Hello readers, new and old. I'm working on editing this entire story, so if you're reading this, be glad: you get to read the non-stupid version.
Things that I fixed: Using better grammar and less ellipses. Rewriting (or even deleting) certain scenes that didn't make any sense or that switched point of view halfway through. Making sure all the names and terms are spelled right (Or at least spelled consistently). Erasing the random Japanese terms I shoved in for no reason. Erasing lame 17-year-old me's author notes. Erasing the Bount Arc references (I apologize for the scenes that have been altered to reflect that). Rewriting Rukia so that she's not a creepy stalker lady.
Any way, without any further ado (or author notes), here is Feeling Hollow.
As much as Ichigo hated to admit it, Grimmjow was stronger than him. If the two block long tumble he had taken from just one hit hadn't proved that, then the the rain of punches, now hitting him so rapidly that he couldn't even move, definitely clinched it. Not even the speed of his bankai had been able to pull him out of it. Worst of all, Grimmjow hadn't even drawn his sword.
Frustrated, still trying to break away from the arrancar's attack, he raged. There had to be some way to beat him: everyone has weaknesses. Yet Grimmjow hadn't shown any at all, even when Ichigo landed a solid hit on him with his zanpakuto. He taken out Rukia with one hit. He was curb stomping Ichigo barehanded.
The arrancar suddenly stopped his barrage of punches. Dazed, Ichigo tried to make his eyes focus on his opponent. He swayed in place, trying for a moment to lift his sword to defend himself. Grimmjow just sneered and, with a long yell, pulled back and punched upward.
Ichigo suddenly found himself flying from the force of the hit. Good, he thought distractedly. There's some distance between us. Maybe I can try to use that to my advantage... But Grimmjow simply used some form of shunpo to appear above him, kicking him back down again so that he slammed into the ditch that had been created when he had landed there before.
The attack ceased and Ichigo peered through the dust that was now flying everywhere, trying to make sure he knew where his opponent was so he wouldn't be surprised. Finally, he spotted his vague form, standing casually in the air where he had last appeared.
"Is that all there is to a Bankai?" Grimmjow sounded bored and a little annoyed. "Don't disappoint me, shinigami! Is your speed the only thing that your Bankai increases?"
With a scowl, Ichigo dug Zangetsu into the ground and used it as leverage to pull himself to his feet. Pulling his sword free, he heard Grimmjow call out to him again. As quickly as he could manage with his injuries, he readied Zangetsu, using the slowly settling dust as cover for his attack.
"Getsuga Tenshou!" A wave of red-tinged black emanated from Ichigo's sword and hit the unprepared arrancar directly.
Breathing heavily, Ichigo surveyed the damage. Grimmjow was still standing, though now he had both arms up to cover his face. Ichigo's attack had left a wide burn mark up his bare chest, on both wrists, and a little on the left side of his head.
"What was that!?" Grimmjow smirked, lowering his arms. "Ulquiorra didn't tell me about that move, shinigami."
Still feeling exhausted, Ichigo pulled his face into a smirk to match Grimmjow's. "Still disappointed, arrancar?"
Grimmjow seemed to find this amusing, laughing loudly. "Bring it on, shinigami! Now I can say there's a reason to kill you!"
Ichigo's hands tightened on Zangetsu and he gave a small chuckle. He was about to respond when a smug voice broke through his thoughts. "Ichigo! What are you smirking about?"
His expression abruptly changed to one of shock as he realized that there were tendrils of black creeping across his vision. Of all the times for him to try to take over, he had to pick now?!
Closing his eyes for a moment, Ichigo could even see him; a mirror of his own face with the hollow mask half formed across the left side. "You seem pretty sure of yourself." The hollow snickered as though he had made a joke out of it.
Ichigo's hand rose to the left side of his own face and he focused his energy inward, trying to force the hollow down. "Can't you just... wait a moment longer?"
The hollow only laughed at him again. 'How far do you think you can get on your own?' he taunted. 'You're weak, Ichigo!'
Ichigo's temper flared. "I'm not weak!" he snapped. "I can do this!"
