Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach...
"Ichigo, how was class today?" she asked.
"It was fun! Tatsuki showed me how to do an uppercut!"
She chuckled, her warm brown eyes glowing with mirth. The silence that followed wasn't an awkward one at all, more like, finding comfort in one another's presence. Arriving at a street cross-walk, she reached down and grabbed a small hand before making sure it was clear to move.
Neither expected what happened next.
His eyes struggled open, only to immediately shut again. The room he was in was obnoxiously white, making it feel like trying to look directly at the sun. He didn't know where he was, but he did remember hearing a scream and being pushed. He tried opening his eyes again, this time slower.
"Dad?" he croaked.
His mouth and throat felt like they were full of cotton.
"Ichigo! You're awake! Thank goodness!" his father exclaimed, reaching for his hand.
"Where is this place? Where's Mom?"
His father turned his head and glanced at the door as if he expected someone to appear. Ichigo was too young to notice the way the man's jaw tightened and the way his eyes misted.
"This is the hospital, Ichigo. You were hit by a car."
His eyes widened. What? How? But...
"Where is Mom?" he asked again.
"Mom was hurt by the car too. She-she's-" his father's voice faltered. "She's in heaven now, Ichigo."
He watched in horror as his father's tears slowly fell. His whole body had gone rigid and numb. Mom. In heaven now. Impossible. He was fine, so that meant that she was fine, too. But then, why would his father say that? His old man would never lie to him. He was confused and wanted to be alone for a while. He needed to think. He turned to his left, facing away from his father, and pain exploded in his arm.
"Ichigo! You can't lay that way! Your arm is broken!" his father admonished, face still wet with tears.
He looked down. Sure enough, his left arm was covered in a blue cast and held in place by a blue and white sling. A lump rose in his throat, threatening to choke him, and his temples throbbed like a bass-line. Why? His eyes filled with hot, stinging tears. Why his Mom? He clenched his teeth so hard he could feel and hear them grinding together. Why not him? His right hand balled up into a tight fist. Why did she have to die? His already blurred vision began to fade at the edges. He couldn't do anything to keep his mother from dying. He was useless. Everything went black as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Isshin Kurosaki stood in the doorway of his son's room watching the boy sleep. Ichigo had been in denial for over a month after Masaki's death. Granted, it had been hard for the entire family, but Ichigo...
Sheets rustled as the boy shifted in his bed. Isshin strode over to the window that had been left open and closed it softly. He tucked the blanket under Ichigo's chin, went back to the doorway and watched for a few more minutes. Sighing, he finally shut the door, and moved to the next room. Turning the knob and pushing the door open, he peeked his head around the edge to see that his twin daughters, Yuzu and Karin, were still fast asleep. Smiling softly, he shut the door, then shuffled down the stairs and into the kitchen.
"How has he been holding up?"
"He was acting strangely for a while, but now he seems just fine. He hasn't had a fight in two months," Isshin said and poured himself a glass of the whiskey Urahara provided.
"Well, that's good news, isn't it?"
Urahara snorted. "You don't sound very convinced."
Isshin swirled the contents of his glass around after taking a mouthful, his brows furrowed and lips pursed. "I just don't want him to bottle everything up inside, only to explode later on," he finally stated.
Urahara nodded. "Of course. Yet, he needs to start somewhere. Unless, you want to send him to me-"
This time Isshin snorted. "Hell no. I'm trying to make him better, Kisuke."
Urahara held a hand over his heart, his mouth open in mock indignation. "Well, remind me never to offer my services again! Ungrateful bastard," Urahara muttered as he lifted his own glass to his lips, his eyes shining with amusement.
Isshin shook his head and chortled. "I hope he's really OK," he said on a sigh.
"Mmm," Urahara hummed.
Five Years Later
Ichigo landed hard on his back after having his legs swept from under him. The air was forced from his lungs making him gasp and his eyes water. Dammit! He rolled to the right to avoid the foot that was headed on a collision course for his chest, then slowly climbed to his feet as his opponent sneered mockingly at him.
"Oi! Don't tell me that's all you've got, Ichigo!"
"Don't make me laugh," Ichigo muttered. "I was just warming up!"
"HA! I"ll be the judge of that!"
His opponent rushed towards him at full tilt. Idiot. Ichigo smirked and stepped into the rush. At the last second, he dropped into a crouch, hit the man mid-thigh with his fore-arm and lifted him over his head, using the man's own momentum. The man landed on his back with a resounding thud.
"Nnngh," the man groaned as he turned onto his side.
Ichigo stepped up to him, careful not to get too close. "Ne, Renji, I thought you were gonna beat me this time?" he taunted.
The red haired man growled his annoyance and flipped Ichigo the bird, making Ichigo chuckle and hold his hand out to help him up. "Don't get cocky, bastard," Renji grumbled.
This had been Ichigo's routine for the last two years. He and Renji Abarai had a friendly rivalry ever since they both enrolled in Seireitei. Seireitei was a private academy that specialized in martial arts. Ichigo's father was once a student at said school and encouraged Ichigo to follow in his footsteps. Not that Ichigo minded. He loved fighting. It made his blood sing and took his mind off of other things, like his annoying classes, for instance.
Ichigo knew his old man still worried about him, but he was fine. He tried to tell the goat face all the time that there was nothing for him to worry about. Sure, he still missed his mother like crazy, but he wasn't a ticking bomb that needed to be handled with kid gloves. Not anymore, at any rate.
