Warning: Slash, language, violence

Note: Aizen's bankai is solely the product of my mind and imagination created for the purpose of this story and therefore is not canon as his bankai has yet to be revealed.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters in anyway. I only write to entertain others and for my own strange, twisted, yet lovable amusement.

Illusions of Ice

Twenty-Seventh Crystal

"I fucking hate arrancar," panted Renji, reining in Zabimaru.

Rukia scoffed a little at his words, annoyed that he was choosing now, of all times, to discuss his dislike towards the humanoid hollows. He could rant about how much he hated them after they were finished. She froze another lesser arrancar easily with her shikai.

From beside, Orihime stood rather lamely, biting her lower lip as she watched the two shinigami decimate one arrancar after another. She felt useless, a deadweight for the pair. Fighting was out of the question considering her lack of intent to cause actual harm, and both of them had kindly rebuffed her attempts to heal their wounds, stating that they were not that greatly hurt. So she stood, watched, quietly sensing the reiatsu of their companions. Naturally, the flare in both Ichigo's and Hitsugaya's reiatsu held her attention at the present. Her mouth formed into a small frown.

"Is something wrong, Inoue?"

She blinked with a start, jumping slightly at the sound of the voice suddenly directed at her. Hands waving in front of her, she exclaimed, "N-No, it's nothing at all! Please don't worry about me! I'm just… I'm just sorry I can't do anything to help you."

"Nonsense, Inoue," Rukia easily waved away her apologetic, low self-esteemed words. "Help does not always come in the form of fighting. You have helped us already by healing our wounds and still are."

Orihime nodded, still uncertain however. Regardless, she dropped it, opting instead to ask, voice faint, "Um, Kuchiki-san, could I ask you about something?"

"What is it, Inoue?"

"Well, it's about…Toshiro-kun." Rukia winced at the mention of his name, and Renji looked away. "The order for his capture…" she trailed away, unable to find the right words to express her question.

With a sigh, Rukia spoke, a frown in her voice, "I do not necessarily agree with the order either, Inoue. However, as subordinates, we can do nothing about them, especially if they are on the orders of the soutaichou. Right now, this war is our main concern, so unless Hitsugaya-taichou shows aggression to our own sides, his capture will probably come second. Hopefully, by that time, everything will have been cleared between Hitsugaya-taichou and Soul Society. Until then though, there is nothing we can do but focus on the war at hand."

Leaning back against the wall, shoulders pressed, Orihime asked, "And what about Kurosaki-kun? What will happen to him? Will he be punished for coming here?"

"I'm not sure. I do not think that Ichigo will be punished though. Soul Society is relying on him as well to help us win this war. He is not seen as a threat to Soul Society. Do not worry too much, Inoue. Everything will turn out well, in the end."

The girl smiled weakly, not even having the conviction to nod despite the smaller female's words. Somehow, she did not have a very good feeling about this. And in actuality, Rukia shared the same sentiments. With Hitsugaya appearing as though he defected, if encountered during the war, he would most likely be attacked in order to be captured. And if Ichigo continued to help him, the possibility of the other teen being viewed in the same light as Hitsugaya was probable. Right now, all she could do was hope, and pray, that no harm, or crisis, would befall the two lovers.

"You looked to be troubled."

"I'm really no—" Orihime cut herself off upon realizing that she did not recognize the voice behind the question. She turned to Rukia who looked just as surprised at the unnatural sound.

"Shit, another one?" Renji gripped the hilt of his sword, eyes narrowing as the speaker approached them, calm and collected. He made no sudden movements nor any attempts to attack them. He stopped just before the trio.

"Allow me to introduce myself: I am Zommari Leroux, Séptima Espada."

The two shinigami exchanged quick glances at the introduction. They had finally encountered an Espada. Rukia took a half-step forward, placing herself right in front of Orihime and out of sight.

"Ah? Finally coming out now, aren't we?" Renji stepped forward as well, smirking in the face of his enemy.

Zommari only commented, "It is only the time now that we bring the shinigami from their grandeur delusions. Your kind is far too arrogant to be permitted to exist."

"We'll just see about that."


The chill spiked down his back, leaving the orange haired teen shivering at the raw power flooding the room in hazardously sloshing waves. The entire room had been encased in ice, shining dangerously and reflecting every speckle of hatred held in the shinigami's body. Instead of an explosion of his wrath, however, Ichigo was surprised when the other did not move. Even the rush of emotions and reiatsu was snapped away, leaving nothing but a lingering aftertaste to hang thickly in the air; an issued warning. Wings flapping, Hitsugaya stood in the glory of his bankai, his element, with nothing but the darkest of eyes gazing at Aizen.

The former captain was unimpressed, only smiling patiently.

"Ah, a lovely winter scenery. Your bankai has grown far more beautiful since the last I saw it," he commented appreciatively, taking in the cold air. And it was far more magnificent than the last time he had the pleasure of encountering the wintry zanpakutou, both in power and sight. Of course, as opposed to last time, this time, Hitsugaya did not impetuously charge forward with petty thoughts of being able to kill him singlehandedly. No, it seemed as though he had learned his lesson last time and the consequences that took place after them.

"No words?"

Hitsugaya straightened himself, wings flapping to accommodate his frame. "I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Aizen, I'm going to kill you."

His tone remained neutral, firm, refusing to allow his bubbling emotions take control while knowing the price he would pay. The white haired shinigami just stood his ground, daring Aizen to say the same words in mirror to the last time they had faced each other. He was different from back then. He knew now, to raise a blade in hatred was only degrading to himself and his zanpakutou.

"I look forward to it."

Fingers twitching with anticipation, Hitsugaya discreetly took a deep breath. It did not take someone of his caliber to realize how much stronger Aizen was. His reiatsu by itself was suffocating to the point of destroying weaker souls. It was greater than any taichou-leveled shinigami, such as himself. Even with the powers of his hollow, Hitsugaya was skeptical of his chances of defeating the older man. But with Ichigo… If he and Ichigo worked together, just maybe, they could bring him down. In that split moment when Ichigo could take a hold of his hollow's powers and he Hyourinmaru's, it might make it possible. And if worst came to worst, there was always still the option of… No, he would deal with that later, if the situation came down to it. For now though, he needed to gauge Aizen's true strength before he could come up with any strategies. After all, Aizen himself had said it before; he needed to analyze his strategies before making an attack, from all angles.

From beside, Ichigo stepped forward, renewed with the thought of taking down Aizen with Hitsugaya. He half-murmured, recognizing that posture the snowy captain held himself with, "So, what's the plan? Kick his ass and run?"

