Ichigo stared down at the girl in front of him. She was bleeding pretty badly, and she didn't have the strength left to fight. A feeling of dread washed over him. She was the only one who could beat this horrible monster, a thing she had called a hollow, and now she was out of the fight. What was he going to do now?

The hollow let out a lour roar, and Ichigo jerked his head up to look at the beast. Run. Every fiber of his being was telling him to run. He couldn't, though. His feet felt heavy. Karin screamed for him to run, but he couldn't move. The hollow lunged at him. He heard the girl yelled at him, telling him to move, but all he could do was stand there and cover his head in a futile attempt to shield himself. There was a sharp pain, a pain that started in his chest and quickly spread thought his body. And then, nothing.

oOo

"You must find your powers before this world collapses. If you don't, you'll turn into a hollow."

Ichigo stared at the man in disbelief. There were millions of boxes here! How was he supposed to find the one that held his powers? He was about to argue this point, but he stopped himself. Arguing wouldn't save him. He had to go through as many boxes as he could.

The first several boxes were unsuccessful, and with each empty box Ichigo's panic increased. "Gah," he screamed at nobody in particular, "This is impossible! I'll never make it!"

He paused. For some reason, Ishida came to mind. That cocky bastard had found him so easily before. How had he done it? All Ichigo remembered was something about ribbons. Ribbons, ribbons…how did ribbons affect him?

He looked around quickly and saw that the boxes were almost gone. He only had a few seconds left now. He had to remember! Suddenly, it came to him. A Shinigami's ribbon was a different color. It was red! That's it! He called out to the ribbons and sought out the red one. He saw it, the end dangling a few feet in front of him. He leapt forward, reaching out as far as he could. His fingertips were mere millimeters away from the ribbon when everything went dark. All of the boxes were gone, and the ribbon burst into flames and disappeared. Ichigo let out a scream, and everything went dark.

oOo

Ichigo didn't understand what was going on. He had just wanted to help that kid standing next to the river. Why was momma laying on the ground now? Why wasn't she moving? He kneeled down next to her and shook her shoulder lightly. "Momma?"

She didn't move. Ichigo pushed a little harder on her shoulder and said, "Momma? Get up…"

He sniffled. "I wannah go home…get up momma."

There was a cruel laugh behind him. Ichigo turned around quickly, and he saw a horrible looking monster standing behind him. It licked its lips as it moved towards him. "Delicious," it said, "What a delicious soul…"

Ichigo was scared. He turned back to his mother and shook her again, this time more violently, "Momma, get up! There's a monster!"

The monster laughed again. "She's never getting up again," it said, its voice full of malice, "And neither are you!"

The monster lunged at Ichigo. Not knowing what else to do, Ichigo shut his eyes tightly and screamed as he clung to his mother's body for dear life. Maybe if he had been older, or maybe if someone had been there, he might have been okay. But sadly, a nine year old boy does not pose much of a challenge to a full grown hollow.

oOo

Ichigo was, not surprisingly, scared. The situation he was in had gone vastly out of control. If he had been thinking more clearly, he would have known better than to fight Byakuya head-on without much of a plan. While brute force was useful, he didn't really have enough to overcome Byakuya, and that was the source of all his problems. A little bit of thought would have prevented him from getting into this situation. Ichigo wasn't known for thinking, though, so here he was.

That was the whole reason that creature inside him had come out, too. The creature knew that Ichigo wasn't strong enough to beat Byakuya on his own, and it wasn't about to forfeit its own life just because his host had been careless. So, it had taken control of Ichigo's body, and it had turned the battle in Ichigo's favor.

That was enough, though. Ichigo knew what this monster would to if it continued, so he fought back. He needed to get control of his body back before the thing devoured his soul and killed Byakuya. Of course, the creature wasn't going to give up without a fight. Ichigo tried several times to regain control, but the creature just pushed him back each time.

It was getting close. If Ichigo didn't get control of his body quickly, the creature would win for good. In one last-ditch effort Ichigo mustered up all of his strength and pushed…

…Only to be pushed back by the creature once again. "You had your chance," the creature said, "You blew it."

