Warnings: Birth scene! language
Ichigo grunted as he wiggled his butt foward on the seat cushion. He couldn't help it. His heavily pregnant, due to give birth any day now, body had lost all of it's normal grace and power and moving anywhere had become the greatest challenge he had to overcome lately. Giving another grunt, Ichigo finally had his butt in position at the very edge of the chair. Bracing his body, Ichigo placed both hands on the arm rests and began the laborious task of rising. Huffing and puffing, Ichigo was finally upright and, as soon as he was, he sped off quickly to the bathroom.
Well, that was what he wanted to do. It was more of an ungainly waddle than a walk at this point. And thanks to Grimmjow and his numerous penguin related facts and movie quotes, everytime Ichigo waddled anywhere he could hear the voice over from "March of the Pengiuns" playing though his head. Grimmjow had obviously been taking advantage of the numerous concessions Ichigo and his conspirators had rammed through the negotations and into the signed peace treaty and had been spending way to much time in the living world.
'Probably hanging out with Shinji and the rest of the Visoreds, judging by his sense of humor lately,' Ichigo thought as yet another penguin related fact leapt across his brain on the way to the bathroom, passing the king-sized bed in the middle of the room that had stuffed penguins of every size and style on it curtesy of Grimmjow.
Washing his hands after emptying his well abused bladder (Ichigo swore the cubs were using it as a trampoline), Ichigo took a moment to study himself in the mirror and was pleased with what he saw reflected.
His skin was glowing with health, his hair had grown out enough in the past few months that he was now wearing it pulled into a low pony tail at the base of his neck, and his chocolate-colored eyes were twinkling, happiness shining out at the world from the depths. The red lines that started over his left eye, continued across his forehead and swept back to his hair line were something that he had become accustomed to seeing now; although, they had startled him greatly the first time that he had looked in a mirror after mating with Starrk. Turns out that there was a way to tame an inner Hollow. All someone had to do was mate successfully and the Hollow would merge with the Shinigami. Ichigo had to admit to himself that he was deeply appreciative of the healing properties the merge had imparted to him since he didn't have a single stretch mark yet. Turning away from the mirror over the sink, Ichigo had to steady himself against the nearest surface briefly before he was able to re-gain his balance and continue on his way out of the room.
'Of course, I'm sure that I would look a hell of a lot better if I didn't look like I was smuggling a blimp around under my top,' Ichigo grumbled mentally to himself as he made his awkward way back over to his chair. It was the only place in the room that he could sit in and get out of without needing any help and that was only because it was wide enough to let him sit without getting wedged in and had high armrests to let him lift himself out.
Once Ichigo had succesfully lowered his bulk back into his chair, he propped his feet back up on the cushioned ottoman that Unohana had sent him as a gift and grabbed one of the many books off of the end table adjacent to his seat. Ichigo sighed and fingered the book for a while before placing it back. Ichigo glanced around the room for a moment of two before letting out another sigh. Letting his head fall back against the high back of the chair he was sitting in, Ichigo tried to think of something to do.
Anything to do.
Anything at all.
Ichigo had been confined to the bedroom for the last several weeks of his pregnancy and while he wasn't actually locked in the room, Unohana had carefully explained everything that could go wrong in a high risk pregnancy like his. It was high risk due to the fact that he was carrying more than one, not that he would let any of the healers tell him how many or what sex they were since he was determined to keep it a surprise. Then, once she had finished, Szayel had chimed in with some of the horror stories he had heard about: mostly male Betas going into labor too soon and what happened to them since their bodies weren't ready to give birth yet. Which is how he now found himself sitting in his and Starrk's rooms, bored out of his mind and praying for something to happen just so he could have some mental stimulation. Starrk had offered to stay with him, but Ichigo had turned him down and convinced him that one of them should leave the room, if nothing else, just to get news of what everyone else was up to, and since Starrk was the de-facto leader of the Hollows it just made more sense for it to be him.
Didn't make Ichigo any less bored, but at least he got some excitement and a change of pace every evening when Starrk came home. Starrk also came back to their suite during the day to take meals with Ichigo, sharing what news he had to his very bored Beta and sometimes bringing visitors with him who were anxious to check on, and converse with, Ichigo.
Ichigo had been on his own for most of the time today however, minus the servants that regularly stopped by to check in on him and see if he needed or wanted anything. The only reason that he had been left so completely to his own devices today was because today was the monthly meeting between the residents of Seireitei, Los Noches, and the living world. It had been talked over at the treaty negotiations and voted on as an intelligent way to interact with the various species, so it was written in the treaty that the first Monday of the month would see the leaders of the various factions meeting to go over any greivences or aught else they might need to discuss. They various realms took it in turn to host and this was the Seireitei's turn, which meant a longer meeting since the hosts set what type of meeting was used and the Soul Society was accustomed to a more formal style. The meetings were open to all and the minutes, taken by various secretaries, could be requested at anytime, by anyone, and they would be provided.
Ichigo had just given up on finding anything to do other than read one of the numerous books stacked near his chair, when the door burst open. Startled, Ichigo whipped his head to the side and couldn't stop the groan that erupted at the sight of his father standing proudly in the gaping doorway. Ever since Isshin had found out about his pregnancy the man had been hyper in a way that Ichigo thought wasn't possible outside of children's movies.
"OH, MY DARLING CHILD! HOW RADIENT YOU ARE! YOU SIMPLY GLOW WITH LIFE AND HEALTH! WHAT A WONDERFUL MOTHER YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE FOR MY AMAZINGLY AWESOME, SUPER GRANDBABIES THAT WILL ENTER THE WORLD FROM YOUR UBER-UTERUS!"
