth and splendor as many brides only use one wedding planner. You on the other hand have several people helping you with this and that includes a personal gown seamstress and personal shopper."
"You shouldn't call Ishida a seamstress. He's a clothing designer who specializes in women's apparel. Ayasegawa loves to shop for beautiful things so it's no chore for him at all. I think he's more excited about being among all the fabrics Ishida asked for than his real job."
'Well, Yumichika is a strange one so it's not really surprising." Ichigo took a sip from his glass, straightening when the inner office door opened. A couple around the same age they appeared to be emerged, their looks far from the rosy romantic hue he expected. Obviously not all couples agreed so easily on what they wanted as he and the midget did.
Teineina-san said farewell to the first couple and turned to the pair that was waiting patiently for her. "Ah, Kurosaki-sensei, how nice to see you. And this must be your lovely bride. It's so nice to finally meet you."
"Yes, thank you. I know this is a rather awkward wedding arrangement with most of my decisions coming from other people, but I am deeply grateful that you are allowing such an unorthodox planning. My job keeps me a fair distance away and traveling is difficult and not always possible."
"I understand. Please come in. I'm afraid I only have a few minutes but I'll do what I can in that amount of time."
"It's nothing really major," Ichigo said, still amazed at how Rukia could lie through her teeth without actually uttering a falsehood. "It's just about the flowers and music. Rukia found some roses she'd like added to what she's already chosen."
"I see, that is a simple enough request. I take it they're the ones on your wrist." Teineina pulled the file on the couple in front of her and turned to the correct section.
"These and the lilac shaded roses. They have a very complex meaning in the Western tradition and I think that with what the others mean in hanakotoba, it makes for a very nice story. It's definitely a departure from the norm but since we are not your average couple, I don't think anyone will find it strange."
"Hmm, yes, I suppose it would make a nice story," the other woman murmured, not ignorant of the meanings of flowers in both traditions. "Very well, I will inform our florists."
"I'll leave the arrangements up to them, as I don't have enough knowledge of what would look right for a wedding but will give final approval once they've come up with something unique."
"Understood. And what about the music?"
"So far we've decided that for the ceremony procession and meal we would like traditional Japanese music to be played with more contemporary music coming after the cake is cut. Rukia also wants some waltzes thrown in. Beyond that nothing else is set as we just decided this on our way here."
"You just decided?" the planner asked in surprise. "Usually such things take a while."
"Ichigo and I have been together long enough to know each other's tastes and compromise. It wasn't easy when we were younger but with age has come wisdom." Rukia smiled innocently, knowing that her groom was thinking of all the knocks to the head he'd received over the years.
"I see. I wish all of my couples were as easy to work with." She made the changes in her notes and rose to signal that their time was up. "I'm afraid I don't have any more spare time but I look forward to seeing you again soon. Please allow my assistant to show you to where the pastry chef is waiting for you."
"That's fine, we just thought we'd let you know while we were here so that the changes could be made as soon as possible. We don't like inconveniencing others if we can help it." Ichigo shook the woman's hand and turned to go. Rukia was already greeting the assistant again when he heard the planner mutter,
"I wish all my clients were like that."
He probably should have told her that while they didn't like making a nuisance of themselves, the rest of the wedding party wasn't going to be as considerate.
The garden stretched out behind the glass windows of the ballroom they were led to, earning an appreciative sigh from Rukia. There were more flowers in bloom than there had been the week before and Ichigo was pretty sure someone somewhere had just gotten a plus in their karma column. Set out in front of the splendid view was a table with dessert plates and water glasses. Next to the table was a cart with several pieces of cake, each with a different design and frosting.
"Kuchiki-san, Kurosaki-sensei, this is our pastry chef, Manzokudo-san. Manzo-san, this is the couple you have the appointment with. Excuse me," the assistant said and left them to eat cake.
"Madam, sir, please have a seat. Kurosaki-sensei had told us ahead of time that you wanted chocolate and strawberry so I have prepared a selection that I hope will meet your needs."
"We have a weakness for those flavors," Rukia said and sat down in the chair that was held out for her.
"Mm-hmm," Ichigo murmured, eyeing the rich chocolate cake that was just set in front of him. A different one was placed in front of his girl and together they tasted the offerings. "Wow, this is rich. Maybe a bit too rich for some of the guests," he commented, knowing that at least Karin would complain. He didn't imagine that Yachiru would care.
"Let me taste," she said, having washed down the strawberry shortcake that had slid nicely down her throat. "Yeah, that's a little much for me. This shortcake is delicious but not enough chocolate for the groom. What's next?"
