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.
Ten years later.
He stepped out of the Senkaimon and inhaled deeply. The air in Soul Society just seemed to flow more easily, more fluidly than in the Living World, and it was a relief to be back. This place had become his home since he'd turned fifteen, and he'd never been gladder to have accepted Yamamoto's offer over the years which had passed since his time-travel and Aizen's death. A burst of Shunpo brought him to the 1st division barracks, and he knocked twice before letting himself into the old man's office, nodding at Sasakibe as he crossed the room to join Yamamoto at the railing overlooking Soul Society.
They stood in silence for a long while. Yamamoto was the only one who knew exactly what had happened in that future that would never be. Ichigo hadn't planned on telling anyone, but in the end, his regularly having tea with the Captain-Commander ended up discussing war, and so he'd told him everything, knowing that of all people in the Soul Society, Yamamoto was the only one who could come close to understanding what he'd been through. He was the only one, after all, who'd fought a Vasto Lorde and lived to tell about it, the only one to have ever seen an Arrancar, the only one who'd been through war and back.
It most likely was the reason why they'd become friends so easily, but in a different way from before. Before, their relationship had been that of a mentor to his pupil, and then of a grandfather to his grandson. It had been full of affection and teachings and wisdom, but now, there was a shared respect and mutual admiration for one another's power and somber past that brought them together and closer than they'd ever been. Yamamoto was old, old and wise and scarred, and Ichigo was scarred, young but jaded, eyes haunted by the horrors of his past, the horrors one so young should never have seen, the horrors which allowed him to understand the wisdom of a man over two-thousand years his elder.
They got along spectacularly, to the point that Ichigo was allowed liberties no one else was; entering without waiting for permission being one of those.
"How are your sisters and father?"
He was torn from his thoughts by the old man's strong but gravelly voice.
"Well. Yuzu's engaged and Goat-face is over the moon, crying like an idiot."
"What about your other sister?"
Ichigo crossed his arms over his chest.
"I don't think she's going to get married anytime soon."
Yamamoto cracked his eyes open a fraction to sneak a look at the younger captain. After Aizen's reveal and subsequent annihilation, Kurosaki Karin had gone back to the Living World and school, but that hadn't stopped her from seeing to her Shinigami duties. Apparently, she thought that she couldn't afford to laze around as her strength could be needed anytime, and she had to get stronger so that she wouldn't be a liability for her brother were she to fight by his side someday –which she would, she fiercely asserted, as she had every intention of getting into his squad upon her death so that she could make sure he didn't do anything stupid. She had also made a point by regularly dropping by to check up on her brother, which had brought about more and more encounters with Hitsugaya.
The young captain looked just about as enamored with her as she was with him, and it had become obvious after a few years that those two would end up together. Ichigo sighed at the thought. He'd seen in his future how happy Toshiro could make Karin and vice versa, so he wasn't opposed to it, far from it. He was concerned, however, about the kind of life she would lead, waiting for one's death couldn't really be considered as healthy after all. He also hoped she wouldn't suffer too much from this relationship which they wouldn't really be able to live to the fullest until she was dead.
Yuzu, on the other hand, was engaged to a man who, though he was spiritually aware, didn't have any powers of his own, and was perfectly fine like that. All he knew about the family history was that they were all above average in terms of spiritual awareness, and that the elder brother was dead. Ichigo had decided to tell her the whole truth because it wouldn't be fair on her otherwise, and she came from time to time with Karin, but she actually had a life in the World of the Living, and so it wasn't very often.
Seeing her, Ichigo sometimes wondered why Karin didn't just drop everything in the World of the Living to come live in Soul Society with her beloved. Yuzu would still have Isshin, who would stay there until her death, but then he wouldn't have any reason to stay anymore.
'Ya're kinda depressing, Aibou.'
Ichigo sighed at his inner spirits' complaining, but tried to think of something else. Right on cue, there was an explosion in the distance, and he cursed inwardly, though Yamamoto shot him an amused glance when an expletive found its way past his lips.
