"I'm sleepy" he says.
He doesn't wait for a reply from the others, his simple starts moving towards the house. With eyes looking straight ahead, avoiding looking at anybody.
Ichigo Kurosaki is now officially an ex-substitute shinigami . He can feel the eyes of his friends on him, but he refuses to acknowledge them. Why? Because he knows what he will find in their eyes, and is something he doesn't want, he doesn't need. Right now he needs to get away from everything. Pity is the last thing he needs. Every step he takes feels painfully slow and heavy; the house seems to never get any closer.
It's like a walk of shame.
The door opens and closes, he hopes this is enough of a warning to not be follow. He knows he is been a jerk towards his friends but right now he couldn't care less. 'At least they can still see' Ichigo thinks bitterly.
Inside his room he doesn't bother turning on the lights, and instead doves towards the bed. He doesn't need light to see, since he is now 'blind'.
He didn't lie when he said he was sleepy. He feels completely drain. Even thou he has been sleeping for a whole month, his body doesn't fight the sleep. His body is starving for reiatsu that now he can't give anymore. Worst of all his body already misses the familiar reiatsu of his raven haired companion. A reiatsu so familiar and comforting that now that is gone, he feels like air is not coming to his lungs.
It's only him under the covers, nothing else.
The numbness that comes with the sleep is better than the dull throbbing of pain on his chest. He doesn't want to feel, he doesn't want to remember, he wants to forget. Forgetting is better than to wish for something that now is forever out of his reach. So, he closes his eyes and takes cover under the sheets.
Yet, he dreams. Memories of past battles and the face of a certain girl that feels like a ray of light fills his dreams.
In the morning he wakes up with a tear stained pillow.
He now sleeps directly beneath the window.
He stares at the open frame and feels the breeze that moves the curtains. Ichigo wishes he could feel something else besides the wind.
The door of the bedroom is open and his father is there holding the door knob. Seconds pass, before his father says what he has been kind enough to not say, until now. "Tomorrow is Monday" he simply says. It really breaks his heart to see his son act like an empty shell.
Going back to school is something the ex-shinigami has been avoiding.
"You have to move on Ichigo", Isshin Kurosaki tells his son.
What he said is not wrong but somehow it sounds like it. Isshin knows he has to be blunt to make his son respond. Ichigo has never responded well to been cuddle; even when he had been nine and had to learn to move on for the first time. This scenario is painfully familiar to Isshin. The only difference is that this time his son is not going to the river bank, looking for someone that meant the world to him. This time Ichigo knows that what he is missing is not here on Earth, but in a city surrounded by tall white walls.
Isshin stares at his son from his place at the door. He knows his son well enough to know that this time moving on won't be the same. His son might take the necessary steps to walk forward on his new life, but there will always be a part of him that will not move. The part where he still is a warrior that was born protect. The part were flying through the skies is possible and were even if you are dead you are more alive than in life. That is the part of Ichigo that will cling to the memories of the petite shinigami who turned around his life and made him feel truly alive.
That part will never move forward. Ichigo is just that stubborn.
From his place on the bed, Ichigo can feel the eyes of his father on him. To start school means that normality is back. 'This is what I have always wished for' Ichigo thinks. A life of where nothing happens, a normal boring life.
'Normal', even thinking about it tasted sour.
He looks outside the window and finds a perfectly blue sky with white clouds drifting softly through the sky, instead of a mouth like crack that open up to reveal the monster hiding behind the peaceful scenery. Ichigo closes his eyes and hides his face in the pillow.
"I know" he says.
Putting on the uniform, eating breakfast and walking to school is something he has been doing for the past fifth- teen years of his life. As he looks at himself in the mirror, instead of a gray uniform he pictures a black one.
He has never been good at pretending, his personality is too straightforward, but the awkward atmosphere in the morning during breakfast almost makes him go back to bed. His sisters are only worried about him and trying to make light off the situation.
Yuzu makes an extra especial breakfast and serves him his favorites. She asks him if he is excited because the school term is almost over and summer vacation is going to start. In another time he would be just as happy as her for a well deserved break. Now he just does not know what to do with all that free time. So instead he tells her cooking has improve. The smile he gives her doesn't seem to convince her. The truth is that it doesn't convince him either.
Karin unlike Yuzu, who tries to make everything feel normal, simply eats her breakfast quietly. He is thankful for the silence. He is not sure he will be able to talk with her without feeling jealousy crawling in his head. He remembers that night when she had come with the idea of making money with his gift of attracting the dead. He briefly wonders what her reaction will be if he were to approach her with the idea of having a ghost picnic.