Ichigo winced as he listened to the man carry on. He still couldn't believe that the man was a Taicho in Soul Society before meeting his mom and falling in love with her. And kami-sama, hadn't that been a shock to his system to learn. Although it had explained a few things as well.
Feeling his unborn cubs moving in him as his thoughts began to affect his temper, causing his reiatsu to rise slightly, Ichigo placed both hands on his expanded stomach area and thought of calming things as he momentarily tuned out his father. Once the skin over his stomach was no longer pulsing and bulging under his hands, and the cubs had gone back to the state where all he had to deal with was the occasional surface kick or hit as they moved around or stretched out, Ichigo was able to bring his focus back on his father. Who had taken advantage of Ichigo's distraction by hanging a poster on the wall that proclaimed: "WELCOME ISSHIN JR AND MASAKI JR!"
"DAD! Take it down!"
"BUT MY DARLING CHILD! I AM-" was all Isshin had time to say before he found himself having to dodge the many books that Ichigo was grabbing off the nearby end table and throwing at him. Isshin, noticing that the incoming books were slowing before finally ceasing, re-focused his attention back on Ichigo and let out a triumphant grin when he saw that the table was empty of any more ammunition.
"NOW MY PR-"
Ichigo smirked as Isshin was hit in the face with the last book that he had been hiding in his lap.
"Now that you've shut-up, Goat-face, why don't you tell me why you're here. And use a voice level that won't shatter eardrums," Ichigo quickly said, seeing Isshin begin to wind himself up again.
"Well, I could just want to spend some time with my son," Isshin said with a smile as he picked himself up off the floor. "And I do. But the big reason I'm here is because Unohana, Szayel, and myself talked it over and came to the conclusion that it wasn't the best idea to leave you without any help other than servants this close to delivery."
"I see," Ichigo said doubtfully as he stared at his father. "And just when did you decided this? I've been alone for most of the morning now. Ever since Starrk left for the meeting in fact."
"Eh, yeah," Isshin looked on sheepishly as he rubbed the back of his head with one hand. "Well, it's like this. You know that Unohana comes to the meetings to represent the healers for the Soul Society, right? And that Szayel is there for Los Noches, and I'm attending the meetings as the rep for the living?"
Ichigo nodded his head and waited for Isshin to get on with it.
''We had talked it over at the end of the last meeting, and we all agreed that it was a great idea and would be a lot safer for you. Thing is, we all thought that the other one would be the one to miss this meeting and stay with you. So when we all showed up like normal, we kinda got into a bit of a discussion and one thing led to another and HEY! here I am."
Ichigo gave Isshin a calculated glance.
"So...you're here to monitor me basically. That could work out very well I think," Ichigo mused. "Fine. Get over here and give me a hand getting out of my chair. If I have you for the entire day until everyone else comes home, I'm going to make the most of it."
After some whining on Isshin's part, and some hitting and swearing on Ichigo's side, the two of them had successfully managed to raise Ichigo up. Feeling Ichigo swaying as he reached vertical, Isshin quickly grabbed ahold of his arms and held him stable until Ichigo gave an indication that he was fine. As soon as Ichigo was released he began to waddle off towards the bathroom. Isshin, thinking that Ichigo just needed to use the facilities and had only asked for an assist to escape the chair's gravity, bent down and got started picking up the many books that Ichigo had thrown at him.
"Hey, old man! Get your butt in here!"
Startled, Isshin quickly placed the books on the table top and sped into the bathroom, only to be met with the sight of a massively pregnant Ichigo, sans clothing, as he carefully descended into a tub the size of a small pool via a set of stairs, his hands white knuckled as he held tightly to a railing.
"Don't just stand there gaping! Make yourself useful and turn on the spigots for me will you? The controls are over there on the floor and I can't bend over to turn them on anymore," Ichigo said with a twitch of his head.
Isshin turned in the direction Ichigo indicated and, sure enough, saw the controls he was speaking of just to the side of the stairs. Walking over to them, Isshin then knelt on the floor to study the controls. After a minute of study, Isshin confidently began pushing buttons and found himself rewarded by the sound of rushing water.
Ichigo, letting out a contented sigh, settled into one of the many seats sculpted into the sides of the tub as the warm water began to fill up the tub and swirl around him.
"Thanks, dad. I really needed this. The sense of weightlesness the water gives me is the only thing that gives my back and legs any relief. Now get your butt in here."
"Why don't you take more of them then? And why do you need me to join you?" Isshin asked as he stripped off his clothing in preparation of joining his son in what he could see was a spa tub.
"That's an easy answer, since it's the same one for both questions. Starrk doesn't think it's safe for me since I've been having slight dizzy spells. Add in my lack of balance ever since my waistline began to expand, and exhaustion from lack of sleep, and it gives you one worried mate."
"Hmm," Isshin hummed in agreement. Setting his feet in the tub as he headed down the steps, Isshin was surprised to find the temperature, which he had set to hot, was merely pleasently warm.
Ichigo opened eyes that he had closed in contentment and tiredness when he heard Isshin begin to step into the tub just in time to see the surprise on Isshin's face. Chuckling quietly, and guessing correctly that the surprise he saw was related to the tub's temperature, Ichigo decided to enlighten his father.
"I'm not allowed to get too over heated. It increases my dizzy spells and places more stress on the cubs so Starrk had the tub's temperature re-set for the duration of the pregnancy. I don't think I can adequetly describe my longing for a hot bath."
Isshin nodded thoughtfully as he waded through the swirling, bubbling water to the opposite side of the tub from where Ichigo was settled and found a seat for himself.
