A/N: Ok, so here we go. Not too long of a wait, eh? I gotta admit guys, it's fucking difficult to remember all the little details about Bleach, but hopefully there's no major inaccuracies. I wanted to take the time to send a very special thanks to QueenOfCitrus. Without her advice and love of this story the chapters might not have come so easily. She's a pimp. Don't really have much more to say about it besides, thank you, thank you, my dear friend.
Now, I'm going to thank each of my reviewers individually because I used to be cool like that, so why not? All of you, you're beautiful and you keep this story from dying completely. I'm in indebted to you all.
PanoraDowns: Thank you for your very sweet words and don't you worry your lovely little head, it will be finished.
brighteyed13: You're quite welcome. I'm glad I make you happy.
eyes0nme19: Ha, thanks, that's a very good thing to hear.
Fallowell: Reviewers like you make my heart sing. I can't tell you how happy I am that you like the story and have stuck with it this far. Just know it's because of people like you that I continue to do this.
Magician Girl Mirani: You can breathe easier now, the chapter is here and ready to be consumed. Hopefully 4 years hasn't changed my ideas that much.
Yuuki: I gotta agree with you girl, I wasn't sure this day would ever come myself. It makes me excited to hear that you got so excited. I hope I only continue to make you happy.
Deideiblueeyez: I know, I should have never doubted you guys…Just makes me more comfortable to know that you'll stick with me until the end.
VioletteVision: The best Ichimaru/Hitsu fic? You know your compliments are just going to give me a big head, don't you? That's ok, I don't mind.
Celsy: Thank you so much. I'm sure there are people who would deny it, but those guys are dicks.
Lottiekoda: Man, you make me blush. I hope this chapter lives up to you expectations and I can tell you that, hopefully, it will only get more exciting from here.
Guest: Haha, have to say your review had me grinning ear to ear. I missed you too and no, thank you.
Alright kiddos, here we go.
Ichimaru held back silently, watching from the shadows as Kurosaki Ichigo's eyes widened almost comically at Hitsguaya's soft spoken promise. There was a commotion almost immediately at the little taicho's words as Ichigo's companions pulled themselves from the corners of their individual cells, pressing their worn faces against the bars and staring in awe at the white-haired youth that stood before them.
"Hitsugaya…taicho?" He heard Kuchiki Rukia's voice sound out, disbelieving, and he looked over to his left to see that she had sunken to her knees in her cell. Whether it was from exhaustion or relief, he wasn't sure. Beside her he could easily make out the long, red hair of Abarai Renji , a thirsty grin of excitement etching its way onto his pointed features, and then further down two companions that Ichimaru did not know the names of but had seen with Kurosaki at the time that he had invaded Seireitie, some big fucker and a snot-nosed quincy.
This is our rag-tag team, eh?
He let his eyes wander over each of their faces, taking in the state of their appearance. They all had injuries of some sort, little bruises and cuts and broken fingers that indicated their level of defiance when it came to being prisoners, but it was Kurosaki who held the majority of the evidence of the beatings they had endured. Every inch of his skin that was uncovered was discolored in some way, his face an ugly mix of dark purples and yellows, swollen severely around his eyes, nose and right cheek. Ichimaru noticed that that haughty little mouth was even missing a few teeth. He had obviously pissed someone off.
Yer not very good at shutting up, are ya?
He snickered quietly under his breath, feeling excitement pulsing through his fingers. The sound was low, barely audible, but it was enough to make five pairs of eyes turn to face him, suddenly very aware of his looming presence.
"You." There was so much seething malice in the substitute shinigami's voice that Ichimaru couldn't help the full bark of laughter that bubbled in his throat as he stepped forward smoothly and pushed his little lover out of the way until there were only bars separating him and the orange-haired youth.
"Fuck." Kurosaki breathed out through clenched teeth before he was reaching angrily though the bars, his fingers shooting forward, trying to claw for Ichimaru's throat. Ichimaru stepped calmly to the side, his own talented fingers reaching up to clasp at Ichigo's wrist, giving it a harsh tug downward and forcing the boy off his balance and crashing face-first into the metal in front of him. Kurosaki let out a small groan as his lips and nose split and fresh blood began to flow.
"Not very smart." He tsked in a sing-song voice, giving a vicious squeeze to Kurosaki's already damaged hand as he looked over the mess he had made of the boy's face. "Ya should learn to play nicer, Kurosaki-kun."
