I should be writing for my other stories, but this idea popped into my head and there was no way I could let it sit. I'm sure you other authors know the feeling, or at least something like it. Enjoy!

The little boy ran through the streets, his bright orange hair easily distinguishing him from the crowds of people that bustled past him. He slipped through the crowds, between people that didn't seem to notice that he was there, walking past them silently yet with more purpose than they could ever hope to have. They were stopped in time; he was trapped in motion.

His face was lined with weariness that he should not have had, his steps weighed down with tragedy that should not have occurred but still did, still ruined any chance the boy felt he had at a happy life.

In no time at all yet all the time in the world, the boy made it to his destination. He went down the stone steps, his shoes making hard noises against them. He didn't bother with the railing, didn't need it. The stairs were ingrained in his memory, and he'd done this too many times to need such pointless safety measures.

His shoes hit the sidewalk and it was only there that the boy paused briefly, a hesitation that spoke volumes and nothing at all about his state of mind. Yet he continued, walking forward a few meters and then sitting down with his knees drawn up to his chest just in front of where the bank sloped down into the river. The ground beneath him was hard, but he either didn't notice or didn't care.

The sun was setting, its golden glow washing over the sky and painting it in brilliant hues of gold, highlighting the few clouds that drifted across the heavens. The entire river glowed with fading light, but its appeal was lost on the boy before it. His eyes stared sightlessly into the shifting waters, unseeing and lost in memory.

He threw a rock, aimlessly and carelessly, and tracked its motion with only his eyes as the stone arced down into the reflection of the sun on the water, momentarily distorting the shape. The ripples faded out quickly, too quickly, but the boy saw no other rocks nearby.

When he spoke, his voice was quiet, meant for his ears and his ears alone.

"Why won't you come back?" He muttered, his voice breaking. "Mommy . . . why can't you come back?"

Footsteps pulled the young boy out of his reverie and his head snapped up, childish hope filling his gaze and fragile hope filled his chest that maybe she's come back

Reality crashed back down with jarring force as the boy realized that the teenager walking up to him was clearly not his mother, and he buried his head between his knees, pulling himself into a ball and wishing to disappear.

"Hey, kid."

The footsteps stopped, and the only sound was the gentle motion of the river as it flowed by.

"Look at me."

The boy shook his head minutely, not wanting to talk to strangers. His mom had told him not to, and now that she was gone—

He pulled himself tighter, trying to drag his thoughts away from that even though it was what pulled him to this spot. His heart ached, ached in a way he never thought possible, never even considered before, but now it was constant and never-ending.

The boy heard the innocuous shifting of fabric, and then the sound of someone sitting down beside him. The person took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"What's the matter with ya, kid? Ya look sad." The boy could tell that the stranger was looking at him. "It doesn't suit ya. Yer hair's too bright."

"Go away," The boy said, his words muffled.


"Leave me alone."

"That would just be wrong, kid."

The boy squeezed his eyes shut, and he hated how his voice shook when he spoke. "Stop calling me 'kid'!"

The stranger was silent for a few minutes, which the boy was completely grateful for. A slight breeze drifted across the river, ruffling the boy's hair, but he didn't notice. He was lost in his own thoughts, and nearly forgot about the person sitting beside him until the stranger spoke again.

"So what should I call ya? Assumin ya have a name, 'course."

"I don't talk to strangers," the boy replied, his voice quiet.

"My name's Zangetsu, and now I ain't a stranger."

Another silence settled over the two while the boy wrestled with the idea of talking to the person who had sat down beside him and refused to move. After thinking it over, the boy gave in.

"I'm Ichigo."

"Ichigo, huh? Why would anyone name their kid 'strawberry'?"

"It means one who protects!"

"Ya know, yer not that intimidatin when yer buried in yerself like that. So I'm stickin with Strawberry."

Ichigo clenched his hands into fists, grit his teeth, and seriously considered trying out his karate talent on whomever was sitting next to him. He stopped himself, however, and instead tried to use words, like his mom. While doing so, he raised his head and looked, bleary-eyed, at Zangetsu, who was still sitting next to him. The teenager was vaguely out of focus, but Ichigo could clearly see that his hair was a shocking white, contrasting heavily with his black shirt.

"It means 'one who protects', like a king and his castle," Ichigo said, his expression daring the other to say something. "Not 'strawberry'."

"A king? That ain't a bad name, then." Zangetsu offered a grin. "I'm gonna call ya that, 'kay?"

Ichigo mouth twisted. "I'm not a king."

Zangetsu's expression darkened for a split second before going back to what it had been before. "Sure ya are. Ya just don't know it yet."

Ichigo made a small noise of acknowledgement—not agreement—and rested his head on his knees, staring into the river much like he had been doing before Zangetsu showed up.

Countless moments passed without either boy making a sound, until Ichigo heard Zangetsu get up.