The last thing Ichigo ever saw was the creature inside of him dealing the killing blow to Byakuya as it laughed like a maniac.

oOo

It wouldn't be long now. It had been growing stronger ever since Soul Society. At first all Ichigo had to do was force it back every now and then if it got bold. Now, however, it was an almost constant effort to stay in control. He rarely slept anymore, fearing that the monster inside of him would take over if he fell into a deep sleep.

He felt so stupid. Those people, the ones who were like him, they had offered to help. He had turned them down, though. Now he wished that he hadn't. Maybe, just maybe, if he had let them help him…

It was too late for that now, though. Even if they re-appeared and offered to train him, Ichigo knew that it wouldn't be enough. He had made his bed, and soon he would have to lie in it.

Exactly how long did he have, though? He knew it couldn't be more than a few days. Nowadays he had to keep his focus on staying in control all the time. He was so tired…maybe becoming a hollow wouldn't be so bad after all. At least then he could get some rest.

This was unfair. He was barely sixteen, for crying out loud! Teenagers shouldn't have to struggle with something like this. He wanted to lash out, to make this right somehow. Maybe go to Urahara, go and get him to apologize for getting him into this mess, maybe-

Kill him.

No. He shook his head forcefully. No no no no no! He was not going to kill Urahara. He wasn't going to kill anyone! It wasn't their fault. There was no way Urahara could have known that this would happen. It was just a case of bad luck, that's all.

He was shaking. That happened a lot. Water was what he needed. That would calm him down. He made his way out of his bedroom and downstairs to the kitchen, where he got a glass of water and gulped it down as quickly as he could. Then he splashed some cold water on his face. He needed to stay awake. If he fell asleep…

"Ichigo."

That was his father. Ichigo quickly went on the defensive preparing for an attack. Isshin just held up his hand, though, and said, "Calm down, I'm not going to attack you this time."

He was trying to be cheerful, but Ichigo could tell that it was forced. His old man must've known something was up. He let his hands fall to his side, but he stayed on his guard. You never knew just what Kurosaki Isshin was planning. Ichigo watched his father carefully as he said, "What do you want, then?"

Isshin didn't say anything at first. It looked like he was trying to find just the right words to express himself. After a few failed attempts to speak, Isshin finally said, "Is there something wrong? You've been acting weird ever since you came back from break."

Ichigo made an irritated noise. Normally this wouldn't bother him, but a lack of sleep and constant worrying had made his temper even shorter than normal. "It's not that big of a deal," he said, "Just leave me alone, dad. I can take care of myself."

In his mind he heard the echoing laughter of the hollow. Ichigo silently told it to shut up while his father sighed. "Don't give me that. I know you haven't been sleeping, and you haven't been yourself at all. If you could take care of it, then you wouldn't-"

"I said I can handle it," Ichigo snapped, "I'm not a kid, dad! I'm not weak!"

"There's nothing weak about asking for help when you need it," Isshin insisted, "You just-Ichigo?"

Everything was becoming blurry. Ichigo rubbed his eyes, but that didn't help. He could hear the laugher again, only it was louder this time. It felt like it was coming from everywhere, and Ichigo clamped his hands over his ears. Not yet. He wasn't ready. He had planned on saying his goodbyes tomorrow and going off to some secluded place, so that nobody would have to see him in his last moments. Apparently the hollow had other plans, though. Ichigo fought back with all his might, but it wasn't enough this time. He was too tired, and his energy was drained from constantly fighting back. The hollow was taking over now.

Ichigo could still hear the cries of his father, but they seemed distant now. He sank to his knees, still clutching his head and squeezing his eyes shut tightly. "Not yet," he said shakily, trying to get through to the hollow, "Not yet…"

His pleas were met with only maniacal laughter. It grew louder and louder, to the point where it was unbearable. Then, as suddenly as it had come, there was nothing. No sound, no pain, nothing. Ichigo had finally slipped into the slumber he had wanted for weeks now.