Synopsis: Ichigo has been paired up with Hanataro to find and kill an extraordinary strong Hollow in the neighborhood. But when they finally run in to the beast, Ichigo realizes that he can't use his Bankai without aggravating his Hollow-form. Afraid that his inner Hollow might take over and go on a rampage, Ichigo tries to keep it at bay while fighting. A strategy that will turn out to have a disastrous outcome...
Main themes: Ichigo and Inner Hollow-angst. Hanataro whump. Urahara moments. Ichigo whump.
(Takes place after Saving Rukia, but before meeting the Visoreds.)
"Ichigo, please slow down! I-I can't keep up with you. I'm not very good at using flash step, and you know that...!" Hanataro panted a good ten feet behind Ichigo.
"I know!" Ichigo answered in irritation. "Seriously, Hanataro, it's not like we're out on a stroll or something. This is a mission; I can't keep waiting for you to catch up with me all the time."
Despite his words, Ichigo stopped temporarily on a roof top and watched the squad four member landing at his side, heavily panting and filling his lungs with air. But the truth was that they really didn't have time for breaks.
The Soul Society had registered an unusual hollow in the Human World. It was strong, much stronger than the average ones that used to appear in Karakura town, leading them to suspect that it most likely was yet another one of Aizen's creations. However, it wasn't its strength but its powers that made it especially difficult to handle. The moment it first showed up, it had multiplied into several copies of itself. And during time, it had just kept on multiplying for every hour. According to the information gathered by the twelfth division, the copies were fairly weak compared to the original, but it didn't stop them from feeding on every lost soul they could get their hands on. So in the urgency to stop the hollow from multiplying further, Ichigo had been asked alongside another dozen soul reapers to assist in the quest to cut down all the copies, but more importantly, the original one that was still making them.
There was a small twist to it though. Every soul reaper had been assigned a healer to accompany them on the mission. This was a decision made by captain Unohana, who had declared that even if the copies were weak enough to be handled by one single soul reaper, the original was not. And thus she had made it clear that every soul reaper would be assisted by a member from her squad. In case anyone would encounter the original hollow, the squad four member would either call for backup, or in case of emergency take the wounded soul reaper to safety and treat his or her wounds while waiting for help.
The assigned soul reapers did not as much approve of this idea as simply accepting it out of fear for what Unohana might do to them if they refused.
"Ready to go again?" Ichigo asked with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
"I... I think so..." Was Hanataro's answer, though he didn't look that much better at all.
"Alright, let's go." Ichigo said and jumped off to the next roof.
"Right...!" Hanataro replied with a strained voice and jumped off after him.
Ichigo glanced at his companion as they were running. They had barely covered any distance at all and Hanataro looked like if he was gonna be sick. Ichigo rolled his eyes and stopped abruptly in his steps, making Hanataro stumble in surprise and was only saved from hitting the ground face down by Ichigo grabbing his collar in the fall.
"Okay, this isn't working out... "Ichigo sighed, still holding the neck of Hanataro's clothes , making him dangle slightly from the ground. "You can't keep up with me, and I don't have time to wait for you to catch your breath every 50 feet! I just don't see any other choice than to leave you here for now. I'll come back and get you once this is all over."
"N-no, you can't do that...!" Hanataro protested and pulled himself free from Ichigo's grip. "Captain Unohana ordered me explicitly to accompany you on this mission. If I would stay behind, you might get killed and I could get a warning for disobeying a direct order...!"
"As it is now, you're not exactly that much of a help either. No offense, buddy." Ichigo replied and scratched his head. "Don't you have any of those pills with you that are supposed to make you more energized or something...?"
"Ah, yeah about them..." Hanataro said with an apologetic smile. "Some members from squad eleven got hold of me yesterday, and they... Well you don't need to know the details, but it ended with them taking the pills from me, and I haven't had the time to get new ones yet. And by the way, since every member of squad four are required to carry those at all times, I would appreciate if you didn't tell anyone about this...? I would get a huge scolding if it came out that I'm not having any of them on me..."
"Some idiots steals your pills and you seriously think that you are the one in trouble...?" Ichigo asked in disbelief.
"Well, I was the one who lost them to begin with, so..." Hanataro explained.
"Oh please..." Ichigo sighed and rolled his eyes. "By the way, how come that you ended up with me on this mission? Did they choose the teams completely at random, 'cause I have a really hard time believing that..."
"No, no. They would never team people up on random." Hanataro explained with a small laugh. "Though, they didn't tell me why they chose me to accompany you. However, I think I have three theories..."
"Humor me." Ichigo said with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, first of all..." Hanataro began. "Since you are so strong anyway they might have figured that you would hardly need any medical assistance at all, and thus they just kinda threw me in merely as a precaution...It makes sense considering that I've never really been on a mission before, and the fact that I can't use flash step very good. So they're probably not expecting me to actually have to do anything... Or secondly, I guess that since I helped you save Miss Rukia, I'm the only one from the fourth squad that you've teamed up with before, which of course always is a better choice than to go on a mission with someone you've never even met before. This is the most logical reason I can find in this situation."
"Uh huh." Ichigo said, barely listening. "And what did you say was your third theory?"
"Ah, I didn't say it." Hanataro laughed nervously. "The third alternative I heard from the squad eleven members I met yesterday... According to them, the only reason I was paired up with you is because they're hoping that I will annoy you so much that you'll end up killing me out of pure frustration..."