'You're joking, right?' The hollow smirked. 'You're pathetic! You couldn't do a thing when he attacked Rukia, and you can't do a thing now! Some great protector you are, Ichigo!'
Ichigo knew he was right, and he felt his rage—both at his inner hollow and at himself—grow all the more for it. Rational thought had nothing to do with what happened next.
"You think you can do better? I'd like to see you try!" With one swift movement, Ichigo released the spirit energy he had been using to hold the hollow back, moved aside, and shoved as hard as he could.
Ichigo's hollow very abruptly found himself in control.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then, as he realized what Ichigo had done, a smirk grew on his face. "Ha! You're such an idiot!"
Above him, Grimmjow suddenly grew tense as he noticed the change in Ichigo's spiritual pressure and the mask beginning to form on his face. "Now what are you-"
But suddenly there was no more time for words.
With a scream of joy, the hollow leapt skyward and slashed out with Zangetsu, releasing a black Getsuga Tenshou without saying the name. Grimmjow barely reacted in time, gaining another wide mark on one arm, but avoiding the direct hit.
The hollow was already above him, though, swinging his sword in wide haphazard arcs and releasing several black Getsugas at a time, laughing wildly. Grimmjow twisted quickly to avoid them as they spiraled around and headed towards him. The attacks hit the ground, cracking a wide crater into the cement and causing more rubble and dust to fly into the air.
Grimmjow waved a hand in front of himself to clear the dust and he laughed aloud, a large grin spreading on his face. "Very interesting, shinigami! You really are full of surprises, aren't you?"
His question went unanswered as the hollow sprang at him from the side, appearing out of the dust and cackling madly, releasing another black Getsuga that Grimmjow once again only barely managed to dodge.
The hollow flash-stepped to one side, then lunged forward, bringing Zangetsu up for an actual physical attack, aiming for the arrancar's head. Grimmjow finally unsheathed his sword, bringing it up to knock Zangetsu off to the side.
There wasn't even a moment of hesitation or surprise at the block. The hollow spun around, using the momentum Grimmjow had given Zangetsu to attack from a different direction. The two exchanged several quick sword blows, then both leapt back.
Looking over the damage, the hollow laughed. He was unscathed except for the injuries that Ichigo had received previously. Grimmjow, on the other hand, had several long, shallow cuts up his chest and on both arms. His coat had ripped in a few places as well, and a small amount of blood ran down the side of his face.
"You see, Ichigo! This is why I will always be stronger than you!" the hollow shouted, grinning madly. He lunged at Grimmjow again, firing off yet another black Getsuga Tenshou. "You give up too easily!"
Grimmjow scowled, ducking under the blast. "Who the heck are you talking to, shinigami? Are you crazy or something?"
"Crazy? Me? " The hollow seemed more amused by that than anything else. "You could say so!" He flash-stepped right up in front of Grimmjow, swinging Zangetsu at his head. Grimmjow parried the attack and jumped back, immediately dodging two more Getsugas and deflecting a third with his sword.
"Whatever." Grimmjow smirked. "I don't care. All Iknow is that I am definitely going to kill you now!" He held his zanpakuto out in front of him and laughed. "Enough defense. From now on, I'm attacking full out!"
The hollow only snickered at this, holding Zangetsu out level toward the arrancar in a mimic of his own pose. This succeeded in making Grimmjow annoyed, and he lunged at the hollow with a yell.
His sword never even got near him. A hand had reached out and caught hold of the blade, stopping Grimmjow in his tracks. "Enough, Grimmjow."
Grimmjow whirled on the newcomer and the hollow lowered Zangetsu slowly, curious. "Tousen?" Grimmjow bit out the name. "Why are you here?"
"Why, you ask? You really don't know?" Tousen's face showed no emotion at all. "You take it upon yourself to invade the real world, mobilize five arrancar, then lose them in battle..."
Tousen released his hold on Grimmjow's blade as he spoke and walked slowly around behind him. "You are in violation of your orders. You understand, don't you? Aizen is furious, Grimmjow."
With a flick of his wrist, Tousen opened up a portal. "Come. Your punishment will be decided in Hueco Mundo."
