When Ichigo wakes up in the infirmary, he is alone. It is the middle of the night. The window is open, and a warm breeze has just crossed the line from gentle to strong enough to wake him. He cannot tell if the whispering he hears from outside is from voices, or from dead leaves rattling in the rising wind. What he can tell is that the wound that nearly bisected him is almost healed. At least, it feels healed; when he props himself up on his elbows, he winces in anticipation but there's no pain, no stiffness.

The last he remembers, a glowing canopy--something Orihime did--stretched over him and he could feel his wound not so much healing as undoing itself. It hadn't undone everything; there are bandages, strangely stark in the moonlight, wrapped around and around his chest and stomach.

The bandages ripple in the wind, billowing loose like a sheet over his stomach. He's in a cold sweat when he sits the rest of the way up and starts pulling at the bandages. His fingers are numb with dread and it takes him a long time--too long--to find the end of the bandage. He pants, breathing no no no over and over to himself as the bandages fall away, revealing the dark, perfect circle of the hole that goes straight through his body.

And that's when he jerks awake, a sharp breath bowing his body. He lies there for a moment or two, still panting, the covers kicked askew.

He is still alone. It is still the middle of the night. But he is in his own bedroom, now. The red glow of his alarm clock is not the too-bright moonlight of Soul Society and the hiss of traffic outside is not the strange whispering of Seireitei.


Ichigo reaches down and rests his hand over his stomach. It feels solid enough under the sweat-soaked tee shirt, but he still has to see. So he gets up, and he walks over to his dresser. He grabs the hem of his shirt and yanks it up.

The lights from a passing car fill his bedroom for a moment, and he sees nothing but pale, smooth skin. No hole. No gash cutting him in two. His shoulders sag as he lets the hem of his shirt fall again.

He's had this nightmare every night since he came back from Soul Society.

"Bastard Urahara," he mutters as he flops back into bed. This is all the shopkeeper's fault; he's sure of it. Him and his stupid training methods. Bastard's probably half-Hollow himself, Ichigo thinks.

As he falls asleep, he wonders how much longer he'll have these dreams. He does not let himself wonder if the dreams mean anything, if they're any hint (or threat) of things to come.

He also does not let himself remember the dreams he had every night for a month after his mother died protecting him from a monster. Or how in those dreams he relived the memory of her body pinning him down and how the distant skyscrapers seemed to stretch out in front of him as if they were the ground beneath his feet.

And he absolutely does not, will not let himself remember how he would wake screaming for his daddy because there was a big hole in his stomach and he didn't know how to make it go away.

Eventually, he falls asleep again. It's fitful, though, and the hush of traffic and the hum of the transformer outside, fades into something that might be wind, might be whispering, or might even be the echo of a distant, familiar laughter.