- Hard way to hollow -


Author note: This story was written by myself and Sephy-Chan.


Edited: 12 Nov. 09

Ichigo woke up with a start and his eyes met with a dark cloud filled sky. As soon as he saw the foreboding rain clouds, his eyes widened, his body stiffed, and he shot up from the ground to find himself not where he went to bed, but inside his own soul. Again.

It was the last place he wanted to be and his eyes widened in fear as they focused on an eerier white form that slowly loomed closer, dragging a white cleaver in its cloth behind him, making a grinding sound echo between buildings as a grin speared over his white face.

Not wanting to deal with his white alter-ego he inched back, desperately trying to find a way out of here. The other figure still loomed closer and started laughing in a high pitched voice Ichigo had come to hate and fear.

Thinking about an exit he realized he never left on his own. Always being sent back, or dragged out by force. His heart seemed to freeze when a white bony hand wrapped around his throat and pushed his entire body against the cold glass windows of the sideways building that formed the floor.

Ichigo grunted as his jaw was pressed against the cold surface, his left eye starting to water as it was forced into the ground. He tried to wriggle free, twist and turn, his arms and legs struggling in a futile attempt to get away. Ichigo cried out, begged for the hollow not to hurt him again, to let him rest for at least one night, to be free from pain. But the white boy ignored his pleads and lifted his neck up into the air only to slam it back into the ground several times.

He lost count, not wanting to remember, not able to remember. Any attempt to struggle into a sitting position using his arm only resulted in a sandaled foot crushing his nose and sending his head to meet with a concrete edge this time. Slowly the world in front of his eyes grew darker with each passing second, blood dripping from his nose onto the glass, staining it deep red.

Ichigo's lips were swollen, something they always seemed to be these days and he stared out over the mist filled world of skyscrapers. He tried to picture somewhere else – imagine a place other than this. Imagining that he was not there until a most real hand grabbed his hair. Ichigo closed his eyes, tried desperately to think of something, anything else. But his hollows' head crept closer to his ear, breathing down his neck and whispered;

"You're here Ichigo… and you always will be. I'll always be here, to make sure you don't like it until you are so pathetic that you will beg for me eat you alive, until I am your only escape. So don't you dare pretend anything else."

Ichigo heard what the white one told him, but with the blood pulsing in his ears and the blood seeping out of his nose made it hard to form a rational response.

"Uhnng..." was all he managed. The hollow grinned at first, then slowly started to chuckle with a hint of madness.

"Why not make your suffering a little more interesting?" Unsheathing his white zanpaktou, he thrust it though the palm of the others hand.

Ichigo screamed, his voice filled with fear and pain, his breath quickening into short gasps. He cried, his eyes watering as the blade was rotated, opening a hole in his palm. The other hand was stabbed as well and quickly Ichigo curled together, his hands shaking in front of his eyes as he couldn't touch them, since it would only increase the burning pain. He wailed loudly, just making sounds of despair as he was pushed to the ground again, his head slamming into the concrete, since he could not break the fall with his hands.

"Awww, does it hurt, little Ichigo...?" The voice sounded concerned, and white hands grabbed one of the bleeding ones, as if giving it a closer look before squeezing it tightly. "This better!?" The bright voice rose in volume, to make sure it was heard over the agonized screams from Ichigo.

Agonised screams filled his inner world as it started to rain heavily from the dark clouds. Letting go of the bloodied hand the white hollow looked up, the rain dripping in his eyes, making him blink.

"Tch, rain..." Looking back at the black bleeding pile that was his king, he was disgusted. How could someone so weak as that boy beat him? The thought alone pissed him off even more than the rain and he kicked the figure on the ground hard. Ichigo landed a few meters away, coughing up blood from a bitten tongue and curled up in pain, his hands still shaking beyond his control. The hollow jumped and landed next to his master and pried one of the hands loose and squeezed it.