Ichigo will never ask her. Deep inside of him, he knows that the idea of Karin having what he had once had will always be a sore point between them. He wants it, but she has it.
Breakfast is starting to turn sour in his stomach.
The walk to school is short, shorter than he remembers. The gate of school stands before him the same as always. He just stand there not sure why. He tries to make his leg move and take a step forward but they simply refuse to move. It seems like they are glued to the ground.
'Damn it, move!'
His body refuses to acknowledge his order. Going back to bed sounds better and better.
He never hesitated when he plunged into Soul Society, never thought twice when he marched into Hueco Mundo. Now standing at his school gate he can't even take one step into the school. Class is about to start, he needs to move. The world won't stop spinning for him.
A dull throb feels his chest. Unconsciously he starts trying to sense the world around him. He knows he will find nothing, not because there is nothing to find but because he can't find anything. It's only for a second brief second but images of his inner world flashes before him. Everything is drowned in a black sea. He closes his eyes and tries to connect his mind with that drowned world.
He can't see and hear nothing.
His hands are clenched painfully at his side. He refuses to open his eyes. There has to be something left. Just like the scars that cover his body, are the proof that he had battled countless monsters, there must be something left of his power.
He must look like an idiot just standing in front of the school.
Ichigo searches and searches inside of him looking for anything that might have survived of his time as a shinigami.
Finally he opens his eyes and the same feeling of emptiness reminds. There is nothing left.
He is reminded that he is normal.
Nobody asks any questions when Ichigo enters the classroom. Most of them are use to the fact that Ichigo seems to disappear from class for random periods of time. Only the people that know the reason behind his absences seem to tense when he finally takes a sit. They can feel that something is wrong with their friend. He is slightly bend over his desk and is taking notes robotically like nothing is out of the ordinary.
Every now and then he steals a glance over the empty desk on his right but just as quickly his gaze returns to the front of the class.
Orihime can't stop fidgeting on her desk. The eraser on her pencil is all chewed out and her notebook reminds empty in front of her. She knows it's not her the one he wants right now but she can't wait for the school bell to ring. She wants to go to his side. It probably won't mean anything to him but maybe, just maybe, he will notice her concern for him. Maybe he will start to notice her, and see how much he means to her. She could be the one to fill his heart. For a second she is happy that he can no longer see her. But is only for a second, and she immediately regrets it.
Instead she looks around the class and sees the different expression on her friends. Keigo and Mizuiro are having a silent conversation probably debating how to approach Ichigo. Tatsuki is observing Ichigo with concern and hints of something else on her eyes. She who has been the oldest friend of Ichigo is still a little sour over the fact that she was one of the last persons to learn about Ichigo's power. Why couldn't he trust her?
Ishida and Sado are absent from class. They are taking a "bathroom break". Even a month after the fight with Aizen hollows seem to still cling stubbornly around Karakura. They will probably never stop appearing.
The classroom's door opens quietly. Ishida enters the room slightly leaning against Sado. By the looks of it he had probably sprain his ankle; she will probably have to heal it after school. Sado has a bruise forming on his cheek but besides that everything seems normal.
"Ichigo!" Sado said. Out of all of them he is probably the most affected by Ichigo's absence. He felt like it had been his fault that Ichigo had become the only person to suffer any lasting consequences after the battle with Aizen. Ichigo had kept his promise to fight for him, while he had only stood on the sidelines during their last battle not been able to do anything.
Somehow the atmosphere tense with anticipation.
"Yo" Ichigo said lifting his hand to salute his friend.
Orihime didn't expect that. She studied his face. His frown was still on place, his body seemed relaxed. It looked like nothing had changed. It worried her.
Ishida coughed and limped towards his desk, both him and Ichigo avoiding looking at each other. Sado frowned a little at Ichigo unexpected answer.
"Ok Sado –kun we are all glad that Ichigo came back from the dead but please return to your desk" Occhi sensei says, not noticing how some of her students flinch with her choice of words.
Sado did as he was told not before giving a last glance at Ichigo. For his part Ichigo returned his attention to their sensei and ignored the multiple stares his friends were giving him.
Ichigo knew lunch was going to be hard.
As soon as the bell rang, the classroom began emptying. Finally it was only Ichigo and his friends. He was not surprised when Sado was the first one to approach him. His silent friend walked towards him and stood in front of him.
