Title: Heir to the Throne

Author: Random Inspiration (Zanpakuto Kappy on Deathberry) / alter3d.c0re

Rating: T

Summary: Kurosaki Ichigo is going to be the next Spirit King! But every king needs a queen, so each of the four noble houses must chose a suitor to vie for his affections.

Type: MULTI-CHAPTER / IchiRuki

Disclaimer: Tite Kubo owns Bleach and all of its characters, We don't. But that doesn't mean it's not fun to play in the universe he dreamed up.

Author's Note: Some of you might recognize this story. It was posted back in April 2009 under my co-author's Fan Fiction account. We just decided to move it to mine. I would like to thank my co-author, alter3d.c0re for the tremendous amount of time and effort he put into this story with me. Fair warning before we get started: some artistic liberties were taken, though not really enough for this to be called an AU story. For the purposes of this fic, we're going to set up the Kuchiki, Shihouin, Shiba, and Kasumi-Ouji as the four highest-ranking noble families. Other than that, standard Bleach rules apply. Read and enjoy, and please review! Reviews that say you like it are nice, but reviews that say why you like it are better.

Chapter 1: Breaking the News

The messenger stood on a Karakura rooftop watching the sunset. He couldn't believe the information Yamamoto had given him to deliver. He swallowed hard and used shunpo to move from rooftop to rooftop until he finally reached his destination. Once again, he went over the message:

You are ordered to go to the living world and deliver the following message: "Your brother has died without an heir. The rules of succession are clear, and either you or your son must return to the Soul Society within three days to inherit the throne. By authority of the fallen Spirit King, Yamamoto Genryuusai." I am entrusting you with this duty, Abarai Renji, because of the history you share with those who will be affected by it. You are to deliver this message, just as I have told it to you, to Kurosaki Isshin.

Renji sighed as he stood outside the Kurosaki Clinic. "You've gotta be kidding me," he said softly, shaking his head, "that punk is descended from nobility? What's the world coming to?" He gathered his courage and rang the bell, and a young girl answered the door. She looked to be in her early teens with a baseball cap pulled down over her dark hair and piercing eyes. She looked up at the tattooed fuku-taichou.

"Yes? Oh, you must be one of Ichi-nii's friends," she said before turning to shout over her shoulder, "ICHIGO! ONE OF YOUR CRAZY FRIENDS IS HERE!"

"Um, actually, I'm here to see...," Renji tried to correct her, but was interrupted by an answering shout from somewhere in the house, "WHO IS IT, KARIN? I'M BUSY!"

Karin turned back to Renji and looked up at him expectantly. "Well, which one are you?"

"Abarai Renji," he stammered, "but I'm really..."

"IT'S ABARAI-SAN!" she yelled over her shoulder again, cutting him off.

Renji saw his friend come racing down the steps and bump Karin out of the way.

"You're welcome," she said, rolling her eyes and walking away.

"Thanks, Karin," he shot back, receiving a dismissing wave for his trouble. "So, Renji, what's up?"

"Actually, Ichigo, I'm here to see someone else."

"Who, exactly? Rukia?" Ichigo growled as he moved his hand to reach for his zanpakuto before remembering he he wasn't in shinigami form. Instead he settled for resting his hand on the door frame to block Renji's entry.

Renji grinned wolfishly at the implied threat and held up a hand to forestall any rash action on Ichigo's part, when both men turned at a sudden sound coming from the hallway behind Ichigo. "I-CHI-GOOO!" screamed Kurosaki Isshin, launching a easily blocked flying kick at his son's head. "Why didn't you tell me we had a guest! Is this one of your friends?"

"Yeah. Renji, this is Kurosaki Isshin, my lunatic father," he said, rolling his eyes. "Dad, this is Abarai Renji, a friend of me and Rukia," he growled, stressing 'friend' for Renji's benefit, "now go away, Dad."

"Pleased to meet you, Kurosaki-san," said Renji with a glance at his friend, "but it's not Ichigo I'm here to see. It's you."

The deep voice that answered Renji was familiar, but Ichigo had never heard him use that tone before. "Abarai-kun, come in." The sudden change left Ichigo dumbstruck. He turned to see Isshin standing behind him, clad in a shihakusho with the remnants of a captain's haori flowing behind him. "Kisuke warned me you would be coming to see me," he explained, "though he didn't give any more details than that."

