My first ever fanfic on this site. Please be kind and R&R! I have the first few chapters laid out in my mind, then I'll be writing as inspiration strikes me. I'm not opposed to writing in suggested elements if they fit with the plot.

Notes: This takes place before Orihime is kidnapped by Aizen, after he fights Grimmjow, and before vaizard training. Please note character thoughts will be written in italics. Ichi's hollow will be in bold italics.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters. Tite Kubo is the owner and has created something good for us all to enjoy.

--

Ichigo sat in the classroom staring at the clock. The final bell at Karakura High could not ring soon enough for the substitute shinigami. It was a Friday and after spending all his time hunting hollows at ungodly hours and studying for the weeks exams he needed some rest and relaxation. The threat of an arrancar attack looming over his head every night did not make it any easier. Ichigo paid no attention to his surroundings and as he daydreamed about how to spend his weekend a loud buzz indicated that he was free until Monday. Grabbing his bags Ichigo made a beeline for the exits.

"Kurosaki-kun!" Orihime yelled as she raced to catch up with him as he walked out of the school's front entrance. She had noticed just how distant he'd been since the arrancar attacks had nearly killed her, Tatsuki, Chad, and Rukia. It seemed like he had been avoiding them all as of late.

"Oh hey Inoue" Ichigo replied, doing his best to force a smile. Orihime noticed that while he smiled his eyes looked distant and empty.

"Ummm if you aren't doing anything this weekend, Tatsuki and I were thinking about going to the movies, and we'd love it if you tagged along."

Do I want to spend time alone this weekend, or hang out with my friends? I can't even face them after I failed to protect them. They almost died, and not because I wasn't strong enough to defeat the enemy, but because I wasn't strong enough to control myself.

"I'll have to see if my dad has anything planned for the weekend. If not I'll let you know. I do have to get home to take care of some stuff so I'll catch you later." Ichigo knew it was a lie, his father would be spending time doing various things around the clinic this weekend because of a surge in patients, but he needed an easy out without hurting her feelings.

"Ohhh" was all Orihime could muster, trying not to sound too depressed. As Ichigo walked away she could see Tatsuki approaching her.

"So how'd it go Orihime?"

"He said he needed to ask his dad if they were going anywhere this weekend."

Tatsuki sighed and looked at the slight frown on her best friend. Ichigo really is an idiot. How can he not see it? Is he that oblivious or does he just not like her as anything more then a friend?

"I'm sorry Orihime. He seems like he has a lot on his mind lately. Maybe we can check up and hopefully Kurosaki-san isn't taking them anywhere. I know he'd have a really good time with us."

"Thank you Tatsuki."

Orihime and Tatsuki left the school together, wondering if Ichigo would bother to come out with them.

--

As Ichigo made it to the front door he stopped and listened for the threat he always had to deal with when he made his way home.

I don't hear the old man. Maybe he's not here. I really don't feel like being attacked again today.

Ichigo opened the door quietly and stepped inside. He scanned the room for signs of an imminent attack. Seeing no sign of the old man he relaxed a bit as he made his way to the stairs.

"HAH! I've caught you off guard!"

Ichigo barely had time to react as his father's flying kick connected to his midsection, causing him to fall back several steps and grab his side.

"What the hell dad! What kind of crazy man kicks his own son when he gets home from school!"

"I have to keep your reflexes shar-" was all Isshin could get out of his mouth before Ichigo launched his own kick to the man's stomach, bouncing him off the wall.

"You're getting so strong my son, I'm so proud of you!"

With those words Isshin ran and kneeled in front of his shrine to Masaki.

"Oh my dear Masaki, he's growing up so fast! Soon I won't be able to teach him anymore!"

"Would you can it dad! I'm going to my room!"

Ichigo left his father to yell about him to his mother's portrait and made his way to his room.

Strange, Rukia isn't here yet. I didn't notice her after school either.

At the moment all Ichigo wanted to do was forget his problems. He laid down on his bed, staring at the ceiling. With fatigue setting in, he closed his eyes and quickly dozed off into a dream.

--

Ichigo stood before Grimmjow, beaten and battered, bleeding from several slashes. He was breathing heavy, leaning on Zangetsu for support.

"You think a pissant shinigami like you is gonna beat me?" Grimmjow laughed maniacally. "What a joke! I don't even need my zanpakuto against your bankai. You're pathetic!"