"Hey Chad, long time no see" Ichigo said smirking at his tall friend. His hands were behind his head and his legs were crossed at the ankles. This was not the Ichigo they were expecting.
"Ichigo, I'm so sorr-"
"Don't bother" Ichigo said lifting a hand in front of his friend. He sighed, a hand rubbing the back of his neck. There was a big elephant in the room and it was better if he brought it up. He stood and walked to the front of the classroom and looked at each of his friends.
"Look I know what you are thinking and I don't appreciated" Ichigo said, his voice leaving no space for arguing. "Dad told me about the possibility of losing my powers before I started training. I knew the risks. It was my choice. I don't need nor do I want any of your pity."
"Kurosaki-kun but-"Orihime started but again Ichigo cut threw.
"No buts. If losing my powers was the price to stop Aizen then I'm fine with it. I was never a shinigami to begin, I was only a substitute."He was glad his voice didn't crack.
He starred at each and every one of his friends to make sure they understood.
"Oh Ichigo!" Keigo said bursting into tears, "you poor bastard, trying to be brave for us!"
"You don't have to keep it in, is okay to cry. I know that you want a hug!"
"I do not!"
"Don't be shy Ichigo! Come to big brother Keigo and cry on his manly chest!" Keigo said moving towards Ichigo, his arm in front of him ready to hug his orange haired friend. Instead of a hug he was presented with Ichigo's foot firmly planting itself on Keigo's face.
"You are disgusting."
The elephant is gone. Leave it to Keigo to take the seriousness off the table. Just like that everybody approached Ichigo, eager to update him about all the stuff he had missed. They were just happy to have their friend. Everyone but Ishida.
Ishida knew things were never that simple when it concerned Ichigo.
"You are really don't know when to drop it."
"And you are still a stupid carrot topped idiot."
They were standing at the schools roof. Ichigo leaning against the fence and while Ishida was standing a few feet away. Their friends were still inside the school making plans to go out for the weekend.
"How's you ankle?"
"Fine, Orihime-san healed it."
"So what's this about?"
"You know what's about" Ishida said observing Ichigo carefully. That little speech he gave in the classroom might have convinced everyone that he was fine, but Ishida knew better. Losing your powers was not something you got over quickly. He has been there.
Ichigo glared at him, but decided to talk. If there was anybody that could even understand a little about what he was going through it was Ishida.
Well maybe not the only one. There was a short shinigami princess that had lost her powers and had to depend on Ichigo for months.
There was no point in wanting to talk with her, he couldn't even see her anymore.
"I hate not been able to feel anything."
"Isn't there any way you can recover?"
He sighed. "You hear Urahara and my dad, I'm completely dry. That last attack to Aizen emptied me completely. There is nothing left." 'Just memories' he added mentally.
Ishida studied his rival (friend?) for a moment. For the first time he noticed the bags under his eyes and the weight lost. His hair was more unruly than usual and for once he was not wearing any of his stupid-colorful-with-some-type-of –idiotic-message shirts under his uniform, instead he was only wearing a plain white one. This was probably affecting him more than he was letting on.
But there was no more time to talk. There was a hollow nearby. The young quincy turned his head towards the monster's direction. It was going to be a tough one. Remembering that Ichigo was still there he turned towards him. Ichigo was looking at him with a knowing look. He might not be able to see or feel them but he knew the face Ishida made. It was a face he once made, the face of someone who knew that danger was near and it was time to fight. For a moment Ishida looked guilty. It pissed him.
"I told you I don't want your pity. Don't insult me" Ichigo said, standing straighter and walking towards the door. "You better go."
He didn't see when Ishida left. He held the door's handle tighter.
One day he realize that he has change.
It was a week before going back to school. He is now seventeen and is going to his last year of high school.
He stands in front of the sink's mirror. He has to bend his knees a little in order to see his face. His chin has a more define shape and he has lost the roundness on his cheeks. There is a light shadow on his jaw and he has sideburns. Taking the shaving cream and the razor out, he takes his time shaving. Two years ago he remembers standing in the same position but with Isshin at his side instructing him on the proper ways of shaving. He remembers telling his dad that he didn't need instructions on shaving from a man that seem to never shave. Besides it was not like there were any signs of having the ability to grow a bear in the near future.
Things change. He still doesn't need to shave everyday but just now and then.
Exiting the bathroom he walks to his room. Yuzu has instructed everyone on the house that they all needed to do some spring cleaning. Been a very organize young man (despite what his orange hair might make people believe), it doesn't takes him too much time to clean.
He has cleaned everything except the closet.
