Author's Note: A very short beginning, but the ending is so dramatic I thought it deserved its own chapter. :) And Ichigo is going to be a bit of a dick at first, but his inner hollow has been pushing him pretty hard. Now on with the story!

"A wishing tree?" Ichigo said questioningly. "That's crazy, Keigo." He said very firmly. But his friend wasn't bothered a bit.

"It's true Ichigo! My auntie said so! The thing is, she said it can't be any kind of selfish wish. And we're going to the park with the wishing tree, so why not try it?" Keigo said and Ichigo frowned, trying to think of a reason why. He distrusted this, although not a selfish wish... well, he could easily think of a which like that.

"Sure, why not." He said, giving up. Keigo was a good friend despite his descents into lunacy. "So are we all ready to go?" Ichigo wasn't sure how he'd gotten into the position of shepherding a bunch of his schoolmates, but he seemed to be pegged as the responsible one. Shocking, given what Kon sometimes did, but he could only roll with it. After a chorus of yes's, he led them outside and everyone got on the bus.

This was a special school trip, and they were going to be staying overnight at the park. Everyone had packed up sleeping bags and the park had a shelter they could use, along with bathrooms and showers, so it would be no hardship. Ichigo was rather looking forward to it. It had been a long time since he'd gone on a camping trip. One of the girls was loudly complaining about forgetting her hairspray but Ichigo tuned her out. Some people weren't happy unless everyone around them was miserable.

The bus ride took almost three hours and they had to stop for a washroom and leg stretching break. But finally, they reached the park and Ichigo helped get all the supplies put away. There was a lot of food, mostly, but also other things that the teachers had deemed necessary.

Ichigo wasn't expecting to enjoy the park very much, and was surprised to find how much he liked it. The park was absolutely beautiful in the spring, filled with flowering trees and little rivers. There was even a lake with a rocky bottom that they were allowed to swim in, as long as one of the teachers was supervising. The cold water felt delicious after a long, hot hike through the park.

Keigo led them to the wishing tree and Ichigo had to admit it was impressive. An absolutely ancient sakura tree, it reminded him of the tree on Byakuya's estates. But he honestly thought this tree might be older. It was incredibly gnarled and looked tougher than old shoe leather.

"You just put your hands on the trunk and make a wish." Keigo said and put his hands on the trunk. "But it can't be selfish!" He warned and Ichigo shrugged. He almost didn't do it. He didn't believe in Keigo's story. But then he remembered the threat he lived under and scowled, pressing his hands against the tree.

I wish my hollow was gone. His hollow was challenging him regularly, almost every month, and Ichigo had won once or twice by the skin of his teeth. And he was terrified about what his hollow would do, if he gained control. The monster had mocked his concern about his friends and family on more than one occasion. What would he do to them, if he got free?

He didn't think a tree would be able to get rid of his hollow, though. Ichigo stiffened in surprise as he heard laughter, far off and echoing. It sounded like a young girl and she sounded very amused.

That is definitely not a selfish wish! You may have what you want, but you will have to wield the sword yourself. That faint voice said and Ichigo blinked. It will be waiting for you, in your inner world. If you ever come to regret your wish, visit me again. Ichigo scoffed at that, still a bit shocked to find that Keigo's wishing tree was actually the real thing. But he couldn't imagine ever regretting his wish.

He wanted his hollow gone, permanently.

hr

The nameless hollow was sleeping when it happened.

He expecting nothing at all from his King, not even a name. Ichigo simply referred to him as hollow, with clear contempt in his voice. The hollow sometimes wondered if his King understood that he was part of him. By hating his hollow he hated a part of himself.

But the hollow didn't particularly care about his King's deficiencies. He didn't care if he was treated with contempt and disgust. Although, if his King had shown him any respect, he might not have challenged him so often. The teen's attitude towards the darkness in his soul annoyed him.

The hollow was certainly not expecting Ichigo to challenge him. Why should he? He'd won the last contest so there was simply no point, except as a recreational spar. And the teen had never showed any interest in practicing with his hollow, although he could have if he'd wanted to. It was possible to initiate a conflict that was not a fight for dominance.

So the hollow was roused quite rudely from his slumber, looking around in confusion and sitting up on the roof of a building. He was wearing the clothes he always manifested when he was sleeping, the rather silly pajamas that he favored. Ichigo was standing across from in his full shinigami uniform and holding a sword that was not Zangetsu.

