A/N: With the encouraging response to 'Over All Things', I thought I might try a second chapter. But this is not a happy story and I thought it would be better to post a note, so readers can decide whether to read this or not. It's more on Aizen now, and I hope you will review this postwar fic at the end of the story.
Ichigo gritted out the command for Zangetsu to go to bankai mode, but before he could attack he felt a sword through his abdomen. He was shocked for only an instant, before the searing pain kicked in.
"I don't want to hurt you," said Aizen, his voice still emotionless. "Doesn't mean I won't."
Ichigo felt the tear of a blade out of his flesh, and blindly grabbed at the zanpakuto. "No," he rasped hoarsely. "He said to keep you here."
"He did, did he." The sword dragged a half-inch out of Ichigo. "But there is something he forgot."
Ichigo tightened his grip, vaguely aware that he might lose his fingers but determined nonetheless. "I promised him that I will keep you here."
Aizen's eyes narrowed, then he let go of his sword. Ichigo took that information in but was stunned when Aizen grabbed Zangetsu. With a straight punch to Ichigo's face, he knocked the young man away and opened the gate again. In a flash the older shinigami was gone, and Ichigo cursed.
"Don't move," someone muttered. "Didn't think he'd leave Kyoka Suigetsu behind. Caught me by surprise, again."
"Just a straight thrust. If he'd ripped you apart like he did the last time, I'll panic." Urahara's ministrations were deft, but his voice was shaky. "I should've come in earlier."
"Ukitake knows. I told him once I felt you go bankai." The blood was staunched. "If only I hadn't had to deal with that nagging woman from foster care about the Shoten's suitability for your sisters... Come on, we got to get you to Inoue-san for healing."
"No, the hot spring will do, then I'm going in." Before the older man could protest Ichigo overrode him. "I promised. Even if it's for an evil bastard like Ichimaru, I'll keep that promise."
The healing waters stung, but Ichigo was glad it restored him partially. The thirty minutes he had taken had been far too long, but even with Aizen's abilities he couldn't fight through all of Gotei without Kyoka Suigetsu.
"I'm going with you." Urahara pressed his hat down firmly. He extended Benihime and the gate opened. Ichigo wanted to argue, but thought the better of it. Urahara chuckled. "Growing a brain at last, Ichigo."
"Shut up. Let's go."
The cold air that greeted them as they set foot was nothing compared to the chill of the absolute calm.
"Can you sense him?" asked Ichigo.
"No." Urahara frowned. "I don't understand. Where is everyone?"
Ichigo started off to the soutaichou's residence, knowing that Urahara would be casting his reiatsu about to detect Aizen. They sprinted along the pristine roads, startled by the complete silence: there was no one about. No one at all. It was eerie. Inside, Ichigo was panicking. It wasn't possible for Aizen to massacre all of Seireitei in half an hour, powerful the man might be. And were were the usual shinigami-going-about-their-business? The cleanup crews? The runners? Urahara's gaze was hard and flinty whenever Ichigo took a look at him; the man was equally worried.
Then a sudden flare of reiatsu startled them both. Ichigo skidded to a halt, trying to determine where that signal came from, and realized that it was coming from the Central Hall. The large white dome dominated the skyline at what used to be the Central 46 chambers.
"Shit," muttered Ichigo. "Of course they're all there."
Urahara chuckled bitterly. "The trial of Ichimaru Gin. I should've thought."
Ukitake had sent his vice-captain Sasakibe to get Ichigo and Urahara. Komamura and Hitsugaya were on guard duty, and their two divisions ringed the large judicial auditorium. Inside, there were tier upon tier of shinigami, right up to the edge of the dome. The captains and lieutenants were sitting in the first row, and all were staring at a figure before them. Ichigo couldn't see over the crowd that blocked the way from the door to the captains.
Urahara nodded. He would wait outside with Komamura and Hitsugaya. Sasakibe directed the way into the hall with Ichigo in tow.
"... and do you confess to the charges, Ichimaru-san?"
"Yep, I do." The irrepressible tone was definitely Ichimaru's, and it was faint but clear. Ichigo pushed his way to the front, Sasakibe in the lead, and found themselves between a glowering Kyoraku Shunsui and an impassive Kuchiki Byakuya.