"Crudely put, yes," breathed Hitsugaya. His insides curled with violent rage, only curbed through sheer willpower and Hyourinmaru. He refused to attack with a zanpakutou laced only with abhorrence. He gripped his zanpakutou, hearing the dragon roar his loyalty to Hitsugaya. He would back him, no matter what was to come. The thought put him at ease slightly.

"Then let's get to it," Ichigo muttered, knowing that behind each word was an unspeakable pain eating at his heart.

Hitsugaya could not have agreed any more. It was time for this to come to an end, and he would not accept defeat this time. A losing battle was unthinkable. For everyone's sakes. For Hinamori's sake. To finally forgive himself. He would bring this man down to his knees and crush him.


Ichigo glanced over at the sound of his name. "Yeah?"

"Don't pull out your mask."

Brows furrowed, the teen questioned, "What? Why?"

"Just, please. Don't. Not yet."

Brown eyes stared at him, long and hard, before resolving themselves at the serious tone lining his words. He nodded his trust for the smaller shinigami. "…All right."

Without any further explanations, Hitsugaya charged for the ruler of Las Noches, giving Ichigo the chance to release his bankai. Aizen did not move, hardly fazed, and for good reason. The blade swung through him, shattering the illusion of the man once standing there. He pivoted, twisting the upper half of his body around to find Aizen behind him.

"Show me just how important this one is to you, Hitsugaya-kun." He spoke just loud enough for only Hitsugaya to hear.

Gritting his teeth, Hitsugaya quickly reversed his grip, pushing in a backwards thrust behind him to destroy the illusion once more. He cursed. Aizen was toying with them. He did not have any plans to directly attack them. With the ability of illusion granted to his zanpakutou, the ex-captain could attack in any manner whenever he wanted. And apparently, now, he wanted to give off copies of himself, keeping the pair busy with reflections. And true enough, even with his wings, Aizen's illusory bodies were far too frequent, appearing just as quickly as they destroyed one. Ichigo propelled his body forward, searching for the older man only to suffer a blow from the back before jumping back to Hitsugaya's side, breaths heavy. He gave the boy a crooked grin in spite of their current, hopeless situation.

"So, what the hell's going on here?"

"He's trying to wear us down," scoffed Hitsugaya slightly, biting his cheek in thought. He needed to come up with a plan that did not require them to waste their energy and stamina just hacking away at these stupid illusions. No matter how many 'Aizen's they killed, as soon as they finished killing one, another was already there. The man moved fast, never giving them a moment's rest as the illusion Aizen prepared to harm them. It was frustrating, to say in the least, and draining to both his energy and patience.

As if sensing their frustrations, Aizen smiled, amused at their struggles. "Shall I indulge you in another illusion?"

Hitsugaya could not put up his sword in defense fast enough, a wing curling, instead, around his body and protecting him from the hard blow dealt by a black blade. He backstepped to catch sight of Ichigo. With an irritated furrow of his brows, turquoise eyes flickered back and forth between the two Ichigo's. Normally, he wouldn't hesitate in discerning the fake from the real, but the shinigami knew it was a grievous mistake to underestimate his opponent, especially his zanpakutou which boasted of complete hypnosis.


The loud exclamation caught his attention.

"This is getting really old."

The shorter of the pair agreed, evading an attack from the fake Ichigo but suffering another hit from Aizen, who continued to remain hidden behind his illusion. Pain faintly registered in his nerves as he pirouetted in an attempt to block the sword from touching his body. Hyourinmaru met nothing but air as another blow was dealt to his back, minimized only because of his wings.

"Stop hiding, you bastard!"

Distracted, Hitsugaya caught Aizen's presence belatedly, skirting away with a quick step of shunpo as the cold steel sliced right under his ribs from the sudden movement. His blood felt warm against his skin in the icy landscape. He needed to focus, gather his senses together, and push through. While Aizen had them under hypnosis, there still had to be a way to see through the illusions. He just needed to think. Strategy was always a key to a battle. Hitsugaya blocked the hard blow to his shoulder, retaliating with a yell and a firm push with his sword. Again, nothing. How? How was he supposed to defeat an enemy that seemed to not exist? He wrinkled his brows together, eyes darting around the room in search.

"I can't see anything. Toshiro! Where are you?!"

Really, he didn't have to yell every five… A sudden thought seemed to explode in his mind at Ichigo's strident shout. That was it. Ichigo could not see, much unlike himself who could only see all too clearly. Ichigo had not been placed under hypnosis because he had never seen Aizen's zanpakutou until this moment. In other words, Aizen had no chance to place Ichigo under his hypnosis since he could not perform the necessary ritual. This meant that his mind was clear and he could see only the real Aizen, unlike himself. And as long as Ichigo did not look at his shikai, he would remain that way. If this was the case, then all they needed to do was work together to track down the real Aizen and attack. Of course this was merely an oversimplified case that was easier said than done, but still, it was a chance that was worth taking a shot at. With the decision under his belt, Hitsugaya followed the imaginary Ichigo carefully with his eyes. He first needed to rid himself of this illusion before anything could be done.

Jerking his wrist in one fluid movement, Hyourinmaru flew from the tip of his sword, heading straight for where the fake Ichigo was. As expected, he quickly disappeared and the iced reiatsu followed. It crashed into the illusion, cracking the reflection and leaving him in reality once more.

"Oh, Toshiro. There you are," commented Ichigo as the tendo flew over to him. "Was getting a little worried about you there."

"Worry about yourself, boke."

Ichigo rolled his eyes with a snort.

"I think I may have found a way to at least cause some damage to Aizen," Hitsugaya spoke tersely, keeping his words short and his breaths sharp.

"Seriously?! How?"

While keeping an eye on their surroundings, he said, "I am still under Aizen's hypnosis. There is no escaping it. However, you are not, Kurosaki. Aizen never had a chance to place you under hypnosis, which is why the Aizen you see is the real one. If you attack, he should be the real one."

"While that's great and all, I don't see him," replied Ichigo with half a frown. He glanced over his shoulder quickly at the sound of a small stirring. There was nothing.

"Make use of your speed to catch him," the smaller of the two deadpanned with absolutely no sympathy over Ichigo's slight predicament.

"Okay, fine. Sheesh. But what exactly does all of that mean? His hypnosis?"

"It is his zanpakutou's ability. No matter what you do, do not look at his shikai."

"Isn't that a little difficult?" asked Ichigo with a raised brow. He sounded skeptical.

With a curt nod, Hitsugaya agreed, "It is, but I will make sure you do not see it."

"Standing still like that only makes you an easy target for prey."

