You Might Call it War: 1
The sand of Hueco Mundo was white and coarse. The crescent moon was pale and strange. The air was dry and tasteless, yet oddly grasping and utterly stale. A Hollow was behind Ichigo, frozen in ice. Chad and Ishida were beside him, and Rukia and Renji were in front of him, robed in brown ponchos against the desert sands.
He ran to them, nearly grinning. "Rukia, Renji," he said, heart warming as his surprise faded.
Rukia hit him, and then Renji hit him too, throwing Ichigo back to land beside Chad and Ishida as Rukia yelled. "Fool! Why did you enter Hueco Mundo on your own? Why didn't you wait for me to come back?!"
He sat up. "But you left like that. I didn't know if you were going to come back or-"
She yelled in his face, so close up he felt her breath on his nose. "Of course I was going to come back! By any means necessary! Both Renji and I planned that from the start!" Her voice softened. "Why didn't you wait for it? Why didn't you… have faith in that? We're your comrades, aren't we Ichigo?"
He stared back at her. Challenged, put to right, deeply touched, yet oddly sad, bearing the weight and responsibility of that trust. "Yeah. You're right."
"Hmmph," said Rukia. "It's good that you know that. Don't make me confirm such a foolish thing ever again."
Ichigo grinned. He was glad that they'd confirmed.
Rukia said, "You took care of your problem?"
"Course," he said, aiming for swagger.
Rukia nodded imperiously and said, "Show us."
The world stopped. All the good feelings, all the warmth and reassurance, fled in an instant. "I can't," said Ichigo.
"Can't or won't?" demanded Rukia.
"I… What do you know about it?"
Rukia said, "A little. Only what I've seen, and what Urahara hinted at. But we will shortly be going into battle alongside you. There should be no unnecessary surprises."
"Ichigo!" She was stern, loud and forceful. "If you do not trust us enough to show us this, you do not trust us at all."
And how could he refuse, when they had just followed him to Hueco Mundo? Heart thudding, Ichigo drew his hand over his face, the mask of Hollow appearing on him, white with red markings, his reiatsu, rising, roughening, taking on a familiar cast.
Chad's only reaction was a slight widening of his eyes. Renji's hand jerked toward the hilt of his zanpakutou, and Ishida's hand flexed as if to form his bow, both stepping into fighting stances. Automatic, involuntary reactions to the appearance of a Hollow.
"Happy!?" shouted Ichigo, his voice reverberating strangely, as if another were speaking along with him. "See what a monster I am? How like a Hollow? You better not get close to me when-"
Rukia grabbed him by his shihakusho and yanked him down so violently her forehead crashed into his mask, not quite hard enough to crack it. Her voice was low and threatening and just for him. "Kurosaki Ichigo. You are not a monster. You are loyal and gruffly kind, a young man who doesn't hesitate to risk his life for others, just as I don't hesitate to risk my life for you, and Ichigo, you deserve it. Don't you dare call yourself a monster again, because you're not, and no mask could ever make you one."
Ichigo was frozen, bent, not just leaning over but leaning on her.
Rukia whispered, "And to be honest, the mask looks pretty cool." She pulled away, slapped him hard on the back and spoke loudly so the rest would hear, "No more self pity, Ichigo! It doesn't suit you at all."
"Dumbass," said Ichigo, blinking his yellow and black eyes to make sure no moisture seeped out. "I don't need you to tell me that." He composed his features before dismissing the mask.
"Well," Ichigo said to the others, "Ready to go?"
The silence was deep and tense until Ishida said, "We're the ones waiting for you, Kurosaki."
Ichigo realized that was the longest he'd maintained the mask, and he bent close to Rukia and quietly said, "Good thing you're not a Vizard. No one would take you seriously if you fought in a Chappy mask." He felt a moment's trepidation that he'd gone too far, that it wasn't something to joke about.
But Rukia stridently lectured him on the deadly ferocity of rabbits when defending their young, and everything was good.
Then he asked Rukia about her and Renji's ponchos, Rukia asked about Nell and her companions, and it got a little nuts.
Inoue was half-rescued, stranded on a high pillar with Nell, unable to get down without Ichigo's help, and he was busy with Grimmjow.
Ichigo turned to her, his Hollow mask on his face, her first time seeing it. On the wide pillar, high above the ground, Inoue backed up to the edge, trembling, eyes frightened.
So she was afraid of him. Ichigo couldn't blame her. He was afraid of himself too. He was a monster.
Rukia hadn't been afraid, and she'd told him not to be either. Had claimed he could never be a monster.
At the other end of the amphitheater of pillars that was their battlefield, Grimmjow was lining up for another pass. Grimmjow. Espada 6. 6.