So he sit on the bed, looking directly at his closet. He might have changed on the outside but on the inside there was a part of him that never truly did. He uses the cabinets near the floor to store his clothes but he can never bring himself to use the closet. It has been a while since the last time he opened it.
A hand went up to his head to mess even more his wild hair.
'It has been already two years' his mind told him. Finally standing up he moves towards the closet, his hand taking hold of the closet door. He opens the door quickly before he could back up. He might not admit even to himself but he was disappointed when he found it empty.
'Two years' he thought glaring at the empty space.
Nothing has changed inside the little closet. There was futon neatly folded on the far back of the closet and a pillow. He takes them out, they probably needed a good wash. When he takes them out he notice that on the farthes corner there is something.
A pair of old yellow pajamas.
The futon and the pillow fell to the floor. 'So there's were they have been.' How many times he had come with ridiculous excuses when his sister had asked him if he had seen them. Every excuse was more ridiculous than the last one, 'I probably should give them back.'
He didn't make any move to get the pajamas. He rememberw then, that time in Soul Society moves slower than on earth. It took many years for things to grow, for people to grow. A half smile formed on his face,' they probably still fit.'
During these two years he has grow even taller. The last time he saw her she had only reached up to his chest. He wondered if she will still be able to reach his chest. Looking down at his hands another memory came to him.
Somehow she had managed to give herself a paper cut and it was up to him to heal her. Didn't she have special healing kidou? He remembers giving her a hello kitty band aid (he swears they were not his, they were Yuzu's!) and she only stared at it. He should have known that she had no idea what a band aid was. So he took her hand and putted in her finger, only then did he notice how small she was compared to him. His hand could probably wrap hers completely. He also noticed the small rough marks on her hand a proof that she knew how to use a sword.
He shook his head trying to clear his head.
Looking back at the moment when she had so stupidly threw herself in front of him in order to protect him from the hollow that was attacking his family, he realized that she was really at a disadvantage. Someone so small shouldn't be allowed to fight. Someone who could so easily cut herself with paper should be protected. Yet he is here cleaning his small closet, while she is probably fighting a monster more than twice her size.
A feeling he has come to know very well in the past two years started making its way to his chest. The feeling of emptiness was something Ichigo has become very familiar with. He could still remember her reiatsu and how it always made him feel like he was truly able to breathe when it was surrounding him. But remembering it didn't help him bring it back.
The pain in his chest becomes unbearable.
Opening the closet was really a bad idea.
He might be able to grow a beard and side burns, he might have gotten taller, but that dosn't mean anything.
He is still the same Ichigo that is blind to the spiritual world. The same Ichigo that could do nothing but sit back and let others protect him. He is not a man but a boy who couldn't even protect a small girl from getting a paper cut.
He got a half time job, did some club activities and kicked the living shit of the occasional thug.
It was definitely different from fighting hollows.
Ikumi san was interesting in a way (sometimes in a very annoying way) and working for her kind of felt nostalgic. He might not have to run around town with a huge sword strap to his back but, some of the job requests that arrived at Unagiya Shop sounded out of this world. Ikumi san liked to lecture him every time he was reckless.
"Don't you get? You could have been killed you stupid-carrot-top-moron!"
He wanted to tell her that dying was not that big deal. His body might stop functioning but his soul will be free.
But then he will notice the worry on her eyes and it made him feel like an ass. She didn't know that there were shinigami or a place call Soul Society. What she knew was that her time here on Earth was short and precious. She had a small boy to take care of and didn't need an angst of a teenager to give her more work. So he just held his tongue until she finish and promised to be more careful next time.
Sometimes he wished that he could just forget all the stuff he knew about the afterlife. Maybe then he will start actually living and not just let the days slip by.
Helping the different sport clubs was a good way to keep in shape. Getting pay in return for his help was just a bonus (he never really liked to ask his old man for allowance, he had to always literally fight him for it). The only club he refused to help (even if they offered to pay him more) was the baseball club. It brought to many unwanted memories. The feeling of a bat between his hands couldn't compare to that of a sword. It also didn't help that every time they threw a ball at him; he got distracted remembering a small girl yelling at him to only hit the balls with heads on. So it didn't matter how much they begged him, he refused to the baseball team.
He has fighted his way through school all his life. Having the name of a girly fruit (even if it actually meant to protect) and having the most annoying hair color, had always brought him unnecessary troubles. It has been a while since the last time he used his fist in a fight. Feeling his fist make contact with a flesh, felt like a long lost memory. Punching was not slicing but it was familiar. Yet, fighting just like everything else has simply lost its edge. So what if it was a random punk wielding a pocket knife or a whole gang going down on him with pipes and bats, it was nothing compared to what a real fight felt.
