A Bleach Christmas Carol

Chapter 1

It was a beautiful, winter evening. Snow fell over Karakura town, coating the trees and blanketing the tops of cars and every home as far as the eye could see. It was only a little after seven o'clock and the mostly full moon was already visible. It lit up the glistening snow crystals, creating a wonderland glow.

In his room, Ichigo Kurosaki sat watching the snow fall. He cracked the window slightly, letting the fresh, crisp, December air fill his room. Kon fell asleep over an hour ago, whining about his lack of quality Rukia time. The essay he was writing for extra credit over break lay forgotten on his desk.

Christmas was in ten days. It was his favorite time of year. It was a time for family and friends. Even though he didn't have everyone with him, they were certainly never forgotten. He had new friends. They were as close as family and just as important.

A loud thud broke the peaceful, winter silence. He grinned when the second snowball hit his bedroom window, startling Kon's sleep. The stuffed animal pressed his fuzzy face against the glass, hollering at the individual responsible and sticking out his tongue before crawling back under Ichigo's covers.

Ichigo stood and pulled on his jacket. He opened the window just in time to receive a snowball to the face.

"Ishida! Don't you know how to knock at the front door? You're getting as bad as Rukia and Renji!" He growled, drying himself off with a fresh gym towel his sister recently washed for him.

"Yes, but then I would not enjoy the satisfaction I am getting from pelting you in the face with a snowball. That was not my initial intention, but non-the-less, I am entertained."

"You just wait till I get down there!" Ichigo warned, implying there would be equal retribution.

Uryu Ishida waited patiently outside for his friend. It still amazed him. A Quincy became friends with a soul reaper, and not just Ichigo. He eventually became friends with several soul reapers in the time he'd known Ichigo, though he would admit, it'd been a rocky start. He never would have predicted this outcome.

Ichigo was so different from the soul reapers he once loathed and despised. He cared about people, living and deceased. He was a natural protector and, above all, when Ichigo made a mistake, he took responsibility for his actions. It was that fact that initially fueled his anger about the soul reapers of the past.

"I expected to be attacked from behind, Kurosaki." Ishida said when he heard the front door open and close.

"I wouldn't do that. I'd much rather see your face when it happens." The grin on Ichigo's face worried him.

"You are unarmed." Noting the lack of snowball ammunition from Ichigo's hands. "But we're not!" was said just seconds before he was bombed in the back of the head with two snowballs.

Ishida's glasses slid forward on his nose from the force of the blows. His brow twitched.

"Getting your sister's to do your dirty work?"

Ichigo burst out laughing. Karin and Yuzu, both dressed in their matching winter jackets and scarves, were giggling. Uryu turned and was immediately tackle hugged by Yuzu. Karin raised a hand and the Quincy shared a high-five with her.

Ichigo smiled. He and Uryu had a rough and dangerous start, but everything turned out fine in the end. He was glad they became such close friends. Karin and Yuzu really liked him. It surprised them both that their father's were once close friends who chased after the same girl. Both Isshin and Ryuken fell for Masaki, but it was Isshin who got the girl in the end. It was only recently that the two rekindled their former friendship. This was the first year the Ishida's and Kurosaki's would be celebrating Christmas together.

"Are you ready to go?" Yuzu asked, taking Uryu's hand.

He was puzzled. He assumed Ichigo invited him over regarding something hollow related.

"Ready for what?"

"To get our Christmas tree, duh." Karin told him.

She ran to her brother and grabbed his hand, pulling him impatiently. It was one of the few times during the year that Karin actually acted her age. Ichigo always thought of both his sisters as being twelve going on thirty. Karin was way more mature than their own father half the time and Yuzu all, but took care of the house by herself, having picked up where their mother left off. Yuzu, however, allowed her true self to show through the responsible homemaker. "Come on, Ichi-ni. The good ones will be gone soon." Karin whined, tugging at his jacket now.

"Okay, okay. We're going."

