Full summery: Ichigo was always half-Shinigami, half-Hollow. In the true story it is the power of the Shinigami that he focused on first, in this story he became a Hollow first. Follow Ichigo on his quest as one of Aizen's Espada. Can he find some way to regain his heart, or will he fall into darkness?
Major Pairings: Ichigo X Orihime, Uryuu X Nemu, Grimmjow X Nell, Renji X Rukia.
Temporary, One-sided Pairing: Tatsuki X Ichigo. Other girls also crush on Ichigo at points, but nothing ever comes of it.
Disclaimer: I do in fact own Bleach! I use it to clean my white clothes, among other things. I do not own the Japanese Anime, and/or Manga Bleach however.
Chapter 1: Remeniscing
It was June 17, cold and raining in the town of Karakura. Odds were, no one would be out walking today, but even if they were he knew no one would have seen him. To the outside world he was invisible. The only people who would be able to see him were not here, not today.
He stood at the edge of the bridge...of course he knew that there were plenty of bridges in Karakura, but to him this would always be the bridge. The bridge where, six years ago, his entire life had changed totally and utterly. On days like this he really felt as though something in his destiny was off. He supposed that most people who had terrible things happen to them wished that it had been different, even felt that is should have been different, but for him it was more then that. He truly sometimes believed that his life had gone in a way that was not intended that day, as though fate was broken or something of the matter. He wondered how his life would have gone differently had things have gone differently that day. He probably would have grown up as a normal boy...well maybe not normal...considering his abilities he figured it was always just a matter of time before he got caught up in this world...but it would not have been for a while and odds were he would not have been on this side of things. Heh...he wasn't usually so sentimental or philosophical...but then things like this will do that to you. He could still (or perhaps it would be better to say, now) remember exactly what had happened that day, as though it had been only a short time ago.
A young boy with light orange-ish hair walked down the street. He was not alone, his mother walked slightly behind him, a bright smile on her beautiful face.
"Ichigo!" she called out to him, her lovely voice holding a hint of humor buried beneath the feigned exasperation. The boy stopped and turned back to her. "Don't walk so far ahead of me, it's raining and I can't see you very well from so far away."
Ichigo walked back to his mother and took her hand in his, "Okay mommy." he replied simply. These were good days. Ichigo loved his mother, and his father, and his infant sisters more then anything he could imagine. His new friend Tatsuki with his karate lessons, his walks with his mom, his school, everything seemed perfect to him. What more could anyone ever want? He could only hope that it would never end.
Unfortunately, it was not to be.
As they had passed over the bridge, Ichigo noticed a person standing at the very edge, on top of the railings, as though they were about to jump into the river. Ichigo blinked in surprise, trying to get a better view of this person through the water in his eyes. It was a girl, not much older then himself, with short dark hair. Ichigo had never seen her before, but he remembered something that his mother had told him before, about protecting people. He felt a sudden urge to stop this person from jumping into the river. He slipped his hand away from his mother's and dashed toward the girl.
"ICHIGO! DON'T!" his mother called, but the wind had kicked up at that moment and Ichigo could barely hear her. To him she didn't sound very urgent, and so he continued to run towards the girl.
Right before he reached her, she fell back. He reached for her but she fell too fast for him. He tried to stop himself, but the ground was slippery from the rain, and he had been running too fast. He tripped and fell into the river after her.
The water was icy cold and swirled around his so fast that it was hard to see anything. A large force hit the water near him and he could feel something moving toward him. Strong arms wrapped themselves around him and tried to pull him in a path perpendicular to the current, towards the bank. His mother had found him. A piercing pain appeared suddenly in his chest for the tiniest fraction of a second and then everything went black.
When Ichigo's eyes opened it was immediately apparent that something was very wrong. His mother was laying on the ground to the side of him, a deep red something pooling around her. Directly beneath her still form was what looked horribly like himself, with a large wooden spike sticking through his heart through his back. The tiny boy tried to rise to his feet but it was hard, his limbs felt like granite, and he could barely breath. He looked down at his chest and noticed a long chain that seemed to connect him to his mother's back.
"Momma..." he whispered, "What happened? Please get up...I feel heavy." To his delight his mother stirred and slowly and with a great deal of effort pushed herself up. The first thing that she noticed was the skewered body of her son beneath her and she instantly paled.