Ichigo stared at Hanataro in slight shock as Hanataro kept laughing nervously, looking like he was about to apologize in advance for the reason why Ichigo would have to kill him. Before Ichigo could come up with anything good to say, he heard a roar not far away. A roar from a hollow.
"That must be the one...!" Ichigo said and turned to Hanataro. "How far do you think you can run?"
"I... I don't know for sure..." Hanataro stammered in panic. "I guess I could keep up for a little while, and then perhaps- W-Whaaa...! Aah! Ichigo, stop, stop. Please PUT ME DOWN!"
Ichigo, not having time to listen to Hanataro's explanation the whole day, had simply picked up the other soul reaper and then thrown him over his shoulder. Before Hanataro had fully grasped what was going on, Ichigo had left the spot using flash step and was getting closer and closer to their target.
He didn't have to run for long. He stopped when he reached an empty park at the end of a small road. He let Hanataro down and stared at the creature before him. It fit the description given out by the the twelfth division perfectly. It was as tall as the trees that were surrounding it. The mask in the shape of a skull from some kind of horse-like creature, with big sharp teeth giving it a somewhat twisted grin. The eyes were big and round, gleaming yellow with ill intent and malevolence. The body was slightly hunched over, giving the impression that if it would stand up straight, it would reach the sky. The hind legs were two toed with large claws, currently crouching in a somewhat sitting position. The arms were more slender with five long claws on every finger, most likely able to cut down trees with just one mere slice. But the most prominent feature was the tails. There seemed to be five of them, and they were all long, agile, and equipped with a pointy, bony tip a bit like that of a scorpion.
"This is it..." Ichigo concluded without taking his eyes of the enemy. "Alright, Hanataro. Stay back and let me handle this thing, it'll be over before you know it."
"I can assure you, I have no intention on interfering..." Hanataro said in a low voice while staring at the monster as he slowly started to back away.
Ichigo grabbed his sword and dashed towards the creature.
"Ok, this should be simple." Ichigo thought as he raised his sword against the hollow's mask. "From what I've been told, an average soul reaper should be able to take one of these on by himself. Which means that this won't be any prob-"
Ichigo was suddenly interrupted in his thoughts by one of the hollow's tails that shot out and smashed him in the side. The impact took the breath out of Ichigo and sent him flying into a tree nearby.
"Ichigo...!" Hanataro yelled and rushed to the redhead on the ground, who was currently coughing and spitting out leaves as he got up. "Are you alright...?"
"Yeah, sure." Ichigo said with an angry glare at the hollow, wiping away some blood from a new fresh cut above his right eyebrow. "I was just stupid enough to forget about its tails. But this time, it won't have a chance...!"
Hanataro was pushed aside as Ichigo charged at the hollow again. He jumped away from yet another one of its tails that came after him and then landed on the monster's skull. The hollow roared in frustration and Ichigo raised his sword to stab it right through the head. But just as he was about to do this, two tails came shooting after him at the same time. The first one griped his left ankle and the second one wrapped around his chest, pulling him away from the skull. Ichigo tried to wriggle loose and was finally able to cut off one of the tails holding him, making the hollow roar in pain and drop him.
"Phew..." Ichigo exhaled as he landed. "It's a bit stronger than I thought..."
"At least you have one tail less to worry about." Hanataro said in a poor attempt to sound cheerful.
The same moment Hanataro finished that sentence, the stump where there had been a fifth tail only a moment ago started to bubble, like boiling water. Hanataro and Ichigo watched in terror how a new tail grew out within seconds from where there had been one earlier. The hollow turned to them both with what could be described as a sudden interest in the two soul reapers before it.
"Damn...!" Ichigo cursed and jumped out of the way as one of the tails came charging for him yet again. "Alright, I'll end this now!"
Ichigo went for the hollow's chest. He raised his sword and fired an attack.
"Getsuga!" Ichigo called out and watched the whitish blue attack slice through the monster's body, leaving a deep cut in the creature. The hollow screamed in pain, but then it simply turned to Ichigo and watched him with blaming eyes. Much like a person that had been stepped on the toes by someone on the street. Nothing more.
"What the...?" Ichigo said in surprise. "I just hit it in the chest with my getsuga... And it's acting like nothing happened...?!"
"Ichigo, I think we should call for backup now..." Hanataro said, his voice quivering slightly without taking his eyes of the hollow before him. "That's not one of the copies... That's the real one...!"
As on cue the hollow opened its mouth and a reddish orb started to form inside it...
"Crap...! GET DOWN!" Ichigo yelled and pushed Hanataro out of the way once again as the cero hit the exact spot where they had been standing. It was a powerful one and the pressure from the impact was intense. Ichigo had managed to move them both ten feet away, but the explosion was still big enough to reach them. Ichigo protected Hanataro with his body and could feel shreds of his skin ripping off as the giant burst hit them nearby.
"Ichigo, please." Hanataro panted as he got up from the ground. "We have to request backup now. We can't handle this ourselves...!"
"Don't be so sure..." Ichigo said with a dark look at the hollow, which was already preparing to fire a new cero.
Ichigo moved to a spot several feet away from Hanataro, to keep him out of weapons range. Ichigo glared at the monster and raised his sword.