Ichigo explained as they walked, "My dad is stuck in the clinic. A woman came in having contractions. She is due to give birth within the next couple of hours, so it's crucial that he's there. You're spending Christmas with us this year, so we decided that you should join us for all the aspects of our holiday traditions. We need to find the perfect tree and then decorate it together. Ryuken is coming over later tonight."

"He agreed to that?" Ishida looked impressed and bewildered all at the same time.

"Yeah, my dad said he was coming. Why?"

"Well, he never wants to do holiday stuff. It's a good thing, I'm just surprised is all."

Ichigo laughed, "Anyway, we'll decorate together. Yuzu usually makes a good dinner and then she'll start baking Christmas cookies. We'll have hot chocolate and everything. You'll be helping with the baking too...though only for tonight. Yuzu usually takes the cookie baking way overboard. She'll be baking for days."

"Sounds like fun. I have never really celebrated Christmas this way before."

"You're gonna love it." Yuzu said, squeezing his hand.

When they arrived at the Tree Farm, the girls ran off to find the perfect one. Ichigo and Uryu stayed close as they took a look at a few themselves. Ichigo knew the girls would find the right one. He always let them choose.

"Ne ne, what do you think of this one?" Yuzu asked, pointing to a small, but beautiful tree.

"Yuzu, that's way too small, don't you think?" He laughed.

"But...it's so cute."

"Where will all your presents go? Do ya think there is enough room to fit all your presents under there?"

Yuzu looked torn. She agreed with his point of view, but it was so cute she didn't want to leave it behind.

"We have more than enough ornaments, Ichi-ni." She turned on the charm and looked at him with those big, hope filled eyes that always made him cave.

"Tell you what. If we still have enough money after we buy the tree for the living room, I'll get you the small one and we'll set it up in your bedroom. Deal?"

"Yes, you're the best!" She cried, hugging him.

"Now, let's find our Christmas tree. Uryu and I will be on the lookout as well."

The twins ran off hand in hand after a warning from Ichigo about staying together.

Uryu chuckled, "You had no chance at all, Ichigo."

"Never do. It's those eyes. Gets me every time." He sighed.

"You don't think you over indulge them?"

"Oh, I do, for sure." They laughed, "See any trees you like, Uryu?"

"I'm not really sure what I'm looking for."

"Well, we need one that is tall enough, but not one that will touch the ceiling. It should be fairly round and, if we get lucky, it won't have many holes in it."

"Holes?"

"Yeah, a lot of the trees lose their branches during the process of cutting them down and shaking the dead needles out. There are gaps, like that one." Ichigo pointed to a tree with a huge gap near the bottom. "See, we would have to hide that side against the wall. It makes it look ugly."

"I see. What about that one?" Uryu pointed.

"Too wide. We won't be able to do much in the living room with that one."

The twins came back and led their brother and Uryu toward one of their choices.

"How about this one, Ni-san?" Yuzu asked.

He read the tag. It was over 9'ft tall. Overall it was a good looking tree, but it wouldn't fit in the house. She looked so excited and her eyes were sparkling with joy. He hated having to tell her no.

"Sorry, Yuzu. It's not gonna fit. It's way too big. You have to find a tree that's about seven and a half feet tall."

She pouted, but moved on. She quickly spotted another, dragging her twin sister with her. Ishida and Ichigo followed them, smiles on their faces as they watched the younger children.

"Your sisters really get into this, don't they?"

"It's one of their favorite traditions. Don't you and your dad do anything for Christmas, Uryu?"

"Not really. We each exchange a gift and then he leaves to go on a trip. I spent my last holiday alone."

"That's terrible. How could your dad leave you alone at Christmas?" Yuzu asked.

"It's really not that big a deal. It was never something we did, even when I was a child. I never really thought about it much."

The girls, feeling sorry for Ichigo's friend, decided they were going to do everything they could to make sure that Uryu enjoyed every minute of the holiday with them. Moving on, Karin stopped and stared up, knowing immediately she had found the right one. She nudged her sister and they grinned, nodding at each other.

