He kept running and running until the pursuers were gone, bumping into unknown people and receiving glares and curses in the process. But no one even stopped and asked why he was running, seemingly so afraid and so lost. No one even bothered to look at him and question the way his tears continued to fall down his eyes without his permission. No one cared… He didn know why those people were chasing him and what for. All he knew was the fact that they all had this predatory gleam in their eyes as they tried to catch the orange-haired little boy with fearful and teary chocolate eyes as he ran for his life, or supposedly, his afterlife.

It had been three days since then… Three days of wanderings around this cold village with strangers who neither cared nor look at him with warmth. And he was scared… so scared that he simply wished to die all over again…

”Kaa-san… ” He pleaded silently with hoarse and exhausted voice as he slid down the wall of a deserted alleyway. He choked as he sobbed in silence, trying his best to call for his mother who was nowhere to be found. He wished he could call his father too. But his father wouldn hear him now. His father was in the world of the living, probably mourning his lost too. He was such an ungrateful son… he wished he could at least see his father again. But that wouldn do. Wanting to see his father meant that he wished his father dead, and he couldn even think of such selfish thoughts. His mother died because of him and he couldn have his father die because of him too. He wouldn be able to stand it… His father was annoying sometimes, but he loved that man. And so the person he needed to find now was his mother. He needed to find her… ”Kaa-san… Kaa-san… Where are you..? ”

He couldn remember his mothers face anymore, not even her beautiful smile. Though he would never forget her name… Masaki. His death stole too much memory from him. He was lucky he still had some of them intact, mostly about his family. Though most of their faces were blurred… He couldn even remember the faces of his younger sisters, nor remember their names. And he couldn remember any of his friends or the life that he had as a school boy. At best, his memories were fragmented and blurred, only making sense when hes asleep. All he could remember clearly was his fathers anguished, crying face, because his father was the last person he saw before his death. And that broke his heart a little more…

He didn know how much time passed since he let himself cry for the first time. He didn know how many hours it took to calm himself down in case the pursuers heard him and decided to torture him in this abandoned place full of dead people with dead hearts.

When he finally calmed down, he decided that it was better to find somewhere place safe to sleep for the night. The moon hung at the sky, oblivious to the pain of the innocent child anguished by the lost of his mothers life more than his own.

He walked some deserted alleyway and hoped against all odds that those manic teenagers who looked like demented souls already stopped trying to pull a prank on him. He ended up walking and walking until he found out that he was already at the outskirt of the village. And yet he still didn know where he was… All he knew was the fact that he was dead, never to be seen by anyone again, and never to see his mother again.

A lone road lay across him, and about four meters on the other side of the road was a shallow slope filled small grasses. On the far side of the grasses was a small river with sparkling water, caused by the moons dim light, which flows silently. The air was refreshing, so free and relaxing, so different from the stifling and suffocating air of the crowded and poor-looking village. He found himself inhaling the air greedily as he ran towards the grassy slope and headed straight to the river. He hadn felt relaxed these past two days and he knew that this silent peace would only last for hours, at least until before the break of dawn when people would start to awaken and he would be scared again.

He played with the water for a while like the child that he was, trying his hardest to forget about the awful guilt that ate away at his soul. He immediately turned around when he heard some footsteps coming near. He hid on the other side of the river, behind some thick bushes and waited for the footsteps to come.

A tall man in his early thirties walked with elegance together with another man who looked much younger than him. The two of them both had black hakama and kimono, and one of them had a white haori on top. He had brunette curly locks and cold brown eyes while the other had black hair and eyes. The brunette, the young boy noticed, had cold eyes despite it appearing warm and caring at first. It was even colder than the eyes of those people in the village. It was scary…

And the choking feeling that he started feeling ever since the two men arrived was bewildering and utterly painful. It felt like all the air was being squeezed out of his lungs with a strong grip. It was a feeling that he had never felt before and he surely did not want to feel it again. He knew it was some kind of pressure coming from the man with white haori, and he wanted to just leave and run away from his hiding place. But he was afraid, so afraid, that if the two men found him out, they would also do some pranks on him like the teenagers did the day before.