Grimmjow looked murderous. "You stopped my fight for this!? This was just starting to get interesting!" He turned his back on the former captain and leveled his sword at the hollow again, preparing to attack him anyway.
The hollow simply smirked, laying Zangetsu casually on his shoulder. "Looks like somebody's in trouble, arrancar," he taunted.
"Shut up! I'm going to kill you!" Grimmjow snapped, lunging forward.
His blade met empty air as the hollow simply flash-stepped backward. "You'd better do as Tousen says, arrancar, and go home to your precious Aizen You wouldn't want to make him angry, would you?"
"Shut up!" Grimmjow yelled again. He prepared to attack again, but Tousen laid a hand on his shoulder.
"The longer you delay, the worse your punishment will be," Tousen said dangerously.
With a growl, Grimmjow spun angrily and stormed into the portal. Tousen followed. As the portal began to close around them, Grimmjow turned his head back. "We will finish this fight, shinigami! Until then, don't go forgetting my name! Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez!"
"I look forward to it," the hollow smirked. "Sayonara, Grimmjow."
The portal closed.
Ichigo hesitated, unsure what to do now. He'd been watching the whole battle, of course, from behind his own eyes.
He'd hated the feeling of being out of control, of seeing an attack coming and wanting to dodge, only to find himself moving in the opposite direction than he'd intended. Then figuring out a moment later that the hollow's movement had completely avoided a blow that he would have had to block with his sword if he had moved how he wanted. He hated to admit it, but behind the hollow's random berserker attacks, he did obviously know what he was doing.
A few times during the battle, he'd wanted to try to seize control again. There were several perfect opportunities when the hollow's attention hadn't been on him and he would have been able to succeed., but each time, he stopped himself with a great effort. It hadn't seemed right.
Every other time the hollow had taken control, it had been by force, so Ichigo felt perfectly justified in fighting for control. But this time, whether it had truly been his intention or not, Ichigo had given the hollow control. Wrestling to take back something that he had freely given up would have only made things worse.
Now, however, the battle was over. There was nobody left to fight. What would happen now?
The hollow was simply standing there, his head tilted to one side and his eyes half closed. He had a serious, almost calculating expression on his face, and he appeared to be mentally watching Ichigo to see what he would do next.
Well, one thing was for sure, Ichigo wanted control back. He just wasn't sure how to go about doing that. He supposed he could just ask, and then if the hollow didn't give back control, then Ichigo could be justified in fighting him for it...
"Che!" The hollow cut him off, lowering Zangetsu with a grin on his face. "Don't bother embarrassing yourself." He turned and dropped from where he'd been standing to land gently on the cracked pavement below. "It's boring here. See you later, Ichigo."
With that, Ichigo was thrust back into control again. The mask on his face shattered and all of the exhaustion from before flooded back into him. Ichigo swayed for a moment, then fell to his knees, breathing heavily.
He wasn't sure how long he stayed down like that, but eventually he heard footsteps heading his direction. Slowly, he pulled himself back up to his feet and glanced over to see Renji standing there.
"... So the arrancar left, huh?" Renji asked softly, taking in Ichigo's rather beat up appearance. Ichigo just made a vague noise of affirmation.
"Did you win?"
Ichigo didn't know how to answer that. "I... don't know," he admitted slowly. He looked up at the dark sky. "I really don't know."
Renji watched him silently for a moment, then turned away. "Come on. Let's go meet up with the others. Where's Rukia?"
"Down that way. Come on." Ichigo set off, using shunpo to move faster down the street to where he had left Rukia in the care of that crazy Chappy gikongan. When he found her, he quickly scooped her up and they all headed towards where they could sense Inoue's reiatsu, along with the 10th squad captain and his vice captain.
When they found them, Inoue was in the process of healing Toushiro from the wounds he had received while fighting one of the other five arrancar who had appeared with Grimmjow. Matsumoto quickly took Rukia and began basic kidou healing. As soon as Toushiro was in a stable condition, Inoue switched over to healing her.
Quietly, Toushiro and Matsumoto told Ichigo what had happened during their part of the battle, including the explanation of the arrancar's numbering system and that Ichigo had apparently been fighting an Espada: number 6.