"I have to go."
"It seems you do. Make sure to drop by sometime for tea." The old man said as Ichigo stepped forward. He nodded, then disappeared in a flash of Sonido.
Fifth Division Barracks, Soul Society.
The fifth division members cringed at the loud yell, cowering as they took in the sight of the enraged blond girl, eyes blazing with anger as she saw the damage the man had done in his bloodthirsty rampage. Blue hair poked from over a pile of rubble, and she glanced to the left to see a blonde bob which had her brow twitching in increased annoyance.
"SHINJI YOU DICK-HEAD!"
Sitting on a rooftop overlooking the destruction, Lisa and Nel shared a glance full of misery. The fifth division had flourished after Kurosaki Ichigo had taken over, and it hadn't been long before they could open its new subdivision, made especially for hybrids, Shinigami with Hollow powers… or Hollows with Shinigami powers. They had come in one day, the Vizards first, the Arrancars next, all powerful, all wary, all here for a single reason: Kurosaki Ichigo. Somehow, the man had managed to convince them all to come join his division, and they had all come for their own reasons, though their loyalty to the tall time-traveler was obvious for anyone to see.
It had taken several years for all three species to start getting along, but once they started talking a little, they found that they weren't that different. Their relationship was still hesitant and tentative at best at times, but unfortunately, some of them were far too happy to have found equally as bloodthirsty sparring partners, and their matches ended up destroying half the barracks more often than not, much to their captain's aggravation and secret amusement. The Shinigami had been terrified at first by the rambunctious hybrids, but seeing their captain's easy interactions with them had slowly helped them relaxed. Nel, Pesche and Dondochakka had been amongst the hybrids who'd tried to fraternize with them and who had helped them see that they actually weren't so different from them, but were just quirky.
Now, some Shinigami couldn't imagine living without the hybrids to alleviate the monotony of eternal life with their fights, shouting matches and all around craziness. It was a brutal shock, but boy was it good in the end.
"What happened here?"
Everyone instantly straightened as the captain appeared in the courtyard, looking at the destruction with a somewhat pained look on his face.
"What do you think happened?" Hiyori snorted. "Those two idiots" she pointed at the blue and blonde hair peeking from over the top of the pile of rubble "thought it was a good idea to get into a fight in the middle of the courtyard! Half the division is in the fourth because of them!"
Ichigo's eyes narrowed, and those closest to him stepped back warily. It was almost legendary around the Gotei 13 how much the powerful fifth captain cared about his men, dealing hellish punishments on whoever had the misfortune to hurt them. That didn't stop to the threshold of his division, and everyone in the squad knew that disloyalty, treachery and serious fighting wasn't tolerated, because when word came to the captain –when, not if–, the man could be worse than Unohana herself, and that was saying something.
Shinji looked up at the figure towering over him, and gulped at the positively sadistic gleam in the man's eyes. A few feet away, Grimmjow discreetly started to get up, only to get pinned in place by fierce amber eyes and slammed back down by Neliel's unforgiving boot.
"Neliel, you bitch!" He cursed, his voice muffled as his face was pushed further into the hard stone. She merely dug her heel further into his skull in retaliation.
Five minutes later, Hirako Shinji, unofficial leader of the Vizard and former captain of the fifth division, was running out of the barracks screaming in abject horror as his bald head shone under the sun. As for Grimmjow, he was mewling miserably from where Urahara's newest invention had left him changed into a kitty for the next three days. Unfortunately for him, it seemed Ichigo wasn't finished, as he ended up choked, um, pressed lovingly against Nel's ample bosom, the girl gently cooing at him that she would take care of him for the time his transformation lasted, before turning to her captain and pouting cutely:
"Can't he stay like that? He's so cuuuute!"
Wicked amber eyes came to rest on the azure blue kitten, who mewled pitifully, desperately trying to escape his new 'Mistress'' vice-like grip.