"So, since you're here and all," Ichigo said with a smile. "Why don't you tell me some more about what your Art Therapy group has been up to lately? The last time I had a chance to chat with you about it was months ago. You had just arranged for Yachiru learn more about accupuncture and had ensured that she would have a body to practice on. Mayuri is still twitching everytime he sees a needle, or someone mentions the word to him."
Ichigo shared a wicked looking smirk with his father and settled in to listen to the latest news of Isshin's group.
It was several hours later, the two men having left the tub some time ago and adjurned into the main room to continue with catching up and planning more meetings of Isshin's Art Therapy group, when Starrk finally arrived back. Ichigo had been expecting him for quite some time as the meetings were almost a formality lately and no new business had been discussed during the last few meetings. Starrk was proceeded into the room by the Los Noches servants bearing dinner.
Starrk made his way over to his Beta and placed a kiss onto the top if Ichigo's head, ignoring the servants as they shuffled around the furniture; moving a table into place in front of Ichigo as he sat in his chair, dressing the table with place settings and dinner, setting two more chairs into place for Isshin and Starrk.
"Mi amor radiante," Starrk murmured into the soft, brightness of Ichigo's hair. "Forgive me? I had no desire to remain so far from your side for so long."
Ichigo smiled brightly at Starrk as he came around the back of the chair and settled into the chair nearest Ichigo's side.
"Always. You know that I would neverblame you for something that you had no control over," Ichigo got a rueful expression on his face as he contiuned speaking. "And I count attending meeting where bloated old wind bags like to blather on and listen to themselves speaking as one of those things."
Isshin let out a bark off laughter as he pulled out a chair and sat down.
"You've got that right, my son! Kisuke and I used to time the speeches he would give at the Taicho meetings, post the results, and collect on the bets people made about the length. Oddly enough, Retsu won the bets nine times out of ten. No one ever figured out how she managed to do that. "
Ichigo snickered at that bit of information as he watched Starrk serve the meal. Calming down, Ichigo took a few bites of his meal and allowed the others too as well before speaking up again.
"So, what was the hold up today? I've thought things have been working out rather well."
Starrk gave a heartfelt groan as he set his fork down. Pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand and using the other to massage his forehead, Starrk took a deep breath before responding.
"It is about the mixed Division allowed for in the treaty. The So-Taicho, in his infinite wisdom, spent the day pushing to have it led by a Shinigami, stating, quote, 'It would be in the best interests of all if such a group were to be led by one who has been performing such a duty in the World of the Living from the very beginning' unquote. He followed that by listing the far too numerous reasons that a Shinigami should be the only one considered for such a posting. The only way that was successful in silencing him was when Urahara-san agreed with him."
"He did WHAT!?" Isshin sputtered out around the forkfull of food in his mouth. Starrk had to stand up and pound the former Shinigami when the man began to choke on the bits of food he inhaled as he tried to catch his breath.
"Not to worry," Starrk flashed a rare grin Isshin's way. "As everyone at the table, Yamamoto included, gaped like stunned fish at him, Urahara-san merely smiled a bit before suggesting that there be three such mixed Divisions formed. That way, every group would have the chance to be in charge. The rest of the day was spent working out how many of each world should be represented, where they would patrol, would they all patrol at the same time? Or on a rotation? And very much more such things."
Isshin looked intrigued and spent the rest of the meal wresting information from Starrk. Ichigo, extremely tired after spending the day with his father and unable to get in a nap with the rambunctious man nearby, merely looked on in sleepy appreciation as he listened to the conversation with only half of his attention. Once the meal was finished, Starrk, looking over at his dozing mate, thanked Isshin for coming to spend the day with Ichigo and made apologies to the man as he walked him to the door of their suite. Isshin just waved him off with a grin and thanked him for dinner. Closing the door behind his mate's father, Starrk quickly found his way back to Ichigo's side, pulled the chair away from the laden table, and helped Ichigo rise from said chair. Holding his tired, pregnant mate steady, Starrk carefully manuvered them both until he was able to assist Ichigo into his place on the bed.
Ichigo, setting into the comfortable nest of pillows, looked up at Stark with wide, pleading eyes, ignoring the controlled choas of a small army of servants who appeared, cleared away the dinner mess, then vanished once again.
"Yes, mi un poco necesitados? I know that look," Starrk said with a loving smile. "What is it you need?"
Ichigo huffed a bit even as a smile played about on his lips.
"Needy little one, huh? Well," Ichigo drawled out with a twinkle in his eyes. "I was only hoping for a foot rub. Just because I haven't seen the damn things for almost six months doesn't mean that I don't know they're there. I can more than feel the swelling in them after all and I've been looking foward to a foot rub all day."
"Of course," Starrk reached over to the nearest nightstand, opened a drawer, and, after fumbling around a bit as he looked at labels, pulled out a bottle of massage oil. Moving down the bed, Starrk lifted Ichigo's feet, placed them on his lap, pulled off the backless slippers that were all Ichigo was able to wear thanks to the combination of swollen feet and the inability to see, let alone reach, his feet, and, after coating his hands in the oil and rubbing them briskly together to warm said oil, began a vigorous attack on the swollen appendadges in his lap. Starrk grinned as Ichigo let out several pleased sounding grunts and had to hold in his laughter at the blissful noises that were made as he fondled Ichigo's toes.
"Cou' yo' do m'legs?"
Starrk merely moved his hands higher up in response to the slurred query. After several minutes passed, Starrk heard a faint snore. Shaking his head, Starrk silently and carefully resettled Ichigo on the bed, making sure to pull up the light blanket at the foot of the bed to cover up Ichigo's lower half. Making his way to the bathroom, Starrk then made short work of getting ready and popping back into bed behind his mate.