"How could I be beaten by someone as weak as you!?" Venom dripped from his words as he threw the hand back on the concrete, stepping on it and pressed it like one would a cigarette.

The hollow bent down, his foot still on the hand and pulled Ichigo by his hair to force him too look at him.

"Tell me King; Why are you so pathetic, Why are you so weak, Why are you such a god damn failure!?" he spat in Ichigo's face and before the boy could answer, which he knew he wasn't supposed to do anyways, a fist smashed his already broken nose and eye. It quickly swelled and Ichigo could no longer open it. Blood ran out of his mouth in a thick trail along his chin when it dropped forward as he lost consciousness.

"Pathetic..." the hollow whispered and with a grimace the boy he held in his hand was thrown over the edge of the blue building he was standing on, knowing Ichigo left this world when he didn't hear the sound of bones breaking on concrete.

Ichigo heard someone calling him…

'Ichi-nii!' A voice woke him as he was shaken by small hands and little strength. Slowly opening his eyes, which took some time to focus, he saw that he was in his own room and sat up straight at once, looking at his hands. Once again his heart was pounding so hard in his chest that he wondered when he would get a stroke.

"Ichi-nii! You're okay!" his blond sister, Yuzu, said as she hugged him, sobbing. "You were screaming in your sleep and didn't wake up when I called you." She looked in his chocolate brown eyes that still looked confused. "I'm so glad you're awake now. I was scared." She admitted before she started to sob against his chest even more.

"It's nothing Yuzu." Ichigo lied, quickly wiping his eyes from tears he felt had formed as he had been 'sleeping'. He looked away from his sister's face when he felt his own start to deform with sadness. He breathed in sharply through his nose. No! He couldn't cry in front of his sister, never. She would not see him weak and pathetic. He took another deep breath and exhaled slowly before looking at the young girl again.

"I'm fine, so don't worry. I'll come downstairs in a bit, since I guess dinner is ready? Hehe, I must have fallen asleep again, my bad. Sorry."

Yuzu could easily hear the strain in his voice; she could clearly see that he wanted to hide his breaking voice and his swollen eyes. She decided not to ask when she could clearly see that he did not want to talk about it. She got up, she was a big girl, she knew when to leave matters to themselves, plus she had no clue what was bothering her brother.

"Dinner will be ready in ten minutes." She said in a low voice and squeezed his wrist. She quickly regretted doing to when she felt him stiffen with pain. Her face turned worried again, but she decided to leave it and quickly exited the room and hurried down the stairs. As soon as she was down her father ran up to her.

"What's wrong, my little angel?" He asked, voice concerted.

"Its Ichi-nii, he's crying again!"

Worry flashed through his dark brown eyes, not even a second, but it was there. "He must have broken up with a girl!" He said happily, not wanting to worry his little girl. Knowing full well inside that it must be something more than a simple nightmare to make Ichigo cry.

"But his writs hurt..." The blond sobbed, letting her tears flow freely. "I touched it and he was in pain..."

"That stupid son of mine must have been angry and think he could punch though a wall!" This seemed to cheer her up a bit. "Now Daddy will tell him to stop acting like a baby and act his age! He shouldn't be worrying his sister."

With that said Isshin ran upstairs, stopping in front of his son's room. Knocking the door he could hear Ichigo sobbing slightly inside. He opened the door and dropped his happy facade when he walked past the door post. The orange haired teen lay on his bed, curled up into a ball, hands close to his body. Isshin began to wonder what happened when his son went to his room to lay down earlier that day.

Slowly he walked up to the bed, but decided against touching his son; instead he sat down on Ichigo's chair and rolled it up close to be bed. First he just sat there, letting Ichigo speak first if he wanted, but words never came and Isshin could only see his son's chest heave up and down in heavy breaths, sometimes twitching as Ichigo obviously was trying to stop crying. Isshin frowned and moved his own hands together before he lay a comforting one on his sons shoulder despite his decision only a few seconds earlier.

