Title: The Strongest Color
Chapter Twenty-Four: Loyalty In Exchange For Power
Pairing/Characters: Aizen/Ichigo, Shuhei, Renji, Ikkaku, Yamamoto, Shunsui, Jushiro, Isshin
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.
When Ichigo came to, he was on his feet and two men were on each side of him restraining the boy's arms. He saw many figures standing several paces away from him, and as his vision returned, he recognized many of the faces as the current captains and lieutenants of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads. They were all standing in a circle with their zanpakutos unsheathed, and they were all looking at something in the center. One of the shinigami, who he recognized was Shuhei Hisagi from the 9th Squad, took a step to the side, giving Ichigo a clear view of what everyone was watching. There, in the center of the ring of shinigami, stood a bound and defenseless Sosuke Aizen.
Ichigo called out to the man, "Aizen!"
The former captain's eyes glanced at the substitute shinigami for just a second before he returned his gaze to somewhere beyond the enemies that surrounded him. One of the men that held Ichigo spoke,
"He's finally going to get what he deserves."
It was Renji who said it as he held onto the boy's left arm. Ichigo looked to his right and saw that the other man who had his right arm pinned was Ikkaku.
"What are you guys doing?" Ichigo said as he struggled against their grip. "Let me go!"
"Just be quiet and watch, Ichigo," Ikkaku told him.
The substitute shinigami's gaze returned to the group of shinigami as they assumed their fighting stances. When all blades were aimed at Aizen, the head captain issued the order. In a blink of an eye, the shinigami leapt forward and thrust their zanpakutos at the traitor in front of them. Aizen did not let his expression give away how much pain he was in as the swords were stabbed throughout his body; he wouldn't give his enemies the pleasure. The blades were pulled out all at once causing the man to cough out blood onto the floor.
Ichigo lost it at that point, and he suddenly began screaming the former captain's name all the while trying to break away from Renji and Ikkaku. The two shinigami let the boy go, just as Aizen fell to the ground. Ichigo frantically ran over to him, pushing Shunsui and Jushiro aside as he stepped inside the circle. One look at the body told him that he was too late to save him; Aizen was dead.
The orange-haired boy dropped to his knees next to the man's body and the tears began to fall from his face. He could feel everyone's eyes on him as they watched their hero break down in front of them, but Ichigo didn't care. It had become uncontrollable now, and in between his cries he could almost hear Aizen's voice calling out to him.
"Why did this have to happen?" Ichigo thought. "Everyone I love gets hurt, and I'm powerless to save them!"
He heard the man's voice calling him again, and it sounded as if it was louder than it was the first time.
"Why can hear his voice inside my head? What's happening to me?"
Again, he heard Aizen's voice, but at a much greater volume than the previous ones.
"I'm here," Ichigo called back and just as he did, his vision began to blur just as he experienced a strange sensation that felt like his body was being pulled out of water.
- - -
The substitute shinigami's eyes opened at once as he regained consciousness again. He glanced up to see the concerned face of his father and felt the man's grip loosen up on his shoulder. Ichigo tilted his head and saw Aizen down on his knees next to him, his right hand outstretched to where it rested on the boy's forehead.
"What happened?" Ichigo asked in a hoarse voice, his throat raw from screaming.
Aizen didn't say anything; instead he removed his hand from Ichigo's forehead and wiped a tear from the teenager's cheek. Ichigo immediately pushed himself up so that he was sitting on the floor and dried the rest with his sleeve. Aizen had pulled his hand away as the boy sat up, but he, as well as Isshin, remained down next to Ichigo for the moment. The boy lowered his hand back down to his side and remained sitting with his back facing the two shinigami. He felt his cheeks burn in embarrassment for having cried in front of Aizen and his father.
"Ichigo," Isshin spoke to him, breaking the silence. "Come sit back on the chair."
