Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach and its intellectual property so please don't sue me.
AN: Not in every universe does Ichigo choose Soul Society in favor of the real world. He was happy when he died at 121. Now its time to remember why everything seems so familiar in the afterlife.
He'd never known silence could be painful.
Awareness came jolting, a sort of panic similar to that of a jarring wake-up. Bright blue sky peeked at him from between twining branches, the sound of birds far too loud. Completely unthreatening save for the fact it was all wrong.
Absent were the sounds of children playing, the soft tinkle of plates being washed, or the dull hum of the occasional car. That was the first sign.
Muscles spasmed as he brought what should have been arthritic limbs under his control. That was the second sign and as far as Ichigo was concerned, everything sort of faded after that.
Gone where the hoppled knuckles, the occasional scar—each with a story of its own—and aches and pains that had become so familiar as to be uncomforting when they were finally gone.
It was what was left behind that left him gapping. Smooth hands, thin and lanky. Skin tight and flush in a way he'd hardly remembered. Hair, wild and uncontrollably spiky all the way to his shoulders, teased him with every wind—jarring because he'd lost what little hair he'd had a long time ago. Still the same wild orange, a trick of genetics and his oldest bane.
Ichigo had never been a fool.
A 121 year old man did not go to sleep one night and wake up in the lanky body of his youth. Gone was his room in his granddaughter's house, surrounded by the messy knickknacks collected over the course of his long life.
He didn't have to think very hard to know he was dead (most people generally wondered how he was still alive). Death was hardly the worst surprise he'd ever gotten, though certainly one of the most expected. But still…what an odd afterlife. Somehow he'd always figured there'd be a gatekeeper around.
His musings were interrupted when his stomach gurgled its demand. Hunger called him and a mischievous Ichigo nearly giggled. There was no doctor or far too mean granddaughter around to berate him over too salty food.
He'd find food, Ichigo decided. Trembling every once in a while from still confused muscles, Ichigo vaguely wondered who else was sharing this afterlife (and who he could hit up for food.)
Far away, several black-robed figures stopped and wondered why a chill seemed to pass over them.
Both his children were dead (about the only thing Ichigo had ever regretted was having outlived them) though he knew better than to be sad. The little brats had lived long enough to be wrinkly, mouthy old brats—Little Masaki having died at 72, outliving her brother by nearly a year. Twins, his first wife had muttered exasperated as scuffled children competed against each other.
A couple of his grandchildren had passed on as well (not too many and the few that did died young). The only great-grandchild to have died was stillborn. Tiny Shinji, Granddaughter Rei had wept so bitterly. No one ever did figure out why the boy had died. These things just happen, the doctors had murmured right before Ichigo had kicked them out. Useless quaks.
His only great-great-grandson was very much alive. A far too energetic three year old that was the bane of his minder and grandmother, his granddaughter Yume.
His sisters' perhaps…sensible Karin and her far too clear eyes. She'd been annoyingly practical and truthfully the cornerstone of his sanity in their youth. Sweet Yuzu, forever a little girl in memory. A deep pain ghosted his heart, always there whenever he thought of his little sister and her too young death. But this was death and perhaps now would be the time to welcome a new (after) life. His young bones were proof enough of that.
"It's time for all things to wake." Murmured a dual voice, unheard by Ichigo but waiting all the same.
"Everything started because I wanted to protect them. I won't change my mind!" Ichigo yelled. "Please Inoue. Seal it away even if it means forgetting."
"For Karin." Orihime finally agreed, crying silently even as she reached for her oblivious love. "We'll seal you from your reiatsu and…you'll forget…you were ever one of them."