"It depends on whether he intends to do that again or not, Nel."
Apparently, she took that as a yes and squealed loudly before bouncing away, Fracción in tow.
He watched as Ichigo dealt with the troublemakers of his division. The man had a special way of getting respect from allies and enemies alike, and in ten years, they had learned never to be surprised by anything he did, as he always seemed to find a new way to shock them to the core. There had been his time-travel, then his power, the true might of which they were sure they had never seen yet, then his creating a new division within his own for hybrids exclusively, his deep friendship with the Captain-Commander, though neither of them was very open.
And then… He let his eyes rest on the silk black scarf. Never had he seen the man take it off. In ten years, he'd always kept it on him, making sure to keep it immaculate. He obviously cared about it very much, and he could only guess it was because it was his last reminder of the man he had loved. He looked at the elegant silhouette of the hybrid who had sacrificed everything for them yet never asked for anything in return. To have so much power and yet use it so selflessly… He wasn't sure he could be worth of such strength of heart. He wasn't sure Ichigo even wanted him to be. Because despite all that had happened, despite the fact that Ichigo's Byakuya had loved him so much he'd gifted him with one of the Kuchikis' scarved as a symbol of that love and of appurtenance to the Kuchiki clan, he wasn't that Byakuya.
"I don't expect anything from you, Byakuya. I know how much you suffered after Hisana's death, and I know you don't know me. We fell in love through hardship and war, and I will never force you into anything, least of all a relationship with me." He chuckled in his tea. "God knows I'm not an easy person to live with."
That had been ten years ago, and the noble had only felt his respect grow since. Did he love Ichigo? No. Not yet. It was too soon, and he seemed to know that.
"Come have tea with us on Sunday. My sister will be delighted to see you."
It had been a pretext, and they had both known it. Rukia felt only awe for Karin's brother, nothing more, because this time around, she barely knew him. But Ichigo had come, and the week after that, and again and again, until she wasn't even there anymore, and their afternoon teas started to take place twice a week in one of their offices. They had formed, at least on Byakuya's part, a strong friendship, and he was glad to have met the man.
'Is it time?' He wondered inwardly as he watched the fifth division captain shoot a rare smile at the small green-haired Arrancar who followed the lazy former Primera Espada everywhere he went.
'I think you already know the answer to that question.' Senbonzakura murmured gently in his mind, and he nodded slowly. Maybe it was finally time to let himself open to someone else again, time to let someone in again, time to love again.
Kuchiki Byakuya stepped forward.
"You look tired."
Ichigo looked up from his book and at his visitor, carefully marking the page before setting it down.
"My men have a way of being exhausting."
"You should tell them that."
The younger man sighed but shook his head. "If only it were that simple."
And in truth it wasn't. Because both Arrancar and Vizard were naturally destructive, and needed to let out some steam as often as possible so that their immense reiatsu didn't get to restless, and so that the innate bloodlust and love of fighting that was one of the characteristics of their Hollow part was satisfied and they didn't go berserk in the middle of a simple training session. Grey eyes darkened slightly as they took in the weary form of the man across from their owner, and black fabric rustled softly as he sat down.
"How many times will I have to say it? It wasn't your fault, Kisuke."
He looked up, surprised, before letting out a small, sad smile in answer. Amber eyes were warm as they watched him, but he could see the shadows of his terrible past lurking beneath the surface, a sure testimony of the atrocious nightmares that still plagued him at night, even ten years after everything had ended. He would never forget that day he'd dropped by, only to hear agonized screams once he'd come inside the captain's quarters. He'd panicked, thinking that the man was being tortured or something, only to find him writhing on the floor, the sheets and hair damp with sweat, body arching and features contorted in sheer agony.
The man had kept shaking for hours after waking up, though he was apparently a master of hiding it: no one had noticed. It saddened Urahara to think that Ichigo had such experience with horrific nightmares that he'd learned how to conceal their consequences from everyone around him.