"What the hell is that?" The inner hollow asked as his eyes fell on that red sword. It hummed with power yet it was... wrong. "That shouldn't be here." He was absolutely certain of that. "What are you playing at, King?" He asked as he stood, his clothing switching to his jacket and hakama. Running a hand through his hair he gave his King a severe look, waiting for an answer. Ichigo did not disappoint.

"I'm getting rid of you, demon." He said harshly and the hollow rolled his eyes. The teen liked to call him that, and it was stupid. If he'd ever seen a real demon he wouldn't be confusing his hollow with one.

"Oh really?" The hollow wondered if the power in that sword could do it. And did Ichigo understand what it would mean if it could? Briefly, the hollow considered informing his King of all the possible consequences. His own survival instinct urged him in that direction, but Ichigo's contempt for him pushed him in the other way. It didn't take long for the hollow to make his decision. He had his pride and his King had affronted it one too many times. "Then fight me!"

The fight was powerful and vicious. His King was determined to destroy him, and his Horse was equally determined to survive and take his place as King.

"Are you really going to stab me with that, King?" The hollow asked, grinning wickedly as Ichigo scowled at him. Their swords were grinding against each other and the red power in his King's sword was flaring. "Are you really going to kill your loyal Horse?"

"Loyal? Don't make me laugh!" Ichigo spat into his face and the hollow's grin widened.

"Oh, but I am! I'm every bit as loyal to you as you are to me!" He said mockingly and had the satisfaction of seeing Ichigo looking like he wanted to kill him.

"Shut the fuck up!" The teenager snarled and the hollow laughed as he called on a white getsuga tenshou. Ichigo replied with his usual black one and the powers clashed, exploding together.

Finally, the battle came to an end as the hollow was disarmed. A red blade was pressed quite firmly to his chest but at the final moment, Ichigo seemed to be hesitating. The hollow grinned maniacally, enjoying the moment. It might be his last, but he was honestly too enraged with his King to care.

"Go ahead, do it! Kill what you've always hated!" He taunted the teen. His pride wouldn't allow him to grovel and beg anyway, so he might as well go out spitting into his face. "Put that thing into me and see what hap-" The sword slid forward smoothly, parting white flesh, and the end of the word came out softly as the hollow lost his breath. "-pens..."

The hollow wavered on his feet, blinking as red light flowed into his chest. Drops of red - red? - slid down the sword and puddled on the ground. The hollow coughed and felt blood sliding down the corners of his mouth. Reaching up with a trembling hand, he touched the blood there and looked at it. It was red.

But that's wrong. My blood is black. The hollow just looked at his King. Ichigo was scowling at him, strong and resolved and either unaware of or ignoring the strangeness. What does this mean? There was one obvious thing it could mean, one possible consequence. But he could sense that wasn't it. This was something else. Ow. Ichigo withdrew the sword and his hollow fell to his knees, unable to say a word. Although he honestly wasn't sure what he could say to his King at this moment.

None of the curses he could think of seemed adequate to encompass all his emotions.

hr

Ichigo watched as his hollow collapsed onto his side. And he felt a deep relief as those black and gold eyes became unfocused and glazed over with approaching death.

He'd defeated his hollow many, many times, but this time he knew it was different. His hollow's blood had always been black, when he'd let it out before. This time it was red, as bright and alive as Ichigo's own. That had to mean he'd succeeded in finally getting rid of him, and Ichigo watched as the hollow drew a shaking breath before letting it out in a small sigh. White hair stirred in the currents of his underwater world, then began to vanish.

"What have you done?" Ichigo turned, startled, to see Zangetsu. The youthful zanpakuto was looking at the hollow, his expression unreadable. But Ichigo could tell he wasn't happy. Glancing back, Ichigo saw that the hollow was disappearing, vanishing in a way that reminded him of Ulquiorra's death.

"I've gotten rid of him. He won't be a danger to anyone, ever again." Ichigo said firmly. The zanpakuto was silent for a long moment, just looking at him, and Ichigo scowled as he felt an uneasy feeling. He knew Zangetsu very well, and it seemed like the zanpakuto was... disappointed.

"It is your decision, Ichigo. But I think you will regret this soon." Zangetsu finally said before swimming away and Ichigo blinked, taken aback.

"Why would I regret it? Zangetsu?" He called after the zanpakuto, but his sword spirit did not answer. Ichigo scowled, but felt the tiniest bit of fear. "Why would I regret this?" He didn't understand. His hollow was a terrible danger to his friends, family and himself. All the Visored would give anything to get rid of their hollows, and he'd finally found a way.

What could be wrong about that?