Two sets of eyes, colored brown and turquoise, widened at the sound of the nonchalant comment spoken just a feet ahead of them. Shock grabbed a hold of their bodies. Aizen just stood before them, a friendly hand on their shoulders. He had come upon them without either even noticing. Giving their shoulders another pat, he remarked, as though teaching the pair a valuable lesson, "The two of you should learn to move."

Hitsugaya and Ichigo tore away from the man, both not without injury at the encounter, however. And just as quickly as they had moved, Aizen moved even quicker, standing before Ichigo with an amused expression clinging to his visage. Hitsugaya barely had time to yell out a warning before Aizen attacked, efficiently and rather cleanly like making a surgical cut. Ichigo weakly retaliated with a swing of his own sword. He hit nothing but air. Aizen was already behind him, relaxed in his posture.

"You will need to try harder," he advised, sounding concerned at the lack of effort the two were making. Or rather, the lack of results they were producing from all their efforts.

Ichigo was sent reeling at the fist which connected with his stomach. It felt as though his stomach had been pushed all the way back to touch his spine. Blood bubbled up his throat before filling his mouth with its coppery tang. The red liquid gushed out of his mouth. Ichigo was almost certain that something was broken, if not more than one. Vision blurred momentarily from the pain, the teen coughed despite the heavy pain wracking his body with each hack. Hitsugaya was next to him within a second, fending off Aizen's next attack with his own zanpakutou. Within an instant, ice began to crackle as the air froze. Aizen was only amused, standing there with a raised brow. Ice ran down along his zanpakutou and encased his hands, moving up his arms and spreading rapidly over his body.

"Do you believe that you have caught me, Hitsugaya-kun?" The voice sounded from behind him, soft and entertained. Within the blink of an eye, the body before him dispersed leaving nothing but a broken fragment of ice. His wings shielded him from the attack which still knocked him out of the air and into the ground, leaving a sizable crater.

He could vaguely make out the sounds of tattered yells, a ringing sound vibrating in his ear. Coughing, Hitsugaya picked himself back up with a fervent scowl marring his face. Aizen had barely put any strength behind that attack, merely batting him out of the way. It was evident that he was aiming for Ichigo and only Ichigo. The thought caused Hitsugaya to grit his teeth. Aizen was still dead set on forcing him to prove himself or to watch Ichigo's death before his very eyes and be beaten into submission. It was a dirty mind game that Hitsugaya had absolutely no patience for.

"How," began Aizen, watching as the two struggled back to their feet, "is it that the two of you ended together? It truly intrigues me, the circumstances surrounding your relationship and how it even came to be."

"What does it matter to you?" sneered Hitsugaya. He took a quick peek over at Ichigo, the boy coughing lightly. A hand was held to his stomach as the look on his face tightened. Worry twisted his own stomach needlessly.

"I merely find it interesting. A human and a shinigami falling in love, it is quite a ridiculous notion, do you not agree yourself, Hitsugaya-kun? Such a relationship has always been prohibited and normally does not develop anyways because of the distance maintained between the living and the dead," Aizen relayed with a thoughtful hum. "However, the relationship between yourself and Kurosaki Ichigo stems even deeper. Not only are you of the living and the dead, but you are both males. It poses quite a dilemma. Quite a dilemma. I was always under the impression that Kurosaki-kun would fall in love with Kuchiki Rukia. And of course, I never did peg you for a romantic, Hitsugaya-kun. It is a remarkable—"

Ichigo charged mid-speech, using his bankai's speed to quickly release a crescent blade of black and red reiatsu. "Getsuga Tenshou!"

It dispersed with a flick of his fingers, sending the attack to rip through the wall behind him. Ichigo cursed. Aizen continued as though never interrupted, "—turn of events. I am truly, pleasantly surprised and wish to extend my congratulations to the two of you. It is most certainly an outcome I did not expect."

"No one cares about what you expected to happen or not," Ichigo commented with a scowl. "Stop talking shit. Toshiro's and my business ain't any of your concern."

"Ah, the belligerent of the pair, I presume. Tell me, Kurosaki-kun, why it is that you are fighting against me? Unlike Soul Society, you have no reason to seek the annihilation of my existence. I have left all of your friends alive and unharmed, yet you still continue to come after me. Is it out of obligation on Soul Society's behalf?"

Faltering at the honesty lining his question, the substitute shinigami glanced over uneasily at Hitsugaya. The words sparked a certain truth in them that he had never even considered until this very moment. The reason he was hunting down Aizen, so determined to stop him, what was it anyways? What was it now?

"You're right," he concurred after a moment's hesitation. "I don't have a reason to fight you. You're a threat to Soul Society, but I'm not a part of the Gotei 13 and don't have any reason to fight for them other than obligation. It's just as you say. …I guess that the reason is that I just really don't like you," stated Ichigo with a careless shrug. "You've ruined lives, taken away those important to others, people like you just disgust me. I don't need a reason to fight you. I'm doing it because I want to and because there are people I want to protect from you."

His brown eyes landed on Hitsugaya almost immediately, giving the boy his full attention.

"That's good enough for me."

Aizen abandoned his smile, a pensive expression on his face before he nodded in approval. "A good answer, Kurosaki-kun. Simplistic and naïve, but reasonable. However, it will take you far more than just pretty words to even think of defeating me. With the rate you are going at, you will never be able to achieve anything."

To prove his point, Aizen clapped a hand on Ichigo's shoulder easily, enjoying the stunned expression on the teen's face still staring at the spot he used to be standing in.

"Do you not agree?"

Ice cracked as his sword made contact with it, the frozen water shielding Ichigo's body. It gave the other teen the needed chance to back away.

"My, my. The two of you are certainly protective of the other," he observed, throwing a sideways glance over his shoulder to find Hitsugaya not too far at the end of the icy trail. The tendo flared with tacit emotion at the hinting undertone the sentence held. Just how many times did Aizen intend to play this game?

"I will never willingly harm Kurosaki," Hitsugaya hissed quietly, just loud enough for Aizen to pick up.

"You seem to be misunderstanding something, Hitsugaya-kun. Free will is something you do not have any longer," was his only response. Louder, he spoke again, this time addressing Ichigo, "Kurosaki-kun, do you not think that perhaps it is time to pull on your mask?"

His body flinched unwillingly at the suggestion.

"The same goes for you, Hitsugaya-kun. The two of you are hardly making any progress while simply remaining in bankai. How do either of you hope to defeat me when you cannot even touch me?"

Jaw clenched, Hitsugaya did not rise to the bait and blocked his taunting. Now was not the time. It was still premature.

"Perhaps, could it be that you are frightened of losing control?"

