Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed *hugs you all* I greatly appreciate your input and theories about the story! I'm so sorry that this chapter took so long, an explanation is at the bottom
Special thanks to the wonderful Black Sun Upon An Icy Sky for betaing this chapter!
Ichigo bowed his head as he walked towards his division. Other shinigami that were patrolling the area or strolling with their friends would stop and stare at him in shock. He simply closed his eyes and ignored the stares as he sped up his speed in hopes to get to his division faster. The news about what had happened on his mission traveled quickly, but then again, a lieutenant was killed nso it shouldn't have surprised him. It also didn't help that it was the famous Kaien Shiba that had met his fate that got everyone chatting.
It hadn't taken long for back up to finally arrive fifteen minutes after the hollows retreated. Everyone was broken and in despair. Rukia hadn't stopped crying and continued to sob into his chest, and it only got worse when they picked up her lieutenant's body and carried it away. It was then that they had a hard time breaking Miyako away from her husband. The normally kind, gentle, and quiet woman had completely broken down and refused to leave his side, even if he was no longer there. The other two officers bowed their heads and cried in one another's shoulder, blaming themselves for what happened to their beloved lieutenant. Renji had yet to wake up the whole time and a member from the fourth division cried for someone to take him there immediately.
The group was soon transported to the fourth division to be checked on. He had been fine and stayed by Renji's side while the others were looked over. He watched as Captain Unohana checked the redhead over and made her assessment of what was wrong. He remembered her eyes looking gravely at him and told him that Renji was in a coma, and the best thing they could do was watch over and take care of him until he decided to wake up. It was then that Ichigo felt panic rise inside of him, knowing he had failed his friend. If only he hadn't stood around and tried to hold his powers back then his friends would be fine.
He ignored the captain's comforting hand on his shoulder as she told him she was 'sorry' and if he needed anything to let her know. He simply stared at his best friend and bowed his head, cursing at his failure to protect Rukia and Renji. An hour later, Ikkaku and Yumichika arrived to watch over their comrade and told Ichigo to go home and get some sleep. He protested at first, refusing to leave his friend's side until Captain Unohana intervened and told him that if Renji's condition were to change, she'd alert him immediately and he'd still be there the next day.
Ichigo finally gave in and with one last look at his unconscious friend; he set out the door and down the hallway. He passed by many fourth division members running around with various equipment and got out of their way. A soft sob caught his attention and he continued down the hallway until he reached the room of the noise. He peered inside and saw Captain Ukitake sitting in a chair near Kaien's unconscious body with his head bowed. On the other side was Miyako crying into her dead husband's chest. Rukia and a few other officers stood in the room with tears at the lost of their lieutenant. He watched them for a moment before proceeding out the door, wanting to give them their privacy.
He sighed in relief when he saw the gates to the fifth division come into view. However, what surprised him was a figure standing at the gate and the closer he got to it, he was able to recognize the person.
Captain Aizen stood waiting for him with a sympathetic expression on his face and his hands behind his back as he waited for his officer. He watched as the young man dragged himself to the gate and placed a hand on the youth's shoulder. "I am sorry for what happened," he whispered as he opened the gate to allow them inside.
"It's not your fault," Ichigo shrugged, his dead eyes wandering over the fifth division grounds to find it surprisingly empty. Normally, around this hour, people would be gathering, training or doing other sorts of activities.
"I've requested that there be a special meeting for the division, it shouldn't end for another three hours," Aizen answered his thoughts and saw the boy looked hesitant like he should be with the rest of his division, though he could see the boy was still deeply troubled after the experience he had just witnessed. He figured as much and ushered him towards his office. "I figured this would be the best time to talk if you wish to do so," he said quietly as he opened the door to his building and held the door open for Ichigo.
"What's there to talk about? I fucked up," Ichigo turned his head to the side as he followed his captain down to his office. He could feel the nagging pain deep within his chest, reminding him of his failure. How he could have saved Rukia the torment of seeing her lieutenant killed. How he could have prevented Renji from falling into a coma. It was all his fault. He had the power to protect them and chose not to use it.