Ichimaru was sitting in an oversized, cushioned chair in the center of the room. Unohana-taichou stood to the side, ready to administer aid when necessary. The black veins that spiderwebbed over Ichimaru's frame seemed to pulsate and glow. Ichigo felt nauseated by the sight – he had seen them before, but it still unnerved him.
Ukitake was listening to the proceedings, not leading them. Ichigo was surprised; he thought the new soutaichou would head the court. But that was Ukitake, of course; mercy and justice blended.
"I confess to all the charges. I'm guilty. Pronounce sentence already." There was no fear in Ichimaru's gaze. Ichigo furrowed his brow and decided to exit. Aizen would come, he was sure of it. Urahara tilted his head, indicating that he would wait outside. Ichigo looked again at Ichimaru, seeing how he seemed to shrink into the cushions with every passing second. The black veins pulsed threateningly, visible even from this distance. Ichigo shook his head; he had to leave. He had to be ready for Aizen.
And what are you going to do when he comes?
"And you think that we'll let you off with that confession?!" someone in the large auditorium yelled. "You killed my sister!"
"You experimented on my squad, you bastard! Turned them into hollows!!"
"Fuck you, Ichimaru! You fuckin' traitor – you son of a bitch, you-"
"Enough," Ukitake held up a pale hand. "There is no need to insult him. Captains, lieutenants, do you have anything you wish to say?"
Silence. Ichigo halted. Should he speak? What would he say? What should he say?
"I will speak."
Ichimaru's voice fluttered above the silence. "Kira."
"I haven't been your captain for years, Kira. You can call me anything you want."
"Ichimaru-taichou. I just wanted you to know that I – I have never ceased... I never will." Kira's voice hitched faintly. "I now ask the court for mercy."
"He deserves none," countered Hisagi in his low voice. "Not after all the things he did."
Kira did not look at Hisagi. "I know what he did, Shuuhei. I know what he has done because most of it, he did to me. You hate him because of Renji. I love Renji almost as much as you do. Nevertheless, I ask for mercy on Ichimaru-taichou's behalf."
Ikkaku, the new captain of the eleventh, said nothing. If his Kira wanted Ichimaru to live, then he would not interfere. Kurosaki Isshin frowned lightly – he hadn't expected his lieutenant to speak up on Ichimaru's behalf. The sudden rise in agitated whispers all over the auditorium shook the other captains out of their reverie.
Ichimaru laughed, a light, mocking tone. "I appreciate that, Kira. But I will take the harshest sentence ya have. The soukyoku is repaired. Let's test it out."
Before anyone else could say a word, a runner dashed in. "Ukitake-soutaichou, he's here."
The white-haired captain-general issued commands quickly. "Shunsui, Ikkaku, Soi Fon, you know what to do. Captains, ready your divisions."
Ichimaru sat up straighter, his eyes searching. Then he saw Ichigo and shook his head, the smile faded. He began to push himself out of the large chair. Unohana was by the former captain's side, restraining him, but Ichigo saw the words that formed on the pale lips.
"Fuck," Ichigo muttered as he dashed out along with some shinigami.
Aizen didn't have his sword, but he had Zangetsu. He also had a small bag slung over his shoulder. Judging from the buzz, Zangetsu was suffering under Aizen's grip, but couldn't work against the man's will. Ichigo stopped just behind the imposing bulk of Komamura, trying to find a way to regain control of his sword.
"Let him out." Aizen's voice still held no emotion.
Hitsugaya was already in shikai form. "No."
"Then get out of my way."
"No." Hourinmaru was angled for the first strike. "I can't do that."
Aizen tilted his head, as if seeing the youngest captain for the first time. Then there was a flash and a black crescent shot forward, shoving Hitsugaya back almost twenty paces.
Ichigo paled. "Getsuga Tenshou," he whispered. How did Aizen manage to subdue Ichigo's sword and make it do his bidding?
Hitsugaya clambered to his feet, before launching himself airward. He swooped down again, crashing blades with Aizen. The white-haired captain slowed just above a roof before the ice-wings disappeared abruptly. Judging from Hitsugaya's expression, that was not what he had intended to do. Aizen ignored him.
"Ah, Ichigo. You're here early. I had to make my way from Rukongai and the east gate." Aizen's smile was even more mask-like than Ichimaru's usual one. He tossed the oversized blade to the youth, who caught it easily. "Here's your sword. He's a good one."