Ichigo reacted far more obviously than Hitsugaya. The particular taunt struck him deeply, knowing the truth painted behind those words. He was frightened. He was terribly frightened of losing control of his inner hollow. While they may have had a makeshift peace up until this point, Ichigo knew his hollow creeped closer and closer with each time he used his powers. The truce was temporary, thus, completely unreassuring. And while he did hold a firmer grip on the reigns, there were always discrepancies he could not account for. Jaw set in quiet anger, Ichigo disappeared with a step of shunpo.

"Kurosaki, no!" Hitsugaya nearly threw his hands up in the air in exasperation, gritting to himself, "That idiot…!"

Appearing in front of Aizen, the tip of his black blade pressed against the man's neck with a light pressure, he remarked, staring coolly, "I don't need to pull out my mask on someone like you. For someone like you, this is more than enough."

"Arrogance," Aizen pushed a finger against the sharpened tip, moving it away easily, "is a sin, Kurosaki-kun."

The friendly piece of information was soon followed by a lesson in the sin of wrath. Neither had an opportunity to react accordingly. The former fifth division captain was faster than either of them, leaving absolutely no room for a fighting chance at defense. When Ichigo was sent flying, for what seemed to be the umpteenth time to the man, towards Hitsugaya, he waited patiently for the two.

"Now that I have both your attentions, might I point out that neither of you have answered my earlier question: the story behind your relationship. I am most curious."

"Me and Toshiro don't have to tell a friggin' asshole like you anything about ourselves, so stay curious, bastard," grunted Ichigo with a hard glare. "All you need to know about us is that we're going to defeat you."

"Strong words, although not as nearly as strong as Hitsugaya-kun's words," he commented. "Well then, Kurosaki-kun. Show me this conviction of yours. If you will not tell me how your relationship came to be, at least give me the pleasure of testing how strong it is."

"Pleasure would be all mine." It was about time they worked together.

Exchanging a cursory glance with Hitsugaya, an outline of a smirk lifted his lips when Hitsugaya nodded in silent agreement. Swinging Hyourinmaru in a wide arc, Hitsugaya sliced through the air, an overflow of his icy reiatsu pouring from the tip of his sword and manifesting into the shape of a dragon. He dove nearly headfirst, busying Aizen with the wave of ice and using the opening to clash blades with the older man. Metal clanged.

"Being hasty in battle is a terrible weakness."

"Being overly supercilious is a terrible weakness," mimicked Hitsugaya, eyes on a spot behind the man.

Another wave of reiatsu sounded from behind, rushing towards Aizen's back. Hitsugaya quickly pushed away his zanpakutou, heading up and away from the collision between Ichigo's attack and Aizen. Smoke momentarily clouded their visions. When it cleared, Aizen remained standing, his upper left arm bleeding slightly.

"Very unoriginal and so very predictable. The two of you should make a more serious attempt on my life if you wish to still be standing at the end of this battle."

"I'll take you up on that offer," remarked Ichigo, hand held to his face as he materialized his hollow mask.


Matsumoto had been expecting the battle to be difficult. She had been expecting to strain all their strengths and suffer from possibly life-threatening wounds. She just had not been expecting it to be damn near impossible.

"Is that all ya got?" Nnoitra looked completely unimpressed, barely exhausted from the battle. He had not even released his own zanpakutou. In contrast, Ikkaku had not only released his zanpakutou, but released his bankai and was currently suffering from wounds to his head, body, every free surface. Even so, he was relentless, refusing to back down. Yumichika was right beside him, aiding his friend despite the rebuff towards teamwork.

"Of course not!" grinned the third seat, hardly fazed from the damage inflicted upon him. "I'm just getting started."

As the two clashed once more, Matsumoto turned her attention back to the eighth Espada who, unlike Nnoitra, had released his zanpakutou, which was seriously hideous in her opinion. Of all the enemies, she had landed herself with the freak. The Kurotsuchi-taichou of the Espada. Although the real Kurotsuchi-taichou would probably freak at the very idea of being compared to this…pink thing. The thought amused her briefly.

"A bicep…" He pulled out a brightly colored figure, reading the label it held. With a small smile, Szayel stated cheerfully, "Well, you don't have much of a need for this so let me just get rid of it for you."

Matsumoto doubled in pain, gripping her arm as the muscle was torn accordingly.

"My, I guess you did need that. Oh well. Let's see about the other ones. Shall I go for an organ this time?" he remarked in a singsong voice, taking them out and contemplating. "How about the stomach?"

Matsumoto used the chance to send Haineko after the man, creating a large gust of her zanpakutou to head straight for Szayel. Even the Octava could not dodge her shikai, blocking most of the attack but being wounded regardless. He sneered when his uniform was stained with his own blood.

"I'm not too fond of people like you who only think they're perfect," she remarked with a silly grin. Her breaths were labored as the pain jabbed at her nerves, sharp and twisting.

"Such a pity. It's unfortunate you are unable to see the perfection that is me."

"Perfection? I see no such thing."

"The fuck is that fairy lookin' thing? Is this some kinda joke?"

Szayel frowned, staring at the newcomers with disdain before asking, "Who might you be?"

"You take the fairy shit. I'm getting the one over there."

"An Espada specimen. Interesting."

"Z-Zaraki-taichou? Kurotsuchi-taichou?" choked out Matsumoto, staring that the two men with wide eyes.

The eleventh division captain did not even bother to answer, striding past them and over to where Nnoitra was toying with Ikkaku and Yumichika. Yachiru gave a cheerful way to the voluptuous woman from her perch on his shoulder.

"Ahh, what a place this is."

The busty woman turned back around to find Kyouraku and Ukitake in tow. Nanao was right behind them, frowning at her captain.

"It looks as though Zaraki and Kurotsuchi already have these two Espada covered. I guess we should just keep going," Ukitake remarked, smiling.

Mind unable to wrap her mind around the sudden mess of captains appearing in Hueco Mundo, Matsumoto had to ask, confused, "What's…going on?"

"Reinforcements," winked Kyouraku with a lazy grin. "You didn't think we would leave you guys here to take care of everything now did you? We've come to do our part and help end this war."


"Toshiro, I really don't think this is working," stated Ichigo flatly with a groan as he picked himself up out of the rubble.

Hitsugaya agreed, panting softly as sea green eyes focused on Aizen. They were fairing slightly better than they did in the beginning, but it was still hardly enough to take down the ex-captain. He inwardly cursed, trying to find a way to bring the man down. Already his bankai had lost four petals, and he was certain Ichigo could not pull out his mask indefinitely. Everything was placed on a time limit.