He knew better than to approach strangers now and ask where he was. He knew better than to believe in their crafty smiles that were filled with ulterior motives. Two days of horrible experience in this place was enough to make him forget about some of his childhood innocence, the innocence that would make him trust an adults words easily. His head jerked up when the younger man spoke silently over the other side of the river, despite the fact that he wanted nothing but to succumb to the oblivion created by the utter pain in his entire being.

”A-Aizen-taichou, I-I don think this is a good idea… ” The younger man stuttered as he tried to catch up to the older males longer strides. ”S-Surely, they would… ” He trailed off when Aizens cold gaze settled on his. ”I mean, if they found out… I would definitely be fired… or worse, executed… ”

”Didn I tell you that I will take care of it? ” Aizen asked coolly, too cool and cold for the little boys liking. And he found himself shuddering from the voice. Apparently, the younger man also did and that made Aizen look at the other in amusement. ”Theres no need to worry, Ive already looked into it and you already did the job. No one needs to know. ”

”But they
e investigating! I mean, if they found out that I was there… ” The younger man looked frantic and Aizen looked even more amused.

”Like I said, no one needs to know. ” Aizens cold brown eyes somehow turned darker and his smile turned sadistic despite it appearing so calm. ”Hado No. 90, ” the younger mans eyes widened with fear and the little orange-haired boy couldn help but whimper too. ”Kurohitsugi. ” And in an instant, a huge black box screaming of power in vast magnitude appeared out of nowhere, engulfing the young man inside who didn even had the time to scream. The little boy, though he didn know what it was, felt that it was dangerous to stay near the scene. His eyes were wide and his whole body was trembling from unshed tears and utter fear. The man was powerful, and the boys instinct told him that the younger man wasn comfortable inside that thing. Far from it actually. Huge black cross-like things appeared from nowhere and stabbed the box-like black distortion and the little boy covered his mouth with both his trembling hands to prevent himself from screaming.

The black box vanished just as quickly and the younger man was nowhere to be found. Run, run, run!!! His head screamed for him to just leave the place as quietly as possible and run for it, but his body wouldn listen. Instead, he remained rooted in his spot, trembling and on the verge of breaking.

Two weeks ago he saw his mother die in front of him, murdered ruthlessly. And now, in this deserted place, another murder occurred, also ruthlessly. The older man seemed to have sensed him and immediately turned to his direction. The little boy stilled his breath and tensed, totally afraid that he would meet the same fate as the other man. Cold brown eyes gazed into his own chocolate ones and he was overcame with suffocation, one that had nothing to do with his fatigue or the reiatsu that tried to eat his soul alive. This suffocation was different, in an entirely higher level than he could comprehend. His young mind couldn keep up with the trauma, and he immediately blacked out.

The older male named Aizen narrowed his eyes when he noticed a small spark of reiatsu from the bushes. He didn know how he didn feel it before, but it was definitely there, quiet and full of raw fear. A rat was hiding… He took a step forward but halted when he saw another male wearing the same clothing but with long white hair and kind eyes.

”Aizen-taichou! ” The other man waved enthusiastically. ”What are you doing, staring off into space like that? ”

”Ukitake-taichou. ” Aizen put on his flawless mask. The mask he was so proud of that not even the stoic captain of sixth squad could imitate, though that cold captain had a different reason for wearing a mask. That he was sure of. And of course, not even the soutaichou could see through his flawlessness. He was sure he could fool everyone for a little while more, if he had managed to fool them for at least a hundred years now. Now, if he could make the other captain leave so he could take care of the little rat…

”Come on now, Aizen-taichou, its too dangerous to be alone right now. ” The man named Ukitake didn take the hint that he wanted to be alone. ”I heard that someone hacked the server of the twelfth division and all the data were erased. Its being investigated as of now. ”

”Really? Thats terrible. Kurotsuchi-taichou must be in full killing mode as we speak. ” He feigned innocence. He was so good at it. Ukitake shook his head at the memory that he had when he arrived at the scene before he quietly agreed with Aizen.