Manzokudo raised an eyebrow but when ahead with the choices. They were certainly a decisive pair. "This one is a little different. It has a mocha frosting and a strawberry swirl white cake."
Rukia furrowed her brow, trying to remember if she'd ever had mocha frosting before. "Is this made from butter cream?" she asked, noticing the thickness of the frosting.
"You have a good eye. It's rich but a lot of people tend to favor the butter cream over the whipped or cream cheese."
Ichigo tasted the frosting from Rukia's plate, humming in delight when it slid smoothly down his throat. "I think we found our frosting, Rukia."
"Now let's find our cake." Digging her fork into the piece on his throat, she stared at it for a moment before tasting. The strawberry flavor wasn't overwhelming but next to the mocha frosting it would disappear. "Can this be made stronger in taste? I like the idea of a strawberry cake but it'd get lost in the frosting."
"Not in that kind as a stronger taste would upset the balance of ingredients but try this and see what you think…" the chef placed another in front of her, holding his breath. Decisive they might be but they were also exacting.
The cake was a light chocolate with chunks of strawberry darting through the layers. At the first taste, Ichigo knew that this would be the one. While the chocolate wasn't heavy, it did lend a richness to the fruit that it didn't have by itself. Together with the mocha frosting, it would be a different cake than what was usually seen. "Rukia?"
"Yes, I want this one, Ichigo. Maybe have some strawberries on top…" Both men watched her consume the rest of piece in front of her. Dainty lips licked off the rest of the frosting and they could tell that while it didn't hold a candle to the mocha, it was definitely a close runner up.
"Are you sure?" Manzokudo asked, refilling the water glasses of his clients.
"Yeah, the midget knows what she wants. As for a design, Yuzu came up with something that I think you'll enjoy. Manzokudo-san, do you have the drawing my sister made?"
"Teineina-san did give it to me but I have to admit to having altered it somewhat. This is going to be a large cake so some things had to be changed. This is what I came up with." The chef pulled out a paper from his folder and handed it to the small woman at the table.
It took all of two seconds before her eyes widened and she took on a child-like quality. "This is Chappy! A lot of Chappys! Ichigo, are you sure that you want rabbits on your wedding cake."
"Call it a gift from me to you. I knew you'd like it and it's a small thing to agree with." Ichigo could see the sketch from where he was and noticed that while the size of the characters had changed, the overall integrity of the design remained the same. When she didn't say anything else, he took that to mean she was happy with things. Looking at the other man, the doctor grinned slightly.
"I think we have our answer."
"Yeah," he agreed, still a bit thrown off by the violet eyed woman. "Fastest cake decision I've had in a while. You two are a dream couple as far as planning goes."
"Well, don't praise us yet. You haven't met the rest of the wedding party. If we're done here, I'd like to show Rukia the garden."
"Oh, yes, go ahead. Did you want sheet cakes as well as a tiered cake so that it's easier to serve your guests?"
"That's probably best. We have one kid attending and she tends to get a little rambunctious. Is it possible to use decaf coffee or espresso to make the mocha?"
"It would slightly alter the taste but I could make one sheet of cake with it just to avoid a caffeine charged juvenile."
"Let's do that. She can be a terror when on a sugar high; I don't want to see her on sugar and caffeine."
"Very well then, sir. I'll make my notes and call you if I have any questions." His job done, Manzokudo left the couple to enjoy the sereneness of the garden.
Ichigo finished off his water before getting up and pulling out Rukia's chair with her in it. She gave a slight squeak but didn't berate him for upsetting her balance. "Come on, Lieutenant; let's go see if we can find any bunnies."
"A little rabbit hunting wouldn't hurt, I supposed. It's just the thing I need to work off all those calories."
"Midget, you couldn't gain weight if you tried."
"I'll have you know that I do not weigh the same as when we were in high school."
"That's only because certain parts of you have matured. You have no actual fat."
"I don't know either to be flattered or hit you for being perverted in public."
"How about you just go look for rabbits in the garden?" Ichigo suggested with a sigh. He should probably keep his mouth shut for the rest of their visit to the hotel.
"I was just about to," Rukia said smartly and pretended to aim a kick at his shins as she passed by. He flinched reflexively and she smiled smugly as she went out to take in nature. It was nice to see that she could still scare him.
It wouldn't do to let him think she was getting soft.
A/N: There was quite a bit of research for this chapter and I had to look several flowers and their meanings. My search ranged from to a page on Wikipedia. I also named the pastry chef "satisfaction" as I wanted his personality to be one of being happy with satisfied clients.