Summary: "A lone tear ran down his cheek. He'd done it. He was back, back before it had all begun. Back when they were all still alive. This time, though, Aizen would be crushed before he could destroy everything." When all hope is lost, Ichigo goes back in time.
Warnings: Slight AU: Bleach canon occurred when Ichigo was 18, not 15, because I needed Karin to be older, and the twins are only 3 years younger than him.
This "hey" is spoken speech, and this 'oi!' is thoughts. Speech of Zanpakutô spirits and Shiro is respectively in italics, bold italics and bold.
"This makes no sense whatsoever."
"I do agree." Urahara said, fan snapping open so suddenly that it made his friend jump. They fell silent once again, before Isshin spoke.
"Two months ago, I saw Ichigo use a strange technique."
The scientist leaned forward, looking interested.
"What kind of technique?"
"Well, he was standing on the riverbank, and then, suddenly, poof! He disappeared."
"Well, that could have been Shunpo."
"But it wasn't." Isshin insisted. "That's the problem. It wasn't Shunpo, or even Sonido! It was something I've never seen before, and it was damn fast."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
The ex-Shinigami's shoulders slumped.
"I don't know. I guess I didn't want it to be real. But when they came to take the Kuchiki girl back, I could feel this… this emptiness in the house. Even the tiny amount of reiatsu Ichigo usually leaks out wasn't there, and Karin was using a Mod-Soul..."
The fan snapped open once more.
"Yes, a strange coincidence indeed." Urahara said slowly, obviously deep in thought. "So your son is most likely involved in Shinigami business… How?"
How? Now that was a question they wished they had an answer for.
"I'm going to install security cameras around the shop. If Ichigo really is involved, there is a chance he will come to see Karin leave or to check up on her."
"I'll wait in the vicinity too. Do you still have that cloak? The one which completely conceals reiatsu."
Urahara smiled, fanning his face.
"Hai, hai! Tessai-san! Would you mind bringing me the concealing cloak?"
From the depths of the shop, they clearly heard Tessai's deep "yes, boss!" and looked back at each other. This promised to be interesting.
August 8th, 1:00 am.
Karin had left. He'd given her the protection charm and seen her off, and she hadn't even wondered why her father was up at one in the morning, and hadn't asked questions when he'd caught her sneaking out in the middle of the night. He sighed, wrapping the cloak tightly around his body, though he technically didn't need to as so long as the clasps were all in place, it concealed any and all reiatsu emitted by whatever it was wrapped around. Still, he couldn't help but feel nervous. Ichigo had been more distant than ever lately, spacing out and frowning thoughtfully, as if he were planning something or thinking really heard about something. It was disconcerting, this constant seriousness that he tried very hard to hide yet still couldn't keep off his face whenever he thought nobody was looking.
He watched in amusement as Karin sputtered when she saw Chad, Inoue and Ishida saying they were coming too, Chad because Rukia had saved him once, Ishida because he wanted to get revenge over the Soul Reapers, and Inoue for no particular reason except that she had the means to fight, had befriended Rukia and wanted to help Karin. Well, he guessed those were good reasons to go to Soul Society, actually. Yoruichi stepped forward, teasing Karin with her male voice, and Isshin snickered to himself at the thought of her face when she would find out she was actually a woman.
There was a very subtle movement in the air and suddenly, someone was standing in the shadows a mere foot away from him. He sunk a little deeper into the shadows, holding back a gasp as he stared at the newcomer. He, for it was definitely a he, was tall, with a lithe, muscled body, yet almost skinny. He was clad all in black, though not the traditional garb of the Shinigamis but rather in modern human combat clothes, with a silk black scarf wrapped around the lower part of his face, obscuring his features, a black dagger earring with a single ruby in its center dangling from his left earlobe. There were two Zanpakutôs strapped to his back, but Isshin couldn't bring himself to care. Because despite the scarf, despite the darkness, he could see them clear as day. Those amber orbs, slightly lighter than the chocolate brown he knew so very well, blazing with determination as they watched the group follow Urahara into the shop, the deep furrow of those eyebrows, and most of all, the bright orange of this spiky hair. It was longer, though, and streaked with white and brown, but it was still obvious, and it became even more so when the newcomer reached up and brought the scarf down to settle around his neck.
Isshin gaped. This was Ichigo. It couldn't be denied, because he knew his son, could spot him in a crowd, but his son… his son was only eighteen! He wasn't a mature man in his mid-twenties… and he certainly wasn't a captain of the Gotei 13 he'd never had any contact with!
Ichigo's head snapped to him, and his eyes widened slightly, but he didn't move. He seemed to hesitate briefly, then nodded slowly and turned back to the shop. Isshin took off the cloak as soon as he felt the Senkaimon close, then looked at his… son?
"Are you really Ichigo?"
Again, the man hesitated, then nodded once. "Yes, I am."