His son nodded and slowly stood up, and the two men behind him followed suit. Isshin helped Ichigo back into his original chair, much to the boy's displeasure, and returned to his own. Aizen walked over to a cart that was placed off by the former captain's seat where he poured some tea into a cup and offered it to Ichigo. The substitute shinigami took it gratefully and drank from it slowly, feeling the liquid soothe his throat as he did. Aizen returned to his seat and told him,
"Before I speak my part, I want to know what you saw just then."
Ichigo lowered his cup and held it on his lap, looking at his reflection in the liquid. He glanced up at Aizen, who returned it with only a blank stare. The boy then acquiesced and told Aizen and Isshin about what he had experienced in his mind, including details about how Aizen was executed. Ichigo stopped at that point and shivered.
"It was just so real, it didn't feel like a dream at all," Ichigo told them.
Isshin looked back and forth between Ichigo and Aizen and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He seemed to be debating something in his head, but with a nod to motivate himself, he was able to speak what he had on his mind.
"Ichigo," he began, addressing his son. "While you were unconscious, you started screaming. Once you finally stopped, you began to shed some tears. That was something I've never seen you do in six years."
"That's because," Ichigo paused, looking unsure about whether or not he should finish his thought. "It's because I was scared."
The substitute shinigami lowered his head, looking at his pathetic reflection in the cup.
"It reminded me of the night when Mom was killed, and how I was too weak to save her or to do anything. Dammit!"
Isshin reached over and put his hand on his son's shoulder, the action was somewhat awkward in realization that he hadn't comforted the boy since his childhood. He squeezed Ichigo's shoulder and brought his hand back to his side. The boy's father looked up at Aizen, who was currently lost in thought as he watched Ichigo, and he spoke to his former friend in a slightly annoyed tone.
"Isn't there something you were going to tell him, Sosuke?"
The former captain exchanged looks with Isshin, who gave him a cold stare. He then turned his attention back to the orange-haired shinigami and said in a composed manner,
"I have some troubling news." He paused and began to explain. "While you were unconsciously screaming, I was able to create a temporary link between our minds using a technique I created myself, though it is only in the experimental stage. I could feel another presence inside your mind and after listening to your account of it, I know with certainty that it was the Executioner that caused your vision."
Ichigo stared at the man and his eyes widened in shock of the truth.
"But, I thought that you got rid of him."
"I didn't, I had just removed his control of your body but not your mind. That would take a power which I do not possess."
Aizen sat up, and placed his hands on both of the chair's armrests.
"Ichigo, do you remember when I told you that what a person sees in the Nightmare Room is a manifestation of their greatest fear?"
"Yeah, I remember," Ichigo frowned.
"I have a theory pertaining to how the Executioner could access your mind and take control of you. What you feared the most was that the hollow inside you would take complete control and consume you, so what you saw in that room was your hollow side."
"Wait a second," Ichigo stopped him. "How do you know that, I never told you anything about it."
Aizen let out a soft chuckle, "I've known that before you even set foot in Hueco Mundo. I saw the way you struggled to hold back your hollow during your fight with Yammy, thanks to Ulquiorra's report. It seemed only obvious that your hollow would be your fear that appeared in the room. The Executioner took advantage of that and set it up so that you would have to fight your hollow. However, when you defeated him, the Executioner was able to enter your mind in his place."
"Damn him," Ichigo clenched his open hand into a fist in frustration. "Isn't there anything we can do?"
"There is only one solution I have come up with," Aizen said. "Your friend, Orihime Inoue, has the power to reject reality and turn back time. If she could use that power on you to make it so that the Executioner had never entered your mind then we could solve one problem. After that, there's this situation with your hollow taking over you that needs to be resolved. I can offer you a solution."
"Don't you even dare say it!" Isshin threatened Aizen, but the man ignored him.
"I can use the hougyoku to turn you into a vizard."
"You could do that?" Ichigo was surprised, he knew that it could create arrancar but not that it could help make someone a vizard as well.
"Ichigo, don't listen to him," Isshin said in an authoritative voice.