”Shall we head to the 12th Barracks and help? ” Ukitake asked and he looked into Aizens eyes directly, which the Captain of the 5th Squad returned with equal intensity. He was not the kind of person who wouldn be able to look at another person in the eyes just because he just killed one of that persons unseated officers.

Aizen turned to the direction where the reiatsu leaked earlier but he couldn feel it now. He was not worried though. Not in the slightest. Even if some Rukongai wandering soul happened to witness the crime, that souls word would surely held nothing against the word of one of the most well-known and well-liked Captains of Seireitei. And so he willed himself to follow the other Captain named Juushirou Ukitake who was too oblivious just like everybody else.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ichigos eyes slowly opened as he heard the noise coming from the river just beside the bushes where he lay on his side. Everything was bright, and he was confused at first as to why and how he got there in the first place. It seemed he slept quite soundly considering he didn even stir when there were so many kids of his age playing in the river. The events of last night momentarily forgotten, he watched in fascination as he saw a kid with fierce red hair that stuck on all sides of his head playing with some other kids.

”Pineapple… ” he whispered and he giggled silently at the sight. But as his eyes darted towards the road he crossed last night, its like everything just re-winded and he suddenly remembered why he was lying there unconscious. He could feel his chest constrict and he fought back the whimper that was threatening to escape his small trembling lips. He tried to bring his hands to his mouth again and the movement caught the redheads attention. His eyes suddenly grew sharper as he shouted.

”Whos there!? ” He asked. Ichigo decided he didn want another prank pulled on him by these people. And so he ran. He ran away from the voice, from the kid who looked like he was about the same age but the difference between them was so vast the orange-haired boy couldve mistaken the other boy for someone older.

Those kids, and all the other people in this place, wore peasants clothing from a period that reigned in the centuries before he was born. He could only recognize the outfit from the television drama series featuring his countries historical events and then twisting it so that the story revolved around two lovers who couldn be together until the very end. His mother liked those nighttime dramas very much and he always saw how touched she was by the time the characters fell in love with one another. And then she would smile all lovingly at him when she noticed that he was watching her instead of the television in front of them. And that smile… he would never see it again… Not that he could remember much of it.

He sobbed but this time, no tear came. He knew from the moment he entered this place that she was not here. He didn know how he knew that fact but he somehow did. And yet, it didn deter him from trying to find her all over the place and, in the process, getting in some trouble with some brats who didn have anything much to do. He knew in the end that it was futile because from the very start she was not here at all. But he still wanted to try. He didn want to give up hope that she would show up in front of him in the near future. He wanted to continue believing that she would return, because if he didn , then he would be lost. He wouldn know what to do…

But for now, he needed to take care of one thing, his stomach kept on growling and he didn have any money. What then..?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

He didn know what to do now. He was suffocating in deep anguish and pain that it was difficult even to breath. Two weeks ago, his wife had died. No, she was murdered. Murdered by a hollow that his son had no understanding of. If only he was there on time… If only he was able to protect both his wife and his son… And his poor son was too engulfed in self pity and guilt that the little boy had this idea that if he stayed near the river, his mother would come back again. He couldn watch. And yet, he couldn tell the boy directly that she would never come back. He wouldn be able to stand the pain and the anguish that would overcome those beautiful chocolate eyes. And so he let his little boy, his only son, wander by the bank of the river everyday, seemingly lost and walking back and forth as if waiting for someone. He wanted to just stand next to the little boy and hug him tight, tell him that it wasn his fault, and that if anyone was at fault, it was he, Isshin, and not the little orange energy who was Ichigo.