"How is it you messed up?" Captain Aizen asked as he sat down at his desk and Ichigo took a seat in the chair in front of him. He watched the young man run a hand over his face and bow his head into his knees. "Ichigo?"
"I could have killed those hollows. They were nothing! Hell, the kido ones you make up are stronger than those and I did nothing. I stood around and waited until they were almost dead to do something!" He gripped his hair and tugged on it. "I might as well have just killed lieutenant Shiba," he muttered under his breath.
Aizen stared down at the boy and watched him. Those insecurities still hung onto him, binding him to guilt of actions he could not have controlled. It was this exact reason he made sure the boy did not become a lieutenant or captain, even though he was well above that level. Gin had thrown away his attachments and Tousen believed that things were done for the better, for Ichigo, he knew the boy wouldn't be able to handle betraying those around him. He knew the boy would never abandon his relationships he had, such as with his friends in order to help him. Aizen had known this long before Ichigo had even told him his back-story. That had only helped in his plans, but he also knew what he had to do in order to detach Ichigo away from everyone. Oddly enough, he had to do little work and watch as it unwound itself. All he needed to do was support the boy in his time of need and continue to keep his trust for when the time came…
"You cannot take responsibility for actions that are in the past, Ichigo," the older man said quietly, but the younger did not move. "You are not solely responsible for every person in Soul Society, nor am I or anyone else. You will only cause more harm to yourself by placing the blame that should be equally shared on you alone," he stated when the young man finally raised his head and glared at his mentor.
"But I…" Ichigo closed his eyes and fisted his hakama. He slowly shook his head before standing up and knocking the chair to the floor out of rage. "This is the whole fucking reason why I wanted to get stronger, to protect my friends! What was the point of training for these past five years if I can't even save anyone? Renji is in a coma and they're not sure when he'll wake up! Rukia is torn because her lieutenant was killed, not to mention everyone who was injured during the mission!" He hands waving around before balling into fists before running them through his hair.
He could feel the anger coursing through him and a part of his mind cracking ever so slowly. He lowered his hands from his head and began pacing around the office nervously and fidgety. He wanted to destroy it, rip everything to pieces. If he couldn't, he wanted to at least beat the shit out of someone, anyone! More importantly, he wanted someone to beat him up, a serving punishment for his failure to protect his group.
Ichigo finally turned to look at his captain sitting quietly in his chair watching his student pace around the room. The younger shinigami narrowed his eyes at the man's silence and walked up to the edge of his desk. "Aren't you going to say something? It's not my fault and all the crap?" He muttered darkly, though felt a twinge of guilt. It wasn't Captain Aizen's fault he had failed. His mentor had taught him everything he knew and made sure he learned it to a perfection. It wasn't his fault Ichigo had chosen to hide his powers until the end of the fight.
"I have already stated that, but since you chose not to listen to my advice, what would you have me say? I know it, and I know somewhere deep down inside of you, you know this event was not your fault. Repeatedly telling you this would be meaningless until you finally decide to believe it for yourself," Aizen replied and watched as his student's expression softened slightly and the anger dimmed away. He could still see the frustration in Ichigo's face and the sadness deep within his eyes.
"It is a tragedy what happened to lieutenant Shiba, but the circumstances could have been much worse. Instead of one death, there could have been many. Yes, Abarai-san and Kuchiki-san are scarred from the event, but they came back with their lives. The other members of the thirteenth division were able to walk away as well because you," Captain Aizen stated as he gently pushed back on his chair and slowly stood up. He wore a sad smile on his face as he walked around the desk and up to his student. He gently placed a comforting hand on the younger shinigami's shoulder.
"I do not expect you to get over this tragedy in one day, and suggest you take the next week to yourself. Visit your friends and I will find out when lieutenant Shiba's funeral is and we will all attend," Captain Aizen told him as the younger man bowed his head. "For what it is worth, I am very proud of you," he watched as the orange-haired shinigami raised his head and looked confused, and the captain raised his hand before the other could speak. "You may look at this as a failure, but I see it as you were able to keep your promise and protect those you could."