His voice was low, warm and soothing though slightly raspy, as if he'd smoked too much or screamed his throat raw, but he knew for a fact that Ichigo despised smoking –all the times he'd scolded him for smoking were proof of that, and he couldn't see what could have made him scream like that… Especially given that his body's voice was the same as ever. Isshin made to ask another question, but the door of the shop slid open once more, flooding the area with light, and Urahara stopped dead in his tracks, surprised to find not one, but two people there, one of them not what he expected at all. He quickly gathered his composure, though, and snapped open his fan.
"My, my, Kurosaki-san, what a pleasant surprise! I see that your father was wrong when he assumed you had no idea of the afterlife business." He said cheerfully.
Ichigo rolled his eyes.
"Yes, yes, nice to see you too, Kisuke, but unfortunately, I can't stay long, so I'll make it short. I'm from the future. Ten years, to be exact. Stopped aging at twenty-five. Aizen managed to make mutated Arrancars, and they just completely overwhelmed us. You managed to build a time-machine and sent me back to make things right. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and watch Karin."
He was stopped before he could take a single step, though.
"Wow, wow, wow, take it easy there, son. Ten years? How come you're the one Kisuke sent back and not Karin?"
"I was the one originally in her place." Ichigo said indifferently. "But I couldn't afford to have Rukia following me everywhere this time, and her giving me her powers would result in me showing up in this form… I needed Aizen to ignore me."
"But that means that all your friends would be hers now…"
Something flashed through his eyes, a pain so deep they couldn't even begin to fathom it, before he answered tonelessly.
"My friends are all dead. Kisuke was the last one, and he sacrificed himself to send me back." He left it at that, and they decided not to push the issue. They couldn't imagine how horrible it must have been for him to see all his friends fall one after the other.
"What about the Vizards?"
"They taught me quite a few things." Ichigo answered simply, and they nodded.
The fan snapped shut.
"Very well. I presume you're here to use the Senkaimon?"
He shook his head.
"We both know you couldn't open it again, and what's more, I've got my own means of transportation." He grinned roguishly.
They walked into the shop. Tessai stopped short as he saw them, but Jinta didn't have his delicacy.
"Oi! Who's the freak show?"
"The freak show has a name, brat. It's Kurosaki Ichigo."
The pink-haired kid looked at them all in turn.
"What? Yet another one? What the hell's up with this family? And what's with the freakin' haori?"
"Yes, I'd like to know that too." Isshin muttered as he took a glance at the glaring one on his son's back. However had he managed to replace the Captain-Commander?
"Yamamoto was killed around three years after the beginning of the war." Ichigo said tonelessly, walking past them and to the tea table. "Since I was mostly leading anyway, I was offered the position."
The kids looked at each other, looking positively lost, but a single glance at Urahara convinced them to shut up and wait before Tessai sent them away and they all sat down for tea.
"You don't look in such a hurry anymore." Isshin observed as he sat across his son.
The hybrid shrugged.
"Karin won't confront Aizen before another week or so, so I guess I can afford to stay there and chat for a while before I go other there."
"What did you plan on doing anyway?"
"Make sure nothing changed, and if something did, then improvise according to that. Aizen needs to be stopped as soon as he reveals himself this time. Too many people paid for his crimes the first time around." He muttered between his teeth as he took a sip of tea and closed his eyes in bliss.
The three men let their gaze roam over his form, then to his Zanpakutôs, which he had laid on either side of him. Urahara's eyes took on an interested glint.
"No," Ichigo said without looking up, "there is absolutely no way I would let you experiment with either Zanpakutô, or my reiatsu, or my Hollow, or anything of the like."
The blonde's fan snapped open –again–, and he quickly tipped his hat forward in a familiar gesture which had Ichigo rolling his eyes in fond exasperation. This simple display of emotion was the last thing they needed to convince them that he was saying the truth, and they relaxed completely, which he feigned not to have noticed.
"Ma, ma, Kurosaki-kun, so cruel! I would never!"
He smirked, amber eyes glowing.
"I'm sure you wouldn't. Anyway, last person who tried ended up as little more than a small puddle of goo. Just saying." Urahara gulped, Tessai coughed behind his hand.
Soul Society, Rukongai district 78, Inuzuri.
Two days later.
The air split open to leave way for a gaping black void, and out stepped a tall figure with his lower features masked by a silk black scarf. Looking around, he nodded to himself before heading over to where he could feel Karin's reiatsu. He found them all outside Shiba Kûkaku's house, standing by the Flower Crane Cannon. Karin was bickering with Ganju, while Yoruichi and Kûkaku talked together quietly, and the others just looked at the Shinigami Substitute in obvious amusement.
I wonder if she's as horrible at controlling her spiritual pressure as I used to be.
'Goin' from the way it constantly leaks outta her, I'd say yeah, she is!' Shiro cackled. Ichigo rolled his eyes, ignoring the Hollow's glee.