"Stop it, Ichimaru." Hitsugaya said softly beside him, his small hand reaching up to rest on top of Ichimaru's own, pulling him away from the bleeding boy in front of him. "We need this to work."
Ichimaru complied, dropping his hand completely and taking a step back, reveling in the look of utter confusion that washed over the faces of the prisoners in front him. Their eyes shot back and forth between Hitsugaya and him, trying to decipher what exactly they had just seen. It was Kurosaki who spoke first once more, spitting blood on to the floor and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand,
"Toshiro…what is this? What is he doing here?"
Hitsugaya looked down at the ground for a moment, ignoring the informal use of his name, clearly contemplating what in the world he was going to say, before swallowing noticeably, his teal eyes connecting with Ichigo's. "He's going to help us."
"Bullshit." Was the immediate scathing response he received, coming from both the orange-haired shinigami and Abarai-fukutaicho, who had been listening intently along with the others.
"So rude." Gin chuckled, even as everyone ignored him to focus solely on Hitsugaya, looking for an explanation from the young captain.
"I know what this looks like-"
"Obviously you don't, taicho." Abarai's voice held nearly as much malice as Kurosaki's own, his white-knuckled grip on his bars being the physical manifestation of the rage he was feeling. "What it looks like is that you brought a double-crossing traitor here to save us."
"In the flesh."
"Shut up, Ichimaru." Frustration was already creeping into the edges of Toshiro's voice as he ordered Ichimaru to be silent, glaring icy daggers at him for not making this any easier. "Look, this is our only option."
"Our only option? How can you say that?" Kuchiki Rukia's voice was soft, trembling almost from under-use. "What about Seireitei? They sent you here, surely someone else is coming."
"No one's coming." Hitsugaya ground out, feeling shame wash over him suddenly. "I've…I've been here almost as long as you have." It pained him to say that, Ichimaru knew, to admit that things had been just as much out of his control as it had been for everyone else. Hitsugaya looked away when the shock washed over their faces.
"So, I've been a prisoner here as well, and I'm telling you, our only option is him."
"This man… He murdered the council members, betrayed all of us, wants us all dead! He-"
"Saved my life." It was the truth, plain and simple. "More than once."
There was thick silence for a few moments and then,
Ichigo's voice was dark, accusation ringing heavily in his words. Despite himself, Ichimaru found himself taking a step closer to Toshiro, even as his grin widened into a leer. Hitsugaya paled slightly, guilt washing so plainly over his pretty features.
"I…I…" Toshiro struggled for the right words, His voice coming out uncertain, almost worried.
Don't wanna tell them, do ya?
Hitsugaya swallowed audibly, forcing his words to leave his mouth. They didn't have the luxury of waiting for everyone to accept what had taken him so long to.
"He cares about what happens to me."
"Are you kidding me?" Kurosaki asked incredulously, obvious bewilderment scrunching his features. The majority of them had that look, like they couldn't quite comprehend, but Ichimaru noticed that both Kuchiki Rukia and the four-eyed quincy were giving him a calculated look of…realization.
Catching on, are we?
When Rukia spoke, she chose her words slowly, carefully. "Hitsugaya Taicho…if they find out…If you come back to Seireitei with him by your side-"
"I know." She didn't have to explain treason to him. "I'm not looking for your acceptance, Kuchiki, only your cooperation."
"Forgive us if were finding that a little hard to give you." Ichigo spat, uncertainty making his words angry. "This fucker doesn't give a shit about you, Toshiro. You have to know that. He'd watch you die slowly in front of him if it amused him. He's-"
"A monster? Or perhaps a psychopath? A villain? Come now, Kurosaki-kun, tell me what I am, since ya know so well." Ichimaru's voice was calm, amused even, but there was an edge of iciness there that had Ichigo taking one step back even as Ichimaru took one forward. "Ya think I'm evil, right? Got that idea twisted up so tightly in yer heart that ya just know it's true, right?"
"Back the fuck away from me, asshole."
Without anyone seeing him move, Ichimaru's hand shot up between the bars to firmly grasp Ichigo's cheeks, dragging him in closer as the boy gave a grunt of pain when Ichimaru's nails dug in. "You're right, ya know. I am a bad man and I don't give a shit about ya or yer pathetic 'ittle friends."
"Ichimaru!" He ignored the protesting beside him, batting Hitsugaya away nonchalantly with his unoccupied hand.