"Ichigo... What's wrong...?" he asked softly.

As expected Ichigo only flinched at the touch. His shoulders pushed closer together and his legs curled closer to his body. A whimper was heard and Isshin quickly removed his hand, clearly feeling Ichigo's rejection. Isshin frowned again, but decided it was best to leave his son alone. He was after all, for the still unknown reason, crying too hard and refusing to talk to anyone. His son really needed to learn to open up and not hide everything inside. It wasn't the first time Isshin had found his son lying like this; crying quietly on his bed.

"Will you come down for dinner, Ichigo...?" He asked with a steady voice. He didn't expect an answer but was relieved when he heard a voice broken from crying whisper a "Yes..." in response before he left the boy alone in the dark room.

Once down stairs again, he smiled at his sisters that looked at him for answers.

"Ichigo will be down with us soon! He's my son, so no need to worry!" He almost screamed as he threw himself at the table and happily filled his plate with today's dinner, successfully distracting his daughters from worrying thoughts about their brother as he started babbling about pointless things.

After about a fifteen minutes of eating Ichigo slowly came downstairs, his wrists wrapped in white bandages from a first-aid kit in his room. His eyes were still a bit red and he looked tired, dragging his feet as he walked down the stairs not bothering to lift them or his head. When he came into view of his family they fell silent, no laughter, no meaningless chat. Seeing Ichigo like this broke their hearts, he never was like this for as far as they could remember.

However Isshin had seen his son like this, but only once before, and that was after the death of his mother; Masaki. He refused to talk back then, didn't want anyone to touch him. Just sitting in his room all day, when he was outside he was searching the riverbed where she died. Isshin just hoped he wouldn't have to see his son like that again and that whatever what was bothering him would pass.

"Ichi-nii?" The black haired sister questioned, when he came slouching into the kitchen.

"I'm fine," Ichigo answered as he gave them a weak smile, not wanting others to worry about him, "I'm not very hungry, so I'm gonna take a shower and go to bed," his voice was hoarse from all the screaming and crying of the past hour. He left the kitchen, heading for the shower.

"He's acting really weird," Karin noted.

"Daddy," the blond said, her voice filled with worry about her brother, "please take a look at his wrist."

Isshin sprung up from his seat. "Daddy will make sure that he's in perfect condition!" He yelled from his position on top of the table. Looking at his daughters, whom seemed unfazed by his outburst, he got off the furniture.

"Don't worry, he's just in a stage in his life. Let him be and don't worry. It'll pass soon enough," he said in a more serious tone as he went for the shower where his son should be.

Ichigo himself was standing in the bathroom, making sure he wasn't looking at the mirror, scared of what he would see if he did. He slowly let his pants drop and took off his shirt. He wearily eyed his body, stared at the all too visible hip bones, the too clearly seen ribs. He ran a thin hand along his stomach and sighed before he started removing the bandaged from his wrists, slowly loosening it until his skin was exposed to the air of the world. He didn't like what he saw; rashes, eczema to be exact.

He couldn't help but to move his nails to scratch at them, as he stepped into the shower and started the water. He scratched too much and for too long until the skin went numb and even redder than before. As he scratched at his arm, the other areas with the same eczema began to itch and get irritated as well. He scratched his neck, the inside of his thighs, both his wrists and lower arms. It came from stress he was sure of it. He didn't dare to tell anyone why he wasn't sleeping, eating, drinking or even leaving his room anymore.

There was no need to tell them, he would solve this problem himself. Lost in thoughts looking for answers he didn't notice that the eczema on his left wrist had started bleeding, from too much scratching. Looking down when he felt it prickle, he saw the crimson fluid drip to the floor where it mixed with the hot water and left through the drain.