For almost two weeks, he watched in silent agony as his son waited beside the river, waiting and watching the sun until it was gone, until everything was dark. And then Ichigo would come home more pitiful and worn. For two weeks his son endured the waiting, the agony, and Isshin couldn stop him. Not even he, at first, believed that his wife had died that day. But he knew that he needed to accept things as they were if he wanted to move on and continue living with his three kids.

And yet… and yet the **ing asshole of a hollow just had to come back for Ichigo too!!!

He was about to close his shop three days ago when he felt that familiar feeling of his chest constricting as if in pain. He immediately felt dread and panic. It was the same feeling he had the afternoon that Masaki, his wife, died. And so he immediately went out to find his oldest child, the son that had suffered so much for the death of his mother. He couldn feel any strong spiritual pressure around the neighborhood so he was sure that his two young twins would be alright. He walked the by-now soaked pavement, not even feeling the rain that started to pour out earlier in the afternoon. His skin felt so numb, just as his whole body was. And yet, the more he ran, the more the feeling of dread grew. He was panicking. It was the same. It was raining that afternoon too.

He knew where to find Ichigo but it didn make the lump in his throat disappear. As he neared the river, he thought for a second that Ichigo was not there. There was no one. His reiatsu had barely came back but he was sure that Ichigo was–

A loud roar of something inhuman echoed all throughout the area and Isshins eyes widened as he saw his son lying on his back while draining in a pool of blood a little far from where he was. A small hollow, it seemed, had managed to claw his chest and Ichigo was left alone as another hollow appeared and fought the other one for the delicious meal.

Isshin saw red in that instant. He was wearing a gigai but his spiritual power was enormous enough to actually alert the two hollows, whom by now had already noticed him. The two left the poor boy alone, and Isshin wanted nothing but to run by his sons side and take him to the hospital. But he also knew that he couldn leave these two hollows alone for they might head for his daughters next. For once, he inwardly cursed being a Shinigami. If they didn have these powers, Masaki wouldn have died. Ichigo wouldn have had to suffer… And their family wouldve stayed perfect and whole. If only…

He immediately pulled out his gikongan, took the gikon in one gulp, and stripped himself off his gigai. He immediately drew his sword and cut the two hollows in half within just a second. He was still weak, but for a captain-class Shinigami such as him, there was no way hollows like that would prove to be a worthy opponent at all.

He immediately ran towards Ichigo, who lay on his back, choking in his own blood. The boys eyes were glazed and he was afraid that he was too late… again.

”O…yaji… ” His sons voice was a mere whisper and before he knew it, he was sobbing hard as he tried to carefully carry Ichigo in his arms.

”Shhh… Its okay, son… its okay… ” He continued sobbing as he shunpod towards his clinic. The Kurosaki Hospital might be better, with all the better gadgets and right equipment, but it was far. And he feared that he didn have much time… He couldn risk it…

”Oya..ji… Don … cry… ” Ichigo voiced as Isshin put him on the bed, ready to perform any type of treatment just to make his son better.

”Im not crying, son… ” He wiped away the tears from his eyes and started undressing his son in the most careful manner possible. He didn want to hurt Ichigo any more than he had suffered. He felt himself boil in anger as he saw the extent of the wound. It was far deeper than he originally thought… No, this couldn be… ”Its okay… ” He ran his hand on his sons hair. ”Its okay… ” He kept repeating the words like a mantra because he felt that if he didn , his son would be taken from him as well. Please, no…

Ichigo looked at his father weakly. He knew he was slowly succumbing to the darkness, but he didn want to leave his father all alone here, sobbing just as he was cleaning his already numb body. He watched as his father both cried and maintained a professional face as he started sewing the deep lashes that the thing did to him.

He knew his father was hurting badly, and he fought against the heaviness that threatened to overpower his whole body. He slowly lifted up his hand and touched his fathers hand on top of his chest.

”Oyaji… ” He voiced.

”Hmm..? ” Isshin answered when he saw that his son wanted to make a conversation. His son had not talked for a while now, and he hadn smiled, not even a twitch.