"I'll be right back, King."

"I'm not a king!"

The protest went unheard as Zangetsu walked away, hands in the pockets of his orange cargo pants. Ichigo wondered whether they matched his own hair, and then decided that it really didn't matter.

Plus, Zangetsu's hair was white. Ichigo had never seen hair that color; at least, not as the only color on the person's head. Not to mention that Zangetsu's skin was also white, which made Ichigo think that the teenager could really use more time in the sun. That's what his dad was always telling him, anyway, and it seemed to make sense for the older boy's pale skin.

Ichigo's attention turned back to the water and the sunset that reflected so brightly off of it. He remembered talking about sunsets with his mom, and he wished he could get one more chance to do so.

"That's why I don't like sunsets," he mumbled, his eyelids drooping even though Ichigo didn't feel tired. "They're so sad."

Familiar footsteps approached again and Ichigo saw Zangetsu sit down next to him out of the corner of his eye, though he wasn't willing to turn his head away from the sunset before him. The teenager appeared to be carrying something, but Ichigo didn't feel curious enough to ask what it was.

The light of the sun had just begun to dim when Ichigo was startled out of his thoughts by a sharp splash, followed quickly by four more. He looked out to the river, wondering what the noises had been. Ripples spread out from various points on the river, only to be quickly swallowed up by the current.

Movement caught Ichigo's eye and he turned to his right just in time to see Zangetsu fling another rock across the river. The young boy's eyes widened as he saw the stone skip five times before finally sinking. Zangetsu noticed him looking and wordlessly offered Ichigo a stone from the large pile he had accumulated. Belatedly, Ichigo realized that the pile was what Shiro had been gathering a few minutes before.

Accepting the rock—it was impressively smooth—Ichigo shifted to face the river again and brought his arm back, squinting slightly to try and line up his throw. Unbeknownst to the young boy, his tongue stuck out just barely, further emphasizing his concentration. After a second more of focus, Ichigo let the rock fly, bringing his arm forward and flicking his wrist almost instinctively.

The rock bounced once and then sunk, barely making it any distance at all. As if to rub in Ichigo's failure, Zangetsu threw his rock. That stone bounced six times before sinking, approaching the other side of the river. Ichigo frowned, glancing at the rock that Zangetsu was once again holding out to him. Zangetsu raised an eyebrow at Ichigo's hesitation and made to take the rock back, but Ichigo quickly grabbed it.

With childish seriousness, Ichigo cocked his throwing arm again, looking ready to throw for all intents and purposes.

"Wait a sec," Zangetsu said, grabbing Ichigo's wrist. Ichigo instinctively flinched, first at the teenager's sudden movement and then at how cold the other boy's hand was. It barely felt like someone was grabbing him; instead, Zangetsu's hand felt like a cold sensation. When Zangetsu held tighter, however, Ichigo could definitely feel his grip.

"Hey!" Ichigo protested, beginning to pull his hand away.

"Tch. Stop movin. If ya throw it like that yer not gonna get even one skip."

Ichigo paused in his struggling as Zangetsu reached over with his other hand and began to adjust Ichigo's fingers. The young boy found himself automatically resisting Zangetsu's instructions, but the teenager eventually coerced Ichigo into changing his grip.

Zangetsu frowned, looked at Ichigo's form in a critical manner, and then nodded. "Try it now, King."

"I told you, I'm not a king," Ichigo mumbled, but he threw the stone nonetheless.

The throw didn't have as much power behind it as the previous one had; Ichigo was still getting used to the new grip. Ichigo's expression fell as the rock sunk immediately once again.

Zangetsu shrugged and handed Ichigo yet another rock, and then shifted the entire pile over to the younger boy. "Here. I'll get s'more."

The teenager wandered off, hands in his pockets, to look for more rocks that were suitable for throwing. Ichigo, meanwhile, grabbed another stone and stared at it with great intensity before deciding that it would do. He wrapped his hand around it and then spent a few precious seconds adjusting his own grip, struggling to remember how Zangetsu had done it. Eventually, he decided that it was as good as it was going to get, and pulled back his arm.

Remembering how weak his throw had been last time, he tried to throw it extra hard. Unfortunately, the rock slipped in his fingers as he was throwing it and it splashed rather pathetically into the water. Ichigo stared at the rapidly fading ripples, biting his lip and remembering the sight of Zangetsu's rock skipping off the golden waters five or six times.

Taking a deep breath, Ichigo picked up another rock and spent another few moments preparing himself. His eyes narrowed to just the river, and the young boy envisioned himself throwing the rock and seeing it bounce off the water.

Ichigo let the rock fly, and he let out a whoop of celebration when it skipped twice and then sank. He quickly grabbed another and threw that one as well, only to feel disappointment crash down onto him as it sank immediately upon hitting the water.