"Aizen, Ichimaru wants this," said Ichigo, stepping forward, trying to ignore the low growling from Komamura behind him. "He wants it to end."
"Get out of my way, Ichigo." A red sphere formed on Aizen's fingertip. "All of you. Get out of my way now."
"No," repeated Hitsugaya. "Bankai."
Ichigo was stunned, but didn't spend too much time pondering why. The cero shot forward, followed by nine others. Aizen had unleashed one from each fingertip. Unable to check on the others, Ichigo tried to deflect as best as he could, but was immensely assured by the huge crimson bursts that neutralized the ceros. He risked a glance at Hitsugaya, who had been shielded by Komamura.
Aizen was unaffected. "Urahara. Get out of my way."
"I didn't then. I won't start now." Urahara pressed the brim of his hat lower. "Don't force my hand, Sousuke."
"I must see him." The brown-haired ex-captain stepped forward. Urahara turned his wrist and Benihime was singing through the air and dancing towards Aizen.
Everyone expected the former overlord to block the move. Or duck away. Something.
No one expected Aizen to take the blow to his shoulder.
Blood seeped out and stained the white robe Aizen wore. Urahara stilled, stunned. Aizen grabbed the blond by his wrist and squeezed. "I must see him, Kisuke."
"You can't, Sousuke. Ichigo's not the only one to promise him something. I did too." Urahara reversed the hold. "He wants this."
"I must see him."
Aizen blasted a kido spell into Urahara at close range, and the man flew backward. Kyoraku Shunsui caught him. Ichigo stepped forward and was prepared to slash downward, when Zangetsu suddenly objected and dragged his aim sideways. The point of the blade ended in the dirt. Aizen shoved Ichigo aside like a rag doll, no longer concerned.
What the hell are you doing, Zangetsu?
:He must go in. He must see his other.:
Zangetsu, are you insane? He's going to kill everyone-
:He isn't. He just wants to see his other.:
Kyoraku Shunsui had already engaged Aizen in battle. Once again Aizen was not really fighting, merely using kido to defend himself. Ichigo also noticed that Urahara was also arguing quietly with his zanpakuto, as was Hitsugaya with his Hourinmaru.
When Kyoraku twirled both his swords, the usual windstorm that accompanied their release didn't appear. In a blinding flash Kyoraku was trapped by six glowing rods, but the glare of his eyes was enough to express his hatred. "What have you done to our swords?" he yelled.
"I haven't done anything." Aizen was still expressionless. There was a cut across his cheek, and a slash along his left shoulder. The shinigami ranged at the door were shuffling, very slightly, and inching backwards.
Soi Fon materialized. Aizen dodged and weaved past her lightning-speed attacks, never retaliating. When Ichigo saw Soi Fon withdraw her sword, he wanted to tell her to save the effort. He was too late. The sword flashed forward and around Aizen, always just missing him. Irritated, Soi Fon called out her shikai.
The sword did not change.
"Wha-" Her momentary distraction was enough for Aizen to kick her in the midsection, sending her flying into the assembled ranks of her division. "What the hell-"
As he walked steadily forward the shinigami guarding the doors held out their swords. But the instance he got near them their arms faltered, blades fell out of unresisting hands, and some shinigami actually collapsed to the ground. The path was clear to the entrance, except for one captain still at the door.
Aizen was now facing Ikkaku. "Are you going to try?"
"I just want you to know that Kira asked for mercy for that bastard." The bald shinigami didn't bother releasing his sword. "And my zanpakuto refuses to answer me. What the fuck have you done?"
Aizen didn't bother answering. "Are you getting out of my way?"
Ichigo ran up and tried to yank Aizen around. The reiatsu feedback up his arm nearly caused him to scream in agony – it shrieked like a thousand banshees in serious pain. The brown-haired man shook the youth off and pushed past Ikkaku, who blocked him with a muscular arm. Aizen gazed at Ikkaku, then, with an open-palm blow, shoved Ikkaku aside.
Enraged, Soi Fon barked a command at the Third Captain, but Kyoraku shushed her. The older captain saw what Ichigo had seen: Ikkaku was sweating bullets, he was shaking, and tears were streaming down his face.