'It's a good thing we improved, then, uh?'
'Speak for yarself!' Shiro blurted out indignantly. 'I never had tha' kinda problem!'
'You did.' Zangetsu contradicted.
'Yes, from Ichigo's memories, it seems that you project your reiatsu over several miles when you're out.'
'That's not true! Liar!'
'I do not lie. You should know that by now.'
'It is true and you know it.'
'Hell no! Liar! Liar! Liar! Hey! Are you ignoring me? Don't ya dare turn yar back on meh, oi! Come back 'ere, Mura-teme! Oi!'
And so the bickering continued, while Zangetsu and Ichigo respectively watched and listened with unconcealed amusement. Mura, as Shiro had nicknamed him, stating his real name was far too long and annoying to pronounce, had been quite reclusive in the beginning, unsure as to what his place in this foreign inner world and this strange three –now four-ways relationship was, but with Zangetsu and Ichigo's efforts and Shiro's unsubtle attempts to bond with him through sparring, he'd eventually started feeling more at ease, and formed a deep bond with Ichigo's white doppelganger. When Ichigo and Shiro would fight separately, they usually used one Zanpakutô each, and would switch to confuse the enemy, or combine their attacks. The power being concentrated on one blade only, it made the offense far more powerful than if both fighters had been using the same Zanpakutô at the same time and thus had to split their reiatsu between them.
It was a good technique, and it had won them a lot of battles, but they had also learned to wield two blades at once, and both Zangetsu and Mura had managed to bond deeply enough that they could change themselves into a pair of short swords with their own abilities. It was a strange ability, one never seen in the history of the Soul Society as there had never been a Shinigami bonded with two Zanpakutôs at once, but this synchronization of the two blades had made them far more powerful than Aizen, though he'd always managed to evade them ever since they'd acquired it, and they'd never had the occasion to use it.
This time, he wouldn't be so lucky.
'We'll destroy him, Ichigo. You have my word.'
'He means our word, Aibou.' Shiro's voice was unusually solemn.
'It is as they said.'
He smiled as warmth flooded his entire being, and his heart swelled with love for the three spirits.
"…Thirteen pairs of Horn Flutes! The right hand of the monkey grasps the stars!" Fire erupted from where Kûkaku had slammed her fist into the ground. "Embraced by twenty-five suns, the cradle of sand will spill blood." The fire gathered on her arm darted up the barrel. "Kakaku fire method number 2! KAGIZAKI!"
Kûkaku's yell brought him out of his thoughts, and he turned just in time to see the canon fire, and the ones who'd once been his comrades in arms fly off to Seireitei. With a satisfied sigh that at least, things were going as expected here, he turned and shunpoed away, directly towards Seireitei. He used the opportunity to look at the Rukongai in times of peace, watching powerless people go about their business, knocking bullies out with a single twitch of his finger without even stopping, and just generally enjoying the sheer quiet of a sunny day with a calm river and squealing children. Life might have been hard, but it was still life, and it was better than a crimson sky and an earth so soaked in blood it had become eternal mud.
He shook his head as he came upon the lower districts and checked once more that his reiatsu was well-hidden before darting forward. The barrier let him pass through when he let a tiny bit of power out as a proof that he definitely was a Shinigami, and he went to find a nice hideout to monitor the happenings in Soul Society for the next few days. He ended up in a small cavern in the forest not too far from Sokyoku Hill, which he quickly surrounded with sekki-sekki stone so that nobody would detect him before settling himself for waiting a few days.
Sighing to himself, he materialized all three spirits of his mindscape and smiled at them.
"Time for babysitting!" He said in a sing-song voice. Shiro groaned. Zangetsu nodded. Mura smiled, his eyes soft.
Everything had gone according to plan, he could scarcely believe it.
"This is astonishing." He said in silent awe as both Karin's and Byakuya's spirit pressures dropped down to weaker than normal level, testifying to the end of their fight. Karin had won against Ikkaku, Zaraki and Renji as expected, and received Hanatarou's help before disappearing for two days and a half to train for Bankai. When her reiatsu had reappeared, it had been just in time to stop the Sokyoku from executing Rukia, before fighting Byakuya and defeating him. It was slightly amusing to think of the long way the noble had come from there ten years in the future, and how much more powerful they had all grown. Karin's reiatsu, right now, though above average, was weak to Ichigo, and he knew he could crush them all with barely an effort.
Mura's pale hand found his shoulder as Zangetsu shifted closer to him, and Shiro looked towards him silently, golden eyes shining with eerie understanding. At their level, they didn't need words to communicate anymore. A single glance sufficed, and sometimes even a single thought. Their bond ran so deep that in their time, they'd been known and admired for its uniqueness.
Ichigo sighed and stood.
"It'll be time soon." They all nodded in unison, muscles taut with anticipation, power thrumming under their skin and in the very air around them. For months they had waited for this moment, this single instant when they would finally reveal themselves and bring down the man who'd destroyed so many lives in the original timeline. Again, they waited. But this time, they knew it wouldn't be long now.
