Title: The Darkest Reflection
Characters: Ichigo, Mentions of Others
Rating: T
Warning: Spoilers for Soul Society Arc and Beyond, AU After Chapter 295
Words: 1361
Description: If there had been just one reason, he might not have decided what he did.


If there had been just one reason, he might not have decided what he did.

Ichigo was not one to make split-second choices when it came to his life and the general wellbeing of his family. He wasn't one to turn his back on his friends and companions or take things at face value simply because someone he knew happened to mention it. Ichigo wasn't the type to leave the world to its fate.

No, he was a protector, a defender, especially when it came to those he loved.

But even he knew when enough was enough. Even he could recognize when lines had been crossed irrevocably, forever destroying any sense of duty he might have felt.

The thoughts started with Hanatarou.

Ichigo liked the kid. He was sweetly honest and the type of person Ichigo knew he could count on to tell the unbiased truth. There wasn't a single bone of deceit in Hanatarou's small frame, and besides, what purpose would he have in lying?

Still, his words were what began everything.

The little Shinigami had come to Ichigo on one of his usual visits to Karakura, eyes darting around nervously, as if he suspected he were being followed, worry straining his face. He had told Ichigo in halting words the dirty, little secret that the higher powers in Seireitei had been hiding from him.

Ichigo was marked for death the moment his usefulness ended. And not only him, Orihime and Urahara-san as well. Soul Society was taking no chances. Ichigo was dangerous, Orihime was dangerous, and the geta-boushi should have been killed a long time ago. The substitute Shinigami was certain that if they even knew about his father and sisters, his family would probably be on the hit list as well.

Soul Society had plans.

Hitsugaya-taichou would be sent out first, before the war had a chance to get in full swing. He was to bank on Orihime's trust, get her alone, and then murder her without a second thought. And he was to make it look like it was the fault of a Hollow or Aizen's minions.

Ichigo couldn't help but wonder what else had happened that was wrongly blamed on them.

He didn't know how the powers-that-be had found out about his own Hollow, and frankly, at this point, he no longer cared. But now, they considered him dangerous, uncontrollable… a threat to their existence. They wanted him erased before they lost power over him, but they wanted him to win their war for them first. His life was nothing but expendable, and if he died against Aizen, well… more's the better for them.

Anger had coursed through Ichigo, bright and burning, the fury gleaming so brightly in his eyes that Hanatarou actually shrunk back. But Ichigo hadn't been mad with him. In fact, the substitute Shinigami was still grateful to the little guy for risking himself to come to him with the truth. Hanatarou didn't want to see Ichigo die. He was a true friend, someone who believed in treating his allies with the respect they had earned.

Ichigo's first thought had been to protect Orihime, but without even having been asked, Yoruichi-san was already in the midst of doing so. She had discovered, in her own special way, the plot against the girl. Taking off to destinations unknown with the claim that Orihime was in for special training, the former captain was hiding her somewhere safe.

And the sense of betrayal that Ichigo felt was even stronger than whatever Soul Society could muster for Aizen's defection. In fact, the substitute Shinigami was beginning to see what had driven the man away from such a hypocritical place, starting to understand what Aizen was so willing to challenge and change.

To stab their own allies in the back, the Gotei 13 were foolish. Ichigo suddenly wanted to topple them from their sanctimonious thrones.

He took care of his family next.

Ichigo explained what he had learned to Urahara-san, and biting the bullet, he forced himself to tell the truth to his father. It came as a big shock to learn his father's own little secret. Suddenly, his power made a hell of a lot more sense, and he was even surer that his family's life was in danger. There was no way Soul Society would let someone like Goat-Face live.

He made plans for his family to get away, to go to the same place that Yoruichi had taken Orihime. Ichigo made Hanatarou flee with them. The fourth division Shinigami had planned to return to Soul Society, but Ichigo didn't think they would be kind if they ever discovered what he had done. Hanatarou didn't put up much of an argument, more grateful than anything to have his own wellbeing considered.

Ichigo asked Chad to go with them. It was his fault that his friend had been dragged into Soul Society's web of deceit and slaughter. Chad agreed to leave with little argument, making the secondary vow to protect Ichigo's sisters for him. Ichigo had to smile at that, knowing he could count on his friend.

He had more trouble with Ishida. The Quincy's pride refused to have him run away from battle or the threat on his life. Orihime convinced him, however. Ichigo wasn't sure what she said, but whatever it was worked. Ishida went to protect all of the others, relieving the weight that had settled on Ichigo's shoulders.

Tatsuki didn't take the news well, but he could see the gratitude in her eyes simply because someone had finally taken the time to explain it to her. Ichigo promised that he would make sure nothing happened to Keigo, Mizuiro, her, or the others. He was determined not to lose any of his friends, even if he had to fight all of Soul Society to do it.

In turn, Ichigo realized that he really shouldn't have been surprised by Seireitei's treachery. He thought of the way they had treated the Quincy, the Mod Souls, the Bount, and the Vizard even. Every single one of them were marked for death the same as he.

Soul Society only had one way to solve their mistakes, destroy them.

And those were just the ones he knew about. Who knew how many innocent lives had been taken by Seireitei's self-righteous decisions?

He sympathized with Ishida now, and a part of him regretted taking on the Bount. He hadn't done it for the Gotei 13 at the time, but it could certainly be construed that way.

In all honesty, comparing Soul Society's misdeeds to Aizen's was like comparing mountains to molehills. At least, Aizen had limited his targets to actual enemies, only killing the already corrupt members of their government. Sure, he tricked them a bit, but that was only because they saw what they wanted to see. No one else had died in his uprising, not even that crazy Hinamori chick.

And thinking back on it, Aizen had never really attacked any of the Shinigami outright either. Only when provoked did he fight back. Aizen hadn't wanted to start mindless bloodshed. He had a purpose, and collateral damage wasn't in his itinerary. He didn't waste things that could be useful to him.

For a long time, Ichigo considered what he should do himself. His family and friends wanted him to leave with them, go far away from Soul Society and the eventual war, but Ichigo knew he couldn't do that. It wasn't that simple. They thought he was going to stay and still fight for Seireitei, but that was the last possibility on his mind. He had no intentions of doing something so suicidal and inherently stupid.

No, Ichigo was thinking a much crazier, much more unbelievable plan. A part of him wanted to see the look on that bastard Yamamoto's face when he heard the news as well. He didn't pity Seireitei one bit; they had pretty much handed over their best chance for victory to Aizen on a silver platter. And smirking to himself as he shut the door to his now abandoned house, closing off that part of his life forever, Ichigo had one destination in mind.

He was going to Hueco Mundo.

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Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy. I am presently working on a companion piece to this fic which should be out eventually, most likely after the New Years. I look forward to any feedback. Thanks!