Chapter One: I'll Never Bow to You
"You may be my captain, but I'll never bow to you! You're nothing more than a murderer! You killed Captain Aizen!!" Hinamori screamed at Ichigo, her face cherry red and her voice shaking with barely suppressed rage. Ichigo had known people to get angry at him for his stand-offish attitude, but never this angry. And he hadn't even done anything wrong. He merely killed Aizen, and the entire Soul Society was grateful, well, the entire Soul Society, save Hinamori Momo. The worst part was, though, that she had burst out like this at Ichigo's coronation ceremony when he was receiving his captain's robe. Naturally, along with receiving the robe, it was traditional for the lieutenant of the squad to bow to the new captain to show their respect and willingness to serve. Ichigo didn't think that was going to happen, though.
"Hinamori Momo!" the commander-general said in a stern voice. "You will show your respect to Captain Kurosaki. Do not allow your personal feelings to interfere with your…"
"It's alright, Commander-General. She doesn't have to bow if she doesn't want to…" Ichigo said quietly to the surprise of many of the captains and lieutenants standing before them. Ichigo always had a bit of a scary look on his face, but apparently he was nicer than he looked. Most people, whether or not they were captains, would be incensed to be accused of being a murderer in front of all of their comrades. But Ichigo just stood there and took the insult like it was nothing. Someone had to kill him, though, and why not Ichigo? True, his method of becoming a Shinigami had been unconventional at best, but he was probably one of the most powerful captains in the Soul Society, and he had even destroyed his inner hollow.
Ichigo bowed to Commander General Yamamoto and donned his robe before walking slowly out of the hall, leaving Momo glaring at him from behind. Ichigo had appeared unfazed by Momo's accusation throughout the ceremony. However, inside, it had deeply shaken him. He had been fighting an internal battle for over a year, now, since he had killed Aizen. He had known that Aizen was a terrible person who had done terrible things, but still, he had never been forced to kill another Shinigami. It hadn't been like slaying Hollows, or even Arrancar. He didn't know who he could talk to, though. Renji would just say to get over it. Rukia would probably hit him for being an idiot, which, he probably was being an idiot, and he didn't really know anyone else well enough to talk to them, except perhaps Urahara Kisuke, or Shihoin Yoruichi. They were definite possibilities. He had never before been forced to kill another Shinigami, and it felt awful.
He could feel himself being patted on the shoulder and hear himself being greeted, now as Captain Kurosaki, by people who knew him, but he was lost in his own world. He couldn't leave it for anyone, lest he break down and start crying on the spot. Captains didn't cry. Kurosaki Ichigo didn't cry. He had sworn right after his mother died that he would never cry again, that he would never burden anyone with his problems. He slowly trudged through the Seireitei, so deep in thought that he hardly even noticed when he practically plowed right through a female Shinigami and stepped on her glasses. In fact, he would have kept right on going had the woman not stopped him.
"Hey! You've got a lot of nerve, just running right over a lieutenant like that… And you stepped on my glasses!? Who do you think you are!?" she said indignantly. Nanao wasn't usually given to such bouts of aggression, but she couldn't see for shit without her glasses, and he had just crushed them. Of course, she could mend them in an instant, but that wasn't the point. She figured she would make him do it, just on principal.
"Oh, sorry Lieutenant Ise…" Ichigo said numbly, hardly paying attention. He bent down and picked up her glasses, muttering the Kidô that would fix them, and watching as they flew back together. Nanao put on her glasses once more and brushed off her robes before finally noticing who she had been talking to.
"C-Captain Kurosaki!! P-please forgive my rudeness. I must not have been…"
"Don't apologize. I hate it when people apologize to me. I was a little bit distracted. I didn't mean to run you over." Ichigo muttered, not even acknowledging the fact that she could not possibly have been at the coronation ceremony if she was all the way out there when he ran into her, walking toward where the ceremony had been.
"Um… H-have a good day, captain," she said distractedly, rushing off with her book once again in her arms. Shortly after, Kyoraku Shunsui came after her and stopped to smile at Ichigo.
"It looks like you gave my lieutenant a bit of a scare. However, I was surprised that you were able to plow right through her. She may look delicate, but she's no pushover."
