"Oh, HOLLOW Night"
I don't own Bleach but I do own the story in this fic and things that are non-Bleach. All the name of places, historical events and other things mentioned which you don't seem to know IRL, are products of my imagination. Any similarities with the actual thing are purely coincidental.
This is dedicated to Ichigo's hollow side who I think cares more for Ichigo than he realizes. :P BTW, I don't create original characters unless there is a shortage of cast needed in a fic. Bleach already has a full cast, so NO original characters shall be made in any part of this story. If you don't seem to know a character, then it is possible that it is someone from the manga.
Chapter One: "When the Sun Sets"
Ichigo rubbed the back of his neck with his usual frown etched on his forehead.
"What have I gotten myself into?" He said as he stared out into the setting sun while sitting on top of the roof of his house.
"What do you expect from that man, anyway? Some walk in the park technique?" Rukia's voice rang in the air as she crossed her arms in front of her. She was standing beside Ichigo in her 'earth clothes' with her eyes closed in a haughty manner.
"Well, you're the one who wanted some kind of 'short-cut' way, so why mope around like that?" The raven-haired shinigami pointed out.
"Yeah, yeah…I know. You don't have to keep on repeating it." Ichigo remarked with slight irritation.
But Rukia continued in her lecture-like tone. "Seriously, there is this thing as the conventional way of training for years…but no…you have to just to be reckless and agreed to do something like that."
"We barely have less than a year left to prepare!" Ichigo shouted. "Do you absolutely think that having this kind of internal problem will help me face Aizen when the time comes! I won't have…"
--sfx: BAAAM! ---
He wasn't able to finish what he was about to say due to the fact that someone just gave him a hard kick on the back of his head which caused him to fly meters away, and thus, ripping out some tiles of the roof.
"WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE! Talking so high and mighty like that!" An angry voice sliced between them.
"Oh." Rukia opened her eyes without even glancing at the disheveled Ichigo. "Renji…you're finally here." She said casually. "Did we get a clearance from Soul Society?"
"You did. I didn't." Renji grunted. "That's why I didn't even bother bringing a gigai."
"You didn't bring one because you can't even manage one." Ichigo's sarcastic muffled tone interrupted them.
"What did you say!" The red-haired shinigami dangerously stomped one foot on the roof which made the house shook a little.
Ichigo started narrating back to that time when a hollow appeared and Renji couldn't even get out of his gigai properly, that he almost ended up slicing half of his gigai into bits.
The red-haired shinigami's brow twitched. "That's quite unconvincing coming from someone who can't even control his inner self!" Renji countered.
In a snap, Ichigo was back on his feet and faced the other man squarely. "It isn't just an 'inner self', you dumb ass! We are talking about my hollow side! My HOLLOW side! How the hell can you compare a gigai to a hollow!"
"WELL, BOTH ARE TWO THINGS THAT ARE HARD TO CONTROL!" Renji equaled Ichigo's volume.
"WHAT'S SO HARD ABOUT CONTROLLING A GIGAI! IT IS JUST A LIFELESS THING!" He briskly pointed at the raven-haired girl. "RUKIA CAN GET OUT OF HER GIGAI WITH NO PROBLEM AT ALL!"
"A LIFELESS THING IS BETTER THAN HAVING A DISTRUCTIVE KILLER RUNNING AROUND, ASSHOLE!" Renji was obviously going to lose this argument.
"THAT'S MY POINT, YOU IDIOT!" Ichigo balled his fist and waved it in front of the other shinigami. "YOU CAN NEVER COMPARE A HOLLOW TO A GIGAI!"
And they continued arguing, unaware that in the midst of their squabbles, a certain raven-haired girl was on the edge with her patience about to snap. A nerve popped out of Rukia's temple.
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Her irritated commanding tone threw both men out of their positions which immediately halted their argument. The death glare Rukia gave them was all it took for them to squirm quietly down with scared looks on their faces. "There are more important things to take care of and we are running out of time!" She raised her arm and pointed at the horizon. "The sun is setting. It will be dark soon. And both of you know what will happen by then." This time, she shot a nervous glance towards Ichigo's direction.
The orange-haired guy scratched the back of his head and looked down with disdain. "Ah." He said.