The broken fangs of the baboon started glowing as they rose up in the air, Renji's reiatsu pulsing strongly. In the forest, Ichigo disappeared in a flash while all over Seireitei, captains and lieutenants hurried over to Sokyoku Hill at their fastest Shunpo after hearing Isane's message.
Karin rushed forward at top speed, blue reiatsu shimmering around her body as she concentrated on dealing the strongest blow she could, determination bright in her grey eyes. Rukia counted on her, and Renji too, and apparently that Aizen guy was a traitor. There was no way she was going to let him have his way like they were just some puppets.
So focused was she that she didn't even notice the captains arrive on Sokyoku Hill, watching the situation with wide eyes as they took in the injured sixth squad lieutenant holding the former convict tightly to his chest, the ryoka girl charging at what they could only surmise was Aizen through the smoke raised by Renji's last attack, and the two other traitors just standing there watching. The power the girl was displaying was impressive, despite her gaping wounds and obvious exhaustion, and she had proven that she could defeat a captain by beating Kuchiki Byakuya himself a few minutes earlier.
Aizen, though, didn't seem the tiniest bit fazed as the dust settled down to reveal the girl. No. Instead, he merely… lifted a finger.
Karin's eyes widened as the traitor blocked the full strength of her Bankai with a bare finger. She gasped, barely managing to catch the sight of his fingers wrapping around the hilt of his Zanpakutô out the corner of her eye. She knew she didn't have the time, the energy or the speed to dodge the incoming attack, and now that her senses had abruptly come back to her, she could hear the horrified gasps of the other people standing there, mostly captains and lieutenants.
"Karin! Get away from-!" Yoruichi never got the chance to finish her sentence. In the blink of an eye, Aizen struck.
There was an explosion.
Dust flew everywhere, engulfing the scene, concealing it from view.
"Karin-chan!" Inoue screamed in pure horror.
Ever so slowly, the dust started to settle once again, only for them to gasp in shock as a white haori fluttered in the breeze before settling down, proudly displaying the number one.
Nobody knew who said it, but it was a perfect summary of what everyone was thinking at the time, and they could only stare dumbfounded at the scene. The ryoka girl was kneeling on the ground, unharmed except from previous wounds, staring up in utter shock at the man who'd just blocked the blow meant to cut her in half, and stuttering incoherently.
The newcomer stood there, eyes locked with Aizen, whose brown orbs had widened in surprise, only to narrow again at the somewhat familiar, yet unfamiliar face opposite him. Karin let her gaze run up and down the strong body standing protectively over her, then rest on the long orange hair. It was a particular color she knew well as her own brother had the same, but his didn't have the white and brown streaks…
"I…" Aizen disengaged his blade from her savior's and jumped backwards, intense gaze on the expressionless features. "Ichi… Ichi-nii?" She gulped, and he frowned. This couldn't be Kurosaki Ichigo, he'd shown to be a disappointment, getting himself knocked out so easily by a mere Hollow, and was far too young anyway. "Is that you?"
Slowly, the man turned his head, and her shocked exclamation was echoed by Inoue, Chad and Ishida's. He then turned fully, revealing his entire face, and Byakuya frowned as he noticed the scarf. It was a garment only males from the Kuchiki clan were allowed to carry, and this man certainly wasn't from his family. Eyebrows rose as they noticed his strange outfit, but no one said anything as he extended a hand out to the girl kneeling on the ground.
"C'mon, Karin. You're in no shape to fight."
Helping her to her feet, he flash-stepped over to where Yoruichi was standing by Ukitake, Renji and Rukia, and left her to the Goddess of Flash.
"Take care of her, Yoruichi."
He started to walk back to Aizen, but stopped as Karin spoke again.
"Wait! Are you really Ichigo? How is it possible? Why are you dressed like a captain? And why do you look like this?"
He stared at her lengthily, silently, amber eyes sad as they roamed over her face sadly.
"I'll explain everything in time, Karin. But for now, I have a traitor to deal with."
"Wait!" Ukitake called out. "His Shikai…!"
And without another word, he turned back to Aizen. "You should fall back a little."
There was another deafening silence as they obeyed, and Aizen and Ichigo stared at each other.
"Aizen Sôsuke." Ichigo sneered.
"I must admit I am surprised. I didn't expect you to show up separately."
"More like you thought I'd be the one in Karin's place."
"Indeed. You were always the most promising of the Kurosaki children."
"Guess everything can't always happen just like you scripted it, huh? The rules have changed, Aizen. I'm the puppeteer now. And you're just another piece on the chessboard. The black king."
The brunet's eyes narrowed.
"How interesting. I never took you for the literate type."
"Shows how well you know me. Now. Before I kill you, I'm going to get rid of a giant bug."