"Is this it? Is this the extent of your feelings for one another? How disappointing," Aizen commented, looking very much dissatisfied. "I had been expecting so much more from all the boasting you had done."

"Don't fuckin' belittle my feelings for Toshiro," the substitute shinigami snarled, ready to stab the man in the chest. A petite hand grasping his own was the only thing that stopped him.

"Don't, Kurosaki."

Ichigo twisted his neck to glance back at him with a small noise of disapproval bubbling in his throat. However, he did not move on the provocation, trying instead to cool his emotions.

"And you have yet to pull out your mask, Hitsugaya-kun. After all the trouble I went through for you to obtain such a power," sighed Aizen with a shake of his head.

"I have no need for your powers," scoffed Hitsugaya, fingers clenched against the hilt of Hyourinmaru.

"I suppose this is where the games come to an end," he stated, seeming to sigh with the words. "Since neither of you are fighting at full capacity, I shall take more drastic measures to pull them out. I can assure you that I did not intend for it to come down to this, but I suppose it will prove valuable for testing purposes."

"What the hell?"

"Hitsugaya-kun, Kurosaki-kun, both of you are aware of the prerequisites pertaining to becoming a taichou, correct?" Aizen inquired. "Think of this as a friendly reminder. There are three methods to rising to a taichou: one, defeat a taichou one-on-one with two hundred witnesses. Two, receive personal recommendations from at least six taichous and gain the approval of three out of the remaining seven. Finally, three, achieve bankai and perform it in front of at least three taichous and the soutaichou. Most shinigami reach taichou class by passing the last method I mentioned, including myself. Do you understand what I am saying?"

Ichigo furrowed his brows.

"I, too, have bankai."

"Fuck." The curse dropped from Ichigo's mouth as the comprehension bloomed.

Amused by the blended expression of horror and shock playing on Ichigo's face, Aizen continued, "Do not worry, Kurosaki-kun. I am sure that once I release my bankai, the two of you will give me a glimpse of your true abilities long enough before meeting your end. That is what I am hoping, at least."

Readjusting his grip on Hyourinmaru's hilt, Hitsugaya swung his sword. "Guncho Tsurara!"

A barrage of icicle daggers launched from his swing, bombarding Aizen in a hail of deadly ice. It was immediately followed up by Ichigo's own attack to leave absolutely no room for the deluded man to escape unscathed. Neither of them was keen to just stand here and wait for Aizen to unleash his bankai. Unfortunately, even through the attacks, both Hitsugaya and Ichigo could clearly hear his voice boom from inside the clouds of smoke and dust.


"Oh fuck."

Hitsugaya could not have agreed anymore with Ichigo's wording of the situation: Oh. Fuck.

Materializing before the two shinigami was a gargantuan mirror. Its appearance was quickly followed by several more surrounding them on all sides and leaving no open cracks to escape from. The one at the top lay flat to complete the enclosure. Aizen stood at the front, a smile adorning his face as he watched the two exchange worried, almost panicked glances. And for good reason, of course. While he knew every inch of their own bankai, neither Ichigo nor Hitsugaya knew a thing about Aizen's bankai. It had been a while since he had last released his bankai.

"Allow me to show you my bankai, something no one has ever seen," he spoke warmly.

"Shit, something tells me we're not gonna like this."

The tendo did not even bother to agree, eyes darting around all sides to carefully observe the mirrors. There were six altogether, excluding the one on top, with a never ending string of reflections in each. Hitsugaya stared at his reflection in the mirror directly to his right, starting when he saw his seeming reflection grin at him from behind the mirror.

"Ah, you've noticed, Hitsugaya-kun?" queried Aizen with a string of pride lining his voice. "As you both know, my shikai's ability is complete hypnosis. My bankai, however… Well, perhaps it would be just easier to show the two of you the strength of a king."

The mirrors gleamed briefly, the reflections reaching out of the surface and coming to life.

"An illusion?" the white haired shinigami hissed to himself as he watched the inverted reflections of both himself and Ichigo come out of the mirror in hordes.

"On the contrary, Hitsugaya-kun, each one of these reflections is very much real."

"This is looking pretty damn bad."

"Tch, I agree."

"So, how do we tell them apart?"

"They are our reflections, meaning everything is reversed."

Ichigo warily eyed the group before finding evidence behind Hitsugaya's assertion. Each replica was just as though looking into a mirror.

"So, you wanna take the 'me's on while I take the 'you's on?" he joked while standing next to the shorter boy. The reflections drew closer, and Hitsugaya's answer came when he jumped away to attack. "I like your way of thinking, Toshiro."

Sword poised, Ichigo rushed forward with his enhanced speed, dodging the release of iced water and bring his own zanpakutou in a clean downward slash. He heard a surprised noise of pain erupt from its mouth, eyes flinching. Ichigo knitted his brows together at the sudden show of a wounded Hitsugaya. His mouth went dry as confusion blotted his mind. Wasn't this a reflection? Or had he really struck Hitsugaya?

"Toshiro?" he tried, voice wavering and mind uselessly perplexed.

The expression was wiped away, however, with a malicious smile. It dispersed into a pool of water, retreating back to the depths of the mirror.

"My, Kurosaki-kun. How could you do such a coldhearted thing? Harming your own lover. Terrible, aren't you?" Aizen spoke with mock shame.

"That isn't Toshiro. You can't fool me with this cheap ass mirror trick of yours."

"Fool? Kurosaki-kun, take a close look at Hitsugaya-kun." Despite the skepticism regarding the ex-captain, Ichigo could not help but allow his gaze to sweep over to where he last saw the snowy shinigami, his concern outweighing his judgment. Hitsugaya was heading hurriedly over to him, evading the attacks from the fakes. "This is no mirror trick."

Whirling around, his foot connected with the side of his own mirror image, knocking it out of the way and into one of the mirrors. A sharp pain spread throughout his body. Had he been attacked?

"Kurosaki," Hitsugaya panted dimly, stopping the swing of Ichigo's sword about to split another reflection in half, "Don't attack them."

"What? Why not?"

Brown eyes widened as Hitsugaya stood up straight, a hand pressed against his shoulder in the mirroring location of where he had attacked the reflection. "Harming the reflections wounds us as well," he grimaced, quickly pulling the teen's arm and shielding them with his wings against the barrage of ice. His body reverberated from the attack, taking the brute of the aftershocks.

"Fuck, I did that, didn't I?" he asked almost dumbly, concerned brown eyes staring at the wound which bubbled with blood. Seeing his eyes riveted on the wound, Hitsugaya turned away, pressing his hand more firmly against the cut.

"It doesn't matter. Neither of us knew it would happen," waved away Hitsugaya as he unsuccessfully hid a wince from the taller teen. "Either way, as long as neither of us attacks any of the reflections, we should be fine."