"What do you expect me to do then?" Ichigo argued. "Do you want me to turn into a hollow and die? And you can forget about me joining the vizards just so that they can help me control my hollow. I think I'll trust Aizen before I do Shinji, I don't even know anything about that guy."
"This bastard cannot be trusted, Ichigo. I thought you would have at least learned that from what I told you not too long ago. I don't want you making the same mistake I did. He will only use you."
"He already has, Dad, back in Soul Society when I went to rescue Rukia."
"Don't say it likes it's nothing!" Isshin snapped back at his son.
"I can make my own decisions, dammit! I'm not a little kid anymore."
Isshin sighed and began rubbing his temples. There was no changing the boy's mind so there was no point in arguing.
"I'll just leave you be then," he said, standing up from his chair.
"Wait!" Ichigo called to his father.
"You're going to have to go back to the real world if you want Orihime to heal you. Just come find me when you're ready to leave, and we will go back together."
With that said, Isshin excused himself from the room, leaving Aizen and Ichigo alone to continue their discussion. There was a silent moment between the two before Ichigo finally spoke to the other man.
"You could really do that, use the hougyoku on me," he said, bringing the subject back to where it was a while ago.
"I had intended to since the beginning, but only with your consent," Aizen replied. "I have only one condition that you must agree to if I do this."
"What is it?" Ichigo asked hesitantly, not sure if he was going to like what Aizen would say next.
"When this war is ready to be set in motion, I will give you an order. If you want me to help you control your hollow, you will swear to me that you will follow through with this order no matter what."
Ichigo thought about it for a moment, weighing his options. Of course, he wanted to take Aizen's offer, but…
"I'm not asking you to fight on my side, Ichigo," Aizen interrupted the boy's thoughts. "Once you complete the order, you can do whatever you wish to."
Ichigo stared into the former captain's eyes and stated with assurance,
"I will do it."
Aizen smiled with satisfaction from the substitute shinigami's answer. The older shinigami then stood up from where he was seated and said,
"Come with me, there's something I should give you before you leave."
Ichigo was curious now, so he got up out of his chair quickly and followed behind Aizen as they left the room and began to make their way through one of the many long hallways that filled Las Noches. The teenager noticed, to his surprise, that there weren't any arrancar around as they traversed through the hallways.
"Probably because of what happened when the Executioner was let loose," Ichigo thought. "Several were killed and the rest might be working on cleaning up the mess."
He lowered his eyes. Even though he didn't have any control over the situation, Ichigo continued to blame himself for what happened. If he closed his eyes, he could still see the faces of the arrancar as they took their finally breath.
"You're very compassionate, even towards your enemies," Aizen spoke to him without a glance back.
Ichigo looked up, surprised.
"You were thinking about when you lost your control to the Executioner."
"You slowed down when you walked. I could sense your change in mood."
"You know just about everything, don't you?"
Aizen smiled a little in response, though he didn't let Ichigo see it. They continued walking in silence until the two shinigami were standing next to a close door, which was presumed to be their destination. Aizen opened the door and stepped into the room first with Ichigo following him.
The boy took in his surroundings, and noticed that the room the older man had led him to turned out to be a bedroom. There was a large, four poster bed at the left end of the room and a sitting area in one corner near the bed. The right end of the bedroom held a wardrobe and a long, white chest. It was simplistic, much like many of the rooms in Las Noches, but it had a grand feeling to it because of the tall ceiling and the large, half moon shaped balcony that was located directly across from the doorway.
Ichigo stepped further inside, his gaze focused on the sight that could be seen from the balcony. There were no doors to the balcony that blocked the view of the desert, making it almost look like it was a painting on the wall. Aizen watched the boy from a few feet away as he took in the room. Ichigo returned his attention to the man as a thought crossed his mind and asked,
"This wouldn't happen to be your room?"
"It is," Aizen replied.
Ichigo fidgeted, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. He couldn't help but feel uneasy, being alone with Aizen in his bedroom. The boy watched the former captain from a distance as the man open the wardrobe and took something out of it then promptly shut it again. He turned to face Ichigo with a shinigami outfit in his hands.