When they were done, it was Ichigo's turn to report. He hesitated, then told them about just the first part of the battle, completely omitting everything with his hollow. "And then Tousen showed up, told Grimmjow that he was in trouble for coming here against orders or something like that, and they both left," he finished, somewhat lamely.
The hollow mentally laughed at this, seeming to find Ichigo's new story amusing.
The others obviously realized that Ichigo was leaving parts out of his account; he could tell by the way they watched him. But none of them said anything, instead letting him sit silently watching as Inoue worked on healing Rukia. He was grateful. He really didn't feel like trying to explain his hollow to any of them right now.
Ichigo's frown deepened as he thought. The hollow's words and actions had confused him. He was basically just a regular, bloodthirsty hollow, wasn't he? A twisted version of himself that liked to fight. And yet...
While he had been fighting, the hollow had shouted various insults at him, yes, but somehow his words hadn't seemed quite as harsh as the other times he had taken over. Then, he had given control back to Ichigo without a fight and without Ichigo even saying anything...
If he was just a bloodthirsty hollow... then why did what had happened seem so... human?
Ichigo had always thought of hollows as simply mindless, powerful monsters. But freely giving up control didn't seem like something a 'monster' would do. If it was true, if his hollow really was more human than Ichigo had given him credit for, then what was he like as a human, as a person?
Getting to know old man Zangetsu had been odd enough. You wouldn't think that a sword would have much of a personality, but Zangetsu was his own person. Could the hollow be the same way?
He was going to have to have some sort of face to face talk with his hollow somehow. Before, he had thought of nothing but how to resist the hollow, to force him down. Perhaps that wasn't the only way. Maybe he could form some kind of alliance with him, like he had with Zangetsu.
'Not likely.' The hollow's voice sounded faint, but somewhat amused.
Ichigo decided to ignore that. He knew the hollow could be reasoned with at the very least... Tomorrow, definitely, he would figure out some way to have a real talk with him, somewhere that they wouldn't be interrupted.
He stood, made sure that Rukia and everyone else was going to be okay, then headed back off towards his house alone. One thing was for sure: tomorrow wouldn't be boring.
"Big brother! It's time for lunch!" Yuzu threw open the door to her older brother's room, expecting to find him lying on his bed or sitting at his desk. "It's time for..." She trailed off as she realized that he wasn't in either of those two places, or in fact anywhere in the room. "Ichigo?"
Slightly mystified, she opened his closet and checked inside. Nothing. He wasn't under his bed either, or hiding under the covers, though she could have sworn she heard something when she moved them.
"Karin-chan! Big Brother is missing!" Yuzu turned and left the room, searching out her twin sister.
Karin, standing in the hall, didn't seem to care. "So what? He wanders off on his own all the time. He'll come back eventually."
"Who will come back eventually?" Rukia had heard the last bit as she walked up the stairs.
Yuzu looked worried. "Big brother is gone. Rukia-chan, do you know where he is?"
That caught the older girl by surprise. "Ichigo is... But why would he leave without telling anyone where he was going?"
Karin rolled her eyes. "What do you mean, why? He never tells us where he's going."
"Well, yes, but he usually tells me." She hurried past the two and went into Ichigo's room, searching for any sign of anything out of the ordinary. It didn't take her long. Ichigo had left a small bit of folded paper on his desk.
Yuzu tried to peer over her shoulder as she read it out loud. "Don't worry about me, I went for a walk. Don't bother looking for me. I'm fine, and I'll be home later. –Ichigo."
"I told you," Karin said as she turned to head back down the stairs. "Let's eat now."
Rukia frowned. "Odd," she mused. "He usually just tells me if he's leaving." She mused over it for a while.
Yuzu bit her lower lip anxiously. "Do you think he's okay?"
Rukia snorted. "Probably. I think Ichigo just didn't want anybody following him. Honestly, he never admits it, but he gets really emotional sometimes."
That didn't help to ease Yuzu's worries, but she turned to go down the stairs after her sister. She would just have to put his lunch in the fridge for when he got home. And he would get home, she told herself. Eventually, he would.
Ichigo sighed. Trying to find a place where he could talk to his hollow without being interrupted was harder than it seemed. This was a big enough town, but it also had a lot of people.
He had briefly considered asking Urahara if he could use his basement, since the training grounds would be perfect in case something went wrong. But that would require explaining to Urahara why he wanted to use it, and Ichigo didn't want to involve anyone else in his problems, especially Sandal-hat.
So he mostly walked aimlessly, half hoping that he would simply stumble upon a place that would work.
The various parks in Karakura were out; while they had the wide, open space he wanted, they were usually packed with people. The same was true for most of the other places he had ended up.
Eventually, he found himself standing in the clearing where the arrancar had first appeared. The shinigami still hadn't gotten around to filling in the giant hole in the ground, and the air was thick with leftover tension from the battle, making the whole place feel ominous.
It was perfect. Not only had the residents of Karakura started avoiding this place since the attack, but the lingering reiatsu from the battle would help mask his own reiatsu at least a little, so Rukia and the other shinigami wouldn't be able to find him as easily.
Feeling accomplished, Ichigo skirted the ditch and sat down underneath a nearby tree, facing away from the clearing. Leaning up against it, he closed his eyes.
Now what? Ichigo suddenly realized that he'd been worrying so much about where he could go to talk, that he hadn't really thought about what to talk about.
The hollow was snickering at him.
"Give me a break." Ichigo scowled. "What are you supposed to say to a voice that lives inside your head?"
"You could just say nothing. Nobody ever said I actually wanted to talk to you, idiot."
Ichigo ignored this and instead concentrated on figuring out something to talk about. What had he talked about with Zangetsu at first?
Well, the first time they'd met, Ichigo's mind had been falling apart, so very few words had been exchanged... The next time was when Ichigo learned Zangetsu's name and... oh.
"Hey, hollow? I know Byakuya already kind of asked you this, but... what's your name?"
For a moment, there was no response. Then the hollow finally appeared in his mental vision, arms folded in irritation. "I'll give you the same answer I gave him: 'I ain't got a name.' You should already know that."
For some reason, this annoyed Ichigo. "Well, what do you want me to call you, then? I can't just keep saying 'hollow' over and over..."
The hollow laughed. 'That's what I am, dimwit.'
"But it's not a name! Everybody needs something to be called. Even with Kon, as irritating as he is, we eventually gave him a name so that we could call him something other than just Mod Soul..."
"And what a great name you gave him, too," the hollow said dryly. "An abbreviation of kaizo konpaku, or Modified Soul. How original. So much better than just Mod Soul."
Ichigo scowled again. "Shut up. I never said I was good at giving people names. Just that you need one."
"Listen, Ichigo." The hollow smirked. "The only person who will ever have need to call me anything is you, and I honestly don't care what you call me."
That brought Ichigo up short. The hollow had a point. Still, he had as good as given Ichigo permission to call him anything he wanted, so he supposed he could just come up with something. "Fine, if you won't give me something to call you, then I'll give you a name... What about Hichigo?"
The hollow snorted. "That's the most original thing you could come up with? Adding an 'h' to the beginning of your own name?"
Ichigo shrugged. "Well, you're basically a hollow version of me, so take the 'h' from hollow and-"
"I get it." The hollow rolled his eyes again, smirking. "Are you done yet?"
"You're a stubborn idiot, Ichigo."
Ichigo ignored that. Instead, he focused on the next thing he'd been wondering about. "You know, Hichigo, this entire time, you've done nothing but insult me. Why do you hate me so much?"
"Why do I hate you?" Hichigo repeated, incredulous. He laughed. "Isn't it obvious?"
Annoyed, Ichigo frowned. "Maybe to you, but mind explaining it to me?"
Hichigo shook his head with a sigh. "I keep forgetting how stupid you are," he grinned. "Think about it, Ichigo! I'm ten times stronger than you are, plus you're a thick-headed jerk, and yet which of the two of us gets to be in control?"
Oh. Ichigo pondered this for a moment. "You hate me because I have control over my own body?"
"It's because you're weak, Ichigo!" Hichigo yelled suddenly, smirking. "You having control wouldn't bother me so much if you actually deserved it. But you don't! You're so weak, it's pathetic!"
Ichigo scowled. "I'm not weak," he protested. "I beat Byakuya, didn't I?"
"With my help," Hichigo said dryly, folding his arms.
"Also with my help." Hichigo's smirk returned. "Twice. And even then it ended in a draw. Listen, Ichigo. Can you tell me what difference there is between a king and his horse?"
The sudden topic change caught Ichigo off guard. "What? A king and his... horse?"
"Right. And don't go giving me some stupid kiddy answer like 'one has two legs and the other has four,' or something like that"' Hichigo smirked. "If their forms and abilities were exactly the same, why would one rise to the top and become King while the other is left to be the horse and carry the King?"
Ichigo blinked. He wasn't sure where the hollow was going with this riddle, but he figured it must have something to do with his question...
"There's only one answer," Hichigo said quietly when Ichigo didn't give one. Grinning, he yelled it out. "Instinct!"
"Instinct?" Ichigo scowled. "The instinct for what?"
Hichigo smirked. "In order for two identical beings to gain the power they need to become king, they must search for more battles, more power. They thirst for battle and live to mercilessly crush their enemies! Deep within the body, there lies a honed instinct to kill, to slaughter! The more battles one fights, the more power they gain, so following this instinct naturally leads them to power!
"But you don't have that pure, base instinct! Instead, You try to defeat your enemies with logic, and you always need a reason to cut down your opponents! And it doesn't work! You're trying to cut them with a sheathed sword! That's why you will always be weaker than me, Ichigo! You don't have the right instincts to gain power!"
Hichigo paused, a serious expression on his face for once. "And I can't take it. I hate being forced to carry a King who is weaker than I am. I'm not going to sit back and tolerate that kind of coexistence."
Oh. It was back to that again. Ichigo frowned. "Okay, I can understand that. I guess I'd hate me too in your position... So, what do you want me to do?"
Hichigo laughed. "What do I want!? I want you to get out of the way and let the stronger of the two of us be King, the way it should be!"
"Sorry, but I can't sit back and tolerate that kind of coexistence. This is still my body," Ichigo said dryly. "I have a huge potential for growth; everyone says so. So what I should do is train and get stronger than you. Then you won't have anything to complain about."
"Impossible!" Hichigo smirked. "I just told you, Ichigo, you don't have the right instincts to get stronger than me!"
"But you can at least give me the chance to try!" Ichigo argued. "Train me! Teach me to be stronger! If you're right, and I don't have the right instincts for it, you'll have lost nothing, and I'll let you have control. But if you're wrong, and I can become stronger than you... Then we'll know for sure that I deserve to be King."
Hichigo raised an eyebrow, still smirking. "Ichigo, the two of us are enemies; rivals for control. You're saying you want me to help my rival to become stronger than me? You're crazy."
"I'm saying that if I were to give up control now, you'd always live in doubt, wondering if you really deserve control, or if I could have become stronger than you with more training," Ichigo pushed. "This way, there's no doubt. I either can become stronger, or I don't have the right instincts for it. Either way, no more weak King."
Hichigo considered this. "You really are pathetic, Ichigo. Trying to gain whatever advantages you can. You know that if we were to fight one on one now, I would beat you."
Ichigo said nothing, waiting for the hollow to either accept or refuse.
There was a long pause. Then finally, Hichigo laughed, shaking his head. "I don't know who's crazier; you for suggesting this, or me for agreeing to it."
"Now don't get any dumb ideas, Ichigo. I have some conditions. First, I'm not going to keep training you forever. At some point, the two of us will fight, and the winner will be King."
"Right," Ichigo agreed, nodding. "And we should probably settle this sometime before the arrancar attack this winter."
Hichigo made a dismissive noise. "The fight will take place at my discretion. Be prepared for it any time; I may not even warn you beforehand." He grinned.
Ichigo frowned at this, but nodded again.
"The second condition is this; if you're going to be training under me, then you need to do everything I tell you to do, got it? This includes letting me take over if I need to."