"Fuck…" Sighing and ignoring the blood for now, he grabbed the shower gel and smeared it over his body, cursing when the soap went over his rashes. 'This is going to be hard to keep secret, but it's MY problem,' he thought to himself and looked up unintentionally, straight in the mirror.

He regretted doing said action as soon as he had done it, as his saw his own reflection twist and bend, flash as if it was having bad connection with the world and deform into a pale, yellow and black eyed twisted version of himself that smiled all too crudely at him. He could hear whispers, cries and screams of certain doom rise, filling his mind until there was nothing else and he fell to the wet slippery floor as one voice raised above all the others, a bright high, twisted version of his own voice.

'I'm as close as I can be now Ichigo, I am in every action you do, in every breath you take, in everything you see and touch. I am you and you are mine. You will fall as I break your puny soul and take you over. I am your rashes, I am your skin.'

The voice boomed, pushed all other sounds away and Ichigo screamed on the ground.

"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" he begged the voice, but it would not yield. "I'm the King, I'm the King! Do as I say! SHUT UP!"

'You were the King, but not anymore! Your horse stopped obeying! Your horse attac-' The booming words suddenly stopped, the hundreds of echoing voiced died and Ichigo gasped for air, his face distorting in a turmoil of emotion as he heard someone slam on the door to the bathroom.

Looking at the door; fear and worry filled his eyes. Then he realized that he was just yelling against a voice that no one but him could hear. In his panic he got out from under the shower and wrapped himself in those fluffy towels that did exactly what he didn't want, brush over his rashes and causing them to become even more irritated. His mind was hazy, not knowing what to do about his father banging on the door and his body itching like hell.

"J- just a sec.." His voice sounded broken, rough, tired. Just in time he managed to hide behind a large towel, as Isshin almost broke down the door after having opened it from the outside.

"I don't care what you say to me, something is very wrong," he was serious and most of all worried.

"N-no. I'm fine, really! Now get ou-" Ichigo stuttered until his voice left him. A shaking left hand made it way to his throat and he pushed against it as if wanting to push his vocal cords back into place, but his eyes just grew when the action revealed the eczema on his wrist.

Isshin's eyes narrowed at the sight, recognizing it at once. The large hand of his shot out and grabbed it to inspected it further. The orange haired teen wanted to scream in pain, but no sound came out from his mouth. It wasn't until he closed his teary eyes and clenched his jaw that his father noticed and released him. Ichigo managed a half baked kick and ran to his room, locking the door behind him.

'That was not a normal eczema' Isshin thought and moved a hand through his hair. He was starting to get really worried, Ichigo was anything but fine and he knew it. He bent down; grabbing the bandages Ichigo had been wearing before. He eyed them closely, the blood he saw on them made him want to go and bash some sense into his son, but he knew matters were worse than he thought, and that his normal methods would not help this time.

Ichigo didn't know what to do, his mind racing. His breathing was ragged as if he had been running for miles. He walked over to his bed, put on a pair of clean boxers before falling over it limply. He felt his hands and his rashes pulsing with pain. He just wanted it all to end and he curled together into a ball, wrapping the sheets of the bed around himself once again.

He tried to ignore the quiet voice in his head, it was so quiet that he wasn't sure if he was imagining it or not. Hours passed of it whispering of how pathetic he was, how he was nothing but a waste of life that needed to be put to an end and to stop fighting what was pointless to fight. The voice spoke of all mistakes he had done, about memories he tried to forget, showed him just how much of a loser he was.

The boy curled together more, if possible, and pushed his hands to his ears in a try to shut the voice out. Of course it didn't help and it wasn't until Ichigo was so exhausted that the world finally went black.

Two hours later Ichigo's eyes shot open; his heart racing as he woke up with a start from the alarm of his red mobile phone he didn't remembered setting. He wondered if he had actually fallen asleep yesterday, or simply fainted. He groaned as he slammed the phone off, but jerked fully awake as pain seared through his hands. Before he knew it he was up and in his bathroom, trying to stop the holes in his hands from bleeding. Ichigo's eyes were wide, his breath panicked. Why had those wounds appeared now...?