Blood splattered on the ground. Tosen tried to talk, could only get out a few gurgles, then fell to the ground as he started to bleed to death. There was blood on Ichigo's blade. But he hadn't moved. He looked dispassionately at the bleeding soon-to-be corpse, then at Gin.
"Your plan won't work, Gin. You still have a future in Soul Society, but going with Aizen is just going to get you killed in the most horrific way. Matsumoto will fall to his blade as a way to make you pay for your treachery."
Icy blue eyes slid open an inch as the silver-haired captain's eternal grin fell of his face. And then, suddenly, he was by the orange-haired Commander's side, with an armful of crying Matsumoto.
"I understand now. Thanks."
Ichigo nodded curtly, never taking his eyes off Aizen's form. The man hadn't moved, just looking at the happenings, most likely trying to understand and improvise.
"Back to square one." Ichigo said calmly. "Once again, Aizen, it's just you and me. But this time, you won't escape."
The traitor stayed silent for a while, then smiled this disgusting, condescending smile of his.
"How cheeky, ryoka boy. However far you come from, you were born eons too late to ever come close to my power."
Ichigo smiled, shifting his feet slightly so that they were firmly planted on the ground in a ready position, knees slightly flexed.
"Yes? Then how do you explain the fact that you kept running from me whenever we happened to be on the same battlefield?"
"I am sure I had other things to do than deal with a mere human hybrid."
And just like that, they disappeared, clashed in a shower of sparks and reiatsu so intense Yamamoto wasted no time in putting up a Kido barrier to allow the lieutenants and lower-ranked soldiers to breathe.
"What's the meaning of this?" Soi Fon questioned more for herself than anyone else, watching the fighters' moves with narrowed eyes. As a Hohou specialist, she could appreciate the fine shunpo they were using, but couldn't for the life of her understand what was going on here apart from the fact that some stranger with the haori of the Captain-Commander had just saved the ryoka girl who claimed to be his sister, and started to fight with Aizen, who'd just turned out to be a traitor.
"Ma, ma, Soi Fon-chan… I was wondering that myself." Kyoraku sighed, scratching his head with a finger.
"He's from the future." Yoruichi whispered, but everyone heard her.
The outcry was unanimous.
"It's the only logical explanation." Ishida nodded, pushing up his glasses with his middle finger. "Though Kurosaki's body looks eighteen, his soul looks far older, and more powerful. On top of that, he wields enormous power where I am sure I never felt as much from him before."
"He could have been suppressing it." Hitsugaya offered.
"He was. After he came back."
There was a pause.
"So now he's fighting Aizen, who isn't at the level he'll have some time from now." Isane said thoughtfully. "What horrors could have happened that he had to come back in time and do it all over again…?"
Karin opened her mouth to answer, but never got the chance to as suddenly, there was an explosion of red-rimmed black reiatsu which could only be Ichigo's, and the two men were back a few feet away from them. The white haori had changed to a crimson color, and the Zanpakutô to a long, black sword with a straight blade.
Aizen looked at him and nodded.
"Impressive, ryoka-boy. But you seem to have forgotten something. While you are already in Bankai, I am still in sealed form. This proves how much more powerful I am compared to you. Once I release my Zanpakutô, there is nothing you can do." He smiled as he raised his Zanpakutô. "Look and bow down to my power, Kurosaki Ichigo. Shatter, Kyoka Suigetsu."
The captains inhaled sharply even as Yoruichi and the ryoka group gave a cry of warning, but Ichigo merely stood there with a bored look on his face.
"Oh, god, he released his Zanpakutô. Should I start running?" He mused sarcastically.
They looked frantically around, puzzled by the sheer foolishness he was demonstrating, but Aizen was nowhere in sight, and Ichigo was still just standing there as if everything was just fine in the world. However had that boy managed to survive years of war with this kind of attitude?
"Ichigo! Behind you!"
He spun around lazily, a cocky smirk on his face, and took the hit head on. Aizen's eyes widened. Because his blade hadn't even managed to cut the fabric. Ichigo's smile widened into a maniacal grin as his hand came up to wrap around the traitor's neck and squeezed.
"You are powerful, Aizen Sôsuke, and I came to respect that power a long time ago. But…" he stuck Tensa Zangetsu into the ground at their feet, slowly lifting up the ex-captain. "I despise your methods. Cutting down your own allies once they're of no further use to you, destroying thousands upon thousands of lives, endangering the balance of the three worlds, restarting the feud between Shinigamis and Hollows all for the sake of fulfilling your goal… And for what?"
He paused, eyes suddenly turning sad. "Do you think being a god would ever appease your solitude? Do you think the fear and awe and hatred would make you feel better? Do you think power eases loneliness?" He sneered. "How foolish when your own loneliness comes from that power."
"You sound as if you know what you speak of, but no being has ever come close to me in terms of power. You know nothing, boy."