"BANK-!" Ichigo yelled.
"What do you think you're doing?"
The twisted voice from within made Ichigo to suddenly hesitate. The hollow in front of him saw its chance and fired. The cero hit only a few feet away from Ichigo, who was blown away by its power and landed hard on the rough ground twenty feet away from the impact. As Ichigo slowly got up, his whole body aching, he tried his best to ignore the voice that had awakened in his head.
"Do you call this a fight, Ichigo?" The voice asked in a curious mocking voice. "You really can't do anything right can you! Let me take over for now. Give your body to me and I'll show you how it's done! I'll help you win this... Trust me!"
"Shut up..." Ichigo muttered with gritted teeth. "Shut up!"
Ichigo grabbed his sword again and aimed for the hollow's mask. The hollow however moved in the last second, and thus Ichigo only managed to land an attack on its throat. The hollow seemed to hardly have taken damage by this attack at all, despite the blood dripping all over the ground. It roared in anger and in the next second all five tails went after Ichigo as darts. Ichigo jumped and dodged to avoid getting hit by them, but was too distracted to keep it up for long. Suddenly, one of the pointy tails had stabbed right through his leg. Ichigo screamed in agony and fell to the ground, with the hollow's tail still sticking out from his right leg. The hollow, seemingly pleased over its catch, pulled out the tail in a rough manner, making Ichigo gasp when the pain spiked. He tried to quickly get up on his feet again, but the hollow raised one of its hands and slashed at him. Ichigo's body crashed into a large rock a few feet away. He could hear several of his bones crack from the impact.
"You're weak!" The voice within yelled to him. "Why do you have to be so PATHETIC! Look at yourself, you can't do a thing! I can help you... Why won't you let me help you! I'll kill for you, let me kill for you... Give me your body and let me KILL!"
"... Leave me alone!" Ichigo yelled in aggravation.
"I can't do that, Ichigo. I have to take care of your wounds first." Hanataro answered.
Ichigo looked up in surprise. Hanataro was leaning over him, holding both his hands over Ichigo's leg while healing it with his reiatsu. They had moved. Ichigo realized that the impact must have knocked him out for a moment. It seemed like Hanataro had moved him away from the battle while he was unconscious. They were currently hiding in a small crack between two large rocks, out of sight from the hollow that was still very visible above the treetops just fifty, sixty feet away.
"Does it know where we are...?" Ichigo asked while observing the hollow.
"I believe it can sense your reiatsu, so I don't think it'll move away from here for a while... Actually, it'll most likely get closer the longer we stay..." Hanataro explained and retracted his hands to dig through his medical bag. "Your injuries are too severe... I think I have something here that will help the muscles in your leg to heal faster."
"We don't have time for this...!" Ichigo protested. "I have to go back there... I have to defeat that thing!"
Ichigo made an attempt to get up, but Hanataro had finally found what he was looking for. A small bottle with a bright yellow liquid. He quickly opened it and poured a few drops of its contents in the open wound in Ichigo's leg. Ichigo gasped and fell forward again as the liquid made contact with his flesh. The corrosive feeling of acid digging inside his leg made him want to scream and trash about, but the excruciating pain left him pretty much paralyzed. He gritted his teeth while clawing at the grass and anything within his reach.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I should have told you that it'll probably sting a little..." Hanataro apologized nervously and fumbled with the bottle to get it back into his bag. "B-but I can assure you that it's highly effective. Within a couple of minutes you should be able to stand on your leg again...!"
"I could stand on it before...! Now I don't know..." Ichigo growled.
The hollow's roar was much closer now. Ichigo couldn't see it from his spot, but he could tell by the fear in Hanataro's eyes that it was near.
"Hanataro, get the hell out of here!" Ichigo ordered. "There's nothing you can do in this fight anyway, you'll only get yourself killed!"
"I-I can't." Hanataro answered, still watching the hollow that was getting closer to them by the second. "You're still hurt! I... I can't leave you behind like this. It's my duty to heal you if you get injured, and I won't run away just like that!"
"You idiot!" Ichigo yelled. He could hear the hollow even closer now, and it couldn't be more than twenty feet away. "Do you think that hollow will just stand there and wait till you're done!? You'll get killed in an instant! Run away and get help! NOW!"
Hanataro looked from Ichigo's wounds to the hollow and back again. He was torn. Torn between the desire to follow his duties and to listen to his friend.
"I mean it, RUN!" Ichigo yelled.
The moment Ichigo opened his mouth, the hollow came crushing towards them, finally discovering their hiding spot. Hanataro acted immediately. He drew his sword and jumped out from behind the rocks, drawing the hollow's attention away from the place where Ichigo was still lying. Hanataro leaped forward and cut the monster with his sword, leaving red fumes emerging from one of the old wounds that Ichigo had left it with. The hollow looked almost surprised and seemed to follow Hanataro with new interest. Hanataro aimed for another one of the hollow's wounds, cutting it and once again leaving red fumes emerging from the wound until it was completely healed.
"STOP HEALING IT, DAMNIT!" Ichigo yelled in anger. "What the hell are you doing?! Get out of here! You can't fight it like that! Hanataro! DO YOU HEAR ME!?"
"It...It doesn't matter...!" Hanataro shouted back and rendered another blow to the monster, healing it even further. "I know what I'm doing... I can do this!"
