Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach; Tite Kubo does. I do, however, own this story and the ideas included therein (to a point), so don't use anything from here without first asking me for permission. Thank you kindly.
Chapter 1: No Turning Back
"You know that they'll never take you back, boy. Not now; not after this."
Ichigo felt the words slam into him like shards of glass, slipping underneath his skin painlessly until their true meaning became apparent and the agony began to blaze along his nerves. As much as he hated to admit it, Aizen was right.
He was a monster. Or rather, he was too weak to control the monster dwelling inside him. Either way, what mattered weren't the details, but the end result: he had brutally attacked Renji and Rukia while under the influence of his Inner Hollow. And now his two friends, one of whom he had valued above even his own life, were inches away from death. And it was his fault for being so weak.
"If you seek control, I can give it to you," Aizen continued insistently, before walking over towards Rukia's prone, bloodied body.
"Don't touch her!" Ichigo shouted, but he was restrained by Gin before he could lunge towards his enemy.
"Ah ah, careful," Sosuke said lightly. "We wouldn't want your Hollow coming out again, would we? If that happened now we might just kill you, rather than risk you wounding me like that again."
Kurosaki eyed the massive gash he had ripped into Aizen's shoulder with satisfaction, but once again he had to concede the point to his foe. Going limp from exertion and disgust, Ichigo could only watch and snarl as the bespectacled man lifted Rukia's body up into the air with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer; Gin's zanpakuto resting by his throat was a clear warning of what would happen if Ichigo tried to make a move.
The brown-haired villain pulled out some kind of small, purple tube and activated it with a click, causing green spikes to rise from the ground in a circle around him while the same material covered his hand. Ichigo might have let out a strangled scream as he saw Aizen's hand plunge directly into Rukia's soul, but he couldn't really hear anything over the anxious beating of his own heart. The traitor Captain wordlessly removed a small, jewel-like object from the violet-eyed Soul Reaper's form and let her drop again, the shock causing her eyes to flutter open. Rukia saw Ichigo standing with Gin and Tosen and her eyebrows furrowed into a confused, Ichigo-style frown. The sight might have made the orange-haired Soul Reaper chuckle, if his heart wasn't breaking from seeing what he'd done to her.
"I—chigo?" She strained out, causing Kurosaki's heart to freeze at how weak the once-powerful warrior sounded.
It was all his fault.
"Don't move, Rukia," he said sadly, but with a hint of tenderness. "Please. Don't shorten your life any more on my account."
"Well, this is quite touching, I must admit," Aizen spoke out, "but we have a bit of a problem. Now that I have the Hougyoku, there's no reason for me to leave her alive. Kill her, Gin."
"If you insist, Captain Aizen," the silver-haired Soul Reaper replied, letting go of Ichigo to step forward and prepare his shikai.
"Shoot to kill—"
Ichimaru froze mid-release as Ichigo's hand closed tight around his own, knuckles white with tension and desperation. Glancing over to Aizen for instructions, the red-eyed Soul Reaper lowered his hand as Sosuke nodded. If his boss wanted to play it this way, far be it for Gin to interfere.
After a few tense heartbeats of silence, Ichigo spoke.
"Are you saying that this thing, the Hougyoki…"
"Hougyoku," Aizen corrected patiently, with the tiniest hint of a smirk.
"Right, whatever," Kurosaki continued. "Are you saying that orb can give me control over my Inner Hollow?"
"A certain amount of control, yes," Sosuke qualified. "Its power is too far advanced now for you to ever achieve complete dominance, but what the Hougyoku can offer you must appeal more than this," he finished, waving his arm out at the two mangled bodies that Tensa Zangetsu had been responsible for carving up. Ichigo sighed, drew together what little pride he had left, and swallowed it whole.
"Fine, he said, "I'll go with you. But only if you let Rukia and Renji live," he added hastily, noticing the amoral glint in Ichimaru's eye. Aizen smiled and shrugged.
"Very well," he answered, "you have my word. If you follow us, I will let both Renji Abarai and Rukia Kuchiki live."