"Ichi-ni, how about his one?" Karin and Yuzu pointed to a nicely shaped tree. It didn't have a lot of branches missing from it and it was full round the bottom. It wouldn't matter which side of the tree showed. There wasn't a bad side to hide against the wall.

"Looks good. Wave down one of the merchants and tell them we're ready to buy. Stick together." Ichigo agreed.

Karin grabbed hold of Yuzu's hand, and the pair of them ran off to find a merchant.

"I was thinking," Ichigo started, getting Ishida's attention once more, "I thought maybe we could take Christmas to the Soul Society this year. I thought we could have a big party in the Seireitei, give gifts and celebrate. Rukia and Renji would love it."

"You would have to clear it with the Head Captain first. Do you think he would let you?"

"I think so. If he does, are you in?"

"I don't see why not. I'll call Chad and Inoue know when I get home. I'll talk to them about what you are planning and see if they are interested in joining us. Knowing Orihime, she'll want to cook something to take along." Uryu cringed just thinking about it.

Ichigo laughed. It was a well known fact that Orihime's cooking was a little more than eccentric. She mixed the strangest ingredients together.

The girls returned with a merchant. It turned out they had more than enough to get both the big and small tree. Yuzu got exactly what she wanted. They paid the man and together he and Uryu carried the trees back home. They spent the afternoon setting them up and decorating them together. Uryu's father showed up around the same time his dad finished at the clinic. Uryu and Ryuken went home, saying goodbye and handing out hugs to the girls. Ichigo could tell that both Ishida's enjoyed themselves even though they tried hard not to show it. Ichigo's dad delivered a healthy new baby girl into the world that night. Everything went smoothly Christmas was going to be a great this year.

Three days later, Rukia and Renji visited the World of the Living. They jumped up and entered through Ichigo's bedroom window as usual.

"Why can't the two of you use the front door? I could be changing in here or something." Ichigo complained.

"Why do you care? It's not as though you got anything we haven't seen." Renji said, slapping him on the back.

Renji sat on Ichigo's bed cross-legged. Rukia stood watching them. Her two best friends were something else. Ichigo turned to look at Renji, his face turning red. Neither of them could tell whether he turned red out of anger or embarrassment.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothin'. I'm a guy, so I'm not gonna be checking out your package and Rukia certainly has no reason to check you out when she's got me. Know what I mean?" Renji winked at Rukia and smirked at Ichigo.

"Oh, God. Please don't do that!" Ichigo flushed again.

He was glad that Renji finally asked Rukia out, but now his best friend got into the horrible habit of telling him all about their relationship. Every detail was shared with him and he really didn't want to know.

"Do what? This?" Renji reached over and pulled Rukia onto his lap and started sniffing her neck.

Ichigo turned his face away, "Renji! I don't need to be around when you two get intimate. Cut that out!"

Rukia smacked Renji lightly, a clear sign that the fun was over. "So, Ichigo. You needed to talk to me?"

"You came here for that? You could've just sent a hell butterfly. I don't mind using them. It's not really that important. I just wanted you to ask Yammamoto something for me."

Rukia was intrigued by this. "What do you need to talk to the Head Captain about?"

"Well, I wanted to come to the Soul Society and celebrate Christmas with you guys. I thought we could have a big party on Christmas Eve. I would bring Orihime, Chad and Uryu with me, of course. We're going shopping tomorrow. We would bring presents, food, and drink. We could play games, go caroling, and do other fun activities. It would be a great night. I know you guys don't really get a chance to celebrate the holidays. I just wanted to make sure it was okay with the old man before I started making concrete plans."

Rukia was surprised and excited. She didn't think Ichigo would want to celebrate with them in the Soul Society when he could be home the night before Christmas. He obviously spent way too much time with them already. She was glad though, she really missed him when he was in the World of the Living. There wasn't much reason to come here anymore now that Aizen had been defeated. Ichigo protected Karakura Town now, so there was no need for them to interfere in the World of the Living anymore, unless it was an emergency.