"Um… No… Of… Well… I know…" Ichigo said, his thoughts fragmenting more and more the longer he spoke. Kyoraku looked at him curiously and laughed.
"Ah, well. Would you like to have some Sake with me, Ichigo?" Kyoraku asked jovially, hoping that he could get Ichigo to loosen up a bit on his first day as a captain. After all, being a captain was a stressful job, well, not for Shunsui, because he was the laziest man alive, most likely, but for most, it was stressful. He had even gotten Toshiro to drink with him on his first night, and the small white haired captain laughed the night away. Maybe Ichigo would do the same.
"Um… I'm only 16. I can't drink." Ichigo said, shaking his head and collecting his thoughts. He was starting to think more clearly now, and he wasn't sure that a drink would be such a bad idea.
"The law is a little bit different in Soul Society. There is no age restriction on drinking. It's one of the best things about Seireitei. They have great bars. However, why don't you join me in my quarters?" he said brightly, patting Ichigo on the back, able to sense that he was troubled about something, but not quite sure what. Ichigo sighed and nodded, following Shunsui to his quarters.
He had decorated the room with unusual furnishings and there was even an indoor pond on the right side of the room under a waterfall. The place seemed the picture of tranquility, and Ichigo instantly felt at ease here. There was a nice cool breeze wafting around the room from the open window, and the sunlight streamed through it, lighting up the pond, causing light to flicker across the room on occasion when water droplets splashed up from the waterfall that seemed to run through the building. Ichigo was impressed with how complex this room was, and could only imagine that it had taken a lot of magic to get it this way.
"Ah, I see you like the decorations. Actually, I made it like this when I first became a captain. I had the help of Jushiro, Old Man Yama, and Captain Unohana, of course, but I designed the entire thing myself. The grass that's growing in here and the flowers give it a pretty real feeling don't they? I have a desk and everything, but I've even managed to magic the place to make it sound as though there are birds and other animals in the room. It's like a glade, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's amazing, Captain Kyoraku. How did you think of all this?"
"Oh, well, this entire building is an exact copy of my favorite human world location. Now, let's drink. To our newest captain." Kyoraku said and he began sipping on his sake. Ichigo took a deep swig, and Kyoraku instantly poured more for him. Ichigo didn't really know how much one was generally supposed to drink. He had never learned that in high school, and he had never learned it on his own either, so he drank the second serving and talked for a while with Kyoraku, mostly allowing him to do the talking. There wasn't much that Ichigo had to say. He was a little bit distracted by everything else that was going on, so he hardly noticed when Kyoraku poured a third glass for him and he downed it in one gulp. Kyoraku laughed and poured himself a second helping. He was surprised that Ichigo was going through the sake so quickly, but he was pleased at least to see that Ichigo was enjoying himself.
Before long, however, Ichigo had drunk seven cups of sake and was completely wasted. Ichigo swayed where he sat, hardly able to sit up straight. His eyes slid in and out of focus as he tried to concentrate long enough to see where Kyoraku was.
"Hey, C-captain…" he slurred, his words sounding less like words and more like vague sounds. Kyoraku waved at him and called, getting his attention.
"Is Hinamori-san always so emotional, or am I jus' that much of a bastard?" Ichigo asked drunkenly, hiccupping and taking another swig of sake and dribbling it down his chin and onto his robes. Kyoraku looked at him sympathetically.
"Hinamori is just angry. She feels you are trying to replace Aizen, and, I suppose you are. But, she'll grow used to you, probably. Is it that you like Hinamori? She is rather cute."
"No, no… *Hic*. I jus'… 'S'nothin'…" Ichigo said. Even when he was drunk, he was closed to others. Kyoraku's plan wasn't working as well as he had thought that it would. Ichigo was drunk as hell, but he wasn't opening up at all. He was surprised, though. Even Toshiro, the most distant captain among the Thirteen Court Guards had opened up. But apparently Ichigo wasn't that easy to probe.
The next morning, Ichigo awoke to a raging headache and a bad need to throw up. He shot up from the ground and ran over to a tree, and right before he was about to hurl, Kyoraku stopped him.
"Please don't desecrate my office. It may look like a natural glade, but that's still a wooden floor on which you are kneeling. Here's a garbage bag. Feel free to keep it."