This was a calculated risk on Sosuke's part, to be sure, but the power he would gain from this ryoka boy was definitely worth giving two cockroaches such as these a few more months to breathe. Kurosaki trudged over to the trio of defectors, pondering just what he was getting himself into by taking this devil's deal, when Rukia's voice cut through his thoughts like a knife.
"Ichigo!" she shouted. "What the hell do you think you're doing!?"
The hurt and betrayal in her eyes almost choked off Ichigo's response, but he fought and got the words out regardless.
"I'm saving your life, you idiot!" he shot back, all of his pent-up anger and frustration rushing out at the last person on the planet he had ever wanted to hurt as his brown eyes slipped into yellow. "So shut up and don't move!" Kurosaki finished, his voice carrying the signature strain of a Hollow.
Rukia was stunned by the partial transformation, and no one said a word until Aizen looked up at the sky in slight surprise.
"It looks like they're here early," he mused. "Let's go."
The sky was torn open by a massive garganta and four beams of light shot out of it, one for each of the men journeying to Hueco Mundo. As she saw Ichigo being lifted away by the negacion, Rukia let adrenaline carry her shakily to her feet as she leaned heavily on her zanpakuto, tilting her face upwards to make one final plea to her friend.
"Please, Ichigo," she called out. "Don't do this to me. Don't leave me! Damn it, you idiot," the Soul Reaper screamed, pouring every ounce of strength left into her final confession, "I love you!"
Ichigo's Hollowed eyes softened for the briefest of moments, and he found himself wanting to hate her for shaking his resolve to its core. But he couldn't, and simply grit his teeth as he turned away from the girl who had come to mean so much to him, a single, bitter tear sliding down his cheek.
"Why do you think I'm doing this, midget?"
Kuchiki's eyes widened at the response, and she felt like she'd just been stabbed. The strength left her limbs as the adrenaline that had been coursing through her veins ebbed away. Rukia fell onto her hands and knees, a stream of tears burning her tongue with their saltiness before splashing impotently on the ground. When the sound of the garganta closing reached her ears Rukia snapped and let out a howl, not caring who or what heard her breaking apart at the seams. That callous bastard had just left her without so much as a goodbye, after she had done nothing less than open her heart up to him, the heart that had been so carefully guarded since the death of the only other man she had ever loved: Kaien Shiba.
"He left me… he's gone. Ichigo's gone," she mumbled over and over, not wanting to believe it but forcing herself to face the ugly truth. Renji, who had seen the whole scene unfold, merely sighed to himself. it was official; any chance he thought he may have had with Rukia was now dead and buried. That didn't mean he wasn't going to be her friend and help her out now, though, when she needed it most. And once Rukia had come back to her senses, Abarai was going to beat the shit out of the person who had broken her heart.
"Ichigo… he growled, fire smoldering deep within his eyes, "I'll never forgive you for this."
When the other Captains and Lieutenants arrived at the top of the Hill far too late to stop Aizen, it was Byakuya who lifted his sister to her feet and supported her as she limped over to Unohana. By the time she had reached the Fourth Division Captain, Rukia had told her brother everything that had happened in the most coherent phrasing she could manage. As he left his sibling in the care of his fellow Captain and allowed himself to be seen to by Kotetsu Isane, the look in Byakuya's eyes was similar to that of Renji's, but much more focused and deadly.
Ichigo Kurosaki… I will kill you.
The orange-haired Soul Reaper took in the stark halls of Las Noches with soulless resignation; he had left behind his friends, his family and his heart for the life of a traitor. He was nothing more than a coward, too weak to master his own demons.
"I hope you find your quarters to your satisfaction, Ichigo Kurosaki," Aizen said pleasantly. "Gin will show you the way, and be sure to get some rest," he finished,
"We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow."
A/N: So there you have it, Chapter 1. This idea has actually been rolling around in my head for quite some time, but it was only after a similar sort of idea popped up as a possibility in another story of mine that this one finally clicked into place. Also, don't worry if Ichigo seems to be a little weak here emotionally; he's not going to spend the whole story moping around.
Please review to tell me what you thought, because I'm going to hinge how long or short this story is based on what you guys and gals say about it.
I hope you enjoyed it!