Even held by the throat, feet dangling off the ground, he still managed to look imposing and powerful. Ichigo's smile turned sad.
"You have learned nothing, Aizen. My power set me apart from the day I was born. I could see spirits, talk to them and touch them and in the end, it caused my family unspeakable grief. Then, I met Rukia, and as she lent me her power, I was thrown into a war I had nothing to do with, though I didn't care about that. With me I brought humans, humans who'd been contaminated by my power, and one by one we fell. Every day I gained more power to defeat you, and every day you eluded me, sending dozens of your minions to shield you while you just stood on the sidelines. You have no idea what true solitude is, to see your friends fall one after the other, to see your men trust you and die despite all your efforts to protect them, to see your mentors turn into shells of their former selves after losing their beloved, throwing themselves into battle and falling too, with a smile on their lips. You have no idea of the pain of losing your lover."
Karin's eyes widened at that, as did all the captains, and suddenly, the black scarf took on a whole new meaning. They stared at Byakuya, utterly stupefied, even as the man struggled to keep his composure. Aizen smiled.
"Oh, so the Kuchiki girl…?"
Renji shifted uneasily at that as Rukia's gaze met his. They'd known they had feelings for each other for a while, so what could have possibly brought them apart? Unless… Ichigo squeezed again, until Aizen was struggling to breathe.
"Don't be silly, Aizen." Was Ichigo's mere answer, calm, low, disdainful, threatening. "You may know solitude, but you have nearly no emotions. You're as good as dead. And once I finish with you, I assure you, you will be." He paused, before suddenly, Tensa Zangetsu was stuck through the felon's chest and slowly twisting in an open display of cruelty which had Karin holding back tears. Her brother could never have done such a thing. It was unthinkable that he would willingly strike and torture a disarmed enemy, and she made to move…
"I, Kurosaki Ichigo, Captain-Commander of the Soul Society, hereby declare you, Aizen Sôsuke, guilty of the following crimes.
High treason, Hollowfication experiments on Rukongai souls, Hollowfication of captains Hirako Shinji, Ohtoribashi Rojuro, Aikawa Love, Ushoda Hachigen, Mugurama Kensei and vice-captains Yadomaru Lisa, Kuna Mashiro and Sarugaki Hiyori, attempted murder on the person of Hinamori Momo, Kuchiki Rukia and Hitsugaya Toshiro.
"You are found guilty of the murders of captains Yamamoto Genryûsai, Ukitake Jyûshiro, Kyoraku Shunsui and Soi Fon, and of Central 46.
"You are found guilty of the murders of ex-captains Hirako Shinji, Ohtoribashi Rojuro, Aikawa Love, Ichimaru Gin, Shihouin Yoruichi and Kurosaki Isshin, Espadas Neliel Tu Oterschwank, Grimmjow Jaggerjacques, Coyote Starrk, Tia Harribel and Ulquiorra Schiffer.
"You are found guilty of the murder of humans Inoue Orihime, Kurosaki Karin, Kurosaki Yuzu.
"Finally, you are found guilty of causing the uncontrolled Hollowfication of the sole heir to the Kuchiki Clan Kuchiki Rukia, along with the murder… of Clan Head Kuchiki Byakuya."
By the time he was finished, the atmosphere was so thick it could have been cut through with a butter knife. Everyone stared, displaying various degrees of shock, and tears were running down the faces of most of the women present, who had their hands clasped to their mouths in silent horror at the mere thought of the number of casualties, and what this boy –no, man had seen in his young life.
"The penalty for each and every one of those crimes alone is death. However, considering the severity of your actions, further measures shall be taken." A few captains snuck a glance at Yamamoto, but he didn't move, just watching carefully as he listened to the procedure and let the future Captain-Commander deal with the threat none of them could apparently have ever dealt with.
Tan fingers wrapped around Kyoka Suigetsu even as they released Aizen, throwing him to the ground with a violence which dug a crater into the ground, before the now free hand closed over the hilt of the purple Zanpakutô. As if in answer, it started humming, reiatsu pulsing slowly around it, and they stared as he slowly drove the blade out of its sheath before holding it parallel to the ground.
Yamamoto and Byakuya's eyes widened in shock as a purple wave of reiatsu spread around the time-traveler like a tsunami, engulfing everything in a range of five miles, before another soft murmur caught their attention.
When the dust dispelled, nothing had changed, except that there was another man standing there, clad all in white, with brown hair the exact same shade as the streaks in Ichigo's hair, and Yamamoto narrowed his eyes in contemplation, as he got a sneaking suspicion as to what could have been the cause of the white strands. And indeed he was proven right when the next time he spoke, the young man's voice sounded distorted, as if he were speaking at the same time as someone else, a terrifying edge to every word.
"Aizen Sôsuke. As punishment for your crimes, your Zanpakutô shall be destroyed, and your soul, annihilated. The sentence is to be carried out now."