"I'll make the request for you. Christmas Eve is a week away. I'll go now and find out for you. I'll send word immediately."

"Thanks, Rukia. I would tell him that anyone who wants to join in on the festivities is welcome. Drinking and food will be provided. Yuzu said she would cook and bake a feast for us if he gave the okay. Uryu said he'd help too. My dad already got the sake. "

"We can't drink." Rukia looked displeased.

"Lies! Rukia, don't be a spoil sport. You just don't want Ichigo to drink. Soul Society has no drinking age. Lighten up, babe."

She glared at him, "What did I tell you about calling me that?"

Ichigo watched as they argued. They were the perfect couple. Anyone looking on at the pair would think they were horrible for each other, but most people didn't know that they actually enjoyed the banter. He smiled. Renji spent so much time pining for Rukia. It took guts to get the courage up and ask her out, and it was way overdue. Ichigo was happy for them. This would be their first Christmas together as a couple.

A hell butterfly came back that same afternoon. Head Captain Yammamoto gave the all clear for the party. He was even looking forward to participating. So, he contacted the others and they all went shopping together the next day. Ichigo and his sisters took an extra day of shopping to get what they needed for the friends that were with them the day before.

Orihime was bringing her special desserts for everyone to try. Ishida cringed and looked at Ichigo. He thought they should put a warning label on the table she set her food at. Chad was not creative so he agreed to help carry most of the stuff to the Soul Society.

Christmas Eve came quickly. The last five days of planning, making decorations and packing up all the food, decorations and presents passed by in a flash. They thought they were going to have to make two trips, but Rukia and Renji came to help. Ichigo was informed that there were Christmas trees waiting for him already.

Everyone was so excited. They met, food and gifts in hand, at Urahara's shop. He agreed to open the Senkaimon Gate for them. They spent a few hours there with him and Yoruichi. Ichigo had presents for the kids, Tessai, Urahara and Yoruichi.

"My, my...I wasn't expecting anything, Kurosaki." Urahara said, waving his ever-present fan in front of his face.

"Yeah, right, like you wouldn't expect something for doing us a favor. Besides, you've done so much for us already. Both of you have. I just wanted to say thank you."

Yoruichi and Urahara looked at him. He'd been thanking them for like a month now. Since he defeated Ginjo and found out that it'd been Urahara's idea to make the sword that restored his powers, he felt the need to thank them over and over. They thought there might be something else behind his gratitude, but they couldn't quite place it. Yoruichi was worried about him. It was unlike Ichigo to behave this way.

They both opened their presents. Yoruichi was given a gift certificate for the spa she always wanted to go to. He told her that he also bought one for Orihime and Rangiku would be getting one as well. She would have some company on her day of relaxation.

Thankful, she hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He blushed scarlet and scratched the back of his neck.

"Ah, it was nothing."

Urahara opened his next. Ichigo didn't know what he would think. He wasn't really sure what to get Urahara. The man was an enigma. He seemed to have just about everything and what he didn't have, he could probably get no problem. He'd had to ask the Head Captain for a favor. Inside the box was a scroll, sealed with the Head Captain's crest.

Urahara opened it, read it and gasped. He gaped, unblinking, at the document in front of him. When he didn't say anything, Yoruichi came around behind him to read over his shoulder. Ishida, Orihime and Chad watched, barely containing themselves. They were so proud of Ichigo. He really put in some thought on this one.

"Ichigo...I don't know what to say." He looked at the document again.

Ichigo was so thankful to Urahara for all he'd done for him. The eccentric shop keeper was there for him since the beginning. He helped him bring forth his soul reaper abilities. He trained him. He looked out for him. He aided him in everything that Ichigo needed to do. He broke rules for Ichigo. He took risks for Ichigo and his friends. What better way to thank the man than to have his banishment from the Soul Society lifted.

