"Any simple theory will be worded in the most complicated way possible." – one of Murphy's Laws.
Ha, ha, I'm going to kill myself with all the stories I keep making. XD Why? Why do I do this to myself? Why do I keep coming up with stories that require me to write so many battle scenes?? D=
Oh well, at least this one's definitely a one shot (sort of), so now that it's done, it won't haunt me anymore.
I've been told that I need to have this in my author notes as a warning, so... This is not a yaoi fic in any way, shape, or form. In fact, there is no romance whatsoever. There is also no swearing or other inappropriateness. Rejoice.
Also, don't worry; as far as I know, there aren't any spoilers in this story, either for the manga or for Feeling Hollow... (Except for the epilogue). And you definitely don't have to have read Feeling Hollow for this to make sense. It's only technically a prequel. In fact, mostly it's not.
Okay, so first, random story of the death of my laptop. RIP Daricio's laptop. It will be sorely missed. So, anyway, my laptop died. And as I was moping around, I suddenly realized that I had enough time on my hands to write something other than the stories I couldn't work on due to a dead computer... and I've had this idea floating around in my head for a while now... So, I started writing it in a blank notebook. Whee, now I have a full notebook. (No seriously, it only has three blank pages left... And that doesn't include the epilogue...)
(On a random note, if anyone has the romaji lyrics/translation to the song "Just Bleach" from the Bleach Beat Collection, that'd be totally awesome. That song pretty much inspired this for no reason other than the fact that it happened to be playing when I thought to write it. XD The song "Zan" also helped, cause Ichigo's hollow sings! =3)
Anyway. So, I started writing this. It was supposed to be just a short, one chapter thing that was not meant to be an actual story, but simply something to explain my views on a certain subject... But then it got long enough that I decided I'd better post it in separate chapters so that people didn't go "omg! 87 page chapter! I'm not reading that!"
And yes, it is that bad. So much for short...
But, yeah, it was meant to be read all at once. It won't make sense until you read the whole thing, so please don't give up after just reading the first chapter...
Well, I'd say more, but that'd just ruin the story, so read on. =P
It starts at the beginning...
"Why are you just standing there? Everything is falling apart! Pull me out!" the man shouted at him urgently.
Snapped out of his daze, Ichigo whirled around and grabbed the hilt of the zanpakutou that was sticking out of the small, white box. As hard as he could, he yanked, trying to get the sword to come out.
It refused to come.
Something deep within the box was holding tightly to it, sticking like glue. Despite Ichigo's greatest efforts, it wouldn't budge.
"It's stuck!" Ichigo cried at the man.
The man yelled something at him, but the sound of his voice was strangely distorted by the destruction going on all around them. The world shook furiously, and the hole leading back up to the buildings above them cracked open even further.
The buildings themselves were dissolving into more white boxes, and the number of them multiplied until white was almost the only thing Ichigo could see besides the sword hilt in his hands.
Ichigo's vision began to double as pain shot through his whole body, focused at his chest. Yelling, he pulled even harder, knowing what was happening. If this didn't work, if he couldn't get this sword out soon, he would become a hollow. He was already almost there; he could feel the pain of the transformation.
Panicked, he pulled even harder, sweat beading up on his forehead. To his relief, the sword seemed to break loose a little. Slowly, painfully slowly, it began to slide out, as if he was pulling it through thick mud.
There didn't seem to be much of anything left still standing in this world. Had he made it in time? Would he make it in time? The sword still wasn't free, and the old man was yelling his name, and the pain suddenly doubled in intensity.
Screaming, Ichigo gave one final yank. Through his blurred vision, he saw the tip of the blade come free of the box; the sword was fully in his hands now. But the pain didn't stop. It coursed through his body as if he were on fire. Was he too late?
There was an explosion of energy; yellow and white and blue all around him. He could hardly believe it was possible, but the pain increased yet again to agonizing measures. Then the colors faded to grey, and then to black.
The pain ceased as he fell into unconsciousness.
Sensation returned to him slowly, in increments. Colors blurred into his vision, browns and blues and whites. Something dark lined the edges of his sight. As he watched, things began to focus, but it was like seeing the world through a pair of thick glasses.
He was standing, though he could feel his knees and ankles shaking and tingling as though he had just landed much too hard on them. He was swaying slightly, his body still in shock from the intense pain he'd been in.
There was still a dull ache in his chest, he noticed... and his vision didn't seem to be clearing any faster, though he could tell that he was apparently in the midst of a dust cloud of some sort, probably from the hard landing.
As the dust settled, he could hear a voice in the distance. Whoever it was sounded shocked and awed, but Ichigo couldn't make out what they were saying.
A new sensation came to Ichigo's attention then, and he froze in surprise. High spirit energy from multiple sources, very close by. The ache in his chest grew to a sudden desire.