"Psht!" Renji remarked with an annoyed expression. "If that guy comes out then I will personally slice him into bits." He placed his hand on top of his zanpakutou's handle reassuringly.
Ichigo snorted. "The other captains were here a few days before you came, and they couldn't even do anything against him. What makes you think you can fight him easily?"
Renji was about to retort something but he stopped when Rukia touched his arm. "Renji…how are they?" A concerned look was evident on her face.
The red-haired shinigami sighed. He knew very well that two of those captains were important to Rukia. "All of them are in good conditions now. Unohana-taichou healed them up pretty good."
"But…ummm…" Rukia was suddenly unsure and a little shy. "…nii-sama…" In the background, Ichigo's eyes wavered.
"Eh?" Renji smiled and placed his hand on top of her Rukia's head. "He's fine. There is no need to worry about him. Are you forgetting how strong Kuchiki-taichou is?" Then, he added with a goofy smile. "Just because he lost to this idiot, doesn't mean he is now weak." He gestured towards Ichigo.
"Who are you calling an idiot!" Ichigo exclaimed. Though, he looked energetic, inside, Ichigo was in turmoil.
Ever since they went back from Soul Society, Ichigo had been bothered of the fact that his hollow side was calling out to him more and more as days passed by. He could feel him laughing and saying that it would be a matter of time now before he wouldbe able to take over of Ichigo's mind and body completely. Though Ichigo had always found a way to shut his hollow side's voice out, he felt that he, his hollow self, was getting stronger each day. In truth, Ichigo feared that his hollow side's words would come true someday. It was because of this fear that he became cautious of using his techniques whenever a hollow showed up. He restrained himself from using any powerful sword technique. He knew he should be in training in exploring his bankai and find more ways of extracting more power from zangetsu, but he always ended up avoiding the use of third release of his zanpakutou.
That technique is his technique, after all. Ichigo thought and remembered the time when he faced Byakuya. It was then when his hollow side suddenly took over the battle.
'I'll show you how to properly use bankai.'
His hollow side's words floated back to him. He couldn't do anything back then and saw himself acquiring an unexplainable power and faced one of the most feared captains of Gotei-13 equally…even more. His hollow side fought dangerously and surged himself with insane-like attacks. He remembered him laughing his self out and enjoying every second of it. Ichigo was lucky that his strong will prevailed and pushed his hollow side out and gained control of his body once more. Perhaps it was pride amongst all that made his will stand sturdy. It was his battle after all; his battle with Rukia's older brother. No one had the right to interfere. It was something personal for him.
He gazed back at Rukia who was still asking Renji questions about the conditions of her brother, Byakuya and her captain, Ukitake.
Ichigo hated her brother for letting something like this to happen to her, but then again, after all the battle and things that were explained…what does a man have to do if they were in Kuchiki Byakuya's position? In a way, he had learned to give some respect to the man. After all, despite all things…he was important to Rukia.
Ichigo sighed and darted his gaze once more towards the setting sun.
My hollow side…
In an instant, his thoughts went back to the time he visited Urahara and asked for his help.
---four days ago…at Urahara Kisuke's shop---
"Hello! heart Welcome to my beloved shop! heart" Urahara was a mere image of a perverted man. "Oh…" His face fell down. "…it is only you, Ichigo."
"Who were you expecting?" Ichigo's brow twitched.
Urahara opened his fan in one brisk action and covered half of his face with it. "I don't know. It is summer, after all. Young high school girls are frequent to my shop during this season."
---an arrow points at Urahara's head---- 'Dirty old man' it flashed.
"Do you actually sell something aside from those weird things you invented in Soul Society?" Ichigo's expression was indescribable.
"Hmmmm?" Urahara peered at the orange-haired guy. He didn't speak for a long time and just looked at Ichigo with a mysterious gaze behind his fan. The only sound evident was the soft ticking of an old clock nearby.
"Oi…" Ichigo stared at him with an unsure glance.
"I do." Urahara finally said. "Ordinary earthly things!" He cheerfully gestured his hand about.
Ichigo almost lost his balance. "Then, what's up with that long pause!"
Urahara chuckled. "Nothing. I just thought it would make things look dramatic."