The document in Urahara's hands was a pardon from old man Yammamoto. Ichigo took a few hours one day to see the Head Captain in person. He made his case and after hearing Ichigo's explanation, the Head Captain granted it. He looked at Urahara and grinned.

"I expect you both at the party tonight. No excuses."

Urahara's smile grew. Ichigo was something else. No one had ever gone to the lengths that Ichigo had for him before.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world." Urahara stood, "You guys better get going. You have a lot to do before the party starts and now I have someplace to be."

Ichigo smiled and picked up his bags. They were let through the gate with the promise that they would see Urahara later. They met Rangiku, Toshiro and Ukitake in the Great Hall. They would be holding the party there. Rangiku, Toshiro and Ukitake agreed to help set up. Some guests would be bringing their own dishes to add to the festivities. The party would be starting at eight o'clock. By then all members of the Gotei 13 would be done with their division tasks and be able to relax.

They would eat first, then play a few games. At eleven o'clock they would get together and make their way through the Rukon District caroling. Dessert would be later. Orihime and Ishida were in charge of decorating the Great Hall, while Toshiro and Rangiku would string garland and hang wreaths throughout the thirteen divisions. Ukitake was in charge of the food and decorating the Christmas trees. Kyoraku arrived within the hour to help his partner.

There was so much going on. Several people throughout the course of the day stopped by to see what progress had been made and say hello to Ichigo and his friends. Yoruichi and Urahara made it time. They left to see the Head Captain, promising to be back for the party. The only person Ichigo had yet to see was Byakuya. The man needed to loosen up. If anyone deserved to kick back and take it easy, Ichigo thought, it would be Byakuya.

Ichigo thought about all the captain of the sixth division had been through. The man didn't have an easy life, contrary to popular belief. Ichigo knew a little something about it. He might not have faced the same hurts in exactly the same way, but he knew pain and loneliness. Byakuya more than deserved a night to relax and be with friends and family. Christmas was the perfect time to appreciate those close to you.

Byakuya was walking home from his division when he finished all the paperwork. He was surprised he got anything done at all. Renji spent most of the afternoon talking about Rukia and what he had gotten her for Christmas. What a ridiculous idea. A Christmas party. Byakuya didn't approve of it at all. Christmas was a waste of time. He snapped at Renji a dozen times to get back to work, but that did very little to hinder Renji's excitement.

"Come on, Captain. You should be excited. We're all going to be there. Even the Head Captain is going. You should come. Ichigo and his friends even have presents for everyone."

Byakuya shook his head. He couldn't even stand the idea of Christmas taking place in the Seireitei. He would not be a part of it. Ichigo Kurosaki was such a nuisance. Christmas was not a holiday worth celebrating. He had every intention of spending the night alone.

He walked by the Great Hall on his way back to the Kuchiki Estate. When he peaked inside the door, he saw garland, wreaths and ribbon hanging on the walls and along every table. There was mistletoe above the each entrance. There were over a dozen tables all decked out with fine china, crystal and silver. The feast was already displayed at the main table, desserts on another. There were a dozen large Christmas trees, most were decorated. Ukitake and Kyoraku were busy finishing the final touches on the remaining two.

He saw the angel hanging from the ceiling and heard the Christmas music. His voice caught in his throat. An image of Hisana decorating their own Christmas tree many years ago came to the forefront of his mind. He couldn't stand it. Christmas was the worst time of year. It reminded him of the things he didn't have. It reminded him of Hisana. It reminded him of his father. He had no one. He had nothing that mattered to him accept his adopted sister and she was spending all her time with his Lieutenant and that human. He had nothing now, and since he could never have what his heart desired, what he never allowed himself have, he would put an end to this.

He snorted. He caught a glimpse of orange. There was Ichigo, the biggest annoyance in what used to be his very ordered world. He was in the middle of wrapping presents that had yet to be wrapped.