"You're going to give it back to me?" Ichigo questioned.
"I believe it would be best for you to show up wearing this," Aizen stated. "That way, Soul Society won't question you too much."
"You want them to trust that I'm not on your side," the boy guessed.
"It will make things easier for you later," Aizen told him as he handed him the set of clothes.
Ichigo nodded, knowing that the traitor was talking about his future order. He took the clothes from Aizen's hands and frowned. The substitute shinigami looked around the room and he started to feel uneasy again.
"You know, this probably isn't the greatest place to be undressing," he commented to the older man hoping that he would get the message.
Aizen smirked. "You realize, Ichigo, that if I wanted to I could have done it many times before this. That time when you were taking a bath is a great example."
Ichigo felt his face heat up and he avoided looking directly into Aizen's eyes. Before anything else could be spoken between the two, he ran off to the corner of the room where the seating area was and began to change clothes as fast as humanly possible. Aizen watched him from the other side of the room, and the boy made sure to keep his back facing the man the entire time. Once all of his shinigami gear was on, he turned back around to the former captain.
Ichigo stared into Aizen's eyes and stepped toward him, closing the gap between them. He stood within arms length of the man and for a long while neither of them spoke.
"You really are in love with me, then?" Ichigo asked and it took all the courage he could muster just to do it.
"Yes," Aizen replied. "You mean a great deal to me, Ichigo."
Ichigo could feel his cheeks burning again, and he looked at Aizen, wishing he could be as cool and calm about this as he was.
"I really hated you when you first brought me here," Ichigo told the man, which didn't come as a surprise to him. "But somewhere along the way, I lost that."
Aizen didn't reply, instead he waited for Ichigo to continue.
"I didn't realize it until I was on the brink of death, but during the time I spent here my feelings started to change. I'm still not really sure why."
"I'm in love with you," the substitute shinigami blurted out, his face now completely red.
Aizen was somewhat taken aback by the sudden confession, but it was just for a fleeting moment. The former captain smiled at the boy, and it was the first time Ichigo had seen him do it without some sort of scornful look behind it. Aizen stepped closer to him and placed his right hand on Ichigo's cheek.
"You really are interesting, Ichigo," he spoke and leaned his face close enough for Ichigo to be able to feel his breath.
Without even thinking of it, Ichigo leaned the rest of the way into Aizen, pressing his lips on the former captain's own. Aizen laid his free hand on the small of Ichigo's back and pressed his body against his. They remained like that for a while, lost in the moment where their bodies and lips seemed to melt together. Aizen broke the kiss reluctantly, however, he still held the boy close against him. There weren't any words to be said between them. Before Aizen let go of Ichigo, he gave him a peck on the lips and let his hands fall back to his sides.
"That felt good," was all Ichigo could say.
"For both of us, then," Aizen agreed.
Ichigo stepped away from the older man to retrieve Zangetsu, which was currently leaning against one of the chairs. He strapped the zanpakuto onto his shoulder and turned back to Aizen.
"This is where I leave then," he stated.
"Don't be afraid to spend some time with your friends," Aizen told him. "Wait outside your house tomorrow morning, I'll send someone out to bring you back here."
Ichigo nodded and gave the man a smile.
"Thank you," he said and left the room.
The substitute shinigami tracked down his father's spiritual pressure and ran into him in one of the hallways. Isshin was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his shoulders, but when he saw Ichigo approach he stepped off the wall and walked over to meet his son.
"You're ready to go then?" Isshin asked.
"Yeah, let's go," Ichigo replied.
The boy's father motioned toward a garganta, the one he had used to get to Hueco Mundo. Isshin stepped into it first and Ichigo followed right behind him, both of the shinigami on their way back to Karakura Town.
- - -
I want to give a big thank you to all the readers and especially those of you who review. If it weren't for you guys I would have quit this fic a long time ago. As long as you all keep reading, I will do my best to keep writing! I've got six chapters and an epilogue left to go until this fic is completed.