Ichigo nodded and grabbed the bag, throwing up into the plastic, instantly feeling a little bit better. It wasn't enough, though. He threw up a second time, and then a third, coughing and hacking as he did, racking his throat with pain as the contents of his stomach came flying out of his mouth and into the bag. He was glad that he at least had a bag, though. He sighed in relief as he finished and then he walked out of the room and into the bathroom to wash his mouth out with some mouthwash, which felt refreshing against the sour taste of last night's alcohol and vomit. He spit and then stood up, seeing Kyoraku standing in front of him, laughing.
"I see you found the bathroom alright. That's good. How are you feeling?" he asked. Ichigo glared at Kyoraku, who gulped and stepped back. Ichigo had finally figured out that it had been Kyoraku's plan all along to get him drunk. He couldn't believe that he had gone along with Kyoraku's cockamamie plan, in spite of his better judgment. Everything around him seemed horribly loud and bright. Kyoraku's robe, which was usually a soft pink, seemed fluorescent and his voice, which usually was soft and gentle, seemed like it was booming louder than a loudspeaker that was echoing in a huge cavern. He could hear each drop of water in the sink, hitting the porcelain bowl and splashing, making an unbearable racket. He could hear crickets and birds from Kyoraku's quarter's chirping up a storm that sounded louder than thunder. Ichigo had to cover his ears and walk quickly out of the room. Unfortunately, everywhere else in the building was worse. The sunlight streaming through the windows seemed to bring white hot blindness to Ichigo and every step that he took echoed and reverberated off of the floor and the walls. Finally, he got dressed and ran out of the building, hoping to find some comfort in his own quarters, which were unfortunately halfway across the Seireitei. It was pretty quiet out so early in the morning, but there were a few early birds taking a morning walk or something, and unfortunately, he had not made it fifty yards when he was stopped.
"Hey, Kurosaki! Watch it! You almost bumped into me!!" came an angry, loud yell from mere feet away. It could only have been Soi Fon, who was known for her temper, and widely disliked. Normally, Ichigo would have apologized, but today, he was only interested in having solitude and quiet.
"Could you please not yell!?"
"Excuse me!?" Soi Fon replied, louder still. Ichigo groaned.
"I don't feel well, and I'm trying not to pass out from your exceptionally loud and abrasive voice, captain!" he shouted sarcastically, not thinking about the irony of yelling at someone to quiet down. Soi Fon looked like she was about to say something else, but then Yoruichi came along and grinned at Ichigo.
"G'morning, Ichigo. Hi, Soi Fon-chan…" she said, nibbling a bit on Soi Fon's ear, causing the younger captain to blush heavily and shudder.
"Lady Yoruichi!" she cried, turning bright red, small tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. "Not in front of this peasant!"
"Oh, calm down. What's the use in getting angry? If he says that he doesn't feel well, it would explain why he wants you not to yell. Let's let him get back to his own bed and settle in. And for the future, Ichigo, don't drink with Kyoraku. He has no restraint when serving sake." She whispered and then disappeared with Soi Fon, picking her up bridal style and using Shunpo to disappear. Ichigo sighed and continued to slowly make his way back to his own quarters, which fortunately, were no longer that far away if he used Shunpo, which he decided would be easier than walking.
When he got to his front door, he sighed with relief and opened it, only to be greeted by a loud and boisterous cheer of "CONGRATULATIONS!!!" and in addition, he heard the popping of several streamer cannons, which shot their contents all over his floor in a squawk of confetti and smoke. After a moment, he noticed the individual people there. Rukia, Renji, Kenpachi, Yachiru, Ikkaku, Yumichika, and even Byakuya, who was standing there, having just blown on a party whistle while still wearing his usual deadpan face. He could see why Rukia, Renji and Ikkaku might be there, but he wondered a bit about Byakuya and the rest of them. They weren't close friends or anything, and Ichigo doubted if Byakuya even liked him. After all, the stoic captain had never shown any sign of even really respecting Ichigo. While it was true that he seemed not to particularly object to Ichigo being a captain, that could just have been because he was so powerful, and much needed in the Soul Society. The only thing that Byakuya seemed to care about was his precious set of rules, and perhaps Rukia, although he had an odd way of showing it.