Grimmjow reached forward and started to pummel Ichigo with his fists. Shot after shot hit him in the face and gut. Grimmjow stopped and caught him by the front of his shihakushou, watching as Ichigo coughed up a large amount of blood.

"You ready to die shinigami?"

A cero started to form in Grimmjaw's free hand, the red light turning his smile into something from a horror film. Suddenly the voice of his inner hollow he had tried so hard to suppress was back in his mind.

I'm taking over. Its clear you lack the will or skill to win. If it wasn't for me you wouldn't have even beaten that Kuchiki clown. This guy looks like fun so I think I'll have to enjoy myself. Have a good time being stuck in your own mind!

As Ichigo felt himself falling into his inner world, a more familiar voice could be faintly heard.

"Ichigo wake up!"

--

Ichigo woke with a start, rising out of his bed and almost knocking his head against Rukia's. Seeing her presence he looked around, and noticed he was sweating and breathing hard.

"Rukia whats going on?"

"Looks like you were having a bad dream Ichigo, I had to shake you to wake you up" Rukia looked at him carefully, the worry clearly written on her face. She too had noticed how distant he'd become since their near death experience at the hands of the arrancars.

"Oh" was all he could muster himself to say.

"Ichigo, what were you dreaming about? I've never seen you like that before."

"I don't remember" trying his best to lie. He clearly remembered his dream, and it scared the hell out of the orange haired teen.

Rukia shot him a glance full of worry and decided to let the matter drop, giving Ichigo time to work it out in his own mind and come to her when he was ready to talk. She sat down on the edge of his bed and sighed.

"So where have you been Rukia? You usually get home when I do. Did you have something important to do?" Ichigo tried changing the subject.

"Actually, yeah I did. I got a call from Soul Society with new orders."

Ichigo was suddenly very interested in the conversation.

"Oh, what do they want us to do now? We're already working ourselves to death keeping up with hollows and arrancar attacks, schoolwork, and training. What the hell else could they ask us?"

"Not us Ichigo, you. You've been asked to come to Soul Society and speak to Yamamoto sou-taicho. I've been ordered to remain here with Renji and continue to monitor the situation."

"WHAAAAAAAAAAT? You mean I'm going all alone? You know that nut bag Kenpachi is gonna try to hunt me down and force me to fight him again if he catches wind of it, and your brother will come up with one of his jerk comments like 'you don't belong here Kurosaki, go home.'"

"Nii-sama is NOT a jerk Ichigo! I'm sure you can continue to find ways to avoid Zaraki taicho. I don't think you'll be there very long anyways. Yamamoto sou-taicho probably just wants to make sure you're developing well for the upcoming battles."

Ichigo didn't look very convinced. He knew Soul Society was aware of his battle against an espada, but he was sure they didn't know about his hollow. Only Byakuya Kuchiki had witnessed those powers, and briefly at that. He hoped so at least.

"Yeah I guess you're right Rukia" Ichigo said unconvinced. "When do they want me to come?"

"As soon as you get the message Ichigo. You should leave soon, Urahara should be informed by now and ready to open the gate for you."

"What, tonight? Damnit I wanted to relax. Oh well, I guess I'll get it over with and be back by tonight. Where the hell is Kon? I'll have to have him watch my body."

The minute the mod soul heard his name called he jumped out from under Ichigo's bed and headed straight for Rukia's chest.

"Neeeeeeeeeeeeeee-san!" Kon yelled, his plushie paws attempting to lock onto her breasts.

Rukia knew what was coming and grabbed him from midair and threw him down on the bed.

"Behave yourself Kon, or I'll take Yuzu out to the doll store to buy some cute girly outfits for you."

Before Kon could say anything Ichigo pulled the soul candy from the toy and popped it into his mouth, separating his soul.

"Ok Kon, I'm trusting you with my body again, and I BETTER not hear about you trying anything perverted this time when I get back, or I'm going to have Ishida sew a bonnet on your head after Rukia lets Yuzu dress you up nice and pretty."

"Alright alright! I won't do anything dirty I promise! I'll just hang out and read some manga. You won't be long right?"

Ichigo frowned at this. "I don't know, I hope not. I'm not in the mood to deal with this kinda stuff today. Rukia make sure my dad doesn't do anything stupid while I'm gone and that Karin and Yuzu are alright."

"Gotcha covered Ichigo. Better hurry so Urahara isn't left waiting too long."

"Catch you later midget."

Ichigo gave her a small smile before jumping out of his window and heading to Urahara's.