The red gauge on Hanataro's sword had reached max. He jumped up in the air and stopped right in front of the hollow's face. Hanataro stared at it in panic for a second before mustering enough courage to call out to his zanpakuto.
The sword turned into the smallest of scalpels, but in the next second the tiny tool let out a tremendous burst of red energy. The energy hit the hollow right in the face, making it stumble backwards several steps and roaring in agony. The mask had now a visible crack in it. The monster kept roaring while flailing it's arms and tails around. One tail was stabbing blindly in every direction, and in the next second it had accidentally pierced Hanataro in the stomach.
Hanataro's eyes boggled in shock and pain as he stared at the tail inside of him. The tail was almost immediately pulled out of him as the hollow kept trashing about, not even noticing what it had hit. Hanataro was still standing in midair, his mouth moving but without saying anything. His eyes then began to flicker, and once his body was no longer conscious enough to keep him floating, Hanataro simply started to fall to the earth. Approximately 50 feet below him.
Ichigo forced himself up on his feet and dashed towards Hanataro. Pushing away the pain and the fact that his body protested against even the slightest movement. Ichigo pushed himself to the limit and managed to catch his friend by sliding the last couple of feet, grabbing him with both his arms. Just in time to prevent him from breaking every bone in his tiny body.
"Hey, Hanataro. Can you hear me? Hanataro!" Ichigo tried to get an answer from him, but neither Hanataro's body nor his lips were moving at all.
Ichigo quickly picked up the little soul reaper and hurriedly moved him to the outside of the park. As far away from the hollow that he dared to leave him without losing sight of him. He laid Hanataro down safely on the side of the small empty road and then turned back to the hollow, his eyes dark and filled with rage.
"Ban-KAI!" Ichigo yelled while pointing his sword at the beast.
"Good boy..." A taunting voice in his head told him with a small snicker.
Ichigo ignored the voice and concentrated all his power into his sword. The hollow was starting to calm down slightly from the earlier attack and had just noticed Ichigo. It turned to him, preparing to attack him with yet another cero. But Ichigo wasn't gonna let it finish its attack. Not again. He wasn't planning on letting it live for as much as a second longer. He wanted this monster dead.
"Getsuga..." Ichigo raised his black sword. "... TENSHOU!"
The dark and crimson attack shot out from his sword and hit the hollow's mask. A sound of a scream. A roar. The sound of something big dying. The hollow was sliced into two for a split second before it disintegrated into tiny pieces until there was nothing left.
Ichigo felt a strange feeling of dissatisfaction. He almost wished that the hollow would come back only so that he could kill it again. The rage he had built up inside of him was still boiling, clawing inside of him like a trapped animal that wanted out of its cage. But without any more hollows to let it out on, there was little he could do about it. Instead he hurried back to Hanataro. There were more important things than killing right now... Much more important.
The first thing Ichigo noticed when he got back was that Hanataro was lying deathly still. Not that he had expected him to be up on his feet, but deep inside he had hoped that the injuries wouldn't have been as serious as they had seemed.
"Hey, Hanataro." Ichigo said and shook Hanataro gently, as a person trying to wake someone out of a light slumber. "Hey, get up. It's over. Come on, wake up."
Hanataro wasn't moving. He didn't open his eyes and he didn't answer Ichigo's call outs. Ichigo was starting to feel a cold sensation creeping up his spine. He removed some of the cloths from the area where Hanataro had been stabbed. He couldn't even see how big the wound was because of all the blood. No way... No way...!
"Crap...! Hanataro!" Ichigo called out a little louder and shook the soul reaper's shoulder a little more intensely. "If you can hear me, say something! This better not be a trick just to make me carry you again, you lazy idiot...! You hear that?"
Why am I making stupid jokes?! I need to get help! Ichigo thought and started to look around in panic. He tore a piece of cloth from his own ripped uniform and used it to put pressure on the wound. There was so much blood... Way too much.
"Damnit!" Ichigo cursed out loud. He couldn't think straight. What should he do? He didn't even know how to contact Soul Society, it was always they who contacted him...! He needed to get someone here, anyone... But how? How to get help... What the hell was he supposed to do!?
Ichigo's eyes snapped towards the voice. Urahara was walking towards them, his fan in his right hand and his cane in his other. He was smiling, as always, and observed Ichigo with an amused look.
"That was quite a fight there, Ichigo. I have to admit." Urahara stated as he was covering parts of his face with the fan. "Nice to see you again, by the way. It's been a while, haven't it? Pardon me for not exactly being the person who keeps in touch... How have you been?"
Urahara then noticed Hanataro's limp, blood soaked body on the ground. He fanned himself while apparently studying the unconscious soul reaper quietly with an unreadable expression.
"Your little friend here looks kinda beaten up." Urahara said with a glance at Ichigo. "Pretty serious I'd say..."
"Urahara, you gotta help me." Ichigo said looking directly at the shopkeeper. "I can't get him to wake up. Can you heal him?"
"Well, let's see if there's anything left to heal first." Urahara answered simply and knelt down beside them while putting his fan back into one of his many pockets.