"Ichigo?" she spoke, so quietly that he could barely hear. Her hand reached down to caress her son's cheek.
"I'm here momma." Ichigo whispered in response, and she instantly turned her head to him and took in the state of his chained form.
She teared up as she scooted over to him and grabbed Ichigo's head and pulled him into her chest, "Don't worry Ichigo," she whispered comfortingly to him, "This is bad but we can fix it...your father can fix it...Urahara can fix it."
Ichigo didn't know who Urahara was, but he nodded and snuggled into his mother. Something rustled behind him and his mother's head shot up and paled. Ichigo turned to see what she was looking at and he screamed. There was a monster there, that was the only way that he could describe it, large and covered with fur, a huge, horrible, white mask over it's face and the girl from before, hovering over it attached to a large lure that came out of it's head and into the back of her neck.
Ichigo's mother shifted herself so that Ichigo was behind her and the monster was in front, "Get out of here Hollow," she spoke to it menacingly, "We don't have any business with you, and although I do not currently have the strength to destroy you, I swear that if you attack it will in one way or another be the death of you."
The monster seemed to chuckle, "So...you can see me although you are a mere human...how extraordinary."
Ichigo's mother turned to him, taking note of his chain, "Ichigo," she whispered, "Get as far away as you can, take cover somewhere. Mommy is going to handle this."
Ichigo nodded mutely and turned and ran, hiding behind a large oak tree. He didn't know exactly what was happening, but he knew that it was bad. He was afraid, more so then he had ever been in his life, but he would trust his mother. It was all that he knew how to do. He watched as the monster approached his mother, a large slimy tongue rolling over the upper lip of it's mask. "MOMMA RUN!" he called.
But his mother did not run. She reached into the pocket of her raincoat and pulled out a small pill which she popped into her mouth. Instantly she collapsed and Ichigo whimpered, but just as quickly a second version of his mother stood up from the downed body. This version looked identical to the body, same orange hair, same beautiful face, but still different. Her clothes were pure white, a lovely mermaid style dress that created a stunning silhouette against the rain. A samurai sword was hung at her waist, and although Ichigo, whom she was faced away from, couldn't see, she had a piece of bone-like material attached to the left side of her face, covering her entire cheek and going over her jawline and contouring to the underside of her eye. She drew her sword.
"I have weakened over so many years in this body Hollow, but I will not allow you to harm my son." She sounded downright bloodthirsty as she glared down the beast in front of her.
"What is this?" the monster asked itself, "Are you a Shinigami? You don't feel like a Shinigami...not exactly. You feel more like a Hollow...but still not exactly"
"It doesn't matter what I am" Ichigo's mother stated, "Just know that I will kill you if you attack my son."
Ichigo watched in shocked horror as the monster attacked his mother, moving at speeds that his eyes could not follow. He screamed out to her, but it was purposeless, his mother moved just as fast. He watched wide eyed as the two beings fought, his mother swinging her sword with amazing precision, the monster using large tearing claws and raw power. Amazing as it was, Ichigo's fear grew. The battle was clearly one-sided, in favor of the monster. Ichigo wanted to help her, to protect her just as he had promised himself he would. Slowly he moved out from the protection of the tree.
He should have known that there was nothing he could do, but when you are young you don't always see things as clearly as you should. "Momma!" He called out to her, "I'm coming!"
"No Ichigo!" she yelled back, "Stay where you are! there is nothing that you can do!" and before the boy could react she jumped to him and grabbed his chain, quickly wrapping it around a broken tree branch, before jumping back into the fray.
Ichigo yanked at the chain, trying to tear it off of him. It hurt but he didn't care, he needed to help his mother. Nothing else mattered. Violently he pulled at the metal obstruction, all the time trying to watch his mother fight.
Then something horrible happened. The monster sliced her, it's huge left-hand claws raking across her abdomen, sending blood splattering onto the ground. Ichigo screamed as she fell down and the monster pinned her to the ground, it's claws piercing through her belly and shoulders and into the ground. Terror gripped Icihgo's heart so hard that he felt as though it would be crushed, and yet even beneath that there was another emotion.