Several hours later, Ichigo woke to a moon drenched room and a bladder that felt like it was about to burst. Wincing as another kick was delivered to his severely desperate bladder, Ichigo was able to rouse Starrk just enough for the other male to give a few assisting pushes before he fell back asleep. Tottering to the bathroom as quickly as he could, Ichigo just made it in time. Letting out a deeply appreciative moan at the almost orgasmic feeling of relief from the empty bladder, Ichigo turned to make his way back to the bed, hoping that he could get in a few more hours of slumber.
Just as Ichigo got to the doorway, a tensing of his stomach muscles caught him by surprise, causing him to stumble into the doorjamb. Bracing himself, Ichigo drew in several deep breaths, trying to focus on that action rather than the discomfort the too tight muscles across his midsection were giving him. As the muscles finally relaxed themselves, Ichigo let out all of the air he had inhaled in a rush, thankful for the release of tension. Pulling himself free of the support offered by the doorjamb, Ichigo began his slow way back to the bed that was calling to him: promising warmth and comfort once he was back within it's soft embrace.
Ichigo was just beginning the awkward process of lowering his bulk to the bed when a sharp, stabbing pain from just behind his scrotum made him cry out. Grabbing his belly with one hand and keeping the other braced against the bed behind him, Ichigo began moaning as a pain like no other he had felt before spread up from between his legs and across the stretched muscles of his abdomen. He had been informed of the particulars of a male Beta's birth process and knew that this was to be expected, he just hadn't been thinking that the formation of the birth canal was going to be quite this painful. Just when he thought his trembling arm was going to let go, causing him to fall in a painful heap, Starrk's large hands and strong arms wrapped around him, offering him much needed support. Ichigo could only give a second or two of mental thanks for his mate before the pain overruled his senses again, therefore he was only barely aware of being moved from a semi-crouch into a semi-reclined position on the bed with his head and shoulders well supported by pillows and stuffed penguins.
Ichigo was so focused on his pain that he was unable to tell when Starrk left his side to summon aid. He was however able to tell when Starrk returned simply because when the Alpha came back, he did so bearing a cold, wet washcloth that he used to good effect on Ichigo's face. The cold having drawn his attention for the moment, Ichigo looked up and met Starrk's eyes, clearly reading the worry the other had for him.
"It'll be fine," Ichigo said tiredly, with a wry, twisted grin on his face. "We knew this was coming, I have some idea of what to expect after all the many lessons and talks I've had with several of the older Betas, and the cubs have to get out of me and into this world somehow. If you'll remember, Szayel said a natural birth is preferred for safety and health reasons, especially for me and my wicked fast healing. He was worried that if they went in via surgery or kido, my body might register it as an attack and react accordingly since they would be interfering with my body's natural process. Which might cause the cubs to abort even at this late of a stage and, while the healers and such think that they could save them, they were worried that they might lose one."
Starrk reached down, grabbed ahold of one of Ichigo's hands from where it rested on his quivering belly, and gave it a reasuring squeeze.
"You are right, as you always seem to be, mi amado. But it hurts me very much to see you in such pain and know that there is nothing that I am able to do that will aid you with the bearing of it."
Ichigo was opening his mouth to reply when the door to their suite was flung open and what seemed to be an army of people entered. When the blur of movement and explosion of noise finally ceased, Ichigo was amazed to find out that what seemed like a small invading army, was only the key people who he had planned on having assist him during this time of need.
The first person to offer her greetings was Unohana as she began easing Ichigo's bottoms off of him. Szayel was the next to greet the mates as he worked around Unohana and placed up a small screen over Ichigo that blocked the view of his nether regions from those at the top of the bed. Which was where the last person to enter the room was.
Ichigo was only able to contain his laughter at the sight of the last person because of the wave of pain cresting over him at the moment, otherwise he would be laughing hysterically at the look on Yamamoto's face as it was entirely evident to tell that the aged So-Taicho had absolutely zero desire to be, in any way, shape, or form, involved with this.
'To bad for him it was signed into agreement in the treaty,' Ichigo thought to himself as Starrk, in his efforts to be helpful, attempted to get Ichigo to focus on his breathing again.
Holding out his other hand imperiously, Ichigo was rewarded when Yamamoto resolutely made his way around the bed to grab ahold of it.
'Let the fun begin,' Ichigo thought with a mental smirk. 'Now I just have to make sure to channel all of my pain into this hand when I squeeze. I certainly don't want to take this out on Starrk for this delivery. It's not his fault after all that I'm in this predicament. Well, this time at least.'
That was the last coherent thought Ichigo was able to have for some time as he quickly found himself reduced to primal urges and instinct as he labored to bring his and his mate's cubs into the world. His world became narrowly focused on the sensations over taking his body. Occasionally, Ichigo would surface from his instinct driven focus to take note of Starrk bathing the parts of his body that he could conviently reached with cold water and feeding Ichigo ice chips, or he would hear Szayel or Unohana barking out directions to him and be able to follow along with their demands.
Ichigo had been laboring for hours, struggling to ignore the pain ripping through his body by rythmic breathing, when he had an intense urge to push, now! Obeying the urge, Ichigo lifted up the upper portion of his body from where it had slipped down the damp, sweaty pillows and, using the leverage this move afforded him, bore down on his straining abdominal muscles while trying to lift his legs up and out of the way. Hissing and falling back on the bed in severe displeasure when he was unable to make any headway in forcing out his firstborn, Ichigo yelled at the two males who were there to assist him.
"Damnit! Lift up my damn legs! They're in the damn way! You damn morons!"