Ichigo sweat-dropped. "And to think you used to be a captain." His image of a captain was a serious and matured one…like Kuchiki Byakuya or Hitsugaya Toushirou. Urahara Kisuke doesn't seem to fit the description.
"What are you talking about? I am just a simple handsome perverted businessman." twinkle twinkle twinkling lights all round
"Your true identity had been long revealed for quite some time now!" Ichigo scolded.
"Hahaha!" Urahara laughed. "Is that so." It was a statement not a question.
Ichigo mumbled which only made the other man chuckle some more.
"Oi…sandal-hat…" The orange-haired teen started to say.
Ichigo avoided Urahara's eyes. "I need your help."
The sandaled man raised his brow. "My help?"
"My…ah…" Ichigo fidgeted. "…that thing…myself…my other self…"
"Your other self?" Urahara asked with a smile as he sat down on the steps of his shop.
"The…hollow inside me…" He finally said.
"Ah…yes…that strong side of yours." Urahara said thoughtfully.
"There is nothing strong about something uncontrollable!" Ichigo suddenly burst out.
"But I believe he can use your bankai far effectively." He adjusted his hat which shadowed his eyes. "He was quite superior versus Kuchiki Byakuya back then."
"How…how did you know about that?" Ichigo blinked.
"I just know." Urahara remarked with a happy face, but he suddenly riveted to a very serious one after that. "But...a hollow is still a hollow." He closed his fan and crossed his legs.
"Ah." Ichigo leaned his back against a wall and stared out into space. "You placed me into a situation before which brought him out. It turned me back into being a shinigami, but your training did release him."
"He is bound to show up sooner or later." Urahara said. "Same with your true shinigami powers. We just need it badly back then. It is something in you…waiting to be awakened. There is a reason for that exceptionally powerful reiatsu you have. Your spiritual force will grow stronger as you get older, and since your hollow side feeds in this power…it is inevitable that he would gain much consciousness."
"So, I guess you already know about my current problem." Ichigo remarked.
"What problem?" Urahara replied.
"What's with that look? After all that talk about him gaining consciousness." Ichigo narrowed his eyes.
But the sandaled man just gave a cheerful smile. "I was referring to that time you confronted him when you tried regaining zangetsu."
Ichigo gazed at the man. His smile looked convincing, but still…
"Well anyway…what was this current problem of yours?" Urahara asked casually.
The orange-head teen took a deep breath. "I can feel him. He is getting stronger. I dream about him more frequent these days. He always had the same taunting smirk and kept repeating that he will soon take over." Then, he faced Urahara squarely. "I think he is right. He is stronger than me. He can use zangetsu far better than I can. I am actually afraid to wield my zanpakutou in full power. I am avoiding the use of bankai…because as far as I'm concerned…bankai is his technique."
"In short…you came to me to ask for a way to shut your hollow side out." The sandaled man concluded.
"Ah." Ichigo bent his head down and rubbed the back of his neck. "I can't runaway forever."
"But isn't shutting your hollow side, a way of running as well?" Urahara pointed out.
"What do you mean?"
"Mmmph." The older man stood up. "Ichigo…he is still you, you know. Shutting him means that you are hiding from a part of you."
"He is not me." Ichigo gritted his teeth as his hollow self's smirking face flashed inside his head. "There is no way I would be a blood thirsty person. There is no way I can be uncaring and would only bother for a taste of power. There is simply no way…I can be like what that guy is."
"How would you know?" Urahara's eyes were hidden from his hat's shadow. "A person always has something dark subconsciously hidden inside him. Yours may have manifested in your hollow self's personality."
"A hollow…cares for nothing but feeding himself with spiritual force to make him more powerful." The orange head teen muttered. "He would live to fight and destroy every one around him."
"A hollow can also depict the extremities of a person's innermost desires." Urahara pointed out.
"I WOULD NOT SEEK OTHER PEOPLE'S DESTRUCTION!" Ichigo shouted.
But Urahara just looked at him. "Hai. Hai." He nodded casually.
The orange head teen realized that he raised his voice at the man. "I'm sorry. I got carried away." He apologized and let himself slid down towards the floor.