Pure, inconsolable rage pulsed through his tiny body. How dare this creature attack his mother! Hurthis mother! With a heart-wrenching scream he tore the chain from his chest, leaving a small, perfectly circular hole in his chest. His body spasmed with pain but he shook it off and hurdled himself at the monster. The force from his miniature body was barely strong enough to shake the monster up, but that was enough.
With a powerful lunge, Ichigo's mother jumped to her feet and slashed at the monster's mask, cutting deep into the bone-like material. The beast gave out a mournful wail and fell back, unmoving and with labored breaths. Ichigo's mother dropped her sword and turned to her son, "Ichigo..." she whispered as she walked over to where he had landed on his stomach. Ichigo slowly turned himself over and looked up to his mother and smiled. A tear appeared in his mother's eye, "Ichigo," she whispered again as she fell to her knees and placed her hand against his cheek, "I told you to stay safely where you were."
Ichigo didn't understand, "But momma was in trouble." he stated, "I needed to protect you." Suddenly a piercing pain shot down his entire body. His head jerked down and his breath caught in his throat. He was breaking down, his body shattering like a large piece of glass, shards shooting off and disintegrating into sparks. "Mommy..." he whimpered, "What's wrong with me?"
His mother lifted what was left of him, already his legs were gone, and pulled him into a tight embrace, "I'm so sorry Ichigo...I didn't think this would happen to you," she kissed his forehead, "I don't have the time to explain what is happening to you right now...I won't be around any more to show you the way," Ichigo noticed that dust seemed to be flying off of her open wounds, which were growing larger, "Just promise me one thing..."
Ichigo nodded, "Yes momma."
A tear fell off of his mother's face and onto his, "No matter what happens, don't ever let go of your heart." Ichigo nodded, most of his lower body was already gone, but his mother persisted, "Promise me Ichigo...you might not understand it now, but please promise me."
"I promise mommy." he replied, his tiny face breaking out in a smile despite what was happening, "I promise I won't ever let go of my heart."
And he was gone.
The days after that passed in a blur. He remembered the immense pain of turning into...whatever it was that he was...and not much else. Somehow he knew that whatever he was, was the same thing as the monster that attacked his mother, and for that he quickly grew to hate himself. He was much smaller then that monster, no fur, smooth body with bony plates that covered his strangely morphed body. But he had a skull-like mask just like the monster, very basic in design with sharp features and red markings on the left side. He had three large talon-ed fingers on each of his hands, attached to the end of overly long and lanky arms, and his legs were short and stubby. His mind wanted to cloud over, and the time span of his memories had shortened down to less then a fraction of what it had been.
After he had re-materialized he had dragged himself over to where his and his mother's bodies had been, but there had been nothing else there, just two dead things. The warrior-spirit version of his mother had vanished. After realizing that there was nothing left for him there, he returned to his home, searching for his father and infant baby sisters. It was difficult to find the place, his memories had already started to fuzz over, but eventually he made his way there. His father couldn't see him, nor could his blonde-haired sister Yuzu. His other sister reacted when he moved but still she didn't seem to be able to see him as more then a shadow. They didn't respond at all to his wails and cries of anguish, and it depressed him.
That was when the hunger had started. He wanted to attack them, to tear their souls from their bodies, to MAKE them feel his pain. The anger had scared him, and he knew he had to run away. He didn't want to attack his family, and yet he so badly did. The words of his mother before she vanished returned to his head, "Don't ever let go of your heart" and he tore himself away from them.
For months after that he ran, away from Karakura town, across Japan. But the hunger never stopped. Not once did he lose the urge to return, to extract his revenge on them for ignoring him in his time of need. And not just them either. Every person that he came across, some more then others, drew him in, and forced him to push himself away. Every day it got harder not to give in to his urges and tear into these people. His body became thin and his arms lost their strength, but he never allowed himself to attack them. Occasionally he ran into more monsters like the one that killed him and his mother, most of which tried to attack him, but he was small and always able to find some place to hide. He was no where near strong enough to defend himself from them.
His mothers words rang in his head constantly. He forgot almost everything else in his life but he never allowed himself to lose those words. Eventually he didn't even know why he was remembering it anymore, but he still did. He never allowed those words to slip out of his head for even one moment, because if he did he knew they would be forgotten. And so he continued his trek, growing weaker and slower every day and still never allowing himself to slip even once. He was wasting away into nothing.
