My first fanfic, lets see how it goes!

I do not, nor have I ever, owned Bleach or the characters within.

thoughts in italics

Those eyes.

Those damn golden eyes. Ichigo sighed as the inexplicable source of his torment once again flashed in his subconscious. For months those eyes have plagued his thoughts and dreams mercilessly. Why? Sure, she was his mentor, helping him achieve bankai and saving his ass on more occasions than he'd care to mention-not to mention teasing him at every opportunity with her 'true form'.

Ichigo shuddered, while he wasn't a pervert and had been brought up with the utmost respect for women, yoruichi's true form was...well..."dammit!" Ichigo shouted. Dragging his mind from his thoughts' inevitable conclusion, he stood up off his bed and put on his jogging gear.

As ichigo's steps pounded on the pavement, he turned up the music on his iPod to drown out his thoughts. Intense exercise and training partnered with blaring music had been his coping mechanism for 16 of the now 17 months that he had been powerless. (How could he help but keep track?)

It was strange, because shortly after defeating Aizen, Ichigo loved the idea of a normal life. No hollows, no bullshit traditions to keep up with, and no constant fear of his friends dying or being used to get to him. He had to admit, at the time, it was heaven. Yet, after just a few short weeks he began to get restless. Sure, rest was great, as was spending time with his human friends, but he was a man of action. Ichigo had been introduced to a life of purpose, of action, and now he was feeling the beginnings of (to his mind) an unacceptable rhythm. Wake up, dodge/punch his father, eat, school, sleep.

Shortly after the first month, he couldn't stand the inactivity anymore. The resting had given his mind too much time to recall what he'd lost. Soon, he began to miss the activity that accompanied his previous shinigami lifestyle-the training, the exhilaration of battle, even the little things like fighting with the violet eyed midget or sparring/arguing with the likes of Renji, Ikkaku, and hell-even fighting Zaraki (not that he overtly sought that one out) or dodging her teasing advances.

Ichigo knew they'd be busy cleaning up Soul Society after the Aizen fiasco, but still: didn't his efforts at least warrant a visit? Couldn't they come in their gigais? How many times did he die for them or at least be gift-wrapped on death's doorstep? Weren't they supposed to have been friends? He knew that this thought was in vain. He was of no use for the spirit world anymore. After sacrificing his powers, his value had disappeared.

This feeling of worthlessness was soon joined by the infuriating feeling of helplessness with a strong undercurrent of bitterness. Day in and day out he had to endure when Chado, Ishida, and Inoue would excuse themselves from class, obviously reacting to the presence of hollows. Whenever they would return, breathing a bit heavier (yet with an all-too-familiar satisfied look) Ichigo would inwardly curse his life as a spiritually ignorant human.

Reaching an inevitable and unbearable limit, one day after school he put on his running shoes and just started running. He'd had no particular destination in mind, just the need to release all his pent up energy and emotions. After a couple if hours, he found himself back at home, still suffering from restlessness. At this point he had called Tatsuki.

"Yo, ichigo" she had answered.

"Tatsuki, do you have time to spar?"



"Sorry, Ichigo, you just surprised me with that...umm, sure. Want to meet at the dojo?"

"See you in a few" click.

This had been the start of ichigos new routine. Wake and defend, (no school now because he had graduated) hang out with his sisters, workout, and spar with tatsuki. The running simply became an emergency outlet. A method to keep his mind busy when it wouldn't relent. However, this routine helped. It was by no means ideal, yet he found it possible to distract himself as focusing on his imotous and exerting himself to the point of exhaustion helped him to keep his mind off of more painful topics.

As he kept running, he thought back on one particular sparring session.

Tatsuki had been surprised when Ichigo had first called, yet had enjoyed hanging with her oldest friend. After several rounds, Ichigo had surprised her with his intensity. For some reason, he seemed particularly...inspired today.

"Geez, Who pissed you off?," she asked after blocking a rather strong kick with her arm.

"Heh, it just feels good to really let loose. I've been getting stronger and it feels good to cut loose," he replied. Tatsuki doubted that this was the full truth. The intensity of his glare and the power behind his strikes made her think he was fighting some invisible demon. After a few more rounds, they both gathered their bags and made towards the dojo entrance with Tatsuki noticing a distant look in ichigo's eyes.

"Is everything ok, Ichigo? You were pretty intense today. It seemed like you were really pissed."