He stormed his way across the room, passing his former teacher. Ukitake noticed him and turned to greet him. Byakuya breezed past him without so much as a word. Kyoraku and Ukitake stopped their work to watch. They felt the uneasy energy around the Sixth Division Captain. This was not going to turn out well.

Orihime looked up from her work and spotted Byakuya. She smiled warmly at him and waved, "Hello, Captain Kuchiki."

He ignored her and continued past her. Ishida looked after him, annoyed by his rudeness. He saw who the captain was heading for and pushed his glasses up on his nose.

"This doesn't look promising." He said, sharing a look with Chad and Orihime before following after him.

"Ichigo Kurosaki..." Byakuya said sternly, stopping before the substitute soul reaper.

Ichigo looked up and smiled. Byakuya stared at him, trying to ignore the feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"Hey Byakuya. How ya doing? Ready for the party?"

Ichigo continued wrapping. He taped up the corners and then placed the gift on the completed pile. He opened the next roll of wrapping paper.

Byakuya, furious by the boy's greeting, clenched his fists.

"I demand to know what you think you're doing? What right do you have to..."

"Woah, woah. Calm down, Byakuya. I checked with the Head Captain. Trust me, I didn't just come and do all this without permission. I promise you, I asked."

"You have no right!" Byakuya yelled, raising his voice. This was very out of character.

Ichigo was used to Byakuya's cold demeanor, but he never raised his voice. He was always so calm, collected and sophisticated. He barely even raised his voice in battle. It just wasn't who he was. What brought all this on?

Ichigo stopped wrapping and stood. "I have no right? Look, I know I'm only a substitute soul reaper, but we're all friends. I thought it would be nice to spend one of the greatest holidays together."

"Not everyone thinks of this as the greatest holiday, Ichigo Kurosaki! You should have more consideration for others!"

Uryu, Orihime and Chad looked at each other. No consideration? This entire party idea was Ichigo's. He was doing all of this for them, for all the new friends he'd made in the Soul Society. He had no consideration? Ichigo didn't understand. What was the big deal?

"Ichigo has plenty of consideration. This entire party is proof of that, Kuchiki. Ichigo did all the planning, the wrapping, he and his sister did all the cooking and baking. Everyone tonight will be leaving with their own present. I think that goes to show just how much Ichigo thinks about others." Uyru said, glaring at the noble.

Byakuya turned around, "I didn't ask for your opinion, Quincy."

"I don't understand. I thought everyone was excited. Christmas is the time of year when friends and family get together. It's the perfect excuse to relax. You of all people could use a break. You have every reason to take advantage of the relaxation."

"What do you know?! You think because you have so many friends now, and a family who loves you, that you know everything! For those of us who have lost everything, this is the worst time of year. Of course, you're just a brat. What do you know about pain and loss?! You could never understand someone like me!" Byakuya was losing his cool.

Ukitake had never seen this side of Byakuya before. He knew that Byakuya still suffered, but he had never seen him blow up like this before.

"No, Kuchiki-san. Ichigo isn't like that." Orihime said.

"Ni-sama, you got it all wrong. Ichigo understands wha..." Rukia interrupted. Byakuya silenced her with a glare. She had been watching till then. She never told her brother about Ichigo's mother. He didn't know what he was saying.

Ichigo was stunned. Byakuya was completely out of line, but he didn't want to make a scene. This was supposed to be a party, but Byakuya's words hurt. He knew a lot about pain and loss. He didn't know what he'd done to anger Byakuya so bad. He thought they were past all this crap by now. Weren't they friends yet? After everything they'd been through, wasn't it all in the past now. They saved each other's lives more than once. How could the two of them still be at odds?

Ichigo looked at him and saw the pain and conflict in those steel grey eyes. It broke his heart to see that Byakuya still wasn't at peace over Hisana's death. Rukia told him about her sister, the woman that Byakuya fell in love with so many years ago.

"I'm sorry, Byakuya. I didn't know that this was all hurting you so bad. I wish you would join us tonight, but I'll understand if you don't."