He removed the blood soaked cloth and took a closer look at Hanataro and the gushing wound in his stomach. He then proceeded by turning the tiny soul reaper carefully to the side and prodded the area of the injury. His eyes were serious as he put one hand on Hanataro's chest and the other one on his neck, as if he was trying to feel a pulse. Ichigo couldn't do anything but to watch. His heart was pounding so hard that he thought it would crush his chest and the few whole ribs that he had left.
"My my..." Urahara said as he was done and wiped his bloody hand absentmindedly on his coat.
"What's that supposed to mean..." Ichigo demanded to know. "Can you help him or not?"
Urahara ignored Ichigo's question and placed his right hand over Hanataro's wound. A bluish light started to appear in the space between Hanataro's body and Urahara's palm and lit up the area slightly. Urahara kept this up for two minutes before the light suddenly vanished.
"Well, you're probably aware of that I'm not exactly a healer, Ichigo." Urahara explained with a grave face. "This one here has a punctured lung. And it seems that his heart got a small turn too, by the looks of it. Not to mention the huge loss of blood... I guess what I'm trying to say is that these are serious injuries and I don't have the power to heal all of them. Don't get me wrong, I can help patching you up after a rough battle... But as you know, you can't be a pro at everything..."
Ichigo swallowed and felt the cold coming over him again, like a frostbite spreading from his heart and through his whole body. But before he had the chance of saying anything, Urahara had swiftly picked up Hanataro and carefully placed the small soul reaper over his left shoulder.
"But don't worry about it. I'll have Tessai patch this little one up in not time!" Urahara declared in a cheerful voice and made a thumbs up. "Come on now, let's take your friend here to my shop. I'll promise you that he'll be as good as new when we're done."
Just like that, the cold, unsettled feeling from a second ago was replaced by the sensation of just been slapped in the face. Ichigo stared at Urahara for one moment before he recovered enough to say something.
"What... Hey! What do you mean "as good as new"!" Ichigo asked angrily. "First you're all serious and says there's nothing you can do, and then you just pick him up and state that he's gonna be just fine!? What the hell is wrong with you!?"
"Huh. Aren't you an odd fellow... And here I thought that you would be just happy to know that your little friend here is gonna be okay." Urahara said in a pretend surprised voice.
"I am! I'm just...!" Ichigo hesitated, having problem to put his feelings into words.
"Good. Then just say: Thank you Mr Urahara for being so nice and helping me." Urahara said with a smile and glanced at Ichigo in a way that could almost be described as teasing.
"Thank you... Urahara..." Ichigo said with a strained voice. He felt too tired from the battle to argue with Mr Hat 'n clogs. He just wanted to go home and sleep till morning.
"See? That wasn't very hard, was it?" Urahara said pleased and started to walk down the street, but then hesitated and turned back to Ichigo, watching him closely. "And how about you, Ichigo? To be honest, you don't exactly look that good yourself. Are you really alright...?"
"Ah, sure." Ichigo answered in surprise. "Why shouldn't I be?"
"Well, for starters you fought against an unusual powerful hollow and would almost certainly have been killed if it wasn't for this little guy here." Urahara replied, not taking his eyes off Ichigo. "Not to mention that you for some reason chose to not use your bankai until the very last second. You call that alright?"
"It's... nothing. Really" Ichigo answered tiredly while looking down. "I guess you could say that I got a little... Distracted, that's all. And hey, it's not like you haven't seen me in worse shape than this before. At least I can still stand this time, can't I?"
"If you say so..." Urahara answered, but without looking even the slightest convinced by Ichigo's words. Ichigo however failed to notice the doubt in Urahara's eyes and voice, and just kept staring down at the ground, looking exhausted.
As they walked down the street together Urahara kept glancing at Ichigo's direction. He could tell that the boy was drained from the battle, but Urahara could sense that there was something more to it...
"This is the same young man who helped you save Miss Rukia, isn't it?" Urahara asked with a curious nod at the small body hanging over his shoulder, still unconscious and completely unaware of what was happening around him.
"Ah, yeah. His name is Hanataro Yamada." Ichigo answered, snapping his tired eyes open at the question. "He helped me and Ganju in Soul Society. To be honest, we were lucky that we had him with us. Without him, I'm not sure if-"
"Really? Very well, I'll make sure he'll get the best treatment there is then." Urahara stated cheerfully. "On the house. Any friend of Rukia is always a nonpaying costumer at Urahara's shop. And with nonpaying, I mean discount."
"Um, by the way... Shouldn't we contact Soul Society or something?" Ichigo asked with an uncertain look at the limp body of Hanataro. "Telling them what happened, or... I dunno, I'm really not that good at this sort of stuff."
"I bet they already know." Urahara said indifferently. "They have their own means of keeping track on what's happening around here... I wouldn't worry too much if I were you."
"If you say so." Ichigo said tiredly.
"It's quite ironic if you think about it." Urahara mused. "If you had been the one to suffer this much injuries, your little friend here would most likely be able to heal you himself in no time at all. But now when it's the other way around it gets a whooole lot more troublesome, don't you think?"
Ichigo felt a sharp stab of guilt in the depth of his stomach. Urahara was right, of course, but it didn't make Ichigo feel any better... He had failed to protect Hanataro. And failed miserably. If the roles had been reversed, if Ichigo had been the one with a gaping bleeding hole in his stomach, Hanataro would have fixed him without any problem and they would both probably already be on their way home right now...