To his credit, Aizen fought back. He even managed to unleash his Bankai, but it was to no avail as Ichigo seemed to be completely immune to whatever ability it possessed, and he made quick work of it by slashing him up so badly that he ended up bleeding on the ground, short two legs and his right arm.
Muramasa hadn't made a single move when the traitor had attacked, and seemed utterly indifferent to the stares burning holes into his back, courtesy of Ukitake, Kyoraku, Yamamoto and Byakuya. Unohana looked with much more delicacy and subtlety, and he chuckled to himself. Some things never changed: the woman had always been as cunning as a fox, and scary as hell when someone managed to piss her off.
Ichigo stood over the fallen god wannabe, and drew Tensa Zangetsu out of the ground right as Shiro appeared by his side, scaring quite a few people in their audience, if the cries of alarm he heard were anything to go by.
"Know this, Aizen Sôsuke. Though I used to be Captain-Commander, I didn't fight for Soul Society. I fought for my friends. But then, you came along, and threatened everything that I held dear. The people in Soul Society needed help to counter your mad plans, and so I answered present. So it shall be to the end of times, and so I shall make sure you never rise again."
A sly smile stretched on bloodied lips.
"How very… noble of you… boy."
"It's not noble. It's self-preservation." He smiled at his albino double. "Instinct."
And with that, all three spirits stood in a circle around the fallen traitor, Muramasa between Shiro and Ichigo, holding their hands, looking down at the Zanpakutô lying there on the ground. A white Tensa Zangetsu appeared in Shiro's free hand, and as Muramasa started to chant, all three reached out to hold their Zanpakutôs together, the tip pointed towards Aizen's body as purple reiatsu started humming in Muramasa's blade, the tip of which was directly held against Kyoka Suigetsu's blade.
"The heart inside your soul, the strength inside your heart. The might inside your eyes, loneliness in power. Illusion of the moon, petals float on the lotus pool. Hear the water, heed my command. Your time comes to a close, listen to me. Your name is Kyoka Suigetsu!"
Aizen convulsed. His Zanpakutô started glowing a dark shade of pink, and he screamed.
Karin clasped her hands over her ears, mimicked in that by Inoue, Nanao and Matsumoto, while Ishida cringed and the captains tensed. The traitor writhed on the ground while reiatsu slowly gathered at the tip of both Tensa Zangetsus, forming into a familiar spinning purple light…
Power, so much power in the command! They could all feel their Zanpakutô's fear at sensing and seeing the pure eradication of a Zanpakutô, and it continued to increase, step by step, as if climbing a ladder. When it felt like the pressure couldn't get any higher, suddenly, Shiro and Ichigo unleashed their Cero Oscuras on the prone form of the traitor, and once again, dust rose from the ground to engulf the scene and conceal the protagonists from sight.
We did it.
He tilted his back as the first drops of rain started to fall, closing his eyes in bliss as he felt the tiny beads of water caress his face and slowly start to soak him wet. It was a glorious feeling, to be standing there on the Sokyoku Hill, the corpse of his enemy only a carcass charred beyond recognition at his feet, Zanpakutô reduced to a mere broken asauchi. All these years, the screams, the pain, the blood, the loss, the emptiness… It would never happen. It was over. They'd gone back to the beginning, and now Aizen had been defeated, and he hadn't even needed to go all out. It had been easy, so very easy to deal with him before he'd started to evolve, and after he, Ichigo, had had the chance to grow.
It was almost as if all those years fighting had been for naught, as he'd erased them all in a single fight. His eyes slid open slowly, and he smiled up at the dark sky, the movement almost foreign to his muscles after all this time. Love and Rose could be together now, as could Rukia and Renji, Kisuke and Yoruichi, Karin and Toshiro, Gin and Matsumoto… So many couples had formed during the war, united in hardship and sorrow, before drowning in darkness as they fell one by one under Aizen's blade and the claws of his legions of Arrancars. Never again would he hear the screams of an agonized lover mourning the loss of his beloved, the throaty rails of the dying on the battlefield, the desperate wailing of some children pleading for their parent to get up and wake up and go hide somewhere safe and be alive.
"Aibou…" He turned to meet Shiro's concerned eyes, only for his white double to raise a gentle hand to his face and softly brush away the wetness from his cheeks. "You're cryin'."
Zangetsu materialized beside them as he turned to Muramasa, who was standing as per usual right by Shiro's side, his clear eyes soft as he beheld his wielder's desperate joy and relief, the first tears he'd cried since his lover had died, years ago, and he'd been left alone with only a workaholic ex-shop-keeper as company. Byakuya had been there to the very end, always standing by his side, and it was only because Aizen had managed to separate them that he'd finally fallen at his blade. He'd even gone as far as to ask Urahara to Hollowfy him so as not to "slow Ichigo down" and be as reliable to him as the younger captain was to him. The Kuchiki elders would have disapproved, but by that time, they were all mostly dead in the same attack which had taken Rukia's life. And then…
"We did it."