'Because I put them there!'

Ichigo spun around on the spot, looking behind himself, around himself, trying to see if anyone was there. But voice was gone as soon as it had come and of course no one was there in the room with him. But he kept looking behind his back every now and then, the paranoia never leaving him as he quickly set out to wrap his hands, arms and neck with thin layers of the last bandages he had in his room. Most of it was still downstairs since yesterday.

Washing his face, Ichigo tried to look and act happy. He had covered his mirror a long time ago; he didn't want to see his alter ego in there. He knew the hollow would be more powerful if they could see each other. Once done, he put on his school uniform, wearing a long sleeved t-shirt underneath that was too long in the arms, long enough to go over half his hands if he pulled enough. A pair of gloves also made their way over his hands before he grabbed his school bag, and almost stumbled over his chair from lack of sleep before he took a deep breath. Once he exhaled a shaky one, he practically ran down the stairs, past the kitchen, quickly grabbed his shoes and a jacket, getting out of the house before any of the others living there had the chance to even react.

Once outside he got goose bumps from the cold, it was colder than he expected it to be even if it was early fall. But going back inside would mean seeing his family and annoying questions that he would have to answer. He didn't feel like going to school either, he hadn't been to school in over a week. He would mostly go outside, heading in the direction of the school, but never go inside the building. Ichigo went training on his own, wanting to become stronger – strong enough to beat the hollow into a pulp. That would solve his problems.

But training also meant not going to school, missing classes and worried 'friends'. He groaned at the last thought. His 'friends'. How would they act towards him now? Sighing, he put on his shoes and started walking. After a few steps his neck began to ache, but he refrained from scratching. What if it would start to bleed? The thin bandages would get red and he would have to go to the school nurse. She would force him to remove them and call his father about the rash. Shaking his head, he absentmindedly walked into the street without looking and almost got hit by a car. Instinct saved him by making jump back, and cursed the driver. But when he tried to raise his voice there was no sound coming out. His hand back to his throat, his mind raced about what was wrong with him, knowing full well that his hollow was probably to blame for everything.

"Ichigo! Is that you?" He heard a familiar voice behind him, and spun around to see who it was. His school 'friend' Koijima Mizuiro. He just held up his hand to say hi, not that he could talk anyway.

"Where have you been? You haven't been at school for over a week," he sounded slightly worried and it annoyed the orange haired one. "Have you been fighting again?" Mizuiro asked upon seeing the bandages on the others neck. Not liking that the other might find out about his rashes, Ichigo covered it with his hand to hide it. He was however unable to hide his bloodshot, tired eyes and chapped lips.

"Are you okay?" Mizuiro sounded very worried this time about his friend, who normally was confident in everything and cuts and bruises were normal. "What happened?"

Ichigo didn't know what to do and ran to school; not wanting to deal with the worries of his classmate.

His thin legs pumped with energy that he didn't really have and he was out of breath long before he reached the school building. He leaned against its walls, at a place he knew not many students walked by, in an attempt to catch his breath. It took longer than he thought to calm down, but once he did he straitened and fixed his clothes, pulled up the collar of his jacket to hide the white fabric and ran a hand through his hair in a weak attempt to look a little more decent.

Taking another deep breath, he put his hands in his pockets and headed slowly towards the classroom. He decided to arrive late, so the other students wouldn't be able to talk to him due to the class having started. After arriving sooner than he had liked, he quietly walked over to his seat, hoping none would see him when he did. He made sure to be as quiet as possible.

But no matter how quiet he was, he knew everyone was starring at him and he tried to be as small as he could on his chair while taking up pens and paper from his bag, his hands hurting with every movement. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to come back. But he just wanted to do something normal for a change, to feel normal.