"Are you gonna let me have a look at your injuries as well?" Urahara interrupted Ichigo's thoughts. "I'm asking 'cause I can't help but notice that you're still following me."
"Huh? Oh... No, there's really no need to." Ichigo replied.
"Someone with an actual medical opinion would probably beg the differ." Urahara stated. "Where did you leave your body?"
"I left it back in my room. It would be too troublesome getting it now." Ichigo answered.
"No trouble at all." Urahara said with a smile. "You can have your modified soul walk it to my shop, can't you?"
"Kon? No thanks..." Ichigo said with a shudder, preferring not to let the stuffed lion have its way with his body unless he had absolutely no other choice. "I didn't leave him in charge of my body. I was just about to go to bed when I got the message from Soul Society, so I figured that I could just leave it in my bed until I got back."
"I see." Urahara said, seemingly wanting to push the matter further but decided to drop it. "Well, it's your decision. Just don't blame me when you wake up tomorrow..."
"Yeah, I won't." Ichigo said.
"Though I have to admit... I kinda expected you to wanna tag along just to make sure that your friend here is gonna be alright." Urahara pointed out.
"I know. I'm just... Feeling so god damn tired..." Ichigo replied, his eyes threatening to close any second. "It must be because of the fight, or that stuff Hanataro gave me... I think I'm gonna hit the sack as soon as I get home and..."
Ichigo's knees had suddenly buckled underneath him and he fell forward. He would have hit the ground face down if Urahara hadn't noticed it and quickly held out his cane to break his fall, still holding Hanataro with his other hand.
"Easy there..." Urahara said calmly. "I don't mean to nag, but are you sure that you don't want to make a quick stop at my place first?"
Ichigo felt a weird feeling crawling inside him. His body was heavy and he felt like he was slipping into a dream... Everything seemed to get darker around him.
I... Can't... Move. Why... can't I...? What's happening to me...?
"I'll take over from here. Ichigo."
No... No, forget it! Stay back! No way I'm letting you-
"You have no choice. You're so weak after that tiny, ridiculous battle,you don't have any energy left to stop me...!"
Don't you dare...! Get the hell out! You hear me! GET OUT!
"Go ahead and make me. Oh, that's right. You can't! Hahaha! Your body and mind are so drained that you can't even sort your own thoughts! But don't worry; I'll take care of everything. You just lay back and relax while I take it from here..."
No. No, no, NO! Get out! I don't need you! LEAVE ME ALONE!
Ichigo felt how his inner hollow was slowly taking over, bit by bit. His mind slipping away... His thoughts weren't his own anymore. There was nothing he could do to stop it, it was a process that was already going on and wouldn't stop until it was done. The darkness engulfed the last piece of his vision. Ichigo made a final attempt to keep even the tiniest piece of control, but soon the very last shred of Ichigo had been unmercifully ripped away from his consciousness until it was only a twisted evil left.
He thought he could hear a manic laughter somewhere deep inside...
"Urahara... Run." Ichigo whispered.
Urahara looked at Ichigo in surprise. He caught a glimpse of something bright yellow the moment before Ichigo closed his eyes. The next second, a grin spread over Ichigo's lips and a low snicker escaped his mouth. Urahara quickly let go of Ichigo and jumped away from him, just a mere second before Ichigo swung his sword at Urahara's body.
"Well, aren't you a fast one!" Ichigo said in an amused way while laughing hysterically.
Urahara didn't say anything. He simply observed the new Ichigo before him. With bright yellow eyes surrounded by black, the pale skin and the hollow mask that was taking form on the left side of his face. Urahara kept studying him for a while with a serious expression before abruptly changing into a more cheerful mood.
"Hi there. I don't think that we've been properly introduced to each other yet." Urahara said with a smile. "I'm Kisuke Urahara, owner of the Urahara shop. Nice to meet you."
"Don't bother!" Ichigo told him with another snicker. "I don't give a damn about who you are!"
"I figured as much." Urahara said, with one hand in his pocket and the other still holding Hanataro over his shoulder. "Now, care to tell me what you want? I'll take it that Ichigo can't talk for the moment...?"
"Ha! That weakling... I've made sure that he won't interfere! Old "King" is taking a little nap, so I'm handling things for now." Ichigo said with a grin. "But you on the other hand, you're a pretty strong fella yourself, aren't ya?"
"Huh? Now what on earth makes you think that?" Urahara asked sheepishly.
"Don't play games with me!" Ichigo said warningly. "I've seen you fight! I've been watching you from inside this tiny little head of his! You are strong; I'll give you that... But I'm even stronger...! And I'll show you exactly how much!"
"So you want to fight me, is that it?" Urahara said with an amused smile. "I'm sorry to disappoint, but you sure picked the wrong guy for this battle. I'm just a mere shopkeeper, you see. So unless you're looking for a discount on candy I'm afraid that I can't help you."
"You talk too much!" Ichigo said with a twisted smile and pointed his sword directly at Urahara. "I think I'll start by removing that annoying tongue of yours!"
"Listen here... I don't hold a grudge against you." Urahara explained calmly. "So I can't see any reason at all to why we should fight each other. And mind you, I'd prefer not to hurt that body of yours too much."
"Don't you get it?" Ichigo said with a hysteric laugh and suddenly dashed towards Urahara. "I DON'T CARE!"