Despite reluctance on his part, Ichigo dropped his own guilt, opting to say, "Fine then, since we can't touch them, I'll just break the damn mirrors!"

Lifting his zanpakutou above his head, Ichigo sharply swung his sword in a downward arc, unleashing a brightly charged Getsuga Tenshou to rush towards one of the many mirrors. The surface remained unscratched, merely absorbing his attack.

Aizen chuckled at his simplistic way of thinking, catching their attentions. With a movement of his fingers, the reflections all melted back into the surrounding mirrors, leaving the two shinigami alone once more. "Please do not insult the strength of my bankai with your unsophisticated, one-dimensional way of thinking," he spoke with a pleased smile. "This is merely child's play; a tactic to force you to your full capabilities. However, seeing as you both refuse, I will move it up a notch. Allow me to show you an illusion that is all reality."

The mirrors glowed softly, the surface of the one right before Ichigo rippling. Ichigo nearly stumbled as a hollow, as his hollow came out, grinning victoriously.

"Yo, King."

"Y-You?! How the hell did you get free?!" demanded Ichigo, eyes quickly sweeping from Aizen to his hollow and back again.

"Aw, why'd ya look so surprised? Afraid I'll do something like harm your snowpuff over there?" He gestured casually over at Hitsugaya who looked just as nonplussed at his sudden appearance. Ichigo stiffened, fingers tightening against Zangetsu's blackened hilt.

"Just what kind of illusion is this, Aizen?"

"No illusion, Kurosaki-kun. That manifestation of your inner hollow is very much real. Or rather, I should say that it is a manifestation of your fear," Aizen smiled, entertained by their futile struggles. There was absolutely no escape from his bankai. Complete and certain destruction was not enough to describe how totally it wiped away all attempts at escape and chances for survival. Even if they could successfully face their fear and defeat it, the reflections were impossible to bypass and cracking the mirrors only unleashed all the illusions it had taken in thus far. He had almost forgotten how absolute, and entertaining, his bankai could be.

Taking a step forward, he repeated, "Manifestation of my fear?"

"One of the abilities of my bankai," he supplied unhelpfully. After a moment, he elucidated, "Each of these mirrors is able to see all your weaknesses and reflect them in a physical form, giving them life, so to speak."

Without warning, Hichigo lashed out, appearing before Hitsugaya with a happy leer before twisting his own white blade into a forward thrust. The tendo leaned back, feeling the sword slice through the flesh of his cheek. With a grunt, he reversed his own blade and took an experimental swing, hitting Hichigo in the side with the blunt end and then placing his foot flat against his stomach and kicking away. They were sent flying in opposite directions, Hichigo landing against the mirror. Ichigo caught the boy in his arms.


There was no time for a reply, Hichigo already up on his feet and heading for the pair. The battle continued with neither party giving an inch despite Hichigo's clear disadvantage of one against two. If anything, with each hack and slash dealt, it only seemed to enhance his strength. It did not particularly help that reflections of themselves were added to the battle, giving both Hitsugaya and Ichigo another reason to remain on the defensive.

Bracing himself for similar pain, Ichigo kicked away a mirror image of himself, the only way to keep them away.

"So much fear," Aizen noted with a curious smile. "How have you lived thus far, Kurosaki-kun, always cowering in fear of yourself and your powers? You fear you will hurt someone dear to you with the hollow powers of yours, do you not? It is reflected in my mirrors. Your very thoughts, your secrets, your weaknesses, your fears, I can see them all."

"Yeah? Well, see this then, bastard!" A crescent of charged reiatsu streaked through the air, colliding with the mirror behind Aizen. "I can admit my fears and because of that, I can defeat them, so don't think this is screwing with my head for even one second!"

"You cannot harm me. I stand in a world behind the mirrors." The amused tone only served to enrage Ichigo further, his eyes narrowing dangerously and teeth grinding in frustration at the lack of momentum this battle was carrying. To make matters worse, Ichigo was certain that Aizen knew he was slowly getting to him, crawling under his skin with his meaningless taunts and jabs. The proof was in Hichigo who only aimed for Hitsugaya and with growing accuracy each time around. If he could not do something to rein in his own fear, not only would they never be able to face Aizen himself, but letting it run wild was only endangering Hitsugaya's life. And if there was one thing he could not forgive, it would be the harming of his frosty captain. Especially if it was his fault.

"Well then, we'll just have to break your mirrors first to get to you, won't we?"

Hitsugaya grabbed the back of Ichigo's shihakushou, diving upwards, just out of another inverted Getsuga Tenshou. Releasing the teen, Hitsugaya ground out, wiping away the blood invading his vision with an impatient hand, "Pay attention, bakayaro! Stop letting him provoke you!"

"Sorry, sorry. I know."

The apology was lost as another wave of icicles rained down on Hichigo, Hitsugaya huffing for breath on the other side. He was steadily losing his petals, seeing only six still remaining. Half. Ichigo was hardly fairing any better, bloodied with cuts and broken bones. His steps were growing sluggish. If this continued, neither of them would be able to last much longer, and defeat was not an option either of them were willing to take. The battle needed to be ended and quick.

A reflection of Ichigo swung wildly, clipping his wings. With a click of his tongue, Hitsugaya jumped back, unable to fight him. It was truly a hopeless situation and what most would call a losing battle. Here they were, trapped in Aizen's bankai which materialized their reflections, manifested their fears by giving them form, and among other things, the man was untouchable, hiding behind his mirrors constantly. Hitsugaya snapped straight at the thought. He had naturally assumed that the mirrors could not be broken after Ichigo's last attempt, but could it have been possible that perhaps they were just aiming at the wrong one? Since the beginning, Aizen had always been reflected in one of the mirrors, periodically switching throughout the fight especially when the damage of their battle was in close range to the mirror he was occupying.

"Above you, Toshiro!"

The warning rang belatedly in Hitsugaya's ears, his head tilting upward to catch sight of Hichigo. He couldn't dodge it in time, its enhanced speed far too quick for his own shunpo. Hitsugaya coughed blood when the blade pierced his upper right chest, slicing through and protruding out the back with a red dyed gleam.

"You should start paying attention yourself, snowpuff." The breath was hot against his ear as Hichigo spoke, purposefully twisting the zanpakutou lodged in Hitsugaya's body and making the wound ragged. Another spurt of blood gurgled up his throat and out through a nasty cough wracking his body. He winced biting his tongue to keep from making a sound as the blade moved again, scraping his nerves which responded with blinding white hot pain. He could hear Ichigo calling his name.