Starrk dropped his washcloth and hurried to comply with his mate's orders, completely wrapped up in doing anything and everything he was able to for his Beta. Yamamoto relunctantly followed suit with the one free hand that Ichigo had allowed him to keep. Ichigo, feeling another over whelming urge to push,now! did as his body wanted and sat up, forcing more tension to his lower muscles. Ichigo was rewarded this time for his efforts by Szayel's cooing about seeing the head and Unohana's encouragement.
Ichigo thought for sure that he was being split in half as he struggled to push out his cub. After fifteen minutes of pushing however, he was rewarded for all of his hard work to this point when he was informed that the head was out. He wasn't to pleased to hear the next comment though.
"Kurosaki-kun, you simply must halt your attempts to push any more for the moment."
"WHAT! WHY?" Ichigo snarled.
"The cub has an umbilical card wrapped around it's neck," Unohana said as she worked to quickly free the cub's neck of it's encumberence. "Just give me a few more...There!"
Unohana gave a small grin of triumph as she unwound the last of the cord from around the small neck.
"One more good push ought to do it," Unohana said in an encouraging manner as she prepared herself to catch the fragile new life entering the world.
Ichigo gritted his teeth, waited for his body to signal that it was ready, and pushed as hard as he could. Ichigo collapsed backwards into the nest of filthy pillows and blankets afterwards, basking in the sound of his cub's first cries. Starrk, beaming with pride, bent down and quickly pressed a kiss to Ichigo's forehead.
"Well...," Ichigo asked as he let his body rest. "What is it?"
"You have a lovely little girl as your firstborn," Unohana said as she stood up from her position in between Ichigo's legs. "I'll need to summon some more helpers now that the cubs are beginning to make their appearences. I had them wait in the hallway until now so that you would not find yourself overwhelmed."
Unohana handed the cub over to Szayel, who had moved to take Unohana's place between Ichigo's legs. She then strode over to the door, opened it a bit and spoke to someone out of sight on the other side, before heading back to the bed and those gathered around it and on it. Unohana hadn't made it quite back to the bed before the door was opened all the way, allowing a bassinet being pushed by Hanataro to enter the room.
Ichigo, although he was trying to see more of his daughter from where Szayel was holding her slightly aloft for him, could clearly see at least one more bassinet behind the shy healer and quickly turned his head away. He was determined to be surprised by his cubs.
"Unohana-Taicho? If you could please take the little one, I need to check on Ichigo. The placenta should be coming and I don't see it yet."
"Of course," Unohana said, speeding up just a bit. "I'll just take her over to have her cleaned up, weighed, and measured."
"Thank you," Szayel turned all of his attention to Ichigo immediately once the cub had been lifted from his arms. He gently began to palpate Ichigo's still considerably extended abdomin, hoping to stimulate more minor contractions that would force the placenta to slip free from the body. Szayel felt himself being rewarded after several minutes when the skin under his fingers began to tighten up. He wasn't prepared however for the moan of pain that Ichigo released at the same time as the tightening sensation.
"It hurts again like before," Ichigo whimpered as another contraction could be clearly seen making it's way across the bulging expanse of flesh, causing the Beta to release another pained moan.
"That's slightly expected, Ichigo," Szayel said without looking up from between Ichigo's legs. "I know that you were emphatic in your desire to keep from being informed of anything we discovered about your pregnancy, other than for health reasons, but we did tell you that you would be expecting more than one. The fact that it looks like you are going into full labor without expelling the placenta first means that your little lady is part of an identical set. The after birth could not be expelled while it was still in use. So just breathe and do what your body and I tell you to do and this cub will be here before you know it."
Ichigo wanted to sob. He was so tired and now he had to push out another cub. Tightening his hold on Yamamoto's hand as much as he could, Ichigo drew in a deep breath and began pushing gently as Szayel was urging him to do in an effort to move the second cub into position for delivery.
It took another half an hour for Ichigo to be presented with the information of another girl and given a brief glimpse of her before she was taken off to be clean, weighed, and measured. The after birth followed almost immediately. Not that Ichigo cared what was going on below the screen. His exhausted attention was completely focused on the tiny, wrapped bundle that Hanataro had brought over for him to hold. Struggling to sit up a bit so that he could support her tiny body better, Ichigo was gently aided in his efforts by Starrk, who lifted his body up slightly and shoved a few pillows more securely under his shoulders.
Ichigo flashed a small, thankful grin to his Alpha before turning his full attention back to the bundle now properly in his arms. Looking down, Ichigo was filled with silent awe as he took in the familar features of Starrk, only in a minature, feminine way. She had Starrk's blue-grey eye color, his lanky face, and, gently lifting a corner of the enfolding blanket from where it was blocking her forehead, her sire's dark hair. Ichigo carefully traced a red line from over her left eye and up into her hair, where the skin color continued as a small tuft of red-colored curls in the dark fuzz that covered the rest of her scalp. Ichigo let his finger trail down over the tiny, button nose before pulling it back and letting him have an unobstructed view of the face. Which was beginning to crinkle up as the newborn began to fuss and make smacking noises as her lips looked like they were throwing kisses.
"She is hungry, Kurosaki-san," Unohana said as she approached to bed. "It would be better for her if you could nurse her for a bit before we take her back over to the bassinet."
"Just for a bit?" Ichigo asked, puzzled at the request, even as he fumbled his top open while holding his newborn. "Shouldn't I be nursing her until she's full and pulls away? That's what those information booklets you and Szayel gave me said."
"You are correct. However, for today, please just nurse her for a small while. You have two to feed and until we know how much liquid reiatsu you are able to produce to feed them, it would be better to err on the side of caution and make sure that all of the cubs are fed a bit from you, rather than one eating all and not having enough for another," Unohana informed him with that gentle smile of hers. "Urahara has prepared several types of fomula for the little ones, including a newborn one, and your cubs will be better served by caution today until we've ensured that you will produce enough to feed all."