The sandaled man gave a small smile. "I think it is pointless to try and make you understand. You simply have to realize it for yourself."
Ichigo looked up. "What do you mean?"
"Do you really want that hollow inside you to stop bothering you?" Urahara asked in a mysterious tone.
"Ah." He nodded.
"Well, then…" Urahara was suddenly back to his smiling businessman-like demeanor. "…I may have just thing for you." He quickly reached inside behind his shop's sliding door and revealed a limp looking lizard and dangled it in front of Ichigo's face.
"Wha…! What is that!" The orange head teen moved away.
"It's not a real reptile." The shop owner said. "It is something made out of leather." He squished the sides of the lizard with a happy face. "See…see."
"Okay. Okay. I get it. Now move that thing away from me." Ichigo grunted.
"I can't do that because it's this thing that shall put you under training once again." Urahara rubbed his unshaven chin. "This hasn't been tested yet. You are going to be the very first one to try it out."
"What! Is that thing safe?"
"Ehhh?" Urahara peered at him. "And since when have you thought about your own safety. Who was that person who courageously stuck his zanpakutou in that reckless invention of mine to attain bankai within three days?"
"It was different that time." Ichigo pointed out. "Rukia's life was in danger and I am out of options."
"And you think her life now isn't in danger?" The sandaled man asked. "…everyone's life…for that matter. Aizen is going to go straight for Karakura city a few more months from now. After his done with this town, soul society will be his next target. Do you think you can face him in your current state?"
This silenced Ichigo.
"Although, it is quite arrogant to think that you are the only one that is going to face Aizen, considering that Soul Society still has powerful captains and vice-captains under its wing, I don't think all of them would be able to raise their reiatsu in less than a year. They could get more powerful but still…not as fast your ability allows you to." He shot the teen a very serious look. "When it all comes down to it…you will be once again…heavily relied on, and the hollow in you…" His eyes projected something dark and heavy. "…shouldn't be a hindrance to attain something more powerful with zangetsu."
Ichigo stood up. "That's my point. My hollow side shouldn't bother me. Make him go away." He grabbed Urahara's haori. "…sandal-hat…your help…this lizard thing…is it going to work?"
"I think you are mistaken, Ichigo." The sandaled man remarked. "This is not going to get rid of your hollow side."
"What do you mean? What is it for, then?"
"Your hollow self kept saying that he will soon take over, right?"
"So…why not give him that privilege?" Urahara smiled cheerfully.
"Let him take over. Give him a taste of the outside world." The sandaled man grinned playfully.
"ARE YOU CRAZY! You can't have something like that on the loose!" Ichigo exclaimed with disbelief that the person before him was actually suggesting such a dangerous thing. "It will be like another hollow terrorizing Karakura! A much much more powerful hollow! We already have difficulty dealing with ordinary hollows, what will a high-leveled one equipped with a zanpakutou and bankai will end up doing! I simply won't let go of my body that way!"
Urahara suddenly dropped his hand on top of Ichigo's shoulders. "Exactly." He smiled mysteriously at him. "You wouldn't let him have his way now, would you? That is why…this training's purpose is for you to learn to match your hollow's self will but to do that…you must understand how he thinks. The two of you will be switching positions. See what it is like to be him inside you. And at the same time…in a way…he would feel less distraught as he breathes in the fresh air of the outside world."
"What if…I can't pull him back?" Ichigo's eyes wavered.
But Urahara kept his happy-go-lucky face. "Then that would be catastrophic!" He chuckled brightly. "It will be a blood bath as he goes on his rampage! Haha!"
"That is not something to be laughed about!" Ichigo exclaimed.
"But nevertheless…" Urahara shook Ichigo's head. "…are you up to it? It is the only fastest way for you to control him. Remember…Aizen isn't like Byakuya. He is now associated with hollows…an alliance even. He is greatly aware of how a hollow moves and thinks. That would be a disadvantage to you if your hollow side takes over while in battle with Aizen. He might even end up controlling you."
Ichigo gritted his teeth. Sandal-hat has a point. It was better to gamble now than later. "Fine." He muttered with a very deep frown drawn on his forehead. "I'll do it."
Urahara smiled mysteriously. "Good."