"Shit! Toshiro!? You fucking bastard!"

"How do you like that, snowpuff? In the end, Ichigo let his fear kill you," cackled the hollow gleefully. "How does it feel to know that he couldn't even get over his fear of me to save you?"

He spoke with difficulty, chest rising and falling erratically, "Don't underestimate…us."


A thin line of ice which had been spreading along Hichigo's blade clung to his skin, weighing him down and keeping him firmly in place. His distorted eyes widened, the cry from behind only consolidating what his mind was slow in processing.

"I warned you: stay the fuck away from Toshiro." His voice was hard as his eyes stared steely at the hollow impaled through his own zanpakutou, much like how Hitsugaya had been. He ripped the sword back out with a spatter of blood as the image began to haze, dripping.

"Well, guess you can face your fears, King," were his parting words. Hichigo exploded into a rain of water, withdrawing back into the mirror's glassy surface.

Ichigo caught the dropping tenth division captain in his arms, slightly panicked and greatly concerned at his current state of being. While Hichigo had not been completely real, the wounds he dealt were, as evident by the blood rapidly seeping through the boy's robes and soaking them a vibrant red. "Fuck, Toshiro… I'm sorry, this is—"

"Shut…up," rasped the boy, cutting the orange haired teen off effectively. He took a few gulps of air to calm himself and his body. "I'm fine, Kurosaki."

"Toshiro, you may not have noticed, but you've got a hole in you," clarified Ichigo for the shorter boy, finding his response not only as a lie but of bad humor.

"I'll live."

He eyed the boy skeptically, brow raised in a clear show of just how much he believed the shinigami. A stern scowl deterred him from saying anymore, however. Aizen was still very much alive and right now, that was an unacceptable state of existence for the former taichou. Ichigo knew very well that Hitsugaya would push himself past his limits to kill the man and was not going to let something as trivial as a sword to the chest change that fact.

"Congratulations, Kurosaki-kun. I commend you on defeating your fear, although the cost seems rather grave. I suppose I have underestimated your strength. Perhaps another reflection shall be more fitting of you skill."

"I don't wanna see any more of your damn reflections! Screw your bankai, dammit!"

"Kurosaki," breathed Hitsugaya, keeping his voice low so as to not catch Aizen's attention, "I think I've discovered a way to defeat Aizen's bankai."

"I'm all ears," he grunted, keeping the expletives directed at the older man stuffed in his throat.

"We need to destroy the mirrors."

"……I hope there's more to your plan, Toshiro."

With a roll of his eyes, despite the dire situation considering the fact that they still did not know what more to expect from Aizen's bankai, Hitsugaya hissed, "If we attack the mirror Aizen is in, we might be able to destroy this place."

"The mirror Aizen's in?"

He nodded curtly.

"Might as well as give it a try."

"Once we destroy that mirror, pull out your mask, Kurosaki, and attack the rest of the mirrors. We'll go ahead with the plan."

Ichigo did a double take, eyes growing wide before narrowing sharply into a tight scowl. He spoke with a growl, "No. I thought I told you that was a stupid plan and that there's no way in hell I'm going through with it."


"No, Toshiro, just fuck no."

"We don't have any other options," pointed out the diminutive captain, face strangely calm. His ice petals were withering, and he knew for certain Ichigo was reaching the limits with his mask. He did not want the orange haired teen to wear it for any longer than absolutely necessary.

"No. If there aren't any other options, I'll make another fucking option, but we are not going through with that dumbassed plan of yours. It's stupid, even by my standards and that's saying something! Besides, you're already wounded, so don't even bother."

"There is nothing else we can do at this point, Kurosaki," he reminded the teen with a raised brow.

"Just hold on and throw away that stupid plan of yours while you're waiting. I'll think of another way to kill the bastard."

"You know there is no other way."

Crossing his arms, he retorted stubbornly, "Because we're not bothering to think of one! I'm sure that—" Ichigo slammed the butt of his hilt into his reflection's stomach, doubling over when a phantom pain crushed his own guts in a similar fashion. Another set of reflections began to slip from within the mirror, heading towards them.

"We don't have time to think of one, that's the problem," mused Hitsugaya, meeting Ichigo's eyes. The substitute shinigami stared long and hard, searching silently before heaving a sigh that seemed to come from his entire body.

"All right, you little brat."

Body heavy and protesting movement, Hitsugaya forced himself back up and out of Ichigo's arms, blinking to clear his vision. They probably had only one chance at this before Aizen caught on to what they were planning. He reached into his mind to call out to his hollow, frowning when he heard its answer. Taking a deep breath, the tendo forced his body to steady, feeling the ache of his wounds momentarily dissipate thanks to Hyourinmaru.

"Fuse your attack with mine, Kurosaki."

Caught off guard by the sudden demand, Ichigo frowned, "Huh?"

"Baka, just release your attack at the same time as mine," he huffed, gripping the hilt tightly. Without waiting for Ichigo's confirmation, Hitsugaya gathered his reiatsu, sending it through his blade. He swung sharply in a horizontal cut, releasing the mass of crystals melded together in an icy crescent. "Hyouryuu Senbi!!"

Despite all disinclination, Ichigo followed suit just as quickly, pulling on his mask and swinging his own zanpakutou. "Getsuga Tenshou!"

Their two reiatsu combined attack drove into the mirror housing Aizen, cracking its surface with spidery lines running along the now distorted exterior. But it did not end there, using his speed, Ichigo immediately wrecked havoc on the other mirrors, unleashing multiple blasts at the glassy objects. Glass shattered, falling in glimmering pieces around them.

Hitsugaya closed his eyes, tugging on that sleeping thread of reiryoku. He could hear Hyourinmaru's voice ringing deeply from within him. They would finally bring Aizen to his knees and crush him. With another deep inhalation, sea green eyes emerged from beneath his lids, frosty and impassive.

"Ready, Kurosaki?"

"I hope you know that I hate you for making me do this."

"…I'm sorry."

"…………Fuck, Toshiro, isn't there really any other way?"

Briefly shutting his eyes, a ghost of a bitter smile uplifted the corners of his lips. "This is the only way to be certain that it ends. Don't hold back."

"…If you die when this is over, I will never forgive you."

Hitsugaya managed a humorless chuckle. "I suppose that means that I am just going to have to not die then."

"Damn straight."


The sound of his first name prompted Ichigo to look at him. Worry creasing his brows and gleaming so strongly in his eyes, Hitsugaya could feel a painful twist of emotions. He quickly averted his eyes back to the front, unable to hold Ichigo's gaze any longer.