Desire? For what? Relief? Satisfaction?
'No! No, no, no, no!' Ichigo wanted to scream, but something else seemed to be in control of his body. His arm lifted of its own volition, reaching for something above his right shoulder.
The dark around his vision made sudden, painful sense; a mask. This hunger he felt was the hunger of a hollow. He had failed. He had become a hollow after all.
Ichigo could already feel the instincts of a hollow beginning to take over his sanity. He wanted to relieve the pain he felt within! To attack the ones before him! To rip! To tear! He wanted to, needed to, couldn't stop himself!
His body began to move without him.
Ichigo panicked. NO. Not while he still had some sense left. This couldn't happen!
He had something hard and heavy in his hand now. It felt familiar, but he wasn't paying attention. Applying all of his strength, he forced his hand to swing down, smashing it into the mask.
It had to come off. It had to come off now. He wouldn't be a hollow. He wouldn't attack people. It had to come off.
His other hand came up and gripped the broken edge of the mask. Slowly, deliberately, he forced it to move, pushing upward and peeling it away from his face.
Abruptly, pain enveloped him again and he yelled silently, instinctively pulling away from the pain and trying to curl into a ball. For a moment, he thought he heard someone call his name, but then it didn't matter. Everything went dark again.
"Ichigo. Why did you run? Why have you not yet called upon me?"
Running. Somebody was running, fearing for their life, trying to escape death.
Still fuzzy from the blackness, Ichigo found himself laughing softly. Fear. What was there to fear?
The thought distracted him from the running. Fear. Was he afraid?
Yes, definitely. Hollows were born from fear; of course it was there. There was fear. A fear of death, a fear of weakness...
But the fear of fear was gone. What more could fear do to him now? He laughed again.
"That which held you back before was the useless emotion of fear," a voice called through the darkness again. Vaguely, Ichigo recognized the voice as belonging to the old man, but there was nothing around him. He seemed to be floating in darkness.
He thought about what the old man was saying and laughed again. He could see now. As his inner world had been falling apart, he had been filled with fear, but that very fear was the force that had kept the zanpakutou stuck inside the box. He had destroyed himself with his fear of destruction.
He grinned. What more could fear do to him now?
"Cast your fear away. You have but one enemy, and you are also alone. What is there to fear?"
Ichigo frowned. He didn't think the old man was talking to him any more. Cast the fear away? Of course. Hadn't he done that when he'd broken away the mask?
The old man's next words shook him suddenly, forcing him to pay attention.
"Forget the fear. Look forward. Walk forward. Never ever stop." The old man's words were full of a strange power now, and getting more so as the one who had been running gained courage from them.
"Turning back will make you weak. Hesitate and you will die."
This was it! Ichigo's eyes were wide in the blackness as he waited. Something was coming now...
The old man's words rang out one last time. "Shout! My name is..."
And then, Ichigo knew that name. He was that name. A sword. A faithful companion. A blade, cutting the very moon.
He knew that name, knew the man that the name belonged to, almost as well as he knew himself. He knew the sword; was the sword, just as much as he was himself.
Pure energy coursed through him then and he grinned in pleasure, thrilled at the sheer force that was Zangetsu's power. This much raw spirit energy, they should do something with it...
"I hope you dodge," a faint voice (his own?) cut through the darkness, "because I don't think I can hold back."
And then, sight returned, and he was standing in a place filled with blues and browns. Zangetsu was in his hands and he raised it high. Focusing the energy he was now filled with, together with the old man, he let it fly as the sword came swinging down.
There was a yell. Laughter. And then his body gave out. Blackness and silence returned.
"Ichigo, stand." Zangetsu's voice pulled him from the darkness and, for the first time in what seemed like forever, Ichigo opened his eyes.
He was sitting on a window, back in the sideways world again.
Suddenly remembering having fallen before, he almost panicked again, but the thought was quickly pushed to one side. His mind had been breaking before; if he was a hollow now, he suspected that it wasn't going to get much worse in here...
He glanced around until he spotted Zangetsu, who was standing a short distance away, balanced lightly on the top of that flag pole again.
Slowly, Ichigo frowned. "Zangetsu-san, what...?" he trailed off, surprised by the sound of his own voice. It was higher than it used to be, with a strange, watery echo to it.
Anxiously, he glanced down at himself, worried about what he would find there.
White. White hands, white clothing, it was all white...
... White, but human. And wearing a Shinigami uniform, of all things, though the colors were reversed from usual. Human, not a monster with a mask.
Mask? Ichigo's hands shot up to his face and came into contact with soft skin, not a hard bone mask. Why had...? What was...?
Wide-eyed, he looked back up at Zangetsu. "What happened?" he asked in awe. "How am I...?"
Zangetsu watched him impassively. "You won. But you lost," he replied cryptically.