Class started and he focused hard on just writing stuff down from the board and nothing else, it was difficult though, his hands shaking, his fingers not really working. He dropped the pen several times, but he was determined to do nothing else than writing down the text that he wasn't really reading, he just copied each word for itself, not understanding the complete story.

Once class was over, Ichigo didn't know what to do. He slowly packed his pens back into his bag, or he tried, but dropped his pencil-box on the floor before he had the change to react. He wearily got off his seat and slowly bent down. His leg hurt for no practical reason and his world swayed as he did. He closed his eyes and ran a pair of gloved fingers over them.

"Hey Ichigo… are you alright…?" The soft voice of Tatsuki asked him, but it didn't sound soft to him, to him it sounded harsh and loud, his head sensitive to sound due to lack of sleep. He looked at her weakly through bloodshot eyes and smiled faintly at her, nodding.

She starred at him with eyes that clearly showed concern and said 'Don't lie to me'. But she never asked and instead helped him with his pencils as she easily noticed something was wrong with the boy's hands. She handed him the box filled with the rest of the pencils as Ichigo himself only had managed to pick up four of them himself.

"T-thanks…" Ichigo managed to squeak, its tone bright and twisted. It sounded as if it was tearing the insides of his throat when he spoke. Tatsuki's eyes widened slightly at his voice and Ichigo moved a gloved hand over his lips before he snatched the box from the girl and he got up with pain burning through his legs. He looked away, wanting to get away from his friends worried eyes and started to leave, but the pain in his legs caused him to stumble and fall to the floor with a cry of pain instead.

"Ichigo!" Tatsuki exclaimed. He tried to sit back up, but all his rashes started to burn more fiercely than before and he fell back to the ground. The white bandage on his neck was visible and starting to get redder with each passing second. Obvious to everyone else in the room, Ichigo made small pained noises in a voice that didn't sound as his own and he drew his knees close to his chest. More students came into the room after hearing the noises and worried murmur of a famous, cocky orange haired student. All of them just looked at him writhing on the ground in pain as tears started to from in his eyes without helping.

"Hey Ichigo..." Tatsuki said worriedly as she shook him lightly. Reaching out and grabbing one of his hands, she looked at the red bandages, noticing that they were burning hot and getting more red by the second.

Jerking his hand free Ichigo tried to get away like a terrified five-year old child. Tatsuki's hand came away wet and as she looked back at it she saw crimson, eyes widening she figured he must be in a terrible amount of pain to act like this. Tatsuki's resolve hardened as she lifted the dazed Ichigo to his feet and started to drag him to the school nurse. The students stepped aside, not wanting to touch the strange acting teen who didn't struggle.

Half lifting, half dragging him through the crowded hallways they were stared at. The office came into view and Ichigo started to seem a bit more aware, looking around he recognized where he was. He stumbled beside her and his face twisted in pain when she sat him down in the chair in front of the nurses office, his rashes and legs still burning.

"My..bag.." he said quietly, but loud enough for the black haired girl to hear. Nodding she headed back to class to get it.

As Ichigo was left alone on the cold bench and he pulled his legs close, leaning his head on his knees after wiping his tears away. He couldn't believe he had just had a breakdown in the classroom! He just wanted to get his bag and go somewhere – anywhere where he would be alone and away from everything. Away from his terrible alter ego that he hated more than anything else. The more he thought about it, the more he thought of his hollow and before he knew it voices began to mumble in his head once again, blocking out all other sounds.

He whimpered as he knew what was to come, but the booming voice of his hollow never came. The many voices that made no sense kept on ringing in his ears, not wanting to go away even as he covered his ears with hurting hands and clenched his jaw and eyes shut. Thick, salty tears ran from his eyes and into his mouth and he hastily wiped them away, almost thinking it was a mask that was forming.

The accusing voices were so loud now – never stopping. He pushed harder at his ears and rocked back and forth in his seat mumbling quietly to himself.