"I'm sorry," Ichigo sighed as Aizen took a step back away from him and the youth looked down at the chair he had knocked over. "I…" he began to say before his captain shook his head.
"There is no reason to apologize. Your reaction is natural after what you experienced," Captain Aizen stated as he leaned against his desk and watched the younger man look hesitant, like he wanted to confess something to him.
"Rukia saw my bankai," Ichigo revealed and scratched the back of his head, his eyes played down at the ground. "When I felt lieutenant Shiba disappear, I panicked and used it. She was the only one who saw it, and I made her promise not to tell anyone…" Ichigo paused and shifted to his side like a guilty child who had done something wrong. He figured his captain would have realized that he had used his powers, not to their fullest extent, but had broken his promise on keeping his powers dormant from public view.
"I figured as much," Captain Aizen said as he saw the boy look uneasy. This had been the perfect way to test the boy, after all. If he had broken his promise, his friends would have died and left the boy in his clutches, but he had chosen to save them and his loyalty seemed to waver. Still, he had expected this result and knew it would take just a little longer. Though, he was impressed the boy had come right out and confessed that he had betrayed his trust. He hadn't expected that, but it was only an added bonus that benefited him.
"You do not need to look ashamed about it. I taught you in order for you to keep your word that you could protect those you care about from danger and you did just that. What I was concerned mainly about was you showing off your powers and revealing that I was picking favorites by teaching you," Aizen stated and lied ever so smoothly. By teaching the boy, it served many purposes that helped Aizen along the way. Not only did it make the boy think he was keeping his promise to his dead mother and friend by getting stronger, but it helped gaining the boy's trust. It also would help when they descended to Hueco Mundo from this pitiful place. He did not need to be surrounded by more weaklings, but with this boy releasing his potential, he would be strong enough to stand by their side when they left Soul Society.
"Don't worry, she won't tell anyone," Ichigo clenched his hands into fists at his sides, not realizing until then that he felt slightly better talking with his mentor. He still felt guilt overwhelming him, but not to the degree it had when he first entered the office. "Thanks, for talking to me," Ichigo turned his head away.
"You know you can always speak to me about anything, and I will never hold anything against you. You know I will always make time for you even if I have to rearrange my schedule," Aizen told him with a soft smile on his face.
"Why?" Ichigo suddenly asked. He already knew the answer, but couldn't help letting it escape his lips once more. He knew the only reason why Aizen had trained him was to help him reach his potential, but there had to be more. He could have simply let him train and figure things out on his own. "Why have you been helping me? Not only that, but listen to my shit?" He asked, his face becoming serious. He watched his captain raise an eyebrow and only smiled affectionately.
"I will admit, I first wished to train you to help unlock your potential. I could see you were going to be powerful, even during your finals at the academy. I knew you would one day become a great shinigami and wished to help you along. Over the years, I found myself growing more attached through our training sessions. However, when you opened up about your past, I felt more sympathetic and protective of you. You've grown to be more than just one of my officers and student. I guess, as cheesy as it may sound though true, I feel like you're the son I never had," Aizen turned away and walked back behind his desk and look out the window.
"I've watched you train and fight to become stronger. You've always been able to impress me where very few have been able to. As I told you earlier, I'm proud how you have progressed and grateful to have been able to help you along the way," he stated and didn't tear his eyes away from the darkening sky as Ichigo came to stand beside him. "I know your mother and Tatsuki would be proud of you too."
Ichigo stared up at his captain, slightly shocked by the answer. He hadn't expected that answer from him. He thought he only saw him as a ranked officer and took it as his duty to be there for him like the others. The fact he thought of him like a son…Ichigo didn't know what to think. He hadn't always felt comfortable around the man at first, but found himself respecting his captain where very few earned that respect and trust. He never judged him on what he had to say or hide the truth from him. He would always push him to work harder and remind him of his goal that he had placed upon himself…
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts and he froze when he saw Captain Ichimaru step in with his ever-famous creepy grin. "Hiya Captain Aizen! I was just stoppin' by ta see if ya wanted ta go to the fourth division ta pay our respects ta lieutenant Shiba," Gin asked, closing the door behind him and his smile never faltered, even when he saw Ichigo in the office.