"I don't want your pity, Kurosaki, and I don't want your Christmas spirit! You don't belong here! Go home!"

Byakuya stormed out of the Great Hall. Everyone looked after him, anger in their eyes, then turned to look at Ichigo. He watched Byakuya leave and wondered how he could fix this. He never wanted Byakuya to hate him. He thought they could come to at least an understanding. There was no reason to harbor any ill feelings toward one another anymore.

His friends wondered if he would be okay. Ichigo was more sensitive than he let on. Things affected him, sometimes more than even he thought they did. He took things to heart and he hurt just the same, even though he never showed it. He was very good at hiding his feelings. He'd gotten good at it over the years. It was his job to make sure that his sister's were happy, after all. If they thought he was sad or upset, they would be upset. He just couldn't have that. So over the years, he had gotten good at hiding what made him depressed or unhappy. Anything that bothered him had always been pushed to the back burner to ensure he didn't worry his sisters. As it were, that habit had been put into effect when dealing with everyone he came into contact with. He never let anyone see what he was really feeling.

He looked up at his friends, planting a smile on his face, "Well hurry up, guys. We got a lot of work to do yet. People will be arriving soon."

He smiled wider and sat back down to continue his wrapping. They were all worried, but decided that if he was going to move on, they would too. Uryu decided to keep an eye on his friend regardless. He knew eventually, he would spot Ichigo's true feelings on the matter.

The party went off with a bang. Ikkaku and Yumichika set off fireworks to get things started. They all enjoyed a great feast. Head Captain Yammamoto said grace and they all enjoyed each other's company while eating. Those brave enough to try Orihime's dishes either hated it or loved it. Everyone was getting along famously. Presents were exchanged, kisses were given under mistletoe, and stories were told. At eleven, they all walked together through the Rukon District to sing carols. People came out of their homes to listen and join in.

Rukia, Renji, Ishida, Chad, Urahara and Ichigo made snowmen. The girls fell back and made several dozen snow angels. The kids in town teamed up together and enjoyed a snowball fight with Hisagi, Izuru, Toshiro, Ikkaku, Yumichika and Yachiru. It had been the best Christmas party of all time. Ichigo had never had so much fun.

They returned to the Great Hall. They took their presents and said their goodbyes. Ichigo couldn't have been more pleased. The Christmas party had been a success. He watched as a very drunk Rangiku was being ushered out by her captain. Ikkaku, who was hanging on Yumichika, was so drunk he kissed Yumi without thinking about where he was. Their relationship wasn't a secret, but he had been more discreet about it. He wasn't as comfortable as Yumichika was about being affectionate in public just yet.

Zaraki clapped him on the back and Yachiru wrapped her arms around his neck in a hug before leaving. They followed their third and fifth seats out of the Great Hall. Once everyone had left, he turned to look under the tree. There was one present remaining...Byakuya's.

What was he going to do? With the mood Byakuya was in, he wouldn't be accepting anything from Ichigo right now. Maybe Byakuya was right, he didn't belong here. Maybe this was the best way to leave. They'd had a great party. It would be the best note to leave on. After this, maybe he would stay in the World of the Living. He knew Rukia and Renji would continue to come see him. Maybe, it would be better this way.

He joined his friends at Renji's. They were going to stay there for the night and return to the World of the Living in the morning. He tossed and turned all night. He couldn't stop thinking about Byakuya. He had been so angry. He didn't want to be a burden to the captain any longer. He held too much respect for the man. He would explain to his friends in the morning later when they returned. He got dressed, grabbed Byakuya's present and left. He would return the gift after Christmas.

At the Senkaimon Gate, he looked back at the Seireitei one more time before stepping through. He was going to miss this place. He looked in the direction of the Kuchiki Manor. He made his Christmas wish at that moment. He wished that Byakuya would find peace and hoped that one day, he wouldn't hold such contempt for him.

He stepped through the gate and made his way back home. Christmas this year, would never be forgotten.