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Sands of Time

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Ichigo woke up to darkness. It would be disconcerting if it wasn’t so normal. He let himself breath for a few moments. In, out, in, out. He worked his fingers carefully, feeling the material beneath him. Soft sheets on a soft surface. He was in his bed. He swallowed. Ichigo reached out carefully with his reiatsu. He really hoped this worked… He took another shuddering breath when he felt three signatures nearby. Three signatures he hadn’t felt in… he didn’t know. He didn’t care. They were there. He breathed. Slowly. He wanted to cry. He couldn’t even tell her it worked. He took another moment to breath, to calm his racing heart, and glanced over at his clock. 4:13 am. He wondered what time would be considered reasonable to get up. It’s not like they’d had clocks for a good while. Or anything to really tell the time with. He wondered what it would be like to feel the sun on his skin again. He shuddered at the thought.

He didn’t go back to sleep. Couldn’t. His body wasn’t wired that way anymore. Once he was up, it was time to move. He forced himself to be still though. He didn’t have be like that anymore. Not yet, anyway… He shook his head. No thoughts like that. He was going to fix it. Prevent it. None of them were going to live like that at any point if he could help it.

He waited until he could feel Yuzu up and bustling around before he got up. He swung his legs over the bed, let his feet sit on the cool floorboards for a few moments. Flexed his toes to get used to the feeling again. It had been mostly sand and rocky terrain for years now. No civilisation in Hueco Mundo. None that were friendly anyway. He shook his head again to clear it, stood up, and got dressed. He let himself sit idle again for a while after that. Who knew how long he would have that luxury, after all... His body thrummed with nervous energy, anxious to move on and get out of harm’s way. Staying too long in one place was a death sentence. They always found them. One way or another. They always came…

Ichigo only got up again when he felt his father on the move. Straight to his bedroom. His lips curved into a small smile. His door banged open, a body crashing through.

“Good morning, Ichi – ???” His father’s outburst cut into a startled squeak when Ichigo caught him mid lunge, scooping him up, arms around his waist and holding on. His father scrambled for purchase, ending up with his legs wrapped around Ichigo’s chest and his arms around his head.

“Ichigo???” His father questioned confusedly, completely unused to this response. Ichigo didn’t bother answering. He let himself bask in the warmth for a moment, holding onto the warm weight of his father. Then he started moving, taking them both downstairs.

He dropped his father into a chair at the table, ruffled a confused-looking Karin’s hair, and placed a kiss on Yuzu’s head as he entered the kitchen to grab some juice.

“Ichi-nii?” Karin said, her tone bordering on nervous. Ichigo threw her an apologetic smile, rubbing the back on his neck.

“Ah, sorry. I just –” His smile turned tight, and he ducked his head to hide the no doubt haunted look in his eyes. God, it had been so long… “I had a really bad dream, is all…” His voice didn’t wobble. He wondered if that should concern him. Thin arms wrapped around his waist. He looked down in surprise. Yuzu, his adorable little ray of sunshine sister, was attached to his waist like a particularly stubborn barnacle. She stared up at him, eyes wet with unshed tears.

“Are you okay?” She croaked. God, those eyes were going to kill him. He twisted carefully in her arms, wrapped his own around her shoulders. He hummed for a moment, and let a warm smile tilt his lips.

“I am now.” He said. For the first time in… Ichigo didn’t even know how long, it felt honest. She gave him a watery smile, loosening her arms a bit so he could escape, but didn’t actually let go. Ichigo let himself hold on for another few moments. Just a few more wouldn’t hurt… He never paid them the attention they deserved anyway. He found that out too late… He gave himself another mental shake. It wouldn’t do to dwell on the past. Or, in this case, the future. He dropped another kiss on her forehead, and let his arms slide back to his sides.

“It’s gonna burn.” He said simply, glancing over to the stove. Yuzu yelped lightly, whipping back around to her handiwork just in time to save it. He quickly poured his juice, taking a sip as he went to sit down. He ruffled Karin’s hair again as he passed, and she let him. His father was giving him a strange look, but Ichigo, for once, couldn’t read it. He took another sip of his juice, and tried to mentally tally where he was in the timeline.

It couldn’t be that far, because he couldn’t feel Kon in the house. He could be at Urahara’s though… No. Ichigo could feel it. He wasn’t a Shinigami yet. Or Visored. Whatever the hell he was. Or wasn’t, he supposed. Not yet anyway, because he still had all his reiatsu. Odd… He felt lankier than he should. His hair was dropping into his eyes as well, and he remembers not having it that long until he was slightly older… God, this was confusing. He stood up again, and his father’s eyes narrowed slightly. Ichigo startled a bit.

“Bathroom…?” He said. Isshin blinked at him, and the look was gone. Ichigo rubbed his neck again, and headed up. That was weird.

Ichigo stared at his face in the mirror. Okay, definitely older than he should be. He was at least seventeen, but he wasn’t a Shinigami/Visored/Quincy/whatever yet, and he definitely hadn’t lost his powers yet, either. Hmm… maybe Urahara’s theory about alternate realities was more on the nose than he had thought. Rukia hadn’t shown up in this timeline. Not yet, at the very least. He wondered how much that would change things, if at all. He slid careful fingers over the too-smooth skin of his jaw. He hadn’t been properly clean-shaven in years. He liked it better. He sighed, flushed the toilet, washed his hands, and headed back downstairs for breakfast with his family. Shit, did he have school today? His sisters hadn’t been dressed for school, so hopefully it was the weekend. God, that was going to be the worst. He’d won, what, three wars? Yet he still had to go to school. Then again… He shook his head.

He dropped into his seat right as Yuzu started putting food down. He gave her a grateful smile, and she absolutely beamed at him. It was a little blinding, actually. Ichigo blinked the flowers out of his eyes, and dug in. God, it had been such a long time since he’d had proper food. The things he’d stooped to to survive in Hueco Mundo… He didn’t even want to think about it. Horrors of war, and all that jazz. He idly wondered how in the hell he was supposed to act. He was seventeen-ish, right? Teenagers were bound to mood-swings and shit, right? Not to mention these were his “formative years” as Isshin so liked to say, so he had a right to be a little hormonal and edgy, right? He’d always gotten away with it before… unfortunately, it was becoming increasingly obvious that this timeline was… different. It was only a matter of time before he found out how different, but it might not be time Ichigo had. Rukia might be dead already…

The rice felt like ash in his mouth at the thought. He had a lot of work to do… First, he focussed on getting through breakfast.