Chapter 2

Byakuya lay awake for several hours that night mulling the confrontation with Ichigo over in his mind. He hadn't meant to blow up like that in front of the entire hall, but his anger had gotten the better of him. Seeing the Christmas tree, the decorations and presents...it was too much for him. He missed Hisana.

The holiday had never been the same after she died. She took all of his joy with her and his heart. He saw how happy everyone was, but he couldn't in good conscience join in the festivities. Every happy face, every joyous sound, even the glittering lights reminded him of what he was missing. Then Ichigo, with his innocent and untainted face all lit up with excitement, caused him to lose all sense of rationality.

After hours of debating on whether or not he made the right choice, he finally fell asleep staring at the picture of his late wife. He was asleep only an hour when something woke him. He stirred. At first nothing seemed amiss and wrote it off as a servant making their rounds to check on him. When he felt eyes on him, he woke fully.

Byakuya sat up and looked around the room. As his eyes adjusted, he caught a figure standing by the door.

"I do not require anything, you can go back to bed." As he all but dismissed the figure, he started to lie back down on his bed.

"Really? I would say you could use a swift kick in the pants." A stern, but very familiar voice said in the dark.

It couldn't be. It just couldn't. He sat bolt upright, his voice caught in his throat. He locked eyes with the figure at the door. The figure stepped forward into the moonlight so Byakuya could get a clear look. Hisana.

"Hisan...Hisana? My love...how...when...?"

He rose and rushed to her, sweeping her into a death grip of a hug. She was cold, but she was definitely there. He was not dreaming. Several minutes passed in silence. Finally, he pulled away and just gazed at her. He was amazed. What he was seeing was just not possible.

Suddenly, her comment finally hit home. He looked at her confused, "A swift kick in the pants?"

Her demeanor changed immediately.

"That's right. You deserve it after what you pulled." She said, her hands on her hips.

"What did I do? I know that you're not happy with how things were left, but there was nothing that I could do. I tried everything. I looked for every specialist I could find. I did find your sister and I took her into the family. I know that a while ago I almost broke my promise, but..."

"Byakuya! Stop."

He stared at her. He didn't know what to say.

"I'm not talking about my death."

"So you are dead. How is this even possible? How can you be here?" Byakuya asked, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"You have a certain orange-haired teenager to thank for that."

Orange haired teenager? What was she talking about? Wait...no...

"Kurosaki? You can't be serious."

"Oh, I'm very serious, Byakuya. That boy is the only reason I am here tonight."

Byakuya growled inwardly. The object of his hate is the reason for his love's return? How absurd.

"That human...that...that..."

"That human, that boy...he is the reason for my visit. You have done a great injustice and I am one of three sent to adjust your attitude."

"Adjust MY attitude? Hisana, I..."

She held a finger to her lips. " I don't have a lot of time. I have a job to do, and you have a lesson to learn."

"What is it I am supposed to have done?"

"You have, in one night and with one action, destroyed three things."

He stared at her. She was here, by some miracle, and he was being scolded instead of spending whatever time they could together.

"I see you are very confused."

"You could say that."

"As I said. Ichigo Kurosaki is the reason for my visit. He, in his last moments within the Seireitei, made a wish. Because of that wish...I am here, along with two others. They will arrive later."

"I don't understand."

"Of course not. Since my death you have locked your heart in a box and kept your distance from others. You have lost your talent for tact, for compassion and empathy."

Again he stared. He had no idea what his late wife was talking about.

She shook her head, "Tonight you had a rather shameful confrontation with Ichigo Kurosaki. You let anger and pain get the better of you. With that one action, you destroyed three things."

"What could I have possibly destroyed? That arrogant human is tough as nails. He'll be his normal annoying self by morning."

"Is he? How would you know? You ever spend time with him outside of battle?"

"I have seen what he is capable of. As much as I hate to admit it, he can overcome anything."

"That boy is very strong. He is proud, but he is generous and brave. He is a man who protects the people he cares about, regardless of how they feel about him. He fights for what he feels is right and he doesn't care what he has to do to accomplish his goals."

"I feel a 'but' coming."

"But, that boy is also good at hiding what he is feeling. Sound like anyone you know?"

He wasn't sure what she was saying was true, but he had to admit that as a person who spent most of his time hiding his true feelings, he could see what she was getting at.

"What does this have to do with me?"

"I am here to show you what you have destroyed. You and I are going on a little trip. You need to understand. Tonight, you broke through his emotional walls. You destroyed the one thing that was keeping him sane."

"Walls? What could he possibly have to hide?"

"Come with me and I'll show you."