--

By the time Ichigo arrived at the eccentric inventor's Urahara was already waiting outside, cane in hand, the other holding his customary fan in front of his face to hide a grin.

"Ahhhh to what do I owe this pleasure? Is there anything I can help you with today Ichigo Kurosaki?"

"You know exactly why I'm here, just open the damn senkaimon so I can get there and get the hell back."

"My my aren't you in such a hurry? I guess theres no time for pleasantries then."

Urahara led him through the shoten and down into the familiar training grounds where Ichigo had first learned the name of Zangetsu. The bright sky overhead reminded him of the grueling days he'd spent there getting his ass kicked in an attempt to make him strong enough to rescue the person who'd changed his life for the better. Thankfully it had. It also reminded him that his inner hollow was born here as well, the one he was now desperately trying to beat in a war of wills.

It feels like it was so long ago, but in reality it was just a few months ago. I've come far since then, but now I have to go so much farther. I wonder if Urahara realizes what I've become.

As the gate was prepared for opening, Ichigo felt that he could ask his mentor Urahara for a heads up.

"So what do you think the old man wants to see me about? Why would they call me alone? I would've felt better if Rukia or Renji was accompanying me."

"I couldn't tell you, but its not surprising that they would take an interest in you with your level of power. Its rare for someone of your caliber who isn't a noble to come along and not end up as part of the Gotei 13." Urahara's devious smile made Ichigo wonder if the former taicho of the 12th Division knew more then he was letting on.

As he finished the portal, Kisuke gave a wave of his hand.

"Its open. Don't worry about security, they know you're coming. I'll make sure nothing happens while you're gone."

With a final glance to the man who taught him more then anyone, Ichigo jumped through the gate and began the trek through the senkaimon and into Soul Society.

--

Upon exiting the gate into the Seireitei Ichigo was immediately escorted by two shinigami to the 1st Divison headquarters. As he passed the various tapestries, each emblazoned with the number of a Gotei 13 division on it, he started to become nervous. When they finally reached their destination and he was told to wait outside until he was summoned, Ichigo stood outside the door to Yamamoto sou-taicho's office with his arms crossed, a worried look spread across his face.

They couldn't know right? Theres just no way they could know. There has to be another reason I'm here.

As he quietly thought to himself, a familiar voice came into his thoughts.

Whaddya worried about King? Afraid they might find out about me? Afraid they might find out you're losing this battle of wills against me? That I might take over and turn you into a hollow? That I'm strong enough to be as big a threat to them as Aizen is? Don't worry, if they try to kill ya I'll step in and beat them all.

Shut the hell up! I don't need your help. I won't lose, I can't lose. I'm not gonna give in to you. Only I can fight my battles, not you.

Tchhh, suit yourself King. At the rate you're going you won't be King much longer. There's a lot of strong people here to fight, I'd have some serious fun.

Ichigo didn't know how to respond to that other side him. What worried him the most was that his hollow was right. If he didn't learn some control soon he was in serious danger of losing himself to his other half. Before he could contemplate further a familiar looking man with short white hair grabbed his attention.

"Ichigo Kurosaki, the sou-taicho will see you now."

"Ahh thank you, I'm sorry I didn't catch your name."

"Chojiro Sasakibe. This way please."

Ichigo suddenly remembered the man as one he had knocked out on top of Sokyoku Hill as he covered for Renji and Rukia's escape.

I wish they were here for me now. What the hell could they want with me?

Ichigo watched as the large wooden doors opened up to the 1st Division meeting room. As he stepped inside his breath caught in his throat. All of the captains were there in their standard spots. Every pair of eyes in the room turned to him as he walked in towards Yamamoto sou-taicho. To say he was nervous in their presence with no backup was an understatement.

"Ichigo Kurosaki" the sou-taicho began "it has come to our attention that you have become a very valuable asset to the future of the Gotei 13 and to Soul Society. Due to your talents and diligence in protecting the living world, we have decided that you should join one of the 13 divisions to round out your experiences and learn the proper procedures and conduct of a shinigami. We realize that you are still a living soul with responsibilities so you will only be expected to be here and learn on weekends or when available. You may talk to each taicho to get a feel for each squad before picking one to join."

Ichigo saw the expressions of some of the taichos upon this announcement. Zaraki and his murderous grin, Kurotsuchi sizing him up with those inhuman eyes, Soifon with a curious glance, and Unohana with a serene smile. Only two words came to his mind.

Awwww crap.