By: eternalsailorsolarwind AKA youkai_girl
Disclaimer: Bleach and all of its characters are owned by Tite Kubo, his Japanese publishers, and Viz. I only play with them for grins and giggles.
A/N: This was originally going to be a songfic, but I can still claim that the original inspiration for this fic came from Who Wants to Live Forever by Queen. Ichigo/Byakuya. Warnings for character death.
"No!" Ichigo's voice eclipsed the incessant din of the battlefield, shocking the combatants into a stunned silence.
All eyes turned to the substitute Soul Reaper, his agonized shout still echoing to the farthest edges of the extended battle. He, in turn, was staring at two men fighting on the roof of a nearby rukongai cottage. The reason for his scream was evident immediately: Ichimaru Gin had just run the former ryoka's lover, Kuchiki Byakuya, through.
Shinsou pierced the noble's chest just below the ribcage, part of the blade visible through the back of his captain's haori. As everyone watched, the traitor turned the blade, driving the captain to his knees. Coughing painfully, blood trickled down Byakuya's chin. Ichimaru's ever-present grin turned malicious and blood-thirsty as he withdrew his zanpaktou, flicking the blood away with a practiced motion.
As the noble collapsed onto the roof, his kenseikan slipped free from long black hair and tumbled to the ground. A small trail of blood began to ooze after it, as if reaching to retrieve the fallen hair ornament.
Eyes dipping to kenseikan lying in the dust, Ichigo absently struck down a low-level Arrancar that tried to use his distraction to its advantage. A low growl began somewhere around the soles of his feet, gathering strength and outrage as it rose through him, emerging in a roar that would rival that of a lion – or a wounded Hollow.
Reaching up, still in full bankai from his last fight, Ichigo locked eyes with the smirking Ichimaru. Unspoken threats and amusement flowed back and forth between the two men in the few seconds the gaze lasted. Drawing his Vaizard mask over his face, Ichigo darted forward to attack the man who had just cut down his lover.
The air rang with the clash of two zanpkatou. Engrossed in their fight, neither man paid any attention to the watching ranks of shinigami, Arrancar, and Espada that now ringed them. Ichigo barely even noticed Byakuya being whisked away, so intent was he on Ichimaru.
"You'll pay for this, bastard," grated Ichigo between thrusts. "I'm going to send you back to Aizen in pieces."
"Sorry, Ichi-chan," chuckled the fox-faced former captain, parrying every blow sent his way. Sword strokes designed to crowd him in close pushed Ichigo towards the edge of the roof. Ichimaru's eyes widened in glee when he brought a stinging cut across the Vaizard's chest – first blood. "Yer a hundred years too young to beat me, gaki."
Their blades crossed again, and the white-haired traitor leaned in close to his bleeding opponent, still delighted. "Ya know, I always wanted t'say that. Thanks fer givin' me the chance, Ichi-chan. It's almost too bad I gotta kill ya'. We coulda had a lot of fun t'gether."
With a feral growl, Ichigo pushed Ichimaru back. He rained a flurry of blows onto the man; several cuts appearing on Ichimaru's ghostly flesh. "Still think I'm a hundred years too young to take you on, Ichimaru?"
The former captain laughed, wiping blood away from a shallow slash on his cheek. "Heh. Not bad, boy. But I never said you were too young t' take me on – jus' too young t' win."
One hand still wiping away blood, the traitor counter-attacked. Off-balance, Ichigo grudgingly gave ground once more, looking for an opening.
It never came.
Backed to the roof's edge, everything froze as Shinsou bit into the flesh of Ichigo's chest at his heart. Déjà vu hit him. A zanpaktou to his heart started all this – and it looked like another would finish it. Dimly, over the sound of his own harsh breathing, he heard Rukia scream his name. He glared at Ichimaru over the top of the blade. "What are you waiting for?"
"That's why I like you, Ichigo. Always so serious, jus' like Aizen-sama. He knows what fun is, though. Too bad ya' never got the chance t' learn that." Ichimaru's grin widened. "Y'know, if yer release had ever stabilized, ya' might have actually had us worried. But ya' never made it. So I'll just send ya' off after Bya-kushi now. Let ya' die t'gether. Shinsou…"
Gin's command to his zanpaktou broke off as Ichigo began to chuckle. The former captain frowned at him, suspicious. His eyes widened when a second voice overlaid the Vaizard's behind the mask.
"Is that what you wanted," asked the now-dual-toned voice. "For the two of us to 'make nice' with each other? You assholes are somethin' else."