When he'd invaded Soul Society, in what seemed like another lifetime but was only short months ago, Ichigo had heedlessly, confidently flung himself into the arms of Zangetsu, with total commitment. Now, whenever he tried, he found his Hollow there waiting. And he was frightened of its touch.
Ichigo did not shut his eyes. Did not need to. Still, it took only a moment. Throwing himself into the arms of his inner spirits only ever did.
"Let's kill him!" his Inner Hollow yelled.
Ichigo had seen it done, but he'd never killed anyone. Purifying Hollows didn't count. When he'd invaded Seireitei, he'd been careful to not kill. He'd even dressed Ikkaku's wounds. The thought horrified him. He wasn't a killer.
But a part of him wasn't horrified. A large part of him agreed. Grimmjow had tried to kill him, and still was trying to. Had nearly killed Rukia. Was standing between him and what he'd decided to do. Was indubitably a bad guy.
A deeper voice, familiar, but long missed, rumbled up within him, though perhaps it sounded a little younger than before. "What is your resolve, Ichigo?"
"Ossan." So he'd emerged. Ichigo had hoped that beating his Inner Hollow would cause that eventually.
"Ichigo," said the Ossan.
Ichigo said, "This isn't just a rescue mission. It's a war. Winning isn't enough. Just winning is meaningless. I want to kill. Lend me your power, you two, and I'll lend you mine in turn."
Grimmjow was lining up for another pass when Ichigo went still. Relaxed mid-fight in mid-air, body limp.
Grimmjow laughed, accelerating, pleased to take advantage of whatever the idiot human shinigami was doing.
Ichigo shifted, and Grimmjow pulled up short. Something was different. Small, sharp, nubby horns were forming on the brow of his prey's mask, but it wasn't that. A change in the air, in the fall of light.
For all his barking and testing of the line, Grimmjow knew how to back to down.
Too late, he realized he should.
Ichigo was before him in an instant. The whites of his eyes were black, but rather than yellow or brown, the irises were inexplicably glowing blue.
Grimmjow got his arm up in time, and with the power of Getsuga in the strike, Ichigo broke the armor and cut the arm beneath halfway through.
Grimmjow struck with his other arm. Ichigo knew well that Grimmjow's hands could straight through flesh like a blade. Ichigo elbowed the strike aside even while keeping both hands on his zanpakutou, moving into grappling range even though he was the one with the sword, and headbutted Grimmjow with his unyielding, adamantine mask.
Teeth flew, Grimmjow's nose crunched, and Ichigo wasn't done. He twisted the sword, slicing deeper into Grimmjow's arm and bringing the edge into contact with his chest.
It should've been just a shallow draw cut as Grimmjow fought for space, but it sliced straight through ribs and a curl of dark energy shot out Grimmjow's back, leaving a hole through his gut.
Grimmjow used a step of sonido to get away, and Ichigo followed with shunpo, no distance gained, Ichigo rotating his arms as he turned the follow through of the draw cut into a powerful overhead slash.
Grimmjow was forced to raise the same arm as before, and it was good aim by Ichigo to strike exactly where he'd cut before.
Grimmjow's arm flew off, and Ichigo's strike continued into Grimmjow's head.
He was still alive when Ichigo stabbed him through the chest and said, "Getsuga Tenshou!"
Grimmjow lay motionless on the sand of Hueco Mundo, one arm missing, a deep gash in his skull and face, ending around his nose, and a football-sized hole in his chest. He looked dead.
With three quick strikes, Ichigo made sure.
He shunpoed to the pillar where Inoue was, and she was smart enough not to fall off, but she was shaking, eyes glancing from Ichigo to the mutilated form below.
Ichigo said, "You're frightened of me." His voice reverberated strangely, as it always did when he wore the mask, as if his Inner Hollow were speaking along with him. Eerie and unnatural. But he didn't care anymore.
"I'm not frightened," said Inoue, arms crossed protectively over her chest.
Terrified, Ichigo thought, and he dismissed the mask and watched her relax.
Nell said, "Good job, Ichi."
Ichigo slung Inoue over his back, and Nell over hers.
"Pu, put me down, Kurosaki-kun," said Inoue, beating his chest.
"We need to get out of here before anyone else comes. Rukia is hurt." And he went as fast as he could.
Imma stop right here for now because this could be a oneshot. But I do have more, of course.
The first half of Rukia and Ichigo's conversation, before she asks to see the mask, is straight canon. Chapter 247.
Bleach was published in Shounen Jump. I don't know a lot, but it appears to me that in Shounen Jump, while people might die, and even 'good guys' might kill enemies, it's rare for the protagonist to do so.
If that weren't the case, if Bleach had been published in a seinen magazine, I wonder if something like this might've happened.