---------Back on the rooftop----------
"Damn." Ichigo muttered under his breath as he pulled his shirt up to rub his stomach area. This caught his two companions' attention.
"Oi…Ichigo. Is that where Urahara stuck that reptile thing?" Rukia inquired. "I can't see anything."
"You're not supposed to see it." Renji remarked. "It only makes itself visible once Ichigo goes through the transition."
"Oh really?" Curious Rukia started poking Ichigo's stomach.
"Stop that!" Ichigo roared as he dropped his shirt back down and moved away.
By this time, the sun had almost set. The first night star became evident in the sky.
"So like what I said…Rukia…" Renji's expression was serious and grave. "I didn't get the clearance, but you did."
"But why?" Rukia focused her attention back to Renji much to Ichigo's relief. The woman might carry things a bit further once it caught her attention. And considering that she hasn't seen him since that incident in Soul Society, there were things she hasn't been aware of.
"I don't know." Renji replied. "It's puzzling really. Kuchiki-taichou, Ukitate-taichou and Hitsugaya-taichou…all went here to counter Ichigo's hollow side. Of course, they came in different days, but the end result was the same."
"They all got beaten." Rukia finished for him.
"Yeah." Renji glanced at Ichigo who seemed to be avoiding his eyes. He knew that Ichigo was strong, but he didn't know that he was this strong. The guy had grown so much since their fight. And to think he was able to beat Kuchiki-taichou. He thought. It was quite something since he had always admired his captain and placed a goal that someday he would be as powerful. But this guy… He glanced at the moping orange-haired teen. To beat my captain twice…and not only Kuchiki-taichou…but two more of Gotei-13 captains…and he didn't even end up having a scratch. He narrowed his eyes. His hollow self is insanely strong. "I couldn't understand why this task was assigned to you alone, Rukia."
"I know that I have been recovering since that awful thing was taken from me, but I don't think I am a suitable opponent for Ichigo." Rukia said thoughtfully.
"It is not me…it's my hollow side." Ichigo mumbled.
"We know already." Renji and Rukia said in unison.
The red-haired shinigami cleared his throat. "You should be careful, Rukia. Maybe you should hide somewhere and…"
And Renji received a direct blow on the face. "Eow! What the hell!"
"Don't you dare to tell me to runaway with my tail between my legs, Renji!" Rukia exclaimed with a stern glare. "May I remind that I am still a shinigami. I won't have people around me…protecting me all the time!"
Renji remained silent, but Ichigo looked surprised. "Rukia…"
"You hear that, Renji!" She said in a determined tone. Her words were directed to Renji but her eyes were on Ichigo's.
"Yeah." Renji smirked.
A deeper frown crept on Ichigo's forehead. "Still…it is dangerous for you to be here alone." Then, he turned to the red-haired shinigami. "Oi…what exactly did that old man say?"
Renji adjusted his headband. "If I remember correctly…he said that he won't be sending more officials in the human world. If more limits were broken and released, it might get too dangerous for the residents nearby. Captain-level and Vice Captain-level reiatsu would be dangerous for a human soul if released successively. I think he said, to avoid harmful side effects, a week gap is needed before sending someone powerful again."
"A week!" This time, it was Ichigo and Rukia who said it in unison.
"Yeah." He scratched his head. "You need to hold Ichigo's hollow side off for a week."
"A week…" Rukia's world was spinning. She knew she has her pride to satisfy, but how the hell could she face someone that strong for a week? She might be dead in minute's time.
Ichigo jumped and grabbed Renji's black kimono. "Are you guys insane! How can you leave Rukia all alone for a week with him!"
"How could you agree in doing something like that with Urahara!" Renji countered. "I mean…this is plainly stupid. You allowed your hollow self take control of your body during night time and transform back again to your old self when morning comes…you know what kind of destruction a hollow is capable of doing in a matter of minutes…why the hell did you agreed in releasing one in full 12 hrs per day!"
Ichigo was silent for a moment. "Well…I trust sandal-hat."
"You what! May remind you of what he did to Rukia!" Renji exclaimed.
"Even so! He was the one who trained me. He was there when I needed help. There are a lot of things I learned from him." Ichigo pointed out.