"Ya gotta take yer time," a familiar voice chided. Ichigo blinked and looked up, seeing Zangetsu standing over him. The teenager was carrying a sizable pile of rocks that he carefully dumped onto the ground, catching one before it could roll out of reach. Stunningly quickly, he whipped the rock at the river. It bounced three times and sank on the fourth, leaving a few bubbles that popped as the river continued flowing. "If ya go too quickly, it ain't as fun and ya don't get the same result."

Ichigo was frowning again, but he followed the older boy's advice and picked up another rock, taking his time. Zangetsu gave some advice and adjusted Ichigo's arm, showing him that he needed to have his arm farther out from his body.

Then Ichigo threw the rock, and he held his breath as it bounced once, twice, three times, four times-

And then sank.

But it was a victory, and Ichigo's frown had transformed instantaneously into a beaming grin of success.

"Did you see that?" He asked, turning to face Zangetsu. "It bounced four times! Four whole times! That was awesome!"

"Nice job, King," Zangetsu replied, grabbing a rock of his own. He lined up his throw and let loose, loosely crossing his arms as the stone skipped seven times, coming fairly close to the opposite bank. "But let's see if ya can beat that."

"You bet I can!" Ichigo declared, picking up a stone and throwing it as hard as he could. Zangetsu's lips quirked just barely as the rock didn't even bounce once and Ichigo's face fell. "Aw."

"Ya went too fast again," Zangetsu commented. "Ya gotta take yer time."

"I know, I know," Ichigo muttered. "Take my time, I got it. Just you wait! I'll get it to the opposite side!"

"Go for it."

Ichigo's tongue stuck out once more, demonstrating his concentration, before he threw another stone. His immediate smile showed his confidence in the throw and he automatically threw his hands in the air as the stone bounced six times.

"HA! I did it! I totally beat you!"

"Mine bounced seven times."

"Close enough," Ichigo decided, grabbing another rock. "I'll get seven real quick!"

Ichigo was so wrapped up in his task that he didn't notice the way that a ghost of a smile crossed Zangetsu's face for just a moment.

"Good luck with that."

"You'll see!"

The two threw rocks for hours, until the last golden light of the sun had long since disappeared over the horizon and Ichigo was complaining about how sore his right arm was.

"Dontcha do karate?" Zangetsu had asked at one point as he threw a stone and watched it skip over the water.

"Yeah, but I haven't done it in a while," Ichigo replied, his voice sullen and a little subdued.

"That's no good," Zangetsu stated, glancing down at the orange-haired boy. "If ya do somethin, stick with it until ya reach whatever goal ya started it with, ya hear?"

Ichigo threw him own rock and watched as it skipped three times and then sank. "Yeah, I guess."

Eventually, Ichigo lay down on the small grassy hill next to the river. Tired and distracted by the day's events, he didn't notice he was asleep until he had slipped into a peaceful dream, the first one he'd had in a while.

Zangetsu watched, still sitting by the bank of the river with one leg drawn up to his chest as he continued to throw rocks. The entire time, Ichigo had never asked about Zangetsu's strangely colored eyes, skin, or anything. Not even his blue tongue.

The hollow wondered, in the back of his mind, whether Ichigo had really noticed those things, or whether he had been too distracted. Either way, it didn't really matter.

Zangetsu threw a rock as hard as he could and watched with grim satisfaction as it flew across the water, eventually clattering onto the other side of the river and skidding a bit beyond that.

His gaze inadvertently went back to the young boy dozing a few meters away, his chest rising and falling in a gentle rhythm as a breeze stirred his bright orange hair.

"I did a pretty shit job the first time 'round," Zangetsu said quietly, feeling the very same breeze brush against him skin. "But I ain't lettin ya go through that bullshit again, King."

He was quiet for a few moments before he spoke again, his voice almost inaudible.

"At least, not alone."

A few minutes later, a small girl with spiky hair and tough eyes walked by, chatting with a friend. Seeing the young boy on the hill, she paused, and then gestured for her friend to go on without her. With a worried frown, the friend complied.

Zangetsu watched without a word as the girl with spiky hair gently shook Ichigo awake, her eyes wide and a little worried. Ichigo blinked and yawned, reaching up to rub his eyes.

After watching the two talk for a few seconds, Zangetsu turned away. He'd done all he needed to for the night. In a single step, he vanished, leaving nothing but a booming sound in his wake.

Neither Tatsuki Arisawa nor Ichigo Kurosaki noticed the noise, though Ichigo opened his mouth to ask where Zangetsu had gone, only to close it when he noticed that the boy wasn't there anymore.

There weren't even any rocks left sitting by the river, and Ichigo blinked, wondering if the entire thing had been a dream.

A/N I have to wonder if any of you saw that twist coming at the end. Ah, well, it doesn't matter. This was just a cute scene that popped into my head a day ago and I needed to get it out.


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