"But it is."
Ichigo sighed. It wasn't the first time they had this conversation, far from it. Years ago, only weeks after his return to the past and Aizen's death, the blonde shopkeeper had knocked at his door and asked for an audience in a humble tone which had troubled him to no end. Because Urahara Kisuke simply didn't do meek. He was sarcastic, mocking, teasing and playful, serious at the most serious of times, but never… submissive. The mere thought of him like that was sickening, and it was a sight Ichigo had long ago decided he never wanted to see ever again.
But then, he'd spoken, and everything had suddenly started to make sense.
Urahara had created the Hogyoku, Urahara had given Aizen his weapon, Urahara had started the war.
Everything was Urahara's fault.
Urahara was guilty.
He put his life in his former pupil's hands. He expected death. He would welcome it as just punishment.
Ichigo had stared, appalled.
"We all make mistakes, Kisuke. How could I blame you? You only had Soul Society's best interests at heart when you created it, and the Hogyoku isn't evil. It's just the way Aizen used it." He'd paused then. "You're the one who gave me the power to save Rukia, the power to protect all those I loved. If anything, I should thank you." He had bowed, only for the blonde to stop him instantly.
It was hard, unbearable to see the strong inventor break down like that, and in that moment, Ichigo had caught a glimpse of the immense guilt the man had to carry on his shoulders and the intense worry he'd had to deal with for the past hundred years, anticipating Aizen's next move and planning how to thwart him even if it involved manipulating a bunch of spiritually aware humans to do it.
In that second, Kurosaki Ichigo had understood that if anyone deserved to know the future, it was Urahara Kisuke, because his mere presence was enough to remind him of what would have happened hadn't someone given up everything to come back. And so they had watched Ichigo's memories over the next few months, together, and Ichigo had wept for his comrades and family, and Urahara had wept for the lives destroyed for a marble-sized object he himself had created.
Yamamoto, as opposed to Urahara, had only been told about the future. Even though the old soul reaper had been like a grandfather to him, Ichigo didn't feel as comfortable showing such an intimate part of his being to him as to break down in his presence. Yamamoto was strict and demanding and strong. It would feel wrong and out of place to show weakness. Kisuke, though…
Kisuke had been his friends for many years, the last to stand, and the one to create the machine to rewrite history and to give his life to fuel it. Kisuke had been his comrade to the last, his mentor and his godfather, and he'd also been there, when everything had gone downhill, when his friends and men were falling one after another, when his family was being slaughtered and he had to keep it all in because he was a leader and leaders just don't cry or despair… He'd been there for him, just as he, Ichigo, had been there when Yoruichi had died, and they'd gone through such hardships together in the future that it seemed only natural to fall back into old habits.
Kisuke was familiar. Kisuke was family. Kisuke was his very own anchoring pillar.
"It wasn't your fault." Ichigo said again, decisively. "And even if it had been, you were the one who sacrificed himself to send me back in time with a machine you had invented. It's all thanks to you none of this happened. We –I owe you everything."
"It happened for you. You lost everything. Because of me." Urahara said softly.
Somehow, they both knew with utter certainty that this was the last time they would hold this conversation. There was something indefinable, a feeling in the atmosphere, in the very air around them that gave them this certitude. This was the last they would ever discuss this.
"It happened thanks to you. You gave me the power. You gave me the means. You protected us to the best of your ability. No war is without sacrifices, Kisuke. You did the best with what you had, and so did we. Never forget I wouldn't have been able to prevent all this hadn't you been there for me."