"Hmm?" Ichigo asked, breaking from his reverie.

"I said, what's wrong? You seemed pretty pissed out there today."

Her perception stunned ichigo for a moment- he had just been thinking about his "previous life", as he inwardly referred to it. He was not only missing his shinigami friends, but he also missed Zangetsu and...even that deranged asshole hollow, so his helplessness to do anything about it incensed him whenever he thought of it.

"What? No! I guess I just got wrapped up in the adrenaline rush. I didn't hurt you, did I?" He knew that questioning Tatsuki's toughness would certainly derail her train of thought.

She snorted, "As if you could. Don't think that I can't still make you cry, berry-chan."
Ichigo scowled even deeper than normal in response to the reminder of his childhood and the stupid nickname that seemed destined to follow him in every iteration of his life.

"Whatever," he scoffed. "In all honesty though, thanks for sparring with me. It feels good to do more than lift weights". This sparked Tatsuki's attention. Ichigo was not the type to just out and thank someone for something as simple as sparring. Also, she knew that he loved lifting weights and training alone because he didn't have to deal with other people.

It suddenly dawned on Tatsuki, 'he's lonely. He is missing fighting ghosts and being able to protect everybody with those lunatics from that Soul Society place' She inwardly smirked. To be pissed because you couldn't save the was so "ichigo".

"Don't mention it. It's good to partner with someone who can keep up. Hey, why don't we get everybody together and head out to the club that Keigo keeps blabbing about? I'm sure one night out wouldn't hurt, ne?" She had been trying to get ichigo to get out more to see if it would snap him out if his funk. Ever since he lost his powers he had been more distant than usual, seeming to go through the motions of each day so getting him out and around friends had to help, right?
End of Flashback

That had been a couple of months ago. After only a few excursions with his friends, Ichigo became even more distant. The outings only served to increase his awareness of his normality. That suffocating, infuriating...crippling sense of normality. The large variety of intense feelings he was suffering had conjured quite a variety of nightmares for him.

At this point, ichigo had stopped to catch his breath at his usual spot by the river, where it had happened. Somehow, whenever his mind was too full, he would find himself here, his personal "ground zero". He still vividly remembered the feel, the smell of that fateful night when his mother died. The ever-present guilt mixed with all his feelings of normality, as well as his recent nightmares made for a potent cocktail of depression.

"Forgive my weakness, okaasan", he whispered. Trying to fight back the emotions that he knew would resurface tonight.

The nightmares were the worst of it. While he didn't have the fury of battle or the purpose of protecting all that he could to focus his mind, the intensive training and even homework (when school was in) helped to mitigate his mind's wandering. However, nothing could distract his subconscious in sleep.

His nightmares had evolved in concordance with his depression. He had always had guilt induced nightmares since waking up to his mother's bloody corpse on him, yet they had evolved to incorporate his helplessness as time and time again his dreamscape made him endure the death of those close to him as they cried out for his help-his friends, his father, even his sisters, and his mother-as he stood impotently aside, watching while not even being able to move.

Not long after, these dreams evolved again, preying on his loneliness. Night after night his mind tortured him with recollecting that fateful day; that day when he had finally lost all of his powers. He remembered being surrounded by all of his friends near the entrance of the senkeimon in Urahara's shop as one by one, each of his shinigami friends disappeared into oblivion. The panic that he felt that day echoed viciously in his mind as his subconscious forced him to relive seeing everyone disappear, the last sight he had being a pair of wide, golden eyes. Those eyes seemed to hold so much sadness. Maybe that's why they had taken over as the seemingly final evolution of his dreams.

He had never had any romantic connection with Yoruichi. Sure, she loved to make him blush, but that was surely for the comedic factor. Yes, Ichigo is a prude, which made him an easy target. Yet, it wasn't the random flashings that stood out most in his mind (though he wouldn't admit it, they were damn close to it). What stood out most were the memories of his time spent training with her. The goddess of flash was a brutal teacher, never scared to push Ichigo to the edge, or kick his ass when he needed it. She never let him wallow in self-pity, nor would she tolerate his arrogance. She knew him. How he ticked; what motivated and drove him; what hindered and crippled him; what hurt and terrified him. Yoruichi was, at least on his end, his closest friend.