Ichigo rolled his eyes, but held back the sarcastic comment that was on the tip of his tongue. Trying to be patient, he waited for the sword to get to the point.
"Right as your inner world was collapsing, you pulled me out and regained your Shinigami powers successfully," Zangetsu clarified. "However, a part of you had already irreversibly become a hollow. At that time, your Shinigami and hollow halves split."
Ichigo examined one white hand with amusement. "And I'm the hollow half, huh?"
Zangetsu nodded. "Within your own mind, you appear this way. But outside, you truly have become a hollow."
Clenching his hand slowly, Ichigo pondered this. "So, now there are two Ichigos. Most of me was strong enough not to become a hollow... And now that side of me is a Shinigami..."
Unexpectedly, Ichigo laughed, opening his hand again and turning it over to study the other side. "But I'm the part that was too weak not to change."
Zangetsu gave him a calculating look, obviously surprised that he was laughing at this. "Are you not upset?"
"Upset?" Ichigo frowned up at him. "About what? Becoming a hollow? Of course I am. Not much I can do about it now, though. I am what I am."
Zangetsu's expression didn't change. "I meant the fact that you are now trapped here." At Ichigo's questioning look, he continued, "Your Shinigami half is currently in control of your body. Until that changes, you remain here, cut off from the outside world. Does this not bother you?"
Ichigo thought about that for a long time. Finally, he shrugged. "The other half of me is obviously stronger than me. Why shouldn't I be the one trapped?"
"You still have the potential for great strength, Ichigo."
"Hmm." Ichigo paused. "Then... No, don't call me that, Zangetsu-san... The one who deserves the name Ichigo is the one in control; the one who is currently the stronger of the two of us."
Zangetsu just watched him with a neutral expression. "Call yourself what you wish, then... Hollow."
The name didn't sting like it probably should have. The hollow grinned. "I thought you'd say something like that. Which reminds me, Zangetsu-san... How do I know you so well all of a sudden?"
Zangetsu frowned, not answering for a moment.
The hollow continued. "I mean, the other me, Ichigo, he knows your name, but he doesn't actually know you yet. But I know you well enough that I can even use your Getsuga Tenshou attack. Which is yet another name I know that you never actually told me."
Zangetsu paused, trying to think how to explain. "As a zanpakutou, Ichigo's zanpakutou, I represent a portion of Ichigo's inner power."
The hollow's head tilted in interest. "Only a portion of his power?"
"A portion of your power, too," Zangetsu reminded him.
He shrugged that off. "So the other part of Ichigo's power is?"
"You know. It is the hollow powers that you now hold."
The hollow's mouth twisted into a smirk. "So, I know you because we both represent Ichigo's power," he guessed. "I know you because we are a part of each other."
Zangetsu nodded solemnly.
The hollow laughed. "So, what am I exactly, Zangetsu-san? Ichigo? A hollow? A sword?"
Zangetsu took a moment to answer. "You are you," he said finally.
"I am me?" The hollow thought about that and smiled. "All right. I can deal with that."
Zangetsu nodded again. "Good. Then, where do you go from here, hollow of Ichigo?"
The hollow looked up at him questioningly. "Go?"
"The other Ichigo is training, becoming stronger. What will you do?"
The hollow frowned, not sure how to answer. "Well... Like you said, Zangetsu-san. Look forward. Walk forward. Never ever stop. I'm not much good as I am. I know how weak I am right now. So, I suppose I should keep training to become stronger as well."
He paused for a moment, and then laughed. "Hey, maybe someday my stronger side will actually have need of the help of a hollow."
Zangetsu looked pleased at this statement. "Good. Then come." He held his hands open towards the hollow.
At first nothing happened, and then an odd feeling in the hollow's feet caused him to look down in surprise. He watched, strangely fascinated, as his feet began to dissolve from the bottom up, transforming into a fine dust, which then floated in Zangetsu's direction.
Fighting a rising, irrational panic, the hollow tried to keep his voice calm. "Z-Zangetsu-san?"
"You are a part of me," Zangetsu said, "as much as you are a part of Ichigo. You will gain more strength training within my mind, learning more of the sword you will wield."
The hollow laughed again. "The mind of a sword within the mind of its wielder is where, exactly?"
Zangetsu was apparently not about to engage in a philosophical discussion. He remained silent and the hollow snickered at him.
Something occurred to him, then. "Hey, if we're both parts of Ichigo's power, how come I'm a part of you, and not the other way around?" he asked, watching one hand disappear with a slight frown.
"Ichigo is currently more Shinigami than he is hollow," Zangetsu said simply. "The only way I would become a part of you would be if you were to become stronger than I am."
The hollow thought about that and smirked. "All right... I'll have to take you up on that one, Zangetsu-san."
Zangetsu smiled faintly. "We'll see if you can, hollow."
The hollow disappeared into Zangetsu's world.