"I could watch ya all burn, screamin' and cryin' fer help like 'ittle, helpless babies and I'd do it with a smile on my face."
"Why don't you, you bastard?" Ichigo's words were slurred due to Ichimaru's grip, but the defiance was there as clear as ever.
"See, that's the problem, Kurosaki…fer every 'ittle thing ya've gotten right about me, ya so stupidly have gotten the most important thing wrong." He felt Hitsugaya tense slightly beside him and with his free hand he reached out to trace one fingernail down his ex-captive's porcelain cheek, his eyes never leaving Ichigo's. If the others had been confused about the nature of Ichimaru's relationship with Hitsugaya before, that one simple gesture, and the way the boy didn't even fight it, made everything suddenly very clear. "If ya ever make accusations like that again in regards to him and what I plan to do with him, I will press my thumbs into those angry 'ittle eyes of yers Kurosaki-chan and pop them right out of yer fucking insolent head."
Ichigo crashed unceremoniously to the floor when Ichimaru let go of him, a soft curse escaping his lips as he fell. He spit out more blood, thick gobs of it falling lazily to the floor.
Ichimaru couldn't help but admire his work, satisfaction making his fingers itch for more violent contact.
Still though, Kurosaki's eyes hardened with defiance as he struggled to regain his composure, standing back up shakily, his eyes planted on Hitsugaya.
"This is sick, Toshiro. He's got you so fooled, you have no idea."
Ichimaru was about to step forward once more, to inform the little cretin that he didn't have to leave here with his tongue intact, but suddenly it was Hitsugaya blocking his path, pressing up close to Ichigo's bars and grinding out, "Yes I do, Kurosaki. Better than you. Don't insult me by assuming that I am just some blind victim in all of this, that I didn't know exactly what was happening every moment. Do you really think I didn't have a choice?"
Anger and impatience was making the smaller boy's words so free, so uninhibited, and Ichimaru couldn't help the rush of arousal the surged through him as Hitsugaya rose angrily above his wall of shame.
"No Kurosaki, close your trap for once and listen to what you're told to do." Hitsugaya turned to face all of them then. "I'm not asking you to forgive him. I'm not asking you to trust him. I'm asking you to trust me. I understand how you feel about him, but you all need to open your eyes and look at the situation in front of you. You've already been defeated, you see that, don't you? You're in cages, beaten and weak, and this man is offering to open the fucking doors."
No one said anything and Ichimaru could tell that they were each running the options through their heads, going over what they were risking by trusting someone who had so blatantly betrayed them before. He figured it must not be easy for them, to put their lives in his hands. He supposed any other time their fears would have been perfectly grounded.
"So, what's it gonna be, kiddos? Wanna stay here and rot or do ya wanna fight, and probably die, with yer swords in yer hands? Seems like a rather simple choice."
Their eyes narrowed angrily, every single one of them, looking at him with hate and distrust, but he could tell that he had struck a chord with those words. The promise of having their zanpakutos in their hands was too much of a delicious hope for them to gloss over it.
"What about Inoue, Toshiro? She's the whole reason we came here. We're not leaving without her." Ichigo questioned, refusing to pay any mind to Ichimaru.
"Well see, I figured ya'd say that." Ichimaru began to walk backwards, his hand reaching out behind him to open the original door that led to the cells. As he expected, there were figures already waiting on the other side.
"How very punctual of ya both." He chirped, clapping his hands together in mock, giddy excitement.
Grimmjow was the first to step through the doorway, grumbling in annoyance as he struggled with the bulkiness of the weight in his arms. In his grasp he held three different swords and a bow. The collective gasp that went up behind him was all the indication he needed that everyone had finally joined on board, but it wasn't until Ulquiorra stepped through with a confused looking Orihime in tow that Ichigo spoke once again.
"Fine Toshiro, fine. I don't know why the fuck you've brought those assholes with you," Kurosaki gave a pointed look at the two espada in front of him which Grimmjow merely returned with a sharp jerk of his middle finger and a growl. "but we'll do it. This better not be some trick, Toshiro."
"I assure you, it's not. We're getting out of here or we're going to die trying." And as the cells flew open and five worn prisoners stepped through, their faces a mixture of conflicting emotions, Hitsugaya added firmly. "And Kurosaki? Until that title is stripped from me completely, that's Hitsugaya-taicho to you."