That was how he found him, collapsed on the ground, unable to even muster the strength to stand on his own two feet.
Ichigo knew that he was going to die now. He had not eaten anything in so long that it was already beyond his limited memory. His arms refused to lift more then an inch or so above the ground, and it took everything that he had to shift his head so that he was facing forward rather then directly into the ground. There was a large cloud of dust surrounding him, from what he wasn't sure, nor did he care, but it made it impossible to see more then a few feet ahead of him. He was almost glad that he was dying...he wasn't sure how much longer he could resist attacking someone. For a long time, there was a large difference between the different people who he walked by, some being almost totally ignorable, others beckoning to him nearly as strongly as his family. Now however those differences had faded to nothingness. Everyone pulled him equally, so strongly that it took every ounce of his self-control and his one remaining memory to stop himself from attacking. Now that he was going to die, he would be able to keep his promise...who had he made the promise to? He couldn't even remember anymore, but he refused to break it.
Probably because of the dust, he sensed the presence of the approaching figure. It was impossible to miss, the all encompassing aura that suddenly washed over the prone young Hollow. Weak though he may have been, even he could feel the raw power that seemed to be heading in his direction. It was a terrifying power, similar to the scent of the power of the masked monsters, but at least a thousand times more powerful. In an odd way however it also seemed to be revitalizing him, washing over him and saturating his body. He still didn't feel strong enough to rise to his feet, but somehow he wasn't dying anymore. He weakly raised his head to see who it was who was coming.
The figure that stepped out through the dust cloud was tall and thin. His body shape was totally humanoid, unlike the other monsters that he had encountered, and he didn't appear to be covered in the typical bone-like armor that the rest of them had been. He wore a long, double breasted jacket which was lined with what appeared to be fur. Ichigo would learn later that the fabric of the jacket was actually sewn from Hollow bone matter, as was the fur lining. He also wore white jeans made of the same material, and the Hollow fur completely covered his lower legs, from his ankles to his knees. Finally, the Hollow fur also covered his collar in what appeared to be a large mane and created fingerless gloves that extended up to his elbows. The exposed fingers looked shockingly human. His Hollow mask was truly the only thing besides his spiritual presence that indicated his status as a Hollow, this mask having a vaguely wolf-like appearance, save for it's left eye which was simply an empty hole surrounded by red flame markings that extended around the side of his head. His black hair behind his mask was wavy and fell down to his shoulders. He carried what looked like a pair of highly intricate guns, one longer then the other, both attached to a long line of bullet casings that wrapped around his body and attached themselves to his shoulders. They were currently both in holsters on abdomen where a belt would be.
The figure didn't seem to notice Ichigo until a moment before he reached him and then suddenly halted his march as though surprised at something and jerked his head downward. "Well, well...what have we here?"
A small, imp-like monster with hugely over-sized horns walked out from behind the powerful figure's legs. Ichigo hadn't seen her before, and although it was impossible to tell just by looking, some instinct told him this one was indeed a 'she'. "What is it Stark?" she asked, "Have you found a meal for me?" she eyed Ichigo appraisingly, "sort of scrawny isn't he?"
Ichigo's eyes narrowed, "I am not scrawny," he choked out, "You're just as small as I am." and it was true...the imp-like girl was the smallest of any of the monsters he had ever seen, himself included, though only just.
The girl looked affronted, "Whatchu talking about!" she yelled, "I'm a girl! Girls are supposed to be smaller! And you shouldn't be criticizing someone who is going to eat you!"
Ichigo sighed and twisted his head away, "Go ahead..." he replied. The girl recoiled slightly out of surprise while the tall human-ish one tilted his head as though in appraisal. Ichigo continued, "I don't know what it is that I have become...but I promised someone that I would never let go of my heart..." he coughed, "but I can't keep the promise anymore...it's too hard. Please kill me so that I won't be able to break my promise."
The human-ish one, Stark, slowly shook his head, "How long have you been a Hollow boy?" he asked.
"Hollow? Is that what I am?" he paused for a moment, "I don't even know anymore...it has been so long...probably a month at least."