Renji bowed deeply. "Thank you, Kurosaki-taichou. I have a message for you from Yamamoto-soutaichou."

Isshin's forehead wrinkled with concern. He reached out and touched Ichigo's shoulder, gently pulling his dazed son's arm down so their guest could come in. Ichigo yielded to his father and Renji stepped past him, following the elder Kurosaki into the living room. "Come, sit down, Abarai-kun. You too, Ichigo." Ichigo followed numbly, trying to reconcile the goofy idiot he knew his father to be with the serious-looking shinigami standing in front of him now. He flopped on the couch next to Isshin while Renji sat down in the recliner across from them. "Now, what business does Yamamoto have with me?"

Renji cast an apologetic glance at Ichigo who seemed to be recovering slowly from his initial shock. "I guess Kurosaki-taichou never told Ichigo about his history in Soul Society or who his family was. Hell, even I didn't know until the old man told me," he thought. He cleared his throat and closed his eyes, relaying the message word for word. When he had finished, he sat back and opened his eyes again and looked across the coffee table. Isshin was deep in thought, nodding his head. Ichigo's eyes were wide as he processed the news. "Ichigo," Renji began, "you okay, man?"

Ichigo blinked hard a few times and looked back and forth between his father and his red-haired friend. "Are you serious? This has to be a joke, right?"

"I'm afraid not, son," Isshin answered, putting his hand on Ichigo's knee and turning to Renji. "Was there anything else, Abarai-kun?"

"No, sir. Urahara-san said for me to tell you that the gate can be made ready for the return trip at any time."

Isshin nodded then turned to look at Ichigo, who was still glancing between the two men. "I know you have questions, Ichigo," he started when Ichigo suddenly stood up.

"QUESTIONS? DAMN RIGHT I'VE GOT QUESTIONS!" he screamed, swinging a punch at his father's head, only to have his fist caught squarely in his father's palm. "WHO THE HELL ARE YOU? WHAT'S ALL THIS ABOUT THE SPIRIT KING AND LAWS OF SUCCESSION? WHEN THE HELL WERE YOU GOING TO TELL ME YOU WERE A SHINIGAMI?"

"Calm down, son," Isshin replied with a nod toward Ichigo's captured fist, "now's not the time for fun and games. Sit down and let me tell you a story that I think will answer a majority of your questions." Ichigo stood frozen in place, dumbfounded. "First I find out Dad's a shinigami, an ex-captain, no less, and now he's blocked a punch? He's never been able to do that! What the hell is going on?" he thought. He sat back onto the couch and did his best to listen as Isshin told the story.

"I was born the second son of the King around the time Christopher Columbus was leaving Spain. My father died suddenly not long afterward and my brother ascended to the throne. I spent many carefree years living in his household, but to be honest I always envied the shinigami. I heard those who were promoted into the royal guard tell their stories about living in Seireitei and fighting hollows. It sounded so romantic, so exciting. More than anything I wanted to grow up to defend the world of the living from the hollows. Finally, after years of dreaming, I got up the courage to approach my brother about it. He gave me his blessing on the condition that I used an assumed family name, since the royal family doesn't have one. I chose Kurosaki for myself because it was my great-great-grandfather's given name. I also had to mask my reiatsu before coming to the academy, because as you know from experience, Ichigo, those of us who come from the royal family possess vast amounts of reiatsu. I had to spend several months before leaving home learning how to carefully control it to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to myself. If anyone found out I was the king's brother...well, you can just imagine the kind of hell that would cause. It was worth the hassle, though, and I enrolled in Yamamoto's academy to learn the ins and outs of shinigami life. I even purposely failed my 'Introduction to Kidou' class for fun the first time through, and..," he trailed off seeing the look on Ichigo's face, "I guess there's time for academy stories later. So that explains who I am, I guess, and covers what the Spirit King means to us. Now, as for the laws of succession, it's pretty simple: the oldest son of the king inherits the throne. If the king dies without an heir, either the previous King's next oldest son or the oldest son of the next generation will inherit it. In this case, since I still have to raise Yuzu and Karin, that would be you."

Ichigo's mouth opened and closed a few times as he tried to find the words to ask the next question on his mind. Finally getting his composure, he quietly asked, "So why are you here? Why are Yuzu, Karin, and I here? What happened that made you stay in the living world? Did mom know?"