Ikkaku, captain of the Eleventh, second only to Zaraki Kenpachi, was terrified.
Vainly trying to keep up Ichigo followed Aizen into the domed auditorium, to be faced by rings and rings of swords. Every zanpakuto was drawn, and every shinigami ready to attack.
Ichimaru was nowhere to be seen.
"Where is he?" Aizen asked.
"How can you come in here, Aizen Sousuke? You know you are the one man we will not allow to exit this dome alive." Ukitake was equally courteous, but there was a simmering hatred beneath the veneer. No one blamed him – Aizen had torn the old soutaichou apart before the eyes of his devoted students.
Aizen ignored the question. "Where is Gin?"
"Not here," Kurosaki Isshin put in. He jumped in front of Aizen. "We're not mistreating him, Aizen. He is getting a fair hearing. Now, either you surrender, or we do this the hard way."
Having heard all that Isshin had to say, Aizen dismissed him with a flick of his eyes. He searched along the arrayed ranks, looking for... "Kira. Kira Izuru. Please, come down."
Ichigo stopped at the entrance to the arena. He knew his bright orange hair would have alerted all others to his presence, but right now his attention was on the brunet in the center of the auditorium. But everyone's attention was on the quiet, pale blond walking to the floor of the auditorium, where Ichigo's father stood in front of Aizen.
Ichigo walked slowly in, but no one was looking at him. Everyone was staring at Kira and Aizen. The former captain waited until Kira had stopped, then walked up to the lieutenant. The assembled watched with bated breath.
"Thank you, Kira," said Aizen softly. And then he got to his knees and bowed, forehead to the ground. "Please forgive us."
No one dared to move. Ichigo blinked. This was unreal.
Kira was motionless as well, but Ichigo noticed how the lieutenant flushed and then, as if a weight was released, the tears came. Isshin placed a hand on Kira's shoulder and dragged him backwards slowly. Kira followed, tears still running down flushed cheeks, before he shook off his captain's restraining hand and knelt before Aizen, bowing repeatedly to his former captain, until Aizen stood up.
Shinigami, especially the higher seated officers, roared to their feet and some called out abuse. Isshin shut his eyes, then picked up Kira bodily and flash-stepped out of the auditorium. When he saw his son, Isshin merely tightened his lips in a mockery of a smile.
Aizen, looking around again, came face to face with Hisagi Shuuhei. The shaggy-maned shinigami captain was blazing with fury. "Why did you come back, Aizen?" he spat. "What have you done to Kira?"
"I've asked for his forgiveness, and he has given it to us." The answer seemed to tick Hisagi off further, but Aizen merely continued, "Where is Gin?"
"Waiting to be sentenced after we deal with you," said Hisagi. "I have a personal score to settle, by the way, and believe me forgiveness is not in the deal. You're going to pay for what happened to Renji."
"Kurosaki-kun," said Aizen suddenly. The orange-haired youth jumped. Aizen beckoned him to come closer, and Ichigo moved forward. Zangetsu was humming dangerously; something in the atmosphere told Ichigo he really shouldn't be there. "Kurosaki-kun, is the package for Hisagi-san with you?"
"Uh..." Ichigo felt in his sleeves. "Yes. Here, Hisagi. Um, Yuki wishes you all the best."
Hisagi was taken aback. "Wh- Yuki? You got this from... from Ichimaru?"
"Yeah. He didn't say who Yuki was. Is she someone-"
"No." Hisagi tucked the envelope away. His glare turned back to Aizen. "If you think that would-"
Aizen chuckled mirthlessly. "I know it won't. But I can't go against Yuki's wishes. Stay out of this, Hisagi-san."
The sliding of metal against metal drew Ichigo's attention. Ukitake had drawn his own swords. "I don't care what tricks you have up your sleeves, Aizen Sousuke, but you are not leaving this place in one piece."
Aizen looked at the new soutaichou. "Where is Gin, Juushiro? I must see him."
"On what basis should we let you meet?" asked Kuchiki Byakuya. He was colder than all the others combined. Rukia's death had been a vicious blow to him. "You come in here, like you own the place, demanding favors when you should be in chains?"
Loud agreements rose in a clamor. The din circled in the dome, echoing and amplifying until it was one long shout to see Aizen debased and dead before their feet-
"Just let them see each other, dammit!"