The white substance of the mask began to bubble and roil, before exploding to cover Ichigo's body in an exo-skeletal shape reminiscent of samurai armor. Above his Vaizard mask, now covering only half his face, his distinctive orange hair waved in the breeze caused by his transformation. Mis-matched eyes – glacial gold and enraged brown - glared at his opponent. A sardonic grin appeared as Ichimaru took an involuntary step backwards.
"Whattsa matter, Gin? I thought you wanted us to get along," taunted the Vaizard as he rested Zangetsu's blade on his shoulder. "Yer gonna regret givin' us a reason to."
In the blink of an eye, Ichigo moved. The former captain was suddenly at the eye of a tornado of sharp blades, a thousand and more cuts suddenly appearing on his body. As quickly as the storm began, it ended; Zangetsu poised against the traitor's throat. Ichimaru arched his throat instinctively to remove the point of the blade from his windpipe.
"I told you I was going to send you to Aizen in pieces," purred that strange dual voice. "Two'll get my point across. But don't worry, Gin-chan, you won't be lonely in hell for long."
With a single stroke, Ichigo decapitated Ichimaru. Kicking the lifeless body off the roof, he tossed the head to Ulquiorra, who lurked nearby. "Tell yer master I'm comin' for him next."
A heartbeat after the Espada transported himself from the battlefield, Ichigo hurtled through the still-stalled battle, taking out his rage and pain on the Arrancar and Espada that remained. He finally stopped at the small knot of people surrounding Byakuya; less than two minutes had passed since Ulquiorra left the field.
Standing at the other man's feet, Ichigo – still in his armored Vaizard form – stared down at the pale form of his lover. Hanatarou, always nearby, frantically tried to close the still-bleeding wound. The healer had opened Byakuya's shihakusho, pressing a cotton pad directly on it while trying to heal the captain.
The small, analytical part of Ichigo's brain – the only part of his mind not screaming in denial - noted that his lover would be horribly annoyed at the stain on his usually-immaculate uniform. He was terrified it was too late; that small part of him whispered that it was. Once again, he would be left behind by the one he loved. "Unohana-taichou is on her way," said Rukia breathlessly, laying her hand on his armored arm. "So is Isana. They'll save him."
Saying nothing, Ichigo nodded sharply once. He was afraid to speak; sure he would break down.
Byakuya's eyes fluttered open, and met Ichigo's worried gaze. An elegant eyebrow arched delicately at both the armor and the now-split mask – one eye still showing Shirosaki-gold. His throat working, the captain managed a weak, rusty-voiced question. "Ichimaru?"
"Dead. Now don't talk, dammit. Save yer strength. You'll need it to get better," Ichigo urged, his voice still a mixture of his own and his Hollow's.
The noble cracked a tiny smile, making the Vaizard worry more. Byakuya never smiled except when they were alone.
A sudden, racking cough broke the gentle smile on Byakuya's face, blood flecking his lips. Grey eyes shut again, as if the eyelids kept his life from escaping. The blood continued to ooze with every slowing beat of the noble's heart. Ichigo did not want to lose his lover; knowing how badly he handled loss.
"I'm glad you and Shirosaki finally made peace with one another, though I wish the circumstances were better," his lover murmured, struggling to reopen his eyes. "Try to remember that Zangetsu is right – you're not separate, but two halves of a whole."
Ichigo fell to his knees beside Byakuya as he reached for him, enveloping the well-manicured hand in his own. Swallowing thickly, he managed three more words in a hoarse whisper. "I love you."
The Vaizard's hand tightened spasmodically, as his lover's weak grip slackened, and grey eyes lost their sheen. Trying not to panic, Ichigo turned to Hanatarou, who shook his head sadly.
"I'm sorry, Ichigo."
The truth hit him with the suddenness of a fist to the gut. Raising his head, Ichigo howled in pain and loss. For the second time in his life, he had lost the most important person in his world. His cry of pain broke off in a choked sob. Tears slipped unknowingly down his face as he looked back to Byakuya and gently closed the staring eyes. Leaning over his lover's body, he pressed a gentle kiss to Byakuya's forehead, remembering how he'd teased the other man about his "noble brow."
Pulling back, Ichigo noticed drops of water on Byakuya's face, and realized he was crying. He used the sleeve of his shihakusho to dry his eyes. Even the mask-covered side of his face was wet.
The struggle to regain his composure took several minutes. Finally standing, he folded the limp hand on Byakuya's chest. His sludgy grief was beginning to melt in the raging heat of his desire for revenge. