D1: Had a creative splurge and had to write this. So here it is.

Chapter 2 – An old foe

The incessant beeping of the alarm clock forced Ichigo to sit up and slam his fist down on top of it. He groaned and fell out of his bed onto the floor. Rukia's eyes snapped open and she swore as she realised she'd fallen asleep while she was watching Ichigo. She changed and emerged from the closet to find Ichigo still lying on the floor. She booted him.

"We'll be late again," she warned Ichigo.

He groaned and managed to get into a sitting position. Rukia frowned as she saw Ichigo was pale.

"I feel like Kenpachi used me as a training partner," Ichigo groaned managing to stand but wobbled slightly. Rukia let Ichigo to change, leaving his room through her usual route. Ichigo emerged from his room and simply dodged his father's morning attack. He met Rukia around the corner from his house and the started walking towards the school.

"You really don't look well," Rukia told Ichigo as he stumbled.

"You don't say, I think feel about as bad as I must look."

Ichigo's representative badge chose that moment to start chirping.

"Just my luck," Ichigo growled, grabbing the badge and leaving his body.

He bounded up to roof level to get a better vantage point and it took him less than a second to find the hollow. The heavyset monster was lumbering towards the school oblivious to the orange haired shinigami running alongside it. Ichigo drew Zangetsu and attacked. The hollow didn't seem to notice the blade slamming into its side. Ichigo dashed in front of the hollow and launched himself upwards, ending up at eye level to the monster. He raised Zangetsu but was swatted out of the air before his swing could connect with the hollow. Ichigo managed to right himself but still slammed into a rooftop. The hollow blundered on, ignoring the substitute shinigami.

This thing is the densest hollow I've ever met. Ichigo thought as he tried again. He rocketed up to the hollow's head level again, managed to avoid the first fist but the second sent him flying for a second time. Ichigo cursed as a sneering voice whispered though his head

Let me out! his hollow self muttered over and over.

You're an unwanted parasite! Shut the hell up!

Ichigo ignored his dark self as the hollow in front of him fired another projectile at him. He landed on a roof and immediately vanished with the help of shunpo. The hollow was startled as Ichigo appeared in front of its face.

"Getsuga Tensho!" point-blank range.

The hollow didn't know what hit it. Ichigo landed without looking at the disappearing hollow and returned to his body. Rukia looked slightly worried as she saw Ichigo wince as he stood up, in his body again.

"It's nothing," he told her as they resumed walking towards the school.

A ripple in the air appeared behind the two shinigami as they walked away.

"That would have been a strong ally," the ripple muttered, "pity the shinigami got there first but that human is interesting."

The ripple faded just before Ichigo turned back as he thought something. He dismissed the thought as the saw no-one behind him and felt on reiatsu. But he couldn't shift the nagging feeling that he was being watched.


Toshiro looked up as a hell butterfly fluttered into the room.

All captains are to assemble immediately. Emergency meeting.

The white haired captain left his office and sprinted towards the assembly hall. As He rounded the last corner before the assembly hall, he saw Mayuri and Komamura already entering. He skidded to a stop and walked calmly to his position while the rest of the captains arrived.

"Captains, there is a crisis looming. Apparently Nero has returned," Yamamoto said with great severity.

Ukitake's eyes widened as Shunsui's smile faltered. Sajin's mouth almost dropped open but he caught himself in time. Unohana's face remained impassive while Mayuri's brightened.

"I thought that monster was dead," Ukitake muttered.

"It seems not," Soifon said, "the reports from the stealth teams say he's alive and heading for Karakura."

"Well this cheery news has really but a crimp on my day," Shunsui complained, "any idea how he survived our…?"

"It matters not how the creature survived," Mayuri interrupted, "what matters is the fact I can study the creature…"

"You will do no such thing," Captain Yamamoto bellowed, making other squad leaders freeze, "this creature is neither hollow nor whole. It is a dangerous enemy that will be dealt with. Hitsugaya, Kuchiki, you will take your lieutenants and head to the living world. Destroy that monster!"


The sun sank below the horizon, leaving a pale orange patch of sky as its only trace. Ichigo lay in his bed, sleeping like he was dead. Rukia was determined not to fall asleep as she watched for anything that would disturb Ichigo and could be causing his fatigue. As she watched Ichigo, she doubted even a kido spell, with incantation at full volume, in his ear would wake him. Rukia was jerked out of a daze by the beeping of her cell phone. She grabbed it and read the message.

Karakura town shopping centre

20M

11:45pm

+- 5 min

Rukia swore, reaching for her soul-candy. She popped one of the candies into her mouth and dashed across the room as her shinigami self.

"Keep an eye on him," Rukia ordered the temp soul in her body.

The chappy Rukia saluted and grinned before assuming kneeling position, eyes intently fixed on Ichigo. Rukia opened the window and raced away, towards the mall. The female shinigami bounded over the buildings until her destination came into view. Rukia landed on a rooftop overlooking the mall, she pulled out her phone and read the time on the display, 11:39pm. She slipped the phone back into her shihakusho and scanned the area for the hollow. She'd almost given up when an eerie howl echoed around her. Rukia grabbed her zanpakuto and sprinted in the direction of the howl. She came down onto street level, rounded a corner and skidded to a stop. The hollow was crouched on a rooftop looking at the soul of a small child, huddled in a shop doorway. Rukia was about to attack when something knocked the hollow off the building and slammed into the ground. A white clad figure landed in front of the hollow and without missing a beat rammed a large blade into the hollow's head. Rukia watched as the white figure took off, heading back to the roofs. Running after the white swordsman, she tapped her zanpakuto's hilt against the child's head as she passed. Rukia launched herself up to the roof; she looked around and saw the white silhouette again. She rocketed after him, trying to see who he was. She caught a sense of reiatsu and almost lost her footing; she sensed hollow and shinigami coming from the white shape but knew it wasn't an arrancar. The fleeing swordsman tried to shake her by using shunpo but she mimicked his moves. Rukia couldn't shake the feeling that the swordsman was Ichigo; the sword the figure carried looked so like Zangetsu. The blade was a similar size but the shape was wrong, it looked bulkier. And she knew she'd left Ichigo being watched by her Chappy inhabited Gigai. She shook the feeling and continued the pursuit. Rukia was gaining ground when the swords man aimed his left hand under his right arm, index and middle finger pointing straight at her. Rukia slowed as she saw red energy gathering at the figures fingers. She realised what it was about a second before he fired.

"Cero!"

The red blast shot towards Rukia, not giving her time to dodge.

"Hado number 33, Sokatsui!" Rukia yelled, firing at the incoming cero.

The two attacks hit in mid air and exploded, filling the air with dust and smoke. As the air cleared, Rukia looked around but the white figure had gone. She tried finding his reiatsu but it was gone. She looked around for a while but could find no trace and turned back towards Ichigo's house. A white crop of hair appeared as the hollow Ichigo looked out from its hiding place. The hollow Ichigo paused as the sound of clapping met its ears. It looked up to see a silhouette sitting on the edge of a nearby roof, looking down at him.

"You and I are the same, but are we?" the silhouette muttered, sounding like it was talking to itself, "so much power and you are reduced to prowling at night. What power has you chained? Not the little shinigami girl?"

"What are you?!" The hollow Ichigo demanded as it felt the same strange reiatsu from the other night filling the air.

"What am I?" the silhouette echoed, "who cares. I don't have to tell you anything."

The reply almost made the hollow shudder as it remembered telling Byakuya the same thing once. Something about the stranger made the hollow wary but at the same time drew it to the silhouette.

"Prove to me you are worthy of my power, and I shall grant you your greatest wish."

The silhouette vanished before the hollow Ichigo could digest his words.


Entering through Ichigo's window, Rukia found the room just as she'd left it.

"Has he moved?" she asked the chappy soul.

She shook her head. Rukia got back into her body and lay down in the closet; she tried to watch Ichigo again but soon fell asleep. A white head peered around the window frame, looking into the room. It saw Rukia was asleep again and quietly opened the window. The hollow closed the window again before entering Ichigo's body. Ichigo jerked and groaned in his sleep. For almost half an hour he tossed in his bed until he suddenly sat bolt upright, drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. The nightmare was already fading but parts were still clear. Ichigo tried to grab onto the images flashing through his mind but only managed to catch a handful. The mall, hollow, shinigami, running, cero, explosion. Ichigo lay back down on his bed, feeling sleep calling him again but as he drifted off the face of the shinigami floated out of his memory. Rukia's face.


Ichigo was lying on his bed again, staring up at the ceiling. The dreams of wandering around the city in a white shihakusho were really starting to bother him. He'd managed to get through another day with the help of Rukia kicking his shins every time he dozed off. Ichigo looked over as he heard a taping on his window. His frown deepened as he saw Byakuya was outside.

"Rukia, you have a guest," Ichigo said as he opened the window.

Rukia opened the door of her closet and stared.

"Nii-sama? What are you doing here?!" she asked as he clambered through the window, followed by Renji.

"I bring news direct from Captain Yamamoto," Byakuya paused, "Nero is back."

Rukia's face turned grim.

"I thought he was dealt with."

"As did we all. That monster seems almost as stubborn as Kurosaki,"

"Who or what is Nero?" Ichigo demanded, ignoring Byakuya's comment.

"To put it simply, Nero is trouble with a capital T," Rukia told him.

"That still doesn't tell me much," Ichigo complained.

"We think he's an imperfect arrancar, which means he's a hollow with only half a mask," Renji said as he sat next to Ichigo's bed, "we've tried to deal with him more than once over the last hundred years, but ever time he's defeated he comes back."

"We're assembling a task force at Urahara's," Byakuya continued, "We'll expect you there."

Without another word Byakuya and Renji left Ichigo's room. Rukia popped a soul candy into her mouth and left the chappy soul in charge of her Gigai as Ichigo grabbed his shinigami representative badge. After putting Kon in Ichigo's body and threatening to give him to Yuzu if he tried anything, both shinigami left Ichigo's room and headed towards Urahara's shop.


Shutting the door after him, Ichigo looked around the shop interior as he sat. Renji and Byakuya were sitting to his left, across the room from Toshiro and Rangiku. Urahara and Yoruichi were sitting in front of Ichigo and Rukia.

"This all seems a little extreme to deal with just one hollow," Ichigo voiced.

"Nero is no mere hollow. He's self aware, not a mindless beast like other hollows and somehow he has power that rivals a captain rank shinigami," Byakuya said without looking at Ichigo, "he's been plaguing the soul society for almost a hundred years now."

"You said he keeps coming back, how can you bee sure it isn't just a flock of similar looking hollows?" Ichigo asked.

"During the fights, he deliberately tells us what happened the last time he was defeated," Rangiku told him, "it's definitely the same individual hollow."

Toshiro's eyes took on a far away look as he remembered the last fight with the subject of their conversation.

"The only way he could have reacted to Hyorinmaru was if he knew what was coming," he said almost to himself.

"Nero has unique abilities you need to be aware of Kurosaki," Urahara interrupted Toshiro's memories, "one of them is his ability to draw other hollows to himself at will. Once he draws the hollow's in, he is able to shatter their masks and make them like him. Though not as strong as Nero, the new demi-hollows are a force to be reckoned with."

"Why is he such a threat?" Ichigo asked.

Yoruichi took over the briefing, "His raw power is why he's such a threat. His strength is on par with the Espada. If allowed to run loose there's no telling what he'd do. To make matters worse, because he only has half a mask, his hollow and human sides are warring against each other for control. The constant conflict has driven him over the edge but he still retains his human intelligence."

"So we have a psycho demi-hollow on the loose," Ichigo muttered, "could this day get any worse?"

"Are any of the other captains coming?" Rukia asked.

"It was decided against bringing captains Zaraki and Kurotsuchi," Toshiro replied.

"Kenpachi would probably ignore Nero and go after Ichigo," Rangiku added.

"And Kurotsuchi would want to capture and study Nero. But Ukitake and Kyoraku may join us later."


After much discussion between the task force it was decided that Urahara's store would be the headquarters for the operation. The night had started to turn from black to blue before the meeting ended. The shinigami paired off outside Urahara's store and scattered in different directions. Rukia paused, looking up at the nearby building as she thought she saw movement in the lightening sky. There was nothing there and she dismissed it as a trick of the light. Ichigo and Rukia headed back towards the Kurosaki clinic unaware that they were being watched by a cloaked figure. The stranger turned away from the street, phasing back into the visible spectrum.

"Things are getting interesting," the phantom muttered, snickering as it walked across the roof.

A hollow landed behind the figure and seemed almost puzzled by stranger's reiatsu. The figure vanished, reappearing in front of the hollow's face and slamming its fists into the hollow's mask.

The hollow screamed and collapsed to the rooftop as the figure sat in the shadows. The hollow screamed as its body twitched and rippled. An evil smile twisted the shadowy figure as the hollow's body shrank down into a more human shape. The former hollow managed to get to its feet and looked at its creator. The smirk of the shadow grew as it opened a Garganta portal and stepped through, the former hollow following.


D1: You know the drill please R&R. By the way, looking for a beta reader, any takers?

I'm going to bed.