"I suppose I should," Aizen replied before turning back to Ichigo who looked startled by Gin. "Why don't you go rest for the night," he suggested, but noticed Ichigo took a step back when Gin came up next to him.
"So how's your training goin', Ichi-chan?" Gin asked as he wrapped a friendly arm around the younger shinigami who flinched. He had heard stories about Captain Ichimaru, and none of them were good. Many had said that he shouldn't have been a captain and never to turn your back on him unless you wanted to be stabbed in the back. Others had said he got off on taunting and mocking other shinigami before killing them.
"Uh," Ichigo broke the contact and stepped away from the other man. His eyes narrowed at the silver-haired captain, watching his every move.
"There is no need to be afraid of Gin, Ichigo," Captain Aizen stated as he placed his hands behind his back and ease his student's mind. "I used to train him when we were in the same division and he became my lieutenant. I know he has a bad record," his eyes passed over to Gin who shrugged carelessly.
"Can't be helped. People around here are just too stuck up and it is so much fun messing with them," Gin looked at his former captain.
"And this is why there are several rumors passing around about you," Aizen shook his head, the whole thing just an act for Ichigo. "None of them are true," he glanced at his current student. "People make up their own fantasy rather than understand what is the truth. I assure you, we've been friends for years and what you have heard about him is all false."
"Aw, why did ya have to go ahead and spoil my secret," Gin pouted before taking a step closer to Ichigo. "Ya won't spoil it for me will ya? I'd hate for ya ta end up in a ditch," Gin grinned and Ichigo narrowed his eyes at the third division captain.
"Gin," Aizen warned before the other captain chuckled and patted Ichigo on the back.
"Don't worry, I wouldn't do that. Besides, with Captain Aizen trainin' ya, we're sort of like brothers now," Gin shook his hand through Ichigo's hair, messing it up and causing the younger shinigami to scowl and swat his hand away.
"I'm not going to end up crazy, am I?" Ichigo asked, looking over at his captain who smiled and simply shook his head.
"Gin, please leave him alone. I wouldn't blame him if he decided to cut your hand off after the day he has had. Besides, we should be visiting the fourth division before it is too late," Aizen sighed, feeling a small spark of anger towards his former student. Of all the times he had to interrupt, he had to do it now?
"Aw, fine then. I'll see ya later, Ichi-chan!" Gin waved to the younger shinigami before going out the door to wait for his former captain. Meanwhile, Aizen shook his head and turned towards Ichigo.
"As I said, he is harmless, despite his antics. Now then, why don't you get some rest, like I suggested and I'll see you later on this week," he ordered as Ichigo nodded and walked towards the door. Aizen turned his head away and looked towards some of the papers on his desk. He would have to order Gin to keep away from the boy until they were ready. This was not how he planned on introducing Ichigo to Gin or Tousen, and now he would have to work on this for the next months.
"Captain," Aizen raised an eyebrow and looked at the door where Ichigo was standing. "Thanks," he replied quietly before leaving.
"Who the fuck did this?" A voice echoed throughout the fourth division alerting everyone of the man's presence. Several division workers ran towards the room that was occupied by the loved ones of Kaien Shiba. Two members arrived to see a woman placing her hand on the man who was yelling's chest and had a murderous look in her eyes.
"Ganju, shut up and sit down, now!" Kūkaku Shiba yelled at her younger brother who was fuming. Ever since they received the news that their older brother, Kaien, had been killed, neither could believe it. Kaien had always been the strong one of the family, and the protector. The thought of their big brother killed was unthinkable. He couldn't have died, but reality hit and hard once they walked into the room.
Miyako still sat by Kaien, refusing to leave his side even when healers came and requested they check her over since she had been injured. She simply stared at her husband while everyone else was non-existent within the room. Luckily, Captain Unohana told them it could wait since Hanatarou had done the best job he could on healing the woman.