”I love you… ” Ichigo voiced quietly, despite the ragged breaths. ”Im sorry… about kaa-san… ”

Isshin gently gripped his sons hand. ”I love you too, son… ” He wanted to caress his sons hair again but his hands were full of blood right now. ”Its not your fault, Ichigo. Its mine. ” He cleaned up the wound and was about to let his son sleep when Ichigo started to whimper. ”Ichigo..? ” he called, voice starting to croak.

”O-Oyaji… ” Ichigos feature was tensed. He looked like he was in pain but he was fighting it. ”I-It… it hurts… ”

Isshin immediately soothed him and was about to prepare some more anesthesia for his son when he saw that the wounds, the three slash that were just sewed, were leaking with reiatsu. And the reiatsu was not his sons. He immediately put his hand on his sons chest and tried to negate the pain and also the reiatsu by using a healing kidou.

Ichigo could feel his eyes water at the intense pain that the wound started to make him feel. It was worse than when he was initially attacked. ”Is it… ” He called weakly. ”…poisoned..? ”

Isshins eyes widened at that. He knew he made sure that the wound did not contain any kind of poison when he cleaned it. But now, as he saw the leaking reiatsu from the wound, he wasn so sure anymore.

Ichigos whimpers started to get louder and Isshin did his best to heal him. Another mans reiatsu registered on his senses and he was sure who it was even before the other man spoke from behind him.

”Kurosaki-san, its no use. ” The man said in a calm manner and Isshin felt himself wanting to strangle him.

”Shut up, Urahara. ” He voiced coldly as he tried his best to use more and more of his reiatsu. ”If you
e not here to help, then I suggest you leave. ” Ichigo screamed in pain and the man, Urahara, closed his eyes. He gripped his striped hat and lowered it in front of his face.

”Kurosaki, the more you put in a reiatsu, the more your son will be in pain. ” He said after a while of silence. Ichigo was now gasping for air and Isshin didn know what to do anymore. His tears started falling again.

”What do you suggest I do then? ” His voice was slightly commanding, but the pain and agony deep in the hoarseness of it was enough to make any mans cold heart melt.

”You need to let him go. ” Urahara said quietly. ”Your son is supposed to be dead the moment that hollow clawed him. Its claws have unique type of poison that eats the souls power immediately. I can feel the reiatsu even from here, and Im telling you its no use trying to make him live a little longer. Ichigo-kun is a very strong boy if he was able to continue breathing after that. But believe me when I say that it will only make a toll on his soul. And before you know it, his soul will vanish just after it loses all of its essence. ”

”Are you suggesting that I just let my son die in front of me!? ” Isshin shouted at him in anger. ”If you know whats good for you, you better suggest something that will make my son live! ”

”Oyaji… ”

”Shh… We can do this… I know we can do this… ” Isshin raked his head for anything that could make him save his son that didn require the use of reiatsu. Because apparently, the more he tried to negate the poison by using a kidou, the more it spreads all over his sons body, hurting Ichigo more and more.

Ichigo gasped as the pain escalated suddenly, almost making him black out. He grabbed his fathers hand, trying his best to hold on to his consciousness, for his fathers sake…

Isshin held his sons hand just as Ichigos grip suddenly tightened. His son closed his eyes and his whole body trembled in so much pain, before it slackened. However, his eyes remained closed.

”Ichigo..? ” Isshin gripped the small hands tighter. ”Come on, Ichigo, open your eyes. Goat-face is here. ”

”Kurosaki-san– ” Urahara stepped forward.

”Shut up, Urahara!! Ichigo is not dead!! ” Isshin shouted as he turned his sharp gaze on the other man. ”Hes not… ” Urahara lowered his hat and stepped beside Isshin, giving his shoulder a slight squeeze. No matter how much Isshin tried to make him leave, he would not. After all, Isshin was his friend and he would not leave the man in his times of anguish.

”Ichigo… ” Isshin sobbed as he hugged his son, now unmoving and lifeless. ”Ichigo… please don leave me… please don leave me too… ”




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