"Shut up… shut up… shut up… shut up…"

A gentle hand touched his shoulder, getting him out of his trance. His red eyes opened as he looked at the owner of the hand; the school doctor. She was disturbed by the boy in front of her, talking to himself, shaking and those red tinted bandages.

"Are you feeling alright?" Her voice was shaking slightly at the thought of what could be wrong with him.

He shook his head and tried to stand up, but fell to his knees in searing pain, a scream passing his lips. It sounded more like a blood curling howl of a hollow than the voice of the human boy emitting the sound. All students who were in the vicinity looked around to see where the sound came from.

How was a human able to make that kind of sound without any instruments or special effects? When Ichigo realized what he was doing he abruptly closed his mouth and covered it with his hands, making sure no more noises could come out. He breated quickly through his nose, more scared than anything, what the hell was happening to him? His body was shaking and he looked around. Every one of the students had a confused look on their face while others were just scared themselves. Ichigo saw Tatsuki come back through the crowd closely followed by Sado and Uryuu who recognized the sound as the scream of a hollow.

"Ichigo!" Tatsuki yelled as she saw him on the floor. Throwing the bag on the ground she sat down in front of him.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Her voice was honest and concerned. Yet, Ichigo only felt cornered, trapped and very uncomfortable. Taking a deep breath he forced his legs to move, grabbing his bag he ran for the exit of the building. Ignoring the pain that shot through his whole body, like it was being burned from the inside out, ripped apart, he headed home, and prayed that nobody would be there.

Ichigo slammed the door open and threw his bag to the ground, ignoring the fact that its contents were scattered across the floor. He ran both hands through his sweaty hair, walking around in circles in the living room. Tears flowed from his eyes, but he didn't care about them anymore. He whimpered desperate wordless sounds as he had no clue what to do at all. He was scared, scared into the very core of his soul and he knew the monster in there felt it.

Before he could do anything more, the voices filled his mind again. Too loud and above it all the voice that had come to be his own screamed that he was his. Ichigo felt his knees give away and his head slammed into the cold floor before the world went black.

The scream resurfaced as soon as his eyes met with a dark blue world. He scrambled up on bony legs and ran, he didn't care where, just ran over blue buildings trying to get away from what he knew would come at him any second.

On the outside of his own world though, someone had found his fallen body. His father to be exact. He had been over at a large hospital to get refills on various medicines. As soon as he had seen the bag thrown at the floor he and stomped into the living room, looking for his son. He quickly dropped the bags and lifted his son up in his arms. He could clearly see the trails of tears, the swollen eyes and lips, his whole face seemed strained even when he was unconscious.

He carried his son to the clinic parts of their house, putting him down on one of the many beds and decided to take a closer look on his son's body. He stripped his son from his sweaty shirt, gloves and jeans. He didn't like what he saw.

Ichigo was clearly under weight, his legs swollen, especially around the knees and Isshin could see nail marks from too much scratching riddled over the pale skin. He had scratched himself until he bled on several places, over his thighs, neck, arms, and chest. There were also several dark bruises across his body, but only in places that could easily be concealed with clothes. He was starting to think that perhaps his son had hurt himself with something else than just his fingers and he didn't dare to think about in what way Ichigo could have gotten the bruises, if he inflicted them upon himself.

Isshin couldn't help but to gasp when he removed the sticky bandages from his son's hands as he saw that they were stabbed right through. Isshin did try to act professional and started to clean the wounds with wads of cotton, worry etched deep into his face as he did.

In Ichigo's inner world Ichigo was still running and tripped over his own feet and hit the glass floor face first. His nose hurt and blood streamed from it again.

Staring at his hands he could see that the wounds were beginning to swell strangely. Tears found their way out of his eyes again and he started sobbing, wondering what he had done to be treated like this. Why was he being treated like this? He didn't understand any of it. He kept on sobbing until he was being dragged up by his hair. He knew the only one it could be in this hell that was his own world; his white alter ego, his hollow.