While Ichigo was concentrating on his first born as she rooted around before latching firmly onto the available nipple, their second cub had been brought over and handed off to Starrk, who began his own inspection. Looking at the tiny face of the newborn he was holding, Starrk was suprised to see the red marking her sister had over her left eye was over this one's right eye. Wondering if he had simply seen wrong, Starrk sat on the edge of the bed to get a better angle to look at the two side by side. Confusion set in when he saw that he wasn't mistaken.
"Your pardon, Unohana-Taicho? Szayel? I thought that you said that they were identical when the placenta failed to be delivered? They have markings on opposite sides of the face."
Szayel looked up but didn't stop doing whatever it was he was involved with on the other side of the divider.
"Well," Szayel began. "They are most definately identical twins. The placenta was obviously shared by two cubs. The most simple and plausible explanation for the switch of placement for the markings is that they are mirror twins."
"Mirror twins?" Ichigo asked as he carefully pulled his first cub off of the, now wet and shiny, nipple. Holding out the fussing cub for someone to take so that she could get fed more, Ichigo caught the slight look of lust in Starrk's eyes as they focused on the gleaming nipple their daughter had used. Lightly smacking Starrk's nearest leg, and getting a pout for doing so, Ichigo then reached over to lift his second cub. Starrk however, didn't let him and, nudging the hands back, carefully lowered her into place within the cradle of Ichigo's arms with her head facing the other exposed nipple.
"Mirror twins are identical in every way, but could use each other as a mirror. Everything is reversed. For example, if one is right-handed, the other is left-handed. It is rather lucky for you if you think about it. With those marking on their faces, you won't ever get them confused. AHA!"
Szayel's triumphant shout was accompanied by a surprised, painful noise from Ichigo.
Unohana quickly came over to the bedside and plucked the cub out of Ichigo's arms. Handing her over to one of the other healers, she then spun around and placed herself at the foot of the bed, behind Szayel.
"This should be the last one now, Ichigo," Szayel said triumphantly. "Hope you are prepared to be parents of triplets. Not that such a large litter of cubs should be such a surprise for you both. Between the drug Mayuri injected you with, that I'm positive had fertility aids as well, and Starrk being a canine type Hollow and the sheer amount of power the two of you have, you were going to have at least two cubs."
Ichigo saved his strength for pushing when all he wanted to do was curse out Yamamoto for giving the orders that landed him here, followed by chasing down Mayuri and strangling the psychotic idiot for doing more than ordered and giving him an assist in the cub department. The small rest that he had while he nursed had only been enough for him to regain a small portion of his energy, hopefully that would be enough.
"It will be enough," Ichigo growled to himself as he began to re-focus his attention back on his breathing.
This time, it took several hours for the contractions to move the cub into a birth position and it took enough out of Ichigo that Starrk had to keep up a constant stream of encouragement and praise. The only good news for Ichigo was that by the time the urge to push had become overwhelming, it only took four hard pushes and the cub was out. As soon as he was informed that he could cease pushing, Ichigo collapsed back onto the bed; his body heaving and shaking from exhaustion and pain. Ichigo barely registered it when informed that he had given birth to a boy. As he lay there, Ichigo could tell that he still wasn't done as he felt his shrinking abdomin keep tightening in painful cramps.
Ichigo couldn't hold back the screams as the most painful sensation he had yet had during this entire process ripped from deep within his pelvic region. It felt like his bones were being sawed on.
Unohana, having moved to take over from Szayel as he took the cub over to the helpers, tensed all over for a micro-second before returning to her normal mode.
"It seems that we have one more, Kurosaki-kun. We had been getting a few anomolous readings every once and a while, but whenever a second scan was performed, the readings came back normal and three cubs," Unohana looked serene as she ignored Ichigo's pained screams. "The little one was in such a hurry that he slid right down after his brother. Unfortunately, this little one is in a breech position. It is not the ideal delivery position, but it will be aided by the fact that he is last and has had the benefit of his siblings opening the passage wider for him."
Looking up very quickly and seeing that Ichigo was in no condition to assist in the birth of his fourth and last cub, Unohana made a decision. Grateful for the fact that this was the last cub, Unohana summoned reiatsu into her hands as she began chanting one of the many healing kidos known only to those of the Fourth Division to allow them to assist a birthing. Laying one of her hands on Ichigo's tensing and quivering lower abdomin and placing the other on one of Ichigo's hips, Unohana's chanting began to produce results. Ichigo's hips widened slowly, freeing the cub from where he was stuck, and the tensing muscles became more focused in the immediate location of the cub. Ignoring Ichigo's wrenching screams, Unohana shifted her hands to the opening the cub was trying to pass through and changed the words she was chanting. She could tell, thanks to her senses, that what they feared happening if they assisted was attempting to occur.
Ichigo's healing abilities were rising up too soon.
Now Unohana found herself in a race against Ichigo's healing body as she moved her hands to the cub and began to gently and carefully pull him out the rest of the way. She was momentarily worried when the head got hung up on the closing opening, but worked through it patiently and was rewarded for her efforts a few moments later when she had her hands full of squalling, screaming cub. Focused as she was with the bundle on her lap, she didn't fail to note the sight of two placentas being expelled from Ichigo's body. Handing over her precious, if unhappy, armful, Unohana tuned out the rest of the room to concentrate on Ichigo and ensure that his body's healing worked to its fullest on the Beta, who had slipped into unconsciousness when his healing triggered itself.
Ichigo opened gummy, crud-encrusted eyes several hours later, not that he knew that yet, and was immediately greeted by a squealing Rukia.