He said it out loud this time, and they just looked at each other.
"It is never over, Ichigo. There will always be a new enemy."
"Yah, but this one's down at last. We did it."
"We did it." Muramasa echoed, and there was in his words all the love, and respect and adoration of a man who'd finally found what he'd been waiting for his whole existence, whose soul was finally whole by resonating with another', who'd found the one person who could understand him. Ichigo had given him a second chance when he'd found him, broken and bloody and utterly useless both in body and mind, and welcomed him into the purest soul he'd ever known. He'd shown him how the relationship between a Shinigami and their Zanpakutô should be, and even further, what it could be. He'd never considered himself particularly lucky throughout his long existence, but when the human hybrid had bonded with him, he'd discovered a whole new aspect of a Zanpakutô's existence that he had never even imagined.
It was beautiful, even more so considering that Ichigo already had two spirits to deal with and certainly had enough power not to need another one. But he hadn't suggested to bond with Muramasa out of greed or want for power. No. The Zanpakutô had been curious of course, and the bonding itself implied sharing memories, feelings and each participant's deepest secrets. Ichigo had done it solely out of a desire to help Muramasa. To help him. To protect him.
And though he hadn't been sure he could ever love a wielder as much as he had his original master, he'd found as days passed, drowned in blood, death and darkness, that he'd come to love this young man more than he'd ever loved Koga. And he couldn't even find it in himself to feel the tiniest bit of regret about it.
He loved Ichigo, Shiro and Zangetsu, the brightness of their shared soul, the one they'd opened to him with its share of darkness and faults and humanity but strength, so much strength it was hardly believable.
And so, as they stood in the rain and Ichigo smiled, Shiro's grin grew wider without a hint of his usual maniacal edge and Zangetsu's lips stretched into a smile full of content, he took one step closer to them and clasped their gathered hands within his own pale fingers.
She could hardly believe it. Ichigo, her big brother who hadn't shed a single tear ever since their mother's death, was crying. Tears of joy, relief and despair all mixed up, emotions bottled up for far too long, years before finally getting out in a quiet stream of salty beads mixing with the rain and wiped away by a creature supposed to be completely insane and going on a rampage as soon as it was given a little leeway. A Hollow, if the color of its eyes and Yoruichi's words were anything to go by. An inner Hollow. She hadn't even known it was possible, but apparently it was, and she could only wonder what had happened in the future for her brother to become the man standing a few feet from them now.
Okay, so the kid, who was supposed to not be involved in Shinigami business turned out to be a powerhouse come from back from the future to obliterate Aizen after losing everything he loved to the traitor's schemes. Not only that, but he was also a Vizard, with an inner Hollow which actually materialized without going berserk and showed actual concern for him.
That was it. The world was surely ending.
She shot a glance up at the crying skies, then shook her head. Nope, it wasn't.
And she was still confused. She sighed. Kisuke better have an explanation for this one or she was going to claw his balls out.
He stared at the strong figure of the man who'd once saved him from thugs and promised to fight for his cause and have his back. He looked much more powerful, had proven it even, and different. The Ichigo he knew would never just destroy a man like he just had. It was an amazing display of power, given that the traitor had just stopped Karin's Bankai with a simple finger, and scary as hell. Beside him, Ishida twitched in aggravation. The Quincy must be annoyed that his classmate, who he hadn't even known to be a Shinigami, had actually showed how wide a gap between them there was.
Well, that week had turned out to be full of surprises. First the ryoka invasion, then Aizen's 'death', resurrection and treason, a time-traveler's arrival who ended up wielding a Zanpakutô deemed dangerous after the Kuchiki Kôga fiasco, and wearing a Captain-Commander's cloak over decidedly human combat clothes as if it were an everyday occurrence. He guessed it was.
He glanced at his white-haired friend, who looked sorrowfully at the young man silently celebrating his mournful victory with the spirits of his power. Of course, Jyûshiro would grieve for all the stranger, who knew them even though they had never seen him before in their lives, had lost. Because he was as acutely aware as he himself and all the others were, that everything he'd suffered, he'd suffered for their sake.
And wasn't it terrifying to know that they'd condemned a kid of eighteen years of age to a life of fighting and bloodshed without even meaning to.
Never before had he seen this. A human, born of a Shinigami, wielding the power of an inner Hollow and two Zanpakutôs, one of which had belonged to another before. It was unheard of, without precedent, worth of awe and yet strangely scary. It was a threat of unseen magnitude, and unbelievable potential.
But he had seen a lot over the long two thousand years of his existence, and he knew to read the heart of men. This one only fought to protect and would only attack if provoked. He was as sincere as could be, his drive obvious for anyone to see, his grief hidden yet in un plain sight, his strength for protecting only.
He was a great warrior, and a man of honor.
Yamamoto Genryûsai came to a decision.