Now Ichigo shook his head. "I reserve the right to refuse to do something if I think it will hurt anybody. And I'm not going to let you take over just any time you want, either. Only if we're actually currently training."
Hichigo laughed. "You say that as if you don't trust me, Ichigo!" he smirked. "I don't care. Refuse any part of my training that you don't like. Just know, I will be trying to make you stronger, Ichigo, and you skipping parts will just lead to you being weaker."
"Fine." Ichigo nodded again. "Is that it?"
"Sounds about right to me." Hichigo chuckled to himself. "Now, what would your friends think if they knew you were going to train with a hollow?"
Ichigo shrugged. "Who knows? I'm not going to tell them. They don't need to know. Anyway, when are we going to start this training? And where?"
"Where isn't a problem. I'll just take you inside your mind, as long as you don't mind a few of your buildings getting destroyed now and then." Hichigo laughed.
"Um..." Ichigo hesitated. "About that, what exactly happens when stuff in my mind is destroyed?"
"Nothing." Hichigo shrugged. "It rebuilds itself. Most of the time, anyway."
"Oh. All right, then. And when?"
Hichigo smirked. "Now."
Ichigo suddenly found himself falling through a black void, traveling into his mind. He fell for what seemed like a long time, and then suddenly he was standing on the familiar sideways buildings.
Standing on the edge of the building a short distance away, Hichigo watched him, an amused expression on his face. "Ready, Ichigo?"
Ichigo smirked. "As ready as I'll ever be. What's first?"
Rukia stared out the window of Ichigo's sisters' room. It was now quite dark outside, the twins were both asleep, and yet Ichigo hadn't come back yet.
She wasn't horribly worried about him, to be honest. She had been tracking his reiatsu, and almost 3 hours ago she had noticed that he had stopped wandering around. He had apparently been sitting in the same spot since then. He had probably fallen asleep.
She supposed that she should go find him and wake him up. Sleeping outside anywhere couldn't be comfortable, and he had already missed both lunch and dinner, so he was bound to be hungry too.
Would he be mad at her for going looking for him even when he had specifically said not to? She considered this and decided that yes, he would be mad. She also decided that she didn't care.
She exited the room carefully, trying not to wake up Karin and Yuzu. Then, she headed to the kitchen and started grabbing leftovers from dinner and putting them in a bag. If she was going to make Ichigo mad, she might as well bring him some food to make up for it.
This completed, she headed out the door and started walking in the general direction of where she could sense Ichigo.
She had only traveled a few blocks when she suddenly froze, her eyes widening. Ichigo's reiatsu had just... disappeared?
Focusing as hard as she could, Rukia tried to locate him. His reiatsu was still lingering all over town, the way it usually did, but that main solid core that was Ichigo appeared to be gone.
Had this been any other person, Rukia might have assumed that he had simply hidden his reiatsu. This, however, was Ichigo. He even admitted himself that he sucked at control, so if it was gone, that either meant that somebody else was hiding him, or that he was...
"Ichigo!" She broke into a dead run, almost dropping the bag in her panic. She had no way of knowing exactly where Ichigo was, but she ran anyway, heading towards the area where she had last sensed him.
If something had happened to him...
Suddenly, her cell phone went off. She pulled it out quickly, still running. Was there a hollow? Was that why Ichigo's reiatsu had...?
But no, it was a phone call from Hitsugaya-taichou. She answered it. "Hello?"
Hitsugaya got right to the point. "Rukia, did something happen to Ichigo just now? His reiatsu just-"
"I know, I'm trying to find him."
"Wasn't he with you?"
"No, he left about mid-day on his own. I had just been about to go find him anyway, but now I've no idea where he is. Do you have an exact location for me?"
There was a pause and some background noise, then Hitsugaya continued. "Yeah, I'll send his last known whereabouts to your phone. You're pretty close to him already. Call me when you have details."
"Right." Rukia hung up, slowing to a walk as she waited for the information.
The phone beeped and she flipped it open again, scanning the GPS map that had appeared on the screen. Hitsugaya had been right, she was close; in fact, she'd almost passed him.
Rukia ran at full speed again, soon coming to a very familiar clearing. It took her a moment to recognize it in the dark, but she soon realized that it was where the arrancar had first appeared in Karakura town. Why would Ichigo have come here?
She scanned the area, both with her eyes and with her senses, trying to locate him. Soon she spotted him, slumped up against a tree.
"Ichigo!" she called, panic evident in her voice. He didn't respond to her call, and she still couldn't feel his reiatsu.
Quickly, she dashed over and knelt beside him. She was relieved and a little perplexed to find that he seemed to be perfectly fine. No injuries, just unconscious. And if she concentrated hard, she found that she could sense his reiatsu after all; it had simply diminished to a point that it seemed like he had no spiritual powers whatsoever.
She shook him slightly, feeling frustrated. "Ichigo! Wake up, Ichigo!"
Abruptly, a wave of spiritual energy knocked her away from him and she fell to the ground, wincing. A split second later, Ichigo pushed himself slowly into a sitting position, groaning slightly and rubbing the back of his neck with one hand.
Rukia stared at him in shock. The wave of reiatsu had been his, and now it swirled around him in its usual uncontrolled manner, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
He had apparently not realized that anybody else was there, because at the sound of her voice, his eyes flew open and he stared up at her in confusion.
Rukia choked back a shout of surprise. The whites of his eyes had turned black, and the pupils were a deep gold. They were the eyes of a hollow.
"Rukia?" Ichigo blinked and his eyes returned suddenly to their normal brown color. "Wha... What are you doing here?"
She stared into his eyes for a moment longer, watching as his confusion turned into concern when she didn't answer. Had she just imagined the hollow eyes? They'd only been there for a split second...
"Are you okay, Rukia?" he asked slowly.
Without warning, she smacked him upside the head as hard as she could. "Am I okay!? I should be asking you that question! You don't come home for hours on end, and suddenly your reiatsu completely vanishes! What's going on here, Ichigo? I thought you'd managed to kill yourself or something!"
Slowly, Ichigo rubbed the side of his head where she'd hit him. "Sorry," he mumbled. Then he blinked. "Wait, my reiatsu completely vanished? So it worked?"
She hit him again.
"Ow... Hey, what are you doing wasting time worrying about me, anyway? After last night's attack, you should have known I'd be training!"
Rukia scowled at him. Same old Ichigo.
"Well, sorry for caring!" Standing, she thrust the bag at him and he caught it with some confusion. "Here, I brought some food. We'd better head home. You've been gone all day and your family's worried too."
Ichigo stared at her, then looked down at the bag. "Food? Hey, if you thought I was in trouble, you wouldn't have spent time packing food! You were planning on ignoring my note and looking for me anyway!" he accused.
"So what if I was?" Rukia began to walk away, ignoring the fuming teen behind her. Without looking back, she pulled out her cell again and called Hitsugaya.
"What happened, Rukia?" he wanted to know.
Rukia glanced back at Ichigo. "False alarm, I guess. Ichigo says he was training."
"Well, I was!" Ichigo protested. He glared at her for a moment before rummaging through the bag to see what she'd brought.
Hitsugaya sounded vaguely annoyed. "Training?" he asked. "What was he doing?"
"No idea," Rukia shrugged. "He was unconscious when I got here."
"So that's it, then? Mass panic because Ichigo conveniently forgot to tell us that he was going to attempt something like this?"
Rukia smirked. "Pretty much." Then, glancing back at Ichigo again, she lowered her voice so the other teen wouldn't hear. "I'm going to keep a close watch on him from now on, though. Something strange is going on, and I doubt he's about to tell us what it is..."
"So how's that?" Ichigo asked smugly as he followed Rukia back towards home. "Apparently, I've got this controlling my reiatsu thing down well enough to scare the crap out of Rukia and the rest of them. I told you I had huge potential for growth."
Hichigo laughed derisively. "Don't get overconfident, idiot! Controlling your reiatsu isn't something that can be learned in battle. It's simply a basic skill—one that you conveniently skipped over previously—that you'll need to continue your training. You've proved nothing so far!"
Ichigo only smiled.