Hollow Ichigo swung his blade and released a black getsuga from the sword at Urahara's direction, making the shopkeeper quickly jump out of the way from it and slide away a couple of feet from the attack. The getsuga shattered the spot where Urahara had been standing into tiny pieces, flying all over the place. Urahara glared disapprovingly at the hollow, like someone watching person cheat in a game. He then hurried to move Hanataro by using flash step and put him down safely on the flat roof to a nearby house before immediately returning to the battle.
"I can see that you won't take no for an answer." Urahara proclaimed and drew his zanpakuto. "You want a fight, I'll give you one..."
"It doesn't matter as long as I get TO KILL YOU!" Hollow Ichigo replied with a laugh and sprinted towards his opponent yet again, raising his sword and aiming at Urahara's head.
Urahara jumped away from his attack yet again, but his feet had barely touched the ground before the hollow had already sent out a new getsuga. The only way for Urahara to dodge this one was to throw himself flat on the ground, watching the black and crimson attack pass just inches above his head. Hollow Ichigo saw his chance and attempted to cut Urahara down from behind, but the shopkeeper got up on his feet just in time to block the attack with his own sword. The hollow snickered while staring at Urahara intensively. A small, red cut on Urahara's left cheek was evidence on how close the attack had been to succeed.
"Tsk. Is that all you got?" Hollow Ichigo asked as he broke the contact and jumped back five feet. "You're even more worthless than Ichigo...! But don't worry, I'll finnish you anyway. Though it won't be as much FUN!"
The hollow attacked again, this time he repeatedly tried to slash Urahara with his sword. Urahara blocked attack after attack easily. The hollow then switched tactics and jumped right up in the air, attacking with another getsuga from above. Urahara didn't get fooled by this tactics at all and managed to block the sneak attack without much problem, using an attack of his own.
"Don't just stand there! FIGHT!" Hollow Ichigo yelled. "Or is it that you don't dare to go full out on me? Scared that someone might get caught in the crossfire...? Someone like that tiny thing you tried to hide from me just a moment ago!"
Urahara's eyes widened as the hollow suddenly turned away from him and set his course to the rooftop where Urahara had placed Hanataro. Urahara dashed from the spot and went after the hollow, trying to catch up with its tremendous speed. When the hollow reached the roof and saw the small body of the squad four member, it raised its sword with one hand above him in an attempt to split Hanataro's skull in two. But before the hollow had time to accomplish this, Urahara turned up right behind him, holding up two fingers with a serious look on his face.
"Sai." Urahara commanded and a bluish light of reiatsu engulfed his hand.
Next thing that happened was that the hollow's both arms suddenly was forced behind its back and was locked in place by an invisible force, making it drop the sword in the process. Hollow Ichigo looked surprised and fell down hard on the roof a few feet away from the spot where Hanataro was lying.
"You... You bastard!" Hollow Ichigo cursed, looking furious at Urahara while kicking and struggling to get loose. "What the hell is this? What did you do to me!?"
"Oh, that?" Urahara said happily and landed softly on the roof. "That, my friend, was a bakudo. A binding spell, as we call it. Pretty neat, huh? Very handy, as you can see... And there's a whole lot of other fun stuff you can do with these. Watch this."
Urahara then pointed his index finger at the hollow while observing it closely.
"Rikujokoro." Urahara called out. His index finger started to generate a spark of yellow energy. In the next second, six thin, wide yellow beams of light appeared and slammed themselves in place around the hollows midsection. This caused the hollow to stop writhing, apparently leaving it completely immobilized. It stared at Urahara in pure anger and detest.
"Damnit...! Let me go you piece of shit! LET ME GO!" It yelled furiously.
"Well that just ain't gonna happen." Urahara said with a laugh and knelt down beside the hollow, only inches away from its face.
"Fight me! You... COWARD!" Hollow Ichigo screamed in rage. "Release me and FIGHT ME DAMNIT!"
"I wouldn't think so..." Urahara explained, his face suddenly changing into a more serious expression. "As I said before, I happen to care about that body you've borrowed without permission, and I have no intention whatsoever on injuring it more than absolutely necessary..."
The hollow kept on cursing and tried to move in its bonds, but no matter how hard it tried there was no use. This only aggravated it more and made it curse louder. It glared at Urahara again, a look filled with hatred and spite.
"You fool! You pathetic excuse for a human!" Hollow Ichigo ranted. "How dare you do this to me! I'll kill you for this! You hear that!? I'LL KILL YOU! I'll split your skull and rip your heart out!"
"Let's be a little less noisy and a little more quiet, shall we?" Urahara said calmly and then put his palm in front of Ichigo's face. "There. Go to sleep now... Inemuri."
The hollow stopped in midsentence. Its pupils started to dilate and shrink several times before going completely blank and the body become relaxed. Its head fell down and as the hollow mask hit the ground, it shattered into pieces. The eyes momentarily returned to brown before they closed entirely. Urahara watched the sleeping boy with an unreadable expression.
"So this is what you've been struggling with. Ichigo." Urahara sighed and with one gesture, the beams of light disappeared and Ichigo's arms fell limp to the sides.
Urahara casually wiped some blood away from his cheek with an intrigued look at his bloodied finger.
"Close one..." Urahara stated and then glanced at the two unconscious bodies on the roof before him and sighed reluctantly with a troubled look on his face. "If I keep this up, I'm gonna end up being the one who needs to be carried..."