Stark looked shocked, "And you have kept that memory with you all that time?" he raised his hand to his chin, "Have you ever...eaten?"
Ichigo racked his brain, "You mean eaten someone's soul? Never...I have never let go of my promise yet."
Stark seemed to smile underneath his mask, "Really? How amazing...you are such a small child, probably very young when you were transformed, and yet you manage to hold on to such a promise even when your memories have faded such." His eyes flicked to the smaller girl for a moment before returning to Ichigo, "Do you know what a Hollow is boy? Usually a Hollow instinctively knows, but being that you were obviously a very young child in your life, it is understandable that you cannot comprehend your own instincts yet." Ichigo shook his head in the negative and Stark continued, "A Hollow is a being that has been stripped of his heart totally, and as such it should be impossible for you to keep such a promise at all, even if you do remember it. Somehow you have latched onto a piece of your humanity despite this. Extraordinary..."
The girl Hollow twisted her head in confusion, "Stark what are you talking about?"
Stark looked down at her and his eyes seemed to smile...that was another oddity Ichigo noted. There were visible eyes behind his eye-holes, which he had never seen on these...Hollows...before. Stark spoke to her, "Lilinette...do you remember what you were like when I first found you? You were small and terrified. You cowered from me the first time that you saw me, and you were so weak that you were unable to keep yourself alive, though you did try. You told me of your family, which you had just failed to devour, a father and a brother correct. I offered to become your new father...well I think I may have found one who can complete that picture for you." he gestured towards Ichigo, who didn't understand anything that this Stark had just said.
Lilinette shot her head back and forth between Ichigo and Stark, "Him? But...he is so small and weak...he is...pathetic! How can he be...that?"
Stark turned back to Ichigo, "So were you..." he responded, "When I first found you. But even if he is small and weak now...if he truly has been successful in this, which I know he must be as he would not be dying of starvation otherwise, then he has a stronger will and resolve then any being, Hollow or otherwise, that I have ever known. His heart must have been very great too if he can still follow it even when it is no longer there." He crouched to look deeper into Ichigo's eyes, "Young Hollow...do you want to live? Would you chose to live if I could promise you that I will help you to keep your promise?"
Ichigo blinked his invisible eyes behind his mask in surprise, as though trying to shake away some sort of illusion "Why?" he asked finally.
Stark smirked, "Are you afraid of me young one?"
Ichigo glared at him, and simply responded, "No."
Stark laughed, "Excellent answer! Not shouted out in anger or denial like you are trying to sound tougher then you are! Just stated like a fact! I can't but believe that you really do not fear me, in spite of my obvious strength." Lilinette stared at Stark in shock. She had never heard him laugh before. Stark continued, "So then young one...why would you hesitate. I have offered you a chance to save your life, and your promise. I can help you boy...and in return all that I ask is that you do your best for me, so that I do not have to do all of the work alone. Under my tutiliage, you will be able to acquire strength that you had never thought possible. I cannot give you your humanity back, but I can allow you to control your instincts that now rule you, and eventually you will never have to live in fear again." he paused and seemed to smile behind his mask, "I am willing to give you one last chance at life. So what say you?"
Ichigo scowled and turned his head away, "You can help me keep my promise?"
"I can help you to live without ever having to harm a living human."
Stark smirked and picked the tiny Hollow boy up into his arms, carrying him like a baby, "Let's go Lilinette, back to Hueco Mundo." and the three of them left.
Years later, Ichigo would understand why Stark had done what he had done. Hollows were beings of instinct, guided totally on that instinct. The instinct to feed. The instinct to of self-preservation. The instinct to fight. These are what drive the Hollow in every one of it's actions. The higher levels of the Hollow, the Adjuchas and Vasto Lorde, incorporate logic, reasoning, and a human level of intelligence into their instincts, but it is still the instincts that drive them. When Stark died as a human, he had just witnessed the birth of his own child, and his strongest instinct was a newly awakened fatherly instinct to protect his children, and that was the instinct that was enhanced most greatly upon becoming a Hollow. So when he saw such a strong willed child, exactly the type that he would have wished for in his own son, he could not possibly simply stand aside and allow the poor boy to die.
That was when Ichigo's life, totally changed.