All eyes snapped to Ichigo, who realized – too late – that the outburst came from his lips. He swore under his breath, knowing that he would be having a good, long talk with his father and the soutaichou after this. But he couldn't stand it anymore: attack after attack on Aizen, who has yet to kill anyone despite being able to do so; the swirl of anguished reiatsu that had torn deep into Ichigo's psyche with that one instantaneous contact; the way Aizen kept asking for a simple favor that could easily be met but was met with a huge ruckus about other things; the moment of humble repentance towards Kira. He was about to scream. He had to scream.
Zangetsu chimed in, his voice augmented and amplified by Shirosaki. :He just wants to see his other. Help him, Ichigo.:
"Can't – you – all of you – see," he was having difficulty speaking; he was having trouble breathing, "Can't you see – he just – he's not here – to fight. He's not – here to fight anyone. He just – just wants to see – He just wants to see the man he loves. Just fucking let him see Ichimaru!"
"You are out of place, Kurosaki," warned Kuchiki Byakuya.
"I AM NOT!" screamed Ichigo. His zanpakuto was adding to the turmoil in his head, and he just wanted it to end. "Just – let them – meet. You have – dozens, hundreds of shinigami here. All the captains, all the lieutenants are here. I - I am here. He has – no sword. He is alone. What can they do now? Against all of us? What – can he do – now? Let them meet."
"I agree with Kurosaki-san," Unohana said gently.
Ichigo whirled around, trying to locate the serene captain of the fourth. She was standing nearby, just before a discreet door set into the wall. She inclined her head at Ichigo, and continued, "We should let them meet."
"Why should we?" Renji's tone was thick with emotion. Ichigo could see the redhead, grimmer than ever with a scar cutting from cheek to chin. "We didn't get to meet our loved ones when he killed them."
"There is a difference between what is just, and what is merciful," said Unohana. "Lieutenant Kira has put in a word for mercy on Ichimaru-san's behalf. I now put in mine for them both."
"As do I," said Ichigo. "I hate them, they killed my dad, they hurt my friends, he – Aizen – drove Inoue insane. But I think – I know I want them to meet. Just once more."
Aizen said nothing, acknowledged no word. He merely stared at the door behind Unohana. He dared not move. Without waiting for the rest of the assembled to respond to the pleas for mercy, he asked, a quaver in his voice, "Is he in there? Can I please see him?"
"I'll ask Yamada to push him out." Unohana tapped twice on the door and it opened.
Ichigo's pulse raced when he saw Ichimaru again. The black veins had crept higher, and it was obvious he had trouble staying conscious, even while propped against a bed of cushions. But he still managed a bright smile when he saw Aizen.
Aizen couldn't move until Hanatarou had returned to Unohana's side. Ichigo stood rooted to the ground, aware that the second division had filed in and were ranged behind him, blocking the entrance. But Ichigo knew Aizen saw nothing other than the frail man in the large wheelchair. He walked to him, half-smiling.
"Hey. Did you expect to see me?"
"Sort of," said Ichimaru. His voice was faint, but since there was no sound in the auditorium everyone could hear quite clearly. "You made Ichigo and Urahara-san break their promises."
"I'll make it up to them," said Aizen, his eyes not leaving Ichimaru's face. "You want to sit there or in my lap?"
Very cautiously Aizen lifted Ichimaru out of the wheelchair and then they settled on the ground. Ichigo had to bite back a sour tautness in the back of his throat when he saw Ichimaru leaning against Aizen's shoulder: the first time he had seen them doing that was in the hospice.
Aizen was trying to take something out of the bag. It was a box, caught in a bubble. Ichigo frowned: it was the Captured Time hado bubble. What did Aizen put in that box? "Sorry I'm late. There was a queue, and then a blockade, and then an argument."
"It's alright. You know I don't care much about punctuality anyway."
"There wasn't raspberry sorbet," said Aizen as he released the spell and opened the box. Cool white vapor curled above the opening, and Ichigo understood. He had to force himself not to look away. "I got you lemon and dark chocolate instead."
"Two flavors? Yum."
Aizen grinned and dug a spoon into the container. "Which?"
"Lemon first." Ichimaru could barely speak, but he was still smiling when Aizen popped a mouthful of white sorbet into his mouth. Then, with an encouraging hum, Aizen spooned out a mouthful of dark chocolate, which Ichimaru ate quickly.
