"The woman I fell in love with was a woman who didn't mind dying to protect her kid…"
The first time Ichigo wondered about his mother's soul being up in Soul Society (once knowing someone took revenge for him on the Hollow that killed her), was after sensing her smell while walking around a poor place in Rukongai along with Rukia.
That time he stopped abruptly, eyes widening and face searching. He turned his face and breathed in, trying to smell it again. He closed his eyes, focusing. Even now, after six years, he could still remember her delicate scent.
She smelled of salty rain and the strawberry scented shampoo she had always used.
But when Rukia curiously asked why he had suddenly stopped, and he had opened his eyes, it was gone. Her fragrance was gone. She was gone.
And all that remained was the foul smell of poverty, injustice, and pain.
The second time, he was resting on his bed, after Inoue had gotten rid of some nasty injuries and poison that some tricky Hollow managed to introduce in him.
It had been quite some time a simple Hollow would get to him in such a way (which by all means he considered coward and low), getting many of his friends and family quite worried when he wouldn't wake up for three days.
Now he gazed up at the photograph over his bed, and couldn't help but sigh.
He remembered the face of Yuzu turning slowly, horridly into the skull of a fallen one, the nasty smirk and the mad laugh being the only sound above his own screams of where was his sister, what did you bastard do to her, and that I'm going to kill you, you little piece of shit, and then falling, falling on the kitchen's white floor, the bloody knife etched on his stomach and making everything burn. Pain shooting up his spine, he blacked out still screaming and fighting his body's paralyzed state for the sake of Yuzu.
Yuzu, Yuzu, Yuzu.
When he opened his eyes later feeling completely sore and panicked, Rukia was on his side, and Renji was cutting the beast in two—Karin trying to stop the bleeding while Yuzu (Thanks God she was okay!) called up Inoue. But even when Rukia started to scream at him to hold on, and to not try moving because there was a potent poison on the knife, he smiled slightly-- he could have sworn that he saw his mother's worried gaze behind the black-haired shinigami's back before everything went dark.
But now, staring at the ceiling, he couldn't help but think how many times was he going to fool death; or if he simply had Lady Luck on his side, aiding him and kissing his forehead every time. He thought the latter was much more it, and felt slightly grateful.
He only wished, every time it came to this state, that Lady Luck's face would turn out to be his mother's features every once in a while. Like Dad had said she was doing high above for us. But he knew better.
After all, who would look after The Guilty that had caused one's death?
The third time was after he broke down on his mother's death anniversary; the weight of the war and the knowledge that his power was simply not enough, never enough, clashing over the stone grave and leaving salty spots.
Yuzu, Karin and his father had already gone home, the smoke no longer lingering in the air. Rukia was called to Soul Society along with Renji; Chad, Ishida and Inoue all in their houses sleeping. Urahara-san fanning himself, while Yoruichi ate loads and loads of food in front of the blonde. Jinta bullying Ururu, and Tessai, big, good Tessai would be scolding him.
He wept and wept, every tear turning his troubled mind in a fogged maze, every scream slurred like he had been drinking his pains all night. His knees scrapping against the cold stone, and his fingers tracing the message carved and preserved on it.
When there was nothing left inside, and he had begged for forgiveness for the umpteenth time, he pressed his back on the grave, and just lied there.
"Mom, please, I'm sorry. Please continue watching over Yuzu and Karin, they need you." He tightly closed his eyes, finally letting the desperation he had felt all along take over him. "Even Dad does, Mom. Please, please Mom, I'm sorry, I'm just not enough. Never enough."
And when he sensed a slight caress on his cheek, soft and gentle, he opened his eyes, and finally stood up.
But nothing would have prepared him for that moment.
Again he was wandering the poor Rukongai district, this time on his own after escaping Kenpachi's clutches once more. He was enjoying the much needed space to think, to breathe a little from the losses, the blood, the despair.
And that was when he saw her. Her light brown, almost gold hair, a white flower resting above one ear; her lips curved into a warm smile, yet her dark eyes were tainted with the reality she now lived in.
At her side was a man he had never seen before, and in her hand was a little one-- the hand of a kid he had never wanted to see.
The arranged family walked on forward, the little boy moving and jumping happily around her. The flower fell down her ear, but none of the three took notice. They just walked on and on.
He hadn't realized he had stopped before, and now his feet carried him forward, his mind not quite giving in to his heart, the despair not quite reaching his bones. He passed the fake family --because that was what they really were, he thought distressed-- and looked at her eyes, her face, her swaying hips, her, her graceful movements, her, all of her, his mom, Masaki, the one he adored, and finally made eye contact. And for a second, just a split second he saw a hint of recognition, or simple recognition that he was another shinigami. He couldn't know—he didn't want to know.
He wanted to scream, to run to her, to hug her. To cry his heart out, to kneel and beg for forgiveness, to say he was sorry, to thank her for protecting Yuzu, Karin and even his stupid Dad, to tell her how relieved he was her soul was up here, to tell her that he had beaten Tatsuki in a match, that now he could walk on the street side to prevent everything!
But he knew better. He always knew better.
Ichigo knelt down to pick the flower up, didn't look back at her, and ran away, far, far away from that awful place and into Seireitei when one of the gates was opened.
The white chrysanthemum unperturbed in his hand.
Once inside, Rukia shouted at him that where the hell did he go, what was up with that expression on his face; Renji accused him of being a slacker, and Captain Ukitake just gave him a knowing look after seeing the flower and invited him some tea. His friends backed off, and he was guided by the white haired man's hand to the room, leaving the two shinigami staring worriedly and confused at their backs.
It was just when they heard Ichigo's pain filled screams and saw heart breaking tears that they understood. It was then that Rukia saw the guilt and sadness that still plagued him. It was then that Renji saw just a sixteen year old boy crying himself hoarse on Captain Ukitake's chest.
And there laid the white flower, torn apart and crushed. Tea spilled all over it.
After all, it smelt of salty rain and strawberry scented shampoo.
"…and don't forget…you're the man who the woman I fell in love with lost her life to protect."
A/N: Thank you for reading! And I must apologize for any typos you may have found-- please feel free to point them out!
07/01/2009: Thank you guys for all the favs and reviews! I mean, 22 favorites? Not even in my wildest dreams *____________________*
Song: Azmaria no Uta - Chrno Crusade.