Captains, lieutenants, and many different officers from almost every division showed up to pay their respects to the fallen lieutenant and told her how sorry they were. Normally, her kind and friendly face would greet them with a smile, but she didn't acknowledge them, and hoped they understood. Her whole world had been taken away from her. Every morning, she would wake up with her beloved husband next to her. Those mornings were now gone… A tear ran down her cheek, but she did not wipe it or her puffy eyes and let it drip down her face.
"Don't tell me to quiet down! I want to know the son of a bitch who did this! I'm going to beat the living hell out of him!" Ganju shouted before his sister slapped him across the face.
"And do what? Get yourself killed? Now is not the time for revenge!" Kūkaku yelled at her idiot of a brother before turning back to her other one. She closed her eyes and let out a small sigh of sadness. Despite the tough nature she was displaying, her heart broke when she had received the news. Seeing Kaien lying motionless on the bed and not breathing had hit home for her, and for Ganju. The entire way, she listened to him deny that their brother was dead until they saw the sad and pitiful expressions on many of the shinigami they passed when they reached the fourth division.
Ganju fisted his hands in anger before dropping down on his knees beside the bed his dead brother rested upon. His hands gripped the sheets as if to hold on for dear life and simply shook his head. Kūkaku stared down at him before eyeing her sister-in-law. The woman hadn't moved or said anything the entire time. She knew the kind-hearted woman was grieving and knew how much she had loved her brother. It was the only reason why she didn't try to scare the woman away when Kaien introduced her to the family. He had brought home many girlfriends before, but none of them were good enough for her brother. At least not until he brought home Miyako. The woman was determined to stand by him no matter what and proved herself in Kukaku's eyes of being worthy. Even now, she did not leave his side.
With one last sigh, she sat down on the other side of Kaien's bed and held his hand in hers, praying that wherever he maybe, he is in peace.
Later that night…
A stuffed animal sat on top of the building where all the seated officers slept right outside Ichigo's window. He had sneaked into the Seireitei only the day before after listening to the instructions Urahara had given him. He was to keep an eye on Ichigo Kurosaki and report any strange activity or news that he found. However, it wasn't hard to find out news with everyone in the division gossiping about what had happened to the lieutenant from the thirteenth division.
"Yes?" The mod soul heard Urahara say over the link he was given. He had been waiting for five minutes for the former captain to respond to him and had finally connected.
"Sir, I have located Ichigo Kurosaki and he is currently residing in his room. I have also found out he has recently returned home from a mission locating hollows that reside in the Rukongai. They say that the thirteenth division lieutenant was killed and I thought it would be information you would wish to hear," the mod soul stated and heard the other line go quiet.
In his shop, Kisuke lowered his head so that his hat was covering his already shaded eyes. He had not been expecting this news and glanced over at his companion who had frozen.
"What?" Yoruichi asked, slightly shocked. Kaien couldn't be dead! She had only contacted him days ago before he went on his mission. He was one of the most skilled lieutenants in the Gotei 13; there was no way a mere hollow could have taken him out…unless.
"Aizen," she cursed and punched the floor below her, creating a dent and leaving her fingers throbbing. The madman must have set the whole thing up and planted those hollows there. She clenched her fingers into the board before standing up and flash stepping out of the room, wanting to be alone.
Urahara simply shook his head and slowly took his hat off. How many more would die before this ended, and worse, if Aizen succeeded.
A/N: I was looking through my notes and realized I had changed part of the plot without realizing it, but it actually works out better with how it is now. Originally Renji had seen Ichigo's bankai and that started a mess for the next few chapters, but that has been cutAnd then I was having problems with this chapter and kept deleting it (one of the versions I gave Aizen a back-story, but didn't like it so it is deleted). Once again sorry for the late update and I'll try to get back to the routine of every week, especially with the chapters that are coming up that are my personal favorite in the story!
I'm willing to share what my inspiration for this fic is: Angels by Within Temptation, kinda fitting considering the direction the fic will be turning within a few chapters.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed, and please review!