Isshin sighed and hung his head. "Not at first, but once you were born with the ability to see spirits, I had to tell your mother about my life as a shinigami. It was hard for her to accept at first, but she came to understand eventually. You see, twenty-two years ago, I met your mother while I was on a mission. I was field testing one of the 12th division's new gigais and ran into her outside a coffee shop. I fell in love with her and never went back. After a couple of months, as with Rukia-chan, they sent hunters after me to bring me back by force. As punishment for abandoning my duty as a shinigami I was stripped of my powers and exiled."

"They stripped you of your powers?" asked Ichigo, gesturing at his father's shihakusho, "then what the hell is this? A Halloween costume?"

"As I said, those of us who come from the royal family possess more reiatsu than a normal shinigami would be able to control. They stripped me of everything that I had, but since then I have been recovering slowly."

"That explains why you're here and why you've stayed, but why didn't you tell me about any of this? Obviously you knew that I was a shinigami, right?"

"Well, when you were born there was no guarantee that you'd ever fully develop into a shinigami, Ichigo. In fact, for a long time I hoped that you wouldn't, that you'd be able to live a normal life. That is, until she came."

"She? You mean Rukia?" interjected Renji, who had been listening intently to the story.

Isshin nodded. "When Rukia-chan first arrived, my worst nightmares were coming true: a hollow was attacking my family. I hadn't recovered my powers enough to fight it, but could sense a shinigami's reiatsu close by, so I figured she'd take it out before it got close enough to do any real harm. You both know what happened after that." The two younger men nodded their understanding. "Since then, I've been biding my time, watching you grow, watching her teach you. What I couldn't see I heard about through Kisuke. I'm so very proud of what you've become, Ichigo," he said, a hint of his usually goofy smile returning to his face. "and the reason I didn't tell you about all this was because you had enough on your plate: saving Rukia-chan from execution, training to enter Hueco Mundo, fighting Aizen. There was always something. I even tried to tell you once, when I gave you that "good luck charm," but I lost my nerve. I'm sorry."

Ichigo nodded, starting to understand the stress his father had been under. "A child of the royal family leaves home, becomes a shinigami, then abandons his duties for a woman and gets exiled from Soul Society," he thought. "Sounds like material for a movie of the week." He sighed and scratched his head. "So, what happens now?"

"Well," replied Isshin, grateful that the topic had moved away from his past, "as Abarai-kun said, you've got three days to get your affairs in order, because after that you're headed to Soul Society. It is the duty of the Spirit King to help maintain the balance between the world of the living and Soul Society. With Central 46 wiped out, you would be the first king in ages to be more than a figurehead. It would be up to you to help Yamamoto return some stability to the Seireitei after this long period of war."

The color began to rise in Ichigo's face. "So I don't even get a choice in the matter? Because of an accident of birth I'm bound to this fate? What about school? What about my friends? What about my duties as a shinigami here? What about you, and Karin, and Yuzu?"

"It's not like you'll never see them again, Ichigo," his father replied. "The reason the Spirit King resides in a different dimension than the rest of Soul Society is for his own safety. There are some nobles who would just adore having one of their own on the throne and who would do anything to see that happen. ANYTHING. But, people do move from Soul Society to the royal household. It's why Yamamoto-soutaichou keeps the King's Key, remember? It would be a simple task to have anyone you wanted brought to you for a visit, and messages pass fairly easily between worlds as well. You'd be surprised, actually." Ichigo stood up and turned to go back upstairs. "Where are you going?"

"I've got packing to do," he sighed, "and three days is not a lot of time to do that and say goodbye to everyone...," he stopped speaking and stood very still after taking only four steps. "Especially to Rukia," he whispered after a moment as his expression changed. Instead of his usual scowl he wore a look of profound sadness as he reached the top of the stairs and slammed his bedroom door behind him.

"I'd say that went well," said Isshin, standing up from the couch and rubbing his eyes. "I need a beer, Abarai-kun, "he said, turning to face his guest, "are you coming?"

"Y-yeah. I mean, yes, sir," he said, "but are you sure Ichigo will be okay?"

"He'll be fine," replied the elder shinigami as he stepped back into his gigai. "He's tougher than anyone gives him credit for. Even our little Rukia-chan," he added with a twinkle in his eye as opened the door. "He'll be fine."