Punches were painfully slow, pipes were just too heavy to be swung properly and bats tended to break easily; while zanpakuto were just simply deadly.
Fighting thugs had definitely never felt so boring.
Having a job, doing club activities and the occasional fight were things he did to keep busy.
So when he was approach by Ginjo he didn't thought to mucho about the consequences. It wasn't like he had never been approach by a shady guy who offered power. He didn't expect to make friends and somewhere in his mind he knew that these fullbringer users were planning something.
But when he got stripped of his powers for a second time it was too much.
It brought to surface all those feelings he had bury deep inside him. Worst of all, thanks to Sukishima, he had even lost his friends. Seeing that betrayed look in their eyes, directed at him was just too painful. These were the people for who he had sacrificed his powers to protect. With a simple slash of a sword the bonds he had shared with them had severed. He definitely couldn't deal with it. Instead for the first time in his life he ran away. He wasn't sure when the rain had started but, from experience it was not a good sign.
This rainy night Kurosaki Ichigo ex-shinigami substitute will die.
He felt the sword pierce his heart. It was a clean and a precise thrust. The rain drops fell on his face hard and mixed themselves with his tears. 'Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic…' He will die alone.
"Idiot, look well…"
She stood behind him with a smile in her face and her sword piercing through his chest.
For the first time in two years Ichigo is again a shinigam.
He embraced the surge of power. The feeling of steel between his hands, the familiar black robes fitting like a glove and of course the reiatsu of a small shinigami mixing with his, all so familiar and so deeply missed.
He was really rusty. Ginjo was having the upper hand but at the end Ichigo stood triumphant. Looking down at Ginjo's corpse he couldn't help but feel grateful for him. At the end he had kept his promise to bring his powers back.
"Come on Ichigo we need to talk" Uraha said bringing him already pulling him towards the direction of his shop.
They all went back to Urahara's shop, except Kenpachi who found meeting tedious if didn't involve killing someone. They all sat together discussing what had happened. Except Rukia who decided to be with the injured, which really bugged Ichigo since after her kick to his face she hadn't really payed much attention to him. So after fifteen minutes of Ichigo not paying attention he was allowed to leave. Not without some teasing.
"Aww young love" Urahara said being his fan, followed by murderous looks from Byakuya and a threat "careful Kurosaki."
He tried to calm himself and find the very familiar reiatsu he had missed for two years. He couldn't find it. He tried again and nothing. It seemed like she was concealing it. "Damn it, Rukia" Ichigo said feeling like punching someone. She never really made it easy for him. Didn't matter if he wanted some privacy in his room to change "fool you wouldn't be the first guy I see wit out a shirt "or trying to save her freaking life "I told you not to come!"
But there was something he was good it was finding her, not matter what.
He found her at the back of the store, sitting on the edge of the house looking at the sky.
"Took you a while to find me" she said not turning to look and just with a whisper of a smile in her voice.
He sat right next to her not touching.
Her hair was shorter and the gloves where new. The vice-captain tag on her didn't surprise him (if some deserved the recognition it was her). What did surprise him was how easy he was taking everything in.
"Ah you are as talkative as ever Ichigo" she said. Hearing her pierced him harder that her sword. He didn't feel like talking, what was the point. Neither of them was any good with words. Yelling, throwing punches, kicking, calling each other names that was what they were good at. But in this moment he didn't want any of that.
Right now he just wants her.
So he took her hand in his. Why? Because he can (for two years he has regretted not touching her enough). She didn't say anything nor did she turn to look at him. He felt her hand squeeze his and knew that everything was going to be ok.
Ichigo doesn't know what is going to happen next and doesn't care. Two years of waiting, of feeling nothing and everything, of been blind and alone were erased the moment he touch her. She wasn't going anywhere. The world didn't stop when she left but his world did. He is been trapped and dull and boring normal for two years. But with Rukia back again in his world, normal can go fuck off.
Her hand is small in his hand but not soft, there is nothing soft about her. She is a warrior. His first sword lessons comes from her. She doesn't need anybody to fight for her. She is never going to explain why she never visited during this two year, nor does he want one. He only cares that she is right here with him. And again it's her the one that gives him his powers back. It's her one that made everything right in a single moment. It has always been her, it will always be her.
Rukia is back and the world came alive again.