The next day dawned, hot and humid and glaring, so that it felt a world away from the torrential rain of yesterday, the night before, And it was, and wasn't; because he woke up and yesterday was still real, the nightmare wasn't over, was only a beginning to something that, he began to dimly realise, was going to last the rest of his life.
But between one day and the next... He couldn't even remember what yesterday morning had been like anymore, only knew that this morning was all wrong. Mom didn't wake him for school; he slept badly and dawn had found him wide awake, sitting up and waiting for the clock to hit seven so that he could crawl out of bed again. She didn't make breakfast either; a neighbour kindly brought some over for the still shell-shocked Kurosakis, but it tasted awful, he thought in a wild, rebellious fit of ungratefulness. It was all wrong.
More neighbours walked Karin and Yuzu to school, offered to walk him too but he insisted that he'd be fine alone so they let him be, watching him leave with pity in their eyes, whispering audibly, as if he was deaf, about how brave he was being.
He wasn't being brave. He still had something do to; he had to go back to the river. Slipping and climbing down the still muddy bank, he stared at the glinting grey water rushing past and made himself try to remember where his Mom had... fallen. Near the bridge, he decided in the end; his memories of yesterday were haphazard and broken, so that he couldn't even remember what he'd done after he'd seen the blood on her back, much less where they'd been. But that was okay; he had all day to look.
So he started walking. He followed the river as for as far as he could walk before he got so tired he had to sit down; then he turned around and went back to where he'd started to try the other way. Over and over again, the whole day passing him by in a dazed crawl, till all he could see was the river and the bank and the dry brown grass beneath his feet as he paced back and forth, back and forth. Doing penance.
If he walked long enough, hard enough, tired himself to the bone and beyond, to the point where it wasn't even exhaustion anymore, he'd find her. She was coming back, she had to come back, he knew she was coming back. She wouldn't just leave like that; she loved them. She had to come back to see them again, smile at them one last time, say goodbye and tell him to take care of everyone for her.
She couldn't leave them like this. Yuzu kept crying; Karin was trying to make herself stop, only to sit in grim, heartbroken silence; even Dad had cried when he thought no one was looking, wiping the tears away quickly before he pulled the three of them into his arms to let the girls wail on his shoulder. Then he'd gone all quiet. She had to come back, so that Ichigo could find her and run home for everyone and drag them down here and... and let them say goodbye at least.
Mom had to come back... Ichigo had to tell her he was sorry.
Sorry, sorry, sorry... He'd only wanted to help, he hadn't meant to be careless so that she had to save him and die and leave them and...
And his throat was choked and burning as he squeezed his eyes shut, scrubbing roughly at them with his sleeve. He couldn't cry, couldn't close his eyes like this, he might miss her when she came. He had to keep walking.
In the end it was Tatsuki who found him, scrambling down to the river while her mother stood on the bank, looking down worriedly. She stood before him, wary and awkward as he stared blankly back at her. "... Ichigo? Are you... okay? It's sunset, it's going to be dinner soon. Don't you have to go home?"
He meekly let her pull him up to the bridge, let them take him home to his father, while Mrs Arisawa explained that they'd found him by the river while going out for groceries; he must have been there since school ended. Tatsuki alternated between staring at the floor and glancing at him and said nothing about him missing said school.
He didn't go back there for a whole week; pacing the river from morning to dusk until it seemed that his feet should have worn a hollow in the earth, they had walked over them so often. Seven days, out of a vague memory of the old stories he'd heard about how spirits always came back seven days after their death, he made himself walk. Then he made himself stop.
It was too late. She was gone.