"Yeah, Toshiro?" His voice was gentle, warmth washing over the tendo. Honestly, he wasn't sure who was more of a fool: him for agreeing to such a ridiculous and idiotic plan or Hitsugaya for coming up with such a ludicrous and stupid plan.

"Thank you."

Hand running along Hyourinmaru's blade, covering it in a coat of his own icy reiatsu, Hitsugaya firmly seized hold of the ribbon of reiryoku. His wings flapping, raining shards of stray ice, he dove ahead, Hyourinmaru grasped in both hands as the air around him froze into white wisps.

"Guncho Tsurara." A hail of icicles rained from his blade onto Aizen. Despite his current predicament and the state of chaos Ichigo had managed to cause, Aizen turned, spotting Hitsugaya flying straight towards him with unprecedented speed. He would not have time to put up a proper defense, especially with those icicles hindering him.

Hitsugaya did not let up, however, spilling his reiatsu into his blade once more as he was just meters away from the former fifth division taichou.


The tip of Hyourinmaru caught the man's shoulder, and Hitsugaya released the floodgate of reiatsu in his body, pulling on his reiryoku. The ice rushed forth, freezing upon contact and creating a great jagged crystal. Cracks began to form. Brows stitched together, Hitsugaya called forth another surge of reiatsu, mending the splintering ice so as to keep Aizen prisoner. The flow of reiatsu never wavered as he neared the end of that strand of reiryoku. Sea green hues sought Ichigo, his head dipping into a nod. He would not be able to keep this up for much longer and it was imperative that Aizen remained encased in ice for their plan (or rather his plan since Ichigo wanted no part in it) to work.

Ichigo hesitated, raising his sword and pulling on his mask.

"Ichigo!" called out Hitsugaya upon seeing the teen vacillate. His bankai was going to near its end with the amount of reiatsu he was consuming, and this was their one opportunity. The ice began to flow slower, the fracturing moving faster than he could restore it. Just as it began to ebb, a gush of reiryoku repleted his own.

"Getsuga Tenshou!!!" Zangetsu was brought crashing down, a large flare of black outlined red reiatsu ripping through the air towards them. The size, speed, and power of the attack were greatly augmented as it tore its way to where Aizen and Hitsugaya stood. The blast exploded upon impact with a bang as a wave of dust and smoke arose. The sound continued to resonate in his ears as the impact of the attack blew a fierce gust backwards as backlash. Shards of ice rained down from the explosion. His heart clenched as his hand dropped limply to his side. Ichigo clutched onto Zangetsu with a trembling hand as his mask scattered away. Brown eyes stared into the billowing clouds of smoke and dust, searching for any outline of a human figure. He saw nothing but rubble.

"Toshiro?" It felt wrong to call out the boy's name so quietly, softly as though he were afraid to find out the truth.

With a step of shunpo, Ichigo was standing amongst the debris, feeling for even a weak tug of Hitsugaya's reiatsu. He came up empty.

"Toshiro!! You better not be dead, damn you!"

A pile of broken wall stirred, pebbles dropping and rocks protesting as they were displaced. He spun around, watching with hopeful eyes. A petite body rose uncertainly from it all. He stumbled, barely catching himself on the end of a sword.

"Toshiro…!!" Ichigo was by his side at once. "Oh fuck, you're alive! Oh fuck, thank you, thank you, thank you for surviving."

Blood poured from his wounds, suddenly spewing in copious amounts as it splashed onto the uneven ground beneath his feet. The tendo fell forward into Ichigo's chest. The breaths blowing against his skin were shallow, almost nothing more than a faint, dying breeze. The world dyed a pitch of black as his body went limp against Ichigo.

"Toshiro? Shit, Toshiro!! No, goddammit, you are not dying!" He buried his face into the boy's hair, holding his body tight as though he was afraid it would disappear. "No goddamn fucking way are you dying, you dumbass! There's no way I'm letting you!"

His furious yells were for naught, however. Hitsugaya did not stir, wounds bleeding and skin coloring pale from the loss of blood. Ichigo could feel his stomach jump up to his throat, suffocating him. The weight against his chest compressed his lungs, leaving him unable to breath. This couldn't be it. This couldn't have been the end. It was not right. It was too fucking messed up to be right. Hitsugaya wasn't supposed to die. They were supposed to have defeated Aizen together and come out of the war alive. Together. Not like this—whatever 'this' messed up reality was right now. This couldn't be the reality of this moment. It was… It was wrong. It was just all wrong and screwed up and none of it made sense except for the fact that 'this' was wrong. This had to be an illusion conjured up by Aizen. There was just no way that this could be his—their reality. Something went wrong. Something had gone horribly wrong and now the lines between illusion and reality were so twisted together, Ichigo could feel himself losing his senses. Why had he agreed? Why had he agreed to that goddamn stupid plan when he knew he would be injuring Hitsugaya as well? Was there really no other way? Could he really not have found another option? Was that really the only way to ensure certain death? What was the point of utilizing his hollow's powers if he couldn't do anything with them? Hitsugaya's sacrifice wasn't necessary—shouldn't have been necessary. They could have fused their attacks together again, synchronize their movements, and destroy Aizen that way. Hitsugaya did not have to weaken him and hold him prisoner in ice just so he could get a clear shot at the traitor. It wasn't necessary. But he had agreed anyways. Why? Why the hell had he agreed to such a stupid plan? They could have done it differently, saved both of their lives, not 'this'! What was he supposed to do now? His eyes stung as Ichigo held the white haired shinigami tight. The pain in his chest only intensified, but Ichigo pulled him closer and closer, never minding the blood warm against his skin as it seeped into his own shihakushou. He let his own eyes fall shut.

Foolishly, his mind could only form a singular thought: he had been far more of a fool to have ever agreed with such an absurdly stupid, stupid, stupid plan.

"It was a really fucking stupid plan," he mumbled lowly against the boy's hair, breath tight and chest burning.

A/N: I refused to let the fight with Aizen span longer than one chapter which is why I decided against splitting this. Although I guess that's a plus since it's such a long chapter (10,200 words, whoo). Thinking up of Aizen's bankai was quite difficult, actually. I had three other bankai releases for him before this one suddenly popped up. I wish I could have written out his bankai and its powers better. And like I said above, Aizen's bankai is solely the product of my imagination and therefore not canon. All in all, I just hope the battle was portrayed somewhat decently? Also, I totally gave up on trying to write a oneshot based on the hollows. It's too hard to give them substance hahah.

Thank you to everyone who reviewed despite my stupidly long absences! If there's anything I'm working on this year, it's probably my updating habits/skills. They're so pathetic. Anyways, thanks to everyone who added this to their alerts/favorites lists!