Disclaimer-I don't own Bleach.
Isshin knew it, from the very instant that suddenly, violently, that her wonderful, bright spirit vanished from his senses. It drove into his bones and past them, into the soul that was still Shinigami.
The bile rose in his throat, but so did the scream, choking him. He wanted to tear his gigai apart and let loose, destroy anything and everything until the pain went away or he did.
Ryuuken did it once, he remembered.
A cry stopped him.
"Yuzu," he breathed, listening to the soft, urgent whines of his sweet, gentle child. There was a shuffle and a low groan, a lower, harsher pitch. "Karin."
He was with her.
For a moment- just for a moment, Isshin feared the worst, but Ichigo's energy, so bright and so strong, like a newborn star, was still there.
Masaki had, once again, proven herself to be someone worth living for.
"I'll watch over things here then, Masaki. I'll make sure that brat does you proud."
After he could move again, after his could breathe again-But she still couldn't-he fell toward her, soaking himself in her blood, sobbing, crying, letting the rain mix them both together.
There were no words.
How long he laid there, he didn't know.
One thought came into his mind, as he soaked himself in the blood of his mother.
I have to find her.
Somewhere, within his bones and his soul, a strength stirred.
I have to.
Ichigo staggered, bloody, tired, crying, to his feet, and started to walk.
It was not to be the last time he dragged himself back up from such pain.
Tatsuki heard the news from sensei, whose voice was quiet and soft and sad as he explained how Ichigo was not going to be with them for quite a while.
Before he could finish, she was already out the door.
She ran, and ran, and ran, a tiny nine year old girl through the streets of Karakura. She honestly didn't know where, or how she was to find him, but she just knew that she had to.
Her feet sore, her breath shallow, she found him, walking the riverbanks, wide eyed, searching for what wasn't there.
It was the single most sorrowful thing Tatsuki had, and would ever see.
A single tear crossed her face, before she stepped forward, about drag him back.
"Mom?" Ichigo whispered, looking still. "Mom?"
Tatsuki couldn't bear to bring him away. She stepped back, and, at that moment, wanted to do nothing more than run all the way back to the dojo, even though she knew the lessons would be over.
Ichigo, just for a moment, looked like was about to cry, and squatted down.
Five years ago, he cried when I kicked him. Tatsuki's lips tried their best to smile, but it was much too hard.
This time, Ichigo swallowed, hard, and straightened. He started to look again.
Tatsuki left then, and knew that the boy she who cried when she kicked him, that bright, smiling, sweet boy, was dead and gone.
He's still there.
Ever day after that, when school was over, Tatsuki went down to the river. She knew she was skipping practice, but she didn't want to come back, not until Ichigo was back.
She wanted a rematch.
So she sat there, just off the side of the road, watching him, as he wandered around, sitting, walking, all the while with that wide, searching, desperate hunger in his eyes.
It went on for a week.
On the seventh day, Ichigo squatted down, and began to cry.
And this time, Tatsuki stepped forward, and did not stop until she had grabbed a fistful of his shirt.
"Wha-Tatsuki-" Ichigo managed, the tears falling away, just before Tatsuki pulled him, bodily, toward herself.
"Enough!" she snarled, and even though Ichigo had bested her just over a week ago (God, had it only been a week or two?), her hold was iron and unbreakable. "Stop it already!"
"Lemme go Tatsuki!" Ichigo snarled back, pushing against her, but Tatsuki's will was stronger, her fury greater, and her hold on him kept.
"I can't take it any more!" Tatsuki's face was right in front of his, forcing him to stare into her eyes. "Do you really think if you keep looking, you'll find your mom!"
"I have to try!" Ichigo replied, his voice hoarse, harsh, desperate.
"You can't do anything for the dead." Tatsuki whispered, and Ichigo's struggles ceased. "That's what my mother said."
"I can." Ichigo said determinedly, scowling. "I can."
"Well what about your family!" Tatsuki shook him again, violently. "Yuzu, and Karin, and your father!"
Once again, the struggling stopped.
"You can still protect them." Tatsuki said harshly, shaking him, trying her best to break whatever had destroyed that sweet, smiling boy. "Isn't that what your mother would have wanted? Do you want them to lose their brother too?"
"Of course not!" Ichigo's voice picked up, babbling and fevered as a dying man's final words. "But... but... it's my fault." And something broke in him. "It's my fault..."
"Ichigo..." Tatsuki began, but even though he let out a single, choked sob, there were no tears.
He looked up, staring her straight in the eye, pushing her away.
"I'm going home."
Tatsuki watched him go, back straight, head held high. Ichigo had finally stopped searching.
And as he left, she began to cry.