Never in the history of Seireitei had there been an audience of thirteen hundred and fifty-six shinigami watching one person eat ice-cream.
"I'm full," whispered Ichimaru after the fifth mouthful of chocolate. "I'm sleepy."
"You're always sleepy," teased Aizen gently. He pressed a kiss to the pale man's forehead and rocked him gently.
Ichigo knew there was no one who could look the brunet in the eye at that moment. He couldn't even see; the burning sting behind his eyes could not be forced away. He took a deep breath and looked up again. He had to see this through – he had wanted this for Aizen and Ichimaru, he had to see it through.
Ichimaru's smile was weak. Even the dark veins were pulsing less strongly now. Aizen nuzzled his lover.
"I'm sorry you have to go through this," apologized Ichimaru.
"It's alright." Aizen's smile was equally thin. "I just wondered why you didn't say goodbye."
"Because... because if I saw you one last time... I wouldn't be able – be able to go." He was no longer smiling. "But I'm tired, Aizen-sama. I'm tired, and I was afraid you'd be angry... I'm so tired of being weak... I was afraid that if I was weak, you'll go away."
"I won't be angry. I haven't been angry with you for a long time. I'll never be angry with you again." Aizen was stroking through fine silver hair. "Rest, love. Just rest. You're not weak. I won't be going anywhere. I'll be here, with you. I'm always here."
"I know. I know." Ichimaru buried his face into Aizen's neck; Ichigo could barely make out the last few mumbled words if not for his immense reiatsu. "... will you remember everything? I don't know if I can. I want to. I don't know if I can. Can you?"
"Yes," murmured Aizen. His eyes were shut now, the smile gone. "I can remember. I will remember. And when you wake, we'll remember together. Rest, love. I'm here with you."
"I promise. Now rest."
Ichigo's vision blurred. He twisted his head away, trying to get himself under control.
The captains all heard the final sigh. Aizen was cradling Ichimaru in his lap, his head bent over the frail form. Ichigo wanted to step up, to go into the center of the arena, but he couldn't move. He couldn't breathe.
Until someone behind him snorted softly. "Bah, stupid show. It's all put on -"
Ichigo had his blade at the speaker's throat, nicking just a little into skin. He didn't want to know who had spoken. "Shut up. Get out. Now." Some scuffling behind him indicated that the speaker was jostled out.
Aizen was silent for a minute. Then he looked up and saw Ichigo. There were no tears on his face, but his eyes were glimmering. "Kurosaki-kun. When you go back home, could you take Urahara and Kira to my place? Take care of our cat for us."
"I do not seek judgment for the path I chose," Aizen said to the rest of the shinigami, still in humbled silence. "Because I have already been judged and sentenced for my actions."
Ichigo saw Ukitake frown faintly. He was still trying to overcome the emotion of the last few minutes, and didn't bother trying to understand Aizen's words. The brown-haired man placed a hand on Ichimaru's chest, opening the kimono, then closed his fingers about the black hougyoku. He pulled slowly, carefully, until the sphere was nestled in the palm of his hand. The black veins had pulled out of Ichimaru, trailed after the sphere, before snapping into it. Aizen held it up, then tossed it aside casually.
As if it were trash.
"Look at you now," he said to Ichimaru tenderly, brushing silver hair from the bloodless face. To the body of Ichimaru, Ichigo reminded himself. It's a body now. "Beautiful as the day we met."
"Aizen," said Ichigo softly. "I think you should put him down now."
"I'll never put him down again." Aizen smiled at Ichigo warmly. "Remember the cat, alright?"
"Yeah." Ichigo nodded. "I'll make sure he's taken care of."
"Good." Aizen tucked Ichimaru closer to his own body, then traced a finger over the closed eyes. He pressed a kiss to the white forehead. "Rest, love."
Ukitake signaled Kyoraku and Soi Fon, who stepped forward cautiously. Aizen ran a hand through his hair, tucking stray strands behind his ear – much like that day long ago, on the Soukyoku hill – and Ichigo wished he had seen earlier what the former shinigami captain had planned.
Perhaps he could have stopped it.
Perhaps he would have stopped it.
Aizen fired a cero through his own head.