He then proceeded by picking up Ichigo on his right shoulder and then managed to take Hanataro under his left arm. Now there's were only one small problem left to be dealt with...
The door to the Kurosaki clinic was opened by a barely awake Isshin. He stared puzzled at the person on the doorstep, trying to figure out if he was still dreaming or if this was for real.
"Hello there, Isshin." Urahara greeted cheerfully, with Ichigo's body on his right shoulder while carrying Hanataro under his left arm. "Are the girls asleep?"
"Yeah, they are." Isshin answered, still looking perplexed. "And for your information, so was I only two minutes ago."
"Good." Urahara replied, ignoring the last sentence. "They wouldn't want to see this anyway. I got some work for you here..."
"Well I can see that...!" Isshin answered with a terrified look at Ichigo and ushered Urahara inside. "Take him to the clinic. Here, right this way. Who's that other kid?"
"Just a little something I came across in the park." Urahara answered with a smile. "His name is Hanataro. And apparently, he might just have saved your son's life tonight."
"Huh. I assumed that you were the one to thank for that, considering you're the one carrying both of them." Isshin pointed out and motioned to the examination table. "Please lay him down here so that I can have a proper look."
Urahara gently pushed Ichigo off his shoulder down on the table, with Isshin lending him a helping hand. Isshin then grabbed a pair of stethoscopes, throwing them over his neck and started to check Ichigo's injuries with a critical look.
"What has he got himself into this time...?" Isshin muttered under his breath.
"Plenty, I'd say." Urahara replied, pulling Hanataro up on his shoulder to be able to carry him easier. "Sorry for waking you up in the middle of the night, by the way. I just wanted to stop by and drop Ichigo off. He told me that his body was here, so I figured it would be easier this way. He also said that he'd rather go home than recovering at my shop, so I thought I'd give him what he wanted and thus saving him the time and energy of yelling at me when he wakes up."
"This is nothing to apologize for, you did the right thing." Isshin said while checking Ichigo's pupils and pulse. "Must have been quite a fight, in any case... What happened to your cheek?"
"The bugs are very bitey tonight." Urahara answered with a smile.
Isshin watched the other man warily but didn't say anything. Instead he turned his attention back to Ichigo, checking his vitals.
"He's so god damn pale..." Isshin said in a low voice while taking a closer look at Ichigo's face. "I've never seen him like this. He's as white as a sheet."
"There was a small... Incident earlier." Urahara explained casually. "Nothing to worry about, though. Not for the moment..."
"You have no intention on telling me about it?" Isshin asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I think it would be more fair towards Ichigo to let him tell you himself." Urahara answered while putting his free hand in one of his pockets.
"Fine then..." Isshin answered and straightened up as he turned to Urahara. "Was there anything else?"
"No, that was pretty much it I believe." Urahara concluded. "And I trust that you know how to take it from here?"
"You betcha." Isshin said with a rueful smile. "After all the cuts and broken bones this kid has been dragging home since he started school, I don't think there's an injury I have not treated him for. The only thing I probably wouldn't be able to fix is if he would turn up with a missing arm..."
"Alright, then I have no reason to stay here any longer." Urahara said and turned to the door. "I better be going anyway... This little fella right here isn't in a very great shape himself. Tessai is probably gonna have to work all night long to put this one together again... Anyway, bye for now."
"You don't want a bandage for that cut of yours?" Isshin asked with a hint of sarcasm.
"Nope. I'm good." Urahara answered indifferently as he put a hand on the handle of the door, but hesitated before pulling it down. "And please, take care of Ichigo for me, will ya?"
"You too." Isshin said seriously as he watched Urahara leave the room.
Author's Note: Yes, yes... I know that this fic doesn't fit in with the main plot of Bleach. Urahara and Ichigo's dad meets for the first time (in the anime) after Ichigo has been contacted by Shinji and the other Visoreds, yet in this story they meet before that, not long after Ichigo has gotten home from Soul Society... Reading this and then the manga, their meeting doesn't make any sense whatsoever. But let's just use our imagination for now and pretend that it does, ok? ^^
I didn't even plan for Isshin to be in this fic to begin with...! O.o It just kinda happened when I realized that I didn't like it to just end with Urahara picking up Ichigo and Hanataro and then go home... Plus, I really wanted to try and write an Urahara and Isshin conversation! :3
(Second plot rant:)
And let's not discuss WHY Isshin is treating Ichigo like if he's in human form when he shows up at the clinic... I don't know how the transfer from shinigami to human works, and nor have we ever got to see Ichigo returning to human form before, neither in the anime or the manga. Therefore, I'm letting Isshin check Ichigo's injuries in shinigami form first so that he knows what to deal with once Ichigo returns to his human body. As most Bleach-fans know, the injuries Ichigo sustain as a shinigami is transferred to his human body when he returns to it... Which no one seems to know how exactly it is done... I mean, does he just melt together with his body or something? Doesn't he have to be conscious for that...? It's just so- Damn you Tite, you annoying plot-troll!D:! But thanks for making Bleach. ;)
So besides my habit of confusing people that doesn't deserve it, I hope you liked this fic. Even though it's a somewhat rushed must-let-out-some-Bleach-whump-steam kinda story... ^^' Never the less: Thank you for reading! :)