"Oh Ichigo! They're simply too adorable!"
"What are you on about, Rukia?" Ichigo asked, confusion filling his voice.
"Your cubs silly! The four of them are so cute. The girls are curled up around one another in one bassinet, sucking on each other's fingers, your first son has been awake for hours and is being carefully fought over by those Unohana, Szayel, and Starrk let enter the room, it's obvious he's going to be a heartbreaker when he grows up with such an outgoing personality, he loves to be held!" Rukia squealed as she continued on without a rest, "and your last cub fussed and fussed until he was given his own bassinet where he promplty stretched out as far as he could, upsetting the tight swaddle he was in. He had been sharing with your other son until that point since they weren't expecting him and didn't bring enough bassinets with them which is how the girls ended up together!"
Ichigo lay there and listened in shock and humor as the petite Shinigami rambled on without drawing a breath. He had never seen her acting like this before, but then again, he had never seen her around infants either.
'Who knew she had a weakness for babies,' Ichigo thought to himself, wisely keeping the smirk from forming on his face as he was quite fond of living and knew that Rukia wouldn't hesitate from giving him hell for it later. He knew she wouldn't attack him while he was injured, but that was the only reprieved she offered.
Starrk, hearing the commontion, hurried over to his mate's side. Cautiously bumping Rukia over and out of the way, Starrk slid onto the bed beside Ichigo and, leaning over, gave him a deep kiss.
"And how do you feel, mi precioso tesoro? Are there any lingering pains that need to be dealt with?"
"I feel fine," Ichigo said with a smile, after he had rubbed the sleep crud from his eyes. "Can I see the cubs now? I never had the chance to see the boys, not that I was expecting to say that. Boys, that is."
"Of course, but you will have to stay in bed and the cubs will come to see you. Eveyone of the healers agreed that it was best if you had a day of bedrest before getting up and moving around. They want to ensure that you are completely healed before letting you leave the bed, just in case."
"That's fine," Ichigo said as he craned his neck around Starrk, hoping to catch sight of his cubs through the small group gathered around the area the bassinets had been set up in. "Do you know why that last cub was so difficult to deliver? I mean, I've listened to Goat-face go on about some of the births he has attended, and I've never heard of anyone complaining about the type of pain he was putting me through. It felt like I was having someone sawing on my bones."
"Well it might have something to do with the fact that his Hollow mask got caught on one of your pelvic bones," Isshin interjected.
"He's a Hollow?" queried Ichigo as he got his first sight of his youngest.
Isshin placed the infant into Ichigo's outstretched arms and watched with a fond smile as Ichigo cradle the fussing cub to his body and Starrk curled around the both of them protectively.
"Both of your boys are, it's just that this little one's brother has a much smaller bone fragment. Only around his eye like his sire there. Your youngest has a full mask that looks just like yours, but with different colors. And they both have a small hole in one of their hands."
Ichigo didn't bother to respond, instead concentrating on the bundle in his arms. Somehow sensing that the fussing was occuring because the little one was hungry, Ichigo free a hand and used it to loosen his top enough to free a nipple. His cub, sensing food nearby, began to root around, latching onto the nipple securely when Ichigo shifted him slightly. Now that his cubs needs were met, Ichigo was able to take in the details of the one he was holding.
He did indeed have Ichigo's Visored mask, but where Ichigo's was marked in red, this one was colored green. Cradling the infant in one hand, Ichigo began playing with a hand that had escaped the blanket and was flaying around. Ichigo counted the fingers, marvelling in their tiny perfection as the automactically wrapped themselves tightly around his much larger finger. Visually raking in all of the details he could, Ichigo noted that the cub also had emerald green tufts of hair but, Ichigo looked fondly down at the sleepy cub, his chocolate-hued eyes with their amber ring. Ichigo was drawn from his loving examination when Starrk reached into his line of sight and began to carefully free his finger with one hand while attemping to lift the cub up with the other hand.
"What are you doing?" Ichigo asked as he let his mate have their cub.
"You have one more to meet, mi amado. Do not fret yourself," Starrk quickly interjected, seeing Ichigo start to stress when his youngest was handed off to Isshin, causing him to wake up from his doze and fuss. "He isn't going anywhere. Isshin will stay right here in your line of sight while you feed the other little one."
Ichigo was still tense though and Starrk, having an idea that Ichigo's Beta instincts to protect his cubs at all costs were coming into play, quickly signalled for all the cubs to be brought over. Starrk could see the difference having the cubs within reaching distance did for Ichigo: even if he didn't fully relax, he was now able to pay attention to the cub in his arms.
Which Ichigo did. Switching sides from the one the last cub used, Ichigo had the last cub to be fed latched onto his other nipple in record time. Keeping half an eye on his other cubs, Ichigo nevertherless gave the one in his arms a careful going over.
This last cub, his third born, had the least amount of hair yet. It was just a few wisps on the top of the skull, but it was enough for Ichigo to make out that it was the same shade of firey-orange as his own. Shaking his head and thinking that the little one was going to be extremely lucky to be growing up in Los Noches where he wouldn't be teased and harrased over such a vivid color, Ichigo moved on. Hoping to see the eye-color, Ichigo gently tapped a finger on his nursing infants chubby cheek until the cub finally opened one sleepy eye. Ichigo found himself pleased to see that his last little boy also had Starrk's beautiful slate-blue eyes and hoping that they would stay that way and that it wasn't just a baby color that would change as they grew.
After several moments full of quiet examination and nursing, Ichigo let Starrk lift the boy out of his arms in exhange for both of his daughters, who were sleeping. Ichigo's heart filled with joy, love, and a fierce protective instinct as he beheld his sleeping cubs.