"Hmph!" Renji snobbishly turned on his heels. "It's almost dark." He balled his hands into fists. He was shaking as he spoke. "I…I can't stay long. As much as I want to support Rukia in this mission, they placed some kind of teleporter in me. It will automatically go off in a two minutes. Some how they were anticipating that I may choose to stay and help Rukia."
"You can't blame them." Rukia said thoughtfully. "You did defy Onii-sama before…and he is your captain."
"Yeah…" He gave the petite girl a side glance which seemed to be more tender than expected.
"So, that's it? You're leaving?" Inside, Ichigo was starting to get scared. He wasn't scared of his hollow side but he was scared for Rukia's well-being. Rukia…
"I have no choice." Renji remarked.
"Damn it." Ichigo slumped down and buried his face in his hands.
"Top it all off…" The red-haired shinigami tilted his head. "…we can't find Urahara Kisuke anywhere. His shop was closed. Not a soul in sight."
"Really?" Rukia was surprised. "He had always been responsible in regards to his merchandise…why would he disappear at this time?"
"Beats me." Renji shrugged. "It's almost time." Some kind of tatami started materializing underneath his feet. "Here it goes." Then, he shot Ichigo a glance, only to see the orange head teen squirming his gut out as a lizard-like thing started glowing on his stomach.
"Ichigo!" Rukia quickly ran and knelt beside him. She was about to place her hand on his shoulders when he suddenly pushed them away aggressively. "Ichigo…"
"Go away!" He shouted. "Go away, Rukia…please." He shut his eyes as throbbing pain overcame him. He felt his consciousness being pulled away. He's surfacing… Ichigo thought. "Run while you still can!"
"I am not going to run!" Rukia stubbornly said. She stood up and wore her skull glove. I must turn into my shinigami self before his hollow side comes. And with one brisk action, Rukia pushed her gigai out and stood squarely in her shinigami form. She tightly grasped her zanpakutou. Ichigo…
Behind them, the tatami which appeared underneath Renji, opened and a light started covering his body. Good luck, Rukia. And no second sooner, Renji disappeared, thus leaving his childhood friend and comrade behind.
On the other hand, Ichigo was screaming as he clutched the tiles of their roof. He could hear him. He could hear him laughing.
It's time for me to get out now. Thank you so much, Ichigo. I'm going to have so much 'fun' again.
"Nooooooooooooooo! You better not hurt Rukia!" He shouted and lost consciousness. His body went limp and started rolling down the roof.
Rukia gasped. "Ichigo!" She quickly jumped after him to keep his body from falling off the roof. She placed her arm around his neck to anchor him against her. "Phew…that was close." She said as she stared down the fairly high house.
"This is quite close." She felt a cold hand touching her arm.
Another gasp escaped Rukia as she glanced down towards her lap. She wasn't expecting the sight which met her.
Smirking up at her was something which looked like Ichigo. The same form, the same body except for some details. The color of his hair was no longer orange. It was now…pure white. Even whiter than Ukitake-taichou's hair. His eyes were no longer brown, they were completely black except for the iris which was as white as his hair. The frown he carried wasn't as deep as what Ichigo normally has, maybe because it was overthrown by the large smirk and taunting-like expression he had. His skin was paler and his voice wasn't as deep as Ichigo's but it was creepy as it sounded like there was always an echo in every word that came out of his mouth.
"You must be…Rukia." He grinned up at her.
Rukia sensed that enormous change of his reiatsu which made her fall backwards and knelt in a guard position. She had never seen Ichigo's hollow self before. This was the first time.
The foreboding guy in front of her slowly stood up and adjusted his white hakama. Beside him, a white version of zangetsu suddenly materialized. The white cloth/bandage which dangled at the end of the large sword danced in the air as it got blown by the night wind. Their combination seemed to be quite eye-catching against the darkness of the surroundings.
"And you must be…" Rukia swallowed hard as she stared at his broad back. "…Ichigo's hollow self."
Geez, I seem to be writing more and more bleach fics lately. But alas, this one is not as long as my other stories and is lighter to read.
You all know what goes here. R & R Onegai Shimasu!
(I am not the only here who likes Ichigo's hollow side now, am I?)