Ichigo had been eleven when his mother had died right in front of him. Luckily, he didn't remember much. He only remembered crossing the street, holding his mother's hand, a scream, a push, and then waking up in a hospital room with a broken arm. At first, it had been remarkably hard to move on. For a long time, Ichigo felt as if her death had been his fault. He thought that maybe if he could have pulled her out of the way, she would still be alive. He lived with the guilt until it started to tear him apart, eating away at him from the inside out.
The fights started soon after. Ichigo's father enrolled him in a public, middle school not too far from their home. There, the teasing began. In the beginning, Ichigo was fine with it. He ignored the taunts and jeers about his bright orange hair. He could deal with that. He could deal with the snarky remarks about his thin build, he could even deal with the whispering and pointing. What he could not deal with, was a specific remark that was made by a certain boy, whose eyes never seemed to open.
Gin, who was two years older than Ichigo, never seemed to pay any mind to the affairs of the other children surrounding him. As a matter of fact, until that day, he had never acknowledged Ichigo's presence in the least bit. What changed, Ichigo later found, was the fact that Gin had been dared to "mess with the boy with the weird hair" by one of his cronies.
Ichigo had been seated at a corner table in the lunchroom, when he'd felt someone looming behind him. He had cautiously turned his head to the right and peeked from the corner of his eye at who was there. Gin and two other students waited patiently for Ichigo's reaction.
Ichigo analyzed the situation. He could stay seated and try to ignore them, but that would probably lead to a fight faster than just finding out what they wanted. Slowly, he stood and turned to face the three boys. Gin grinned widely, while the other two frowned and passed glances between themselves.
Ichigo cleared his throat. "Did you want something?" he asked.
Gin's eyes crinkled in the corners as his grin grew even wider. "Maaah, yer pretty brave, eh?" Gin asked.
The two flanking him, snickered, but Ichigo didn't say a word. He knew that it wouldn't be long before they stated their business anyway. Sure enough, Gin tilted his head to the side and studied Ichigo as if he were a specimen under a microscope.
"Didja get that stupid hair color from yer mom?" Gin asked softly.
Ichigo inhaled sharply and his eyes widened. Did he just? This asshole. This fucking prick. He dared mention Ichigo's mother? Who the hell did he think he was?
"Don't talk about my mother," Ichigo said quietly. His normally soft, chocolate-brown eyes were as hard as diamonds and as cold as ice.
Gin chuckled and leaned forward. "Oh? And what er ya gonna do 'bout it?"
"He's a wuss, Gin. You did the dare, let's not even waste time on him," the flunky on the left said.
"Yeah," the flunky on the right agreed.
Gin grinned again. "Ya must get yer cowardice from yer mom too, hm? Momma's boy," Gin sneered and started to turn to walk away when Ichigo lunged at him.
Ichigo remembered waking up in the nurse's office, vowing to never let anyone talk down to him, or tease and torture him again. He may have lost the fight with Gin miserably, but the fact remained that he fought. Something Ichigo had never done before. From that day onward, Ichigo fought like a mother protecting her young anytime someone would dare tease or insult him. It continued that way until Ichigo's father threatened to send him to a reform school. That seemed to stop the constant fighting, but his old man still worried. That was when Seireitei was mentioned.
Ichigo readily agreed and upon his arrival had no trouble making friends. He met Renji first, who was intent on beating Ichigo at everything, simply because of who Ichigo's father was. Renji felt like Ichigo needed to be taken down a peg or two. Ichigo thought Renji was nuts, but welcomed the challenge.
Through Renji, Ichigo met Rukia and Inoue. While Rukia attended Seireitei, Inoue attended a public high school. She and Rukia were best friends though, so they were always seen together after school.
Rukia Kuchiki was a petite, dark-haired female with an aggressive attitude; Orihime Inoue was an ample-breasted, red-haired female with an aloof, almost childish personality. Yet, the two girls managed to be best friends and stay that way.
Yasutora Sado (Ichigo just called him Chado; it was easier), Uryuu Ishida, and Shinji Hirako were his other friends. They became fairly close during high school, each one promising to attend the same college in order to stick together.
"Did you finish that essay yet, Ichigo?" Renji asked as he and Ichigo made their way towards the dorms.
"Yeah, it's due Wednesday, isn't it?"
"Shit! I forgot! I thought it was due next week. Ukitake-sensei is gonna kill me," Renji groaned dejectedly.
Ichigo shook his head. "Serves you right, dumbass. Maybe you should get your work done on time."
"Ha, this coming from the king of procrastinators. So, tell me, Ichigo, who helped you with the essay? Uryu or Rukia?"
Ichigo grinned smugly. "I didn't need help this time."
Renji's mouth hung open as Ichigo stepped past him to unlock their dorm room. Upon entering, they each dropped their belongings and glanced at the bathroom door. Once their eyes met, there was a mad dash that Renji won. He muscled his way past Ichigo and slammed the door. Ichigo cursed. "Don't take all day, asshole!" he yelled. Ichigo could hear Renji's laughter as the shower came on. "Bastard."
Ichigo collapsed face down on his bed and contemplated his future. There was the fact that his old man wanted him to pursue medicine, but Ichigo didn't want to follow that path blindly. He wanted to be sure it was something he wanted to do. He sighed and rolled over onto his back, resting his arms beneath his head.
Life was so much easier when he knew what he wanted.