"So what are you going to name them?"
Ichigo, drawn out of his cub inspection at the question, lifted his head just in time and was able to see Rukia reach up and slap Renji across the back of his head.
"Way to break the mood, stupid."
"What?! I wanted to know!"
Ichigo smiled slightly as he caught Starrk's eyes. Giving a jerk of his head, Starrk cleared his throat, instantly getting everyone's attention.
"We had planned out several names, because we wanted to plan for any number, or combination, of cubs. If you would kindly hand me the two males and excuse yourselves to the hallway for a few moments, it would allow Ichigo and I the chance to confer. As soon as we finish, you will be called back in and we will be able to annouce our decisions. Thank you."
There was some grumbling, mainly from Isshin who had manged to snag both of his grandsons and didn't want to give them up, but eventually the room was emptied of everyone but the mates and their cubs. Having already picked out several names, it didn't take long for them to decide on what the cubs would be called and they were able summon back the hoarde of well wishers. Quickly, and unsurprisingly, finding themselves surrounded as they rested on the bed, Starrk and Ichigo began gesturing to, or with, the cubs and stating their names.
"This is Kaiko," Ichigo bobbed his head towards the girl on his left at the same time as he slightly lifted her. "She was the first born. We are naming our other little girl Katsuko."
Starrk blinked as all attention was focused on him, the group waiting in expectant silence.
"Ah, the older cub is called Leandro and the youngest will be known as Rolon Niguel. Since you may not be familar with the language used to name the boys, Leandro means brave or lion-like, Rolon means famous wolf, and Niguel means champion."
Ichigo, thinking that his mate had the right idea to enlighten everyone on the meanings of the names chosen, thought that he should do the same just in case.
"Kaiko was chosen with the meaning of 'child of forgiveness' and Katsuko's was chosen as 'victorious child'. All of the names were chosen with the memory of the fact that the two of us, um...'met' on the field of the last battle," Ichigo finished with a slight blush.
"Oh! How romantic!" Rukia squealed.
She was joined in this by most of the females present as the crowd somewhat dispersed itself throughout the room leaving just Ichigo and his immediate family, who promptly settled themselves on the bed and tried to finagle one of the cubs out of the the protective arms of Ichigo or Starrk. Starrk, knowing that Ichigo's instincts would only allow Starrk to take a cub from his arms, handed Isshin Leandro to hold and gave Rolon Niguel to Yuzu. Once his arms were free, Starrk carefully lifted Kaiko free of Ichigo and, after offering her to Karin and being gently refused, cuddled with her himself.
"It's quite a turn out," Ichigo said as he looked around the room.
Glancing over the suite, he saw several different Taichos and Fuku-Taichos that he had become friends with since his invasion of the Soul Society, some of the many ex-Espada who had survived the war and with whom he had formed friendships, and the rest of the guests were his nearest and dearest friends from the living world. Looking around the room again, Ichigo was slightly confused when he didn't see someone that he was sure would be there.
"Hey," Ichigo said, interrupting the happy chatter occuring on the bed around him. "Where's the old man? I thought for sure that he would want to be here to relish in the birth that was the end result of his meddling."
Isshin burst out in laughter at Ichigo's query, leaving it to Starrk, whom Ichigo turned to in confusion over his dad's actions, to answer his puzzled mate.
"Mi un poco de fuego, he is unable to attend this small celebration of life due to the simple, but overriding fact, that when you gave birth to Rolon Niguel you squeezed his hand so hard that it shattered several of the bones within it. He had to be taken back to the Seireitei by Unohana and healed. She had only just returned from dealing with his broken hand in fact when you awoke."
Starrk's answer caused Ichigo to break out in the same deep laughter that had stopped Isshin from answering him earlier. Isshin gave a sharp jerk of his head to his own daughters as he rose from the bed while Ichigo was distracted. Yuzu and Karin quickly followed after their father as he led the way back to the group of people gathered around a buffet table the servants were setting up, giving Ichigo and Starrk a bit of privacy.
Ichigo, recovering from his laughing fit, looked down at the infant in his arms, took a fast look at his other daughter where she was cradled safely in her sire's arms, then angled his head to allow him to see Starrk's face. Leaning over until he was resting against his Alpha, Ichigo was rewarded when Starrk snuck one arm out from under Kaiko and wrapped it around him instead.
"I'll probably have to thank Yamamoto at some point you know," Ichigo stated quietly.
"I could never have achieved such happiness without his interference you know. And I am," Ichigo met Starrk's slate-blue eyes with glistening, tear filled ones of his own. "I love you, Starrk. However it is that we met."
"And I, you. Mi amado."
Hope this meets with everyone's approval. I finally did a major birth scene! All names come from internet naming sites. Sorry for the choppiness of the author notes this time. I've been writing on this chapter for an obscene amount of time and just want to turn and burn. I think that this is my longest chapter of any story yet. I will not forget to thank those who inspired me to continue onwards though. Massive thanks and appreciation to those who fav'd and alerted and those wonderful few who write a review. Love getting them.
Dark Inu Fan
Did I mention that due entirely to my stupid error I had had to re-write almost half of this story? Yeah, I was in tears for a while, but that's why I'm so ready to be done on this chapter.
Also, after having a mild complaint about WNM's Starrk using more Spanish, I only had him use it in this story to give affectionate names to Ichigo. They are, for the most part, variations on 'Beloved', 'Precious', 'Treasure', and combos thereof. If he seems to have stilted speech at times, that was deliberate on my part. Having listened to those who've learned English as a second language, it is my attempt to show that the knowledge is there, but sometimes the words are just a little off to native speakers' ears.