And that was it. Amber met grey, and there understanding there, and warmth, and affection, something he'd never really understood before despite all that Ichigo had explained. Their friendship… it was far more than any mentor-pupil or father-son or friendly relationship. It was different. Sometimes, seeing how much this young man seemed to love him, Urahara couldn't help but wonder… Had they been something more in the future? He doubted it. Ichigo had been with Byakuya and apparently devastated by his loss, while Kisuke himself had become a shadow of his former self upon Yoruichi's death. No, their relationship, as deep as it was, was only platonic, but he couldn't help but feel undeserving, even though Ichigo would only scoff when he mentioned that, saying as if it should be obvious that Kisuke was his best friend and largely deserved that title.
Urahara hadn't pushed the issue. But Ichigo's memories had spoken for him.
Truly, they had been friends, brothers almost.
And slowly, they were re-forging that bond lost in the sands of time.
"Come on," Ichigo said gently –how he could sound so soft, so perfectly content after everything he'd gone through, Kisuke would never know– "let's have some tea."
50 years later.
He stood at the back of the room as Urahara and Yoruichi's wedding ceremony came to a conclusion. They kissed, and he gave a genuine smile, clapping with the others and chuckling as Tessai put his hand over Jinta's eyes, but it was too late, and the kid already had nosebleed. His father had come too, and Karin was standing next to her boyfriend. Twelve years after Aizen's defeat, she had decided she couldn't bear with the stupid humans who always commented on her being single or too much of a tomboy to get a boyfriend, and so she'd faked her death and come to live in the Soul Society, though she'd started by going to the Academy before entering a squad. She'd ended up third seat of the ninth and had been extremely happy to announce her engagement to the white-haired prodigy thirty years later.
They were now happily married, and it seemed to have prompted other couples to follow their lead, as Ichimaru and Matsumoto had married not long after, then Shinji and Hiyori, Rose and Love, and now Urahara and Yoruichi. The only reason the last two had taken so long was actually because neither of them could get the guts to go straight to the point, and so they had spent forty years beating around the bush until the Women's Association got sick of it and enlisted Inoue, Ishida and Karin to help push them in each other's arms. Ichigo shook his head as the grinning couple passed him by, and waited for everyone to leave before doing so himself.
Tonight, everyone would celebrate, and once again, he would find himself watching them while sipping on a bowl of fine sake, enjoying the sheer peace and happiness in the air as the Gotei 13 danced and sang and rejoiced. The stars would shine above them, twinkling merrily, and he would wonder if all of this had been fate, and how long this soothing tranquility would last before getting shaken from his thoughts by Kyoraku's cheerful invitation to a drinking contest. Of course, he would refuse, but then, Shiro would come out and drink him under the table, unabashedly cheating by burning away the alcohol's effects with his reiatsu. Muramasa would look on fondly, Zangetsu would be just as stoic as ever, and a little further away, Rukia would be chatting with Renji, whom she'd been engaged to for a little over two months now. No doubt there would soon be another wedding soon.
And then, coming from the shadows, Byakuya would join him and nurse a cup of sake as only nobles know how to do, and they would sit in silence, just watching, before greeting the old man who would come join them with his eyes cracked open an inch to have a better look at the younglings partying the night away. In the end, they would retire together and go the Kuchiki manor, where they would lay on the roof in each other's arms and gaze at the stars watching over them. Byakuya's heartbeat would be strong in his chest, and elegant fingers would gently run through his hair in this soft manner only he could achieve, and Ichigo would sigh, because he'd never felt so at peace in his entire life.
He'd risked and lost everything to go back and save everyone, but in the end, he had gained even more in return without expecting anything.
He had regained his men. His men who were all safe and sound partying. He had regained his friends. His friends who had never seen war. He had regained his family. His family who now lived and loved. He had regained peace. Peace which allowed everyone to breathe and grow.
And most of all, he and Byakuya had found each other again.
Looking up at his lover's endless pools of molten silver, he smiled as soft lips brushed against his in a chaste kiss full of love and devotion. The stars winked at him from the dark sky, and he let his eyes slide shut as he gave all of himself to the man he loved and who loved him in return.
The future had been erased, and now they had built another, better future. And it was all he could ever wish for.