The boy's mind told him to struggle, but his body didn't respond to the orders it received. "Time for the second part of your demotion from 'king' to 'helpless pathetic worm'," said the hollow and laughed, as the hairs on Ichigo's neck stood up straight.

Being thrown back to the concrete, his head hit the edge making him see hazy for a few seconds; and the hollow took his sweet time stepping on one of the lifeless, swollen hand, pressing it as flat as he could with his sandal. The owner of said hand screamed out, his voice once more his own.

On the outside Isshin's worry only grew worse as his son's nose started bleeding for no reason and his hand began to bleed without being touched by anything.

'What the hell is going on?' he wondered desperately, trying to figure out a way to help his suffering son. He thought about going to the hospital, but if the problem involved something that was related to the afterlife, Ichigo wouldn't get the proper help. All he could do right now was to try and stop the mysterious bleeding and treat the eczema.

"Really pathetic King..." the white hollow said with disrespect as he removed his feet from the hand that was immediately grabbed by the orange haired shinigami trying to cradle the pain away by holding it close.

"I refuse to bow my head for a WEAK KING LIKE YOU!" He roared as he kicked the others ribcage hard enough to break a few ribs and Ichigo coughed up blood.

"I know the perfect punishment for someone like you." A broad sadistic grin appeared on his face as he walked closer. The look in the eyes of the orange haired teen was far beyond fear; he was weak, hurt and unable to move his limbs the way he wanted. He blinked once and his chest exploded with a terrible pain, which he voiced with another monstrous howl.

As Ichigo screamed more than he had ever done, the hollow only laughed. There was nothing but glee in his eyes, the smile on his lips never fading as Ichigo slumped into a heap on the cold ground.

In the real world, Isshin was starting to panic as he saw his own son twitch as if he had a seizure, arms and legs flexing back and forth and the nosebleed he had been trying to stop only increased. The moving body in front of him started to turn blue as if he was suffocating and Isshin threw himself at the oxygen mask and placed it hastily over his sons face. He held Ichigo's body down, to prevent him from hurting itself even further, but the twitching didn't die down and his body wasn't getting any more oxygen even with the mask in place.

The doctor quickly put on a heart monitor on his son's chest and just as he did, he felt that the heart was pounding way too fast. What scared him the most thought was when he heard a loud crunching sound and it took him sometime to realize that it had come from is own son.

Isshin's initial thought that Ichigo had broken a finger, but those all looked fine, or as fine as they could under the circumstances.

However Ichigo was moving around too much for his own good and Isshin tied the moving limbs to the bed with the closest thing he could find; band-aids. When he glanced at his son's chest again, he heard the heart monitor go into a long, single tone; Ichigo's heart almost stopping completely. Isshin paled.

In the middle of Ichigo's chest some sort of dent had formed; the skeleton had lowered into his chest, the skin hanging in his chest freely. Isshin's own heart skipped a beat and in panic he decided to put his son out with drugs. He grabbed a needle and sank it deep into his son's arm, instantly knocking him out, the twitching stopping almost at once.

Ichigo's hands seemed to have swollen a bit more after being stitched together carefully by his father. His fingers were thick and unformed, the left hand being the worst. At first Isshin had thought it was his stitches that had become infected, but after cleaning and inspecting them for several minutes, he decided against the stitches being the problem. So he let his son rest.

After a few hours of expecting his son to wake up after the drug had passed, he carried his son to his room, seeing it would be a better place for him to wake up once he did, knowing it was best to let the boy sleep.

Isshin sighed and went back to the hallway where he had dropped the bag with medicine and noticed that he hadn't bought any of the drugs he had just given Ichigo. He would have to go back to re-stock on those. He hurried, hoping his son wouldn't do anything stupid when he woke up, if he woke up, as he would be drowsy from the heavy medication.

End of chapter