"Congratulations on becoming a captain, Ichigo… Er… Captain Kurosaki…" Rukia said brightly and a little bit louder than Ichigo would have liked, but underneath her bright tone was a secret nervousness that seemed to lace her entire demeanor. He was happy to see Rukia, and everyone else, though. He had been a little bit nervous at first that his becoming a captain would isolate him from everyone else that he had formerly been friends with. Apparently, that wasn't true, though. Wait. Had Rukia just called him "captain"? Maybe she had been joking, but she didn't look like she was. Ichigo laughed nervously and looked at Rukia.
"What's up, Rukia? Why are you calling me 'captain'? I'm still the same person I've always been."
"Well… Um…" Rukia began, looking nervously into Ichigo's face and then glancing away.
"I-it's just… A little bit different, now that you're a captain. Nobody expected you to defeat Aizen, Cap… Ichigo." She said, forcing herself to use his name. "You were made a captain in the Soul Society because you were able to do things that not even any of the other captains could have done. You're exceptional, even by Shinigami standards. You became a Shinigami when you were still a human. You learned Bankai in three days and used it to defeat Nii-sama. You went into Hueco Mundo and rescued Orihime, defeating Aizen's most powerful Espada and then killing Aizen, something that not even Commander-General Yamamoto was sure if he could do, and in the process, you completely merged your hollow half and your Shinigami half. C… Ichigo, you'll have to forgive us if a few people feel a little bit intimidated by your power."
"S-so… You're scared of me, now?" Ichigo asked, causing Renji to look over concernedly.
"Ichigo, that isn't what she meant! Remember when you fought Aizen in Soul Society? He stopped your Bankai with one finger and nearly cut you in half at the waist. Now imagine if you had less than half the power you had at the time, and were facing someone with more power than Aizen. How do you think you would feel!? It's only natural to feel a little bit unnerved by such a level of power that Rukia and I could never hope to achieve if we had a thousand years of training!"
"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend anyone…" Ichigo said quietly, almost forgetting that there had been a party there in his honor and walking out of the room and going upstairs to find his own bedroom. It was a big building, bigger than his home when he had lived above the Kurosaki Clinic, bigger even than Urahara Shoten, not including the underground training grounds.
Meanwhile, downstairs, everyone stared at Rukia for a moment. Even Renji hadn't expected her to act so timid around Ichigo. It was true that Ichigo had a frightening amount of power, but for her to act as though she barely knew him was odd to see.
"I'm sorry!" she suddenly shouted, unable to take the staring of everyone, and she ran out the front door, slamming it and sitting down on the front step. For a moment, she didn't know what to think, and then, after her initial shock subsided, she broke down, sobbing. She was afraid, but not of Ichigo, though. She was afraid of losing him. She had seen what power could do to people. More than one seemingly good person in Soul Society had been corrupted by power, and it wasn't pretty when it happened. She was a little bit afraid of losing him to the power, but more than that, she was afraid that he was just in such a different place from her that they wouldn't be able to continue being friends. She was so upset that she didn't even realize when Byakuya sat down next to her and put a hand on her shoulder.
"You know, you look more like Hisana than ever, and yet, you're completely different from her. You know, when I joined the Academy, I met a boy with whom I became friendly. All during the Academy, we were the best of friends, and when we graduated, we were put in the same squad. Well, the years went by and I was promoted to lieutenant of Sixth Division, and he stayed 10th seat in 13th Division. Naturally, my duties as lieutenant kept me busy most of the time, and we started to see less and less of each other, and then I was informed that I had been promoted to captain. Soon after that, I saw my friend again, and we went out for drinks together. Things weren't the same anymore, though. He and I were emotionally and spiritually in different places, and when we left, he said that he didn't think that we should continue being friends. He felt isolated from me by a thick wall that just couldn't be penetrated anymore. I don't want to see that happen between you and Kurosaki. I may not approve of everything that he stands for, but I can tell from looking at him that he's a good person who has his friends' best interests at heart. Perhaps you should tell him how you feel."
"I-I couldn't. He would scorn me. I would rather never ask how he feels than to know that he looks down on me."
"Well, if you really feel that way, then perhaps you should wait a while. Just think about it. Just don't wait until it's too late."
"Thank you, Nii-sama…"
"Call me Byakuya. After all, I am your brother."