He sadly chuckled as he got up from the riverbank, wiping a few traitorous tears that had escaped. He wasn't a cryer, but he felt as if these thoughts were eating him alive. Yet, he quietly chuckled again as he could still remember the cuts and bruises from Yoruichi's version of "tag". She would beat the hell out him, yet he had, prior to losing his powers, been to the point where he could occasionally catch her without his hollow mask. This had pissed her off to no end, which of course translated to more random shifting from cat to human form when Ichigo least expected it.

"Dammit," Ichigo muttered, his mind having arrived right back where it started when he took off earlier. "I really am pathetic." He noticed that the sun was starting to lower in the sky so he began an easy jog back home, knowing that Yuzu would have dinner ready soon. As he jogged, his memories of those golden eyes and all the different scenarios he had encountered them in flooded his mind.

By the time Ichigo had arrived at home, he was at a dead sprint, trying to force the thoughts out of his mind. He bounded up the few steps, opening the door as a flying foot caught up with him before his mind did.

"Iiiiiiiiiiiccchhhhhiiiiiiigooooooooooooooo!", his father shouted as his flying kick caught Ichigo off guard, a rarity these days.

"Dammit old man, what the hell is your problem?!" Ichigo shouted.

"Ah my son, you can never let your guard down! I see I still have much to teach you!" Isshin proclaimed as he grinned at his stunned and angry son.

"Give it a break, you two" Karin muttered, sitting down in the living room and flipping the tv on. Ichigo snorted and walked up the stairs, mumbling about taking a shower.

"Don't take too long, onii-chan" Yuzu called up the stairs, "dinner is almost ready! We also have chocolate cake for dessert!" Ichigo couldn't help but let a small sigh escape his lips. Yuzu and Karin were not blind. As much as he has tried to hide his depression, his imoutos knew their onii. In their own subtle ways, they had been supporting him, with Karin always letting him pick the shows to watch or playing soccer with him, while Yuzu would always surprise him with his favorite foods for dinner or even the occasional chocolate cake.

Hell, even his dad had done his own goofy support, still attacking Ichigo at every opportunity. It didn't seem like much, but Ichigo was truly grateful that they didn't push him to open up, show him overt pity or call him out on his behaviour. It only added to his guilt that his family bore witness to the zombie he had become. He rarely spoke unless spoken to, and while he never smiled much since his mother's death, his face was a permanent frown now aside from faked smiles for his imoutos.

After dinner, Ichigo went up to his room to prepare for his nightly "routine", which consisted of begging whatever deity his mind could fathom to make his agony let go of his heart. As he sat down on his bed, the agony began to creep up to the forefront of his mind again.

He cursed himself as he felt tears began to trickle down his face. He absolutely hated these moments, as they always preceded another tortuous night's sleep. Give him something to fight: monsters, thugs, anything he could put his fists through. He could handle an enemy with an actual face. How do you fight a memory? How can you escape those moments? Moments where every painful thought and memory ravaged his mind, burying him under the truth of his reality: he was helpless, he felt worthless, and while he loved his family more than anything, Ichigo felt truly alone.

As Isshin stood on the power-pole, garbed in his shinigami attire, he searched for any signs of hollow activity. Sensing nothing, he began to move by his children's windows. Karin and Yuzu were sound asleep, resting quite peacefully. Isshin grinned, glad that his precious girls were at ease.

Sighing, he prepared himself as he moved to Ichigo's window. For the past almost two years, his boy had experienced hell. If his awakened appearance was any indication, Ichigo was a tortured soul. Isshin shook his head. His jackass son was still blaming himself for his mother's death. Isshin knew who was to blame and one day they would be held accountable, but not at the expense of his children.

What really bothered him was Ichigo's sleep patterns these past several months. Isshin had had to put up a soundproof kido barrier just to keep the girls from hearing their brother's heart wrenching screams. Several times a night Ichigo would thrash around in his bed, screaming his lungs out. Many times it was just a scream, but occasionally names would come. Names of his shinigami friends. It seemed that time was having no healing effect on his son.

However, the past couple of months had been...different. The trashing had settled to mild tossing and turning, while the screams had subsided into sad sighs, often accompanied by tears streaming down his sleeping face. The most interesting part was that only one named occurred anymore. One name that was, well, unexpected in some aspects, but completely understandable. Every night he'd toss and turn, mumbling,

"yoru...ichi.., come back"

Isshin couldn't help but chuckle, "You've always shot for the stars son, but damn this is something else!"