He hesitated. He wasn't sure that he wanted to know any more about Ichigo than he already knew, but this was Hisana. Dead or not, he would not deny her. He took her hand, almost flinching when her cold skin made him shiver.

A gate appeared. It wasn't a Senkaimon Gate, but it was similar. He had never seen one like it before. She waved a hand and it opened. They walked through together. On the other side was a city.

"Karakura Town?" Byakuya said once he realized where they were.

"That's right. This is Ichigo's past."

Byakuya said nothing. He was waiting patiently for her to reveal the reason for their visit to Ichigo's past.

"This particular time is eight years prior to your present day. Here, Ichigo is nine years old."

"And the point of our visit is?"

"Just watch." She looked around, and spotted their target through the rain. "There he is now."

Byakuya turned. He saw a very small version of Ichigo Kurosaki. His bright orange hair was unmistakable. The little runt was smiling and holding the hand of an attractive brunette. He certainly did look innocent.

"The woman?"

"His mother."

Byakuya nodded. He watched as the woman and little Ichigo laughed and talked as they walked hand in hand down the sidewalk, taking shelter from the rain under a big black umbrella. The pair walked closer to the happy duo, and could hear them talking about the boy's karate class.

Byakuya watched as Ichigo's attention was drawn away from his mother. He followed his line of sight, looking toward the river on the opposite side of the street. There was a girl hovering very close to the edge of the bank. What surprised Byakuya was what was attached to the girl. Grand Fisher. A hollow. The most notorious of hollows for many years.

He watched as Ichigo let go of his mother's hand and darted across the street and down the hill toward the little girl lure. He was shouting at her to step back and get away. He turned and saw the mother follow him, asking him what he was doing. When she saw Ichigo get close to the edge of the river, she ran full speed to pull him back before he fell in.

He drew his sword then stilled, remembering that this was a memory of Ichigo's past. There was nothing that he could do. He watched in horror as Ichigo's mother pulled Ichigo back, and Grand Fisher sink its ugly teeth into her. Ichigo fell and lost consciousness. It was all over in a matter of minutes.

Mrs. Kurosaki was dead, killed by a hollow. It was apparent that Ichigo had the ability to see things others couldn't when he was little, but at the time, it wasn't enough. He never saw the hollow. It was also evident that the woman did not possess such power.

"He witnessed his mother's death."

"Yes. With what you know of Ichigo Kurosaki, what do you think happened after the event?"

"He blamed himself." There was no question. Ichigo was a protector. When Rukia was to be executed, he came to save her because he felt responsible. When Inoue was kidnapped and taken to Hueco Mundo, he went to rescue her because he felt it was his fault. Ichigo would blame himself for his mother's death. He was the only one with her when it happened and he couldn't save her at the time.

Hisana pulled him away and back through the gate. "He learned about death at a very young age. He blamed himself for her death and even ran away from home feeling that he needed to punish himself for what he had done."

"He didn't do anything wrong. There was nothing that he could have done. He was nine."

"Yes, but that is Ichigo Kurosaki. The One Who Protects. He lost his mother at nine and had to carry the pain, the agony and the loss with him for the rest of his life. He learned early on how to hide his pain so his family wouldn't worry. Over the years he learned to deal with his pain, even though it killed him inside every day."

Byakuya thought, sitting back down on his bed once they arrived back in the present time.

"In the beginning, before I even knew Ichigo existed, I got a report that Grand Fisher had been defeated. That was Ichigo, wasn't it?"

"It was. Rukia had been following him and his family and learned about her death. She said that his story reminded her of a hollow. They learned that Grand Fisher was the cause of her death and he vowed to avenge her no matter the cost. Turned out, that the same day they went to visit her grave, Grand Fisher attacked."

Byakuya was stunned. He had no idea that Ichigo understood what it was like to lose a loved one. He had always assumed that the boy had a loving, caring and stable home. Never had he imagined that Ichigo knew true loss.

"I said he couldn't possibly understand...I'm such a fool."

"So long as you understand. It will be up to you to fix this. Breaking down his walls has left him vulnerable."

"Ichigo Kurosaki? Vulnerable? You do not know him as well as you think. He is a grown man now. I can understand how this all may have hurt him, and may still haunt him, but he avenged his mother. I cannot believe that Ichigo is a broken man."

She shook her head. "You will be visited again. Please, Byakuya. Open your heart and your mind. Stop dwelling on the past and look toward the future. If you are not careful, you will ruin far more than a friendship."

She began to disappear before him. She had a sad smile on her face and he reached out for her.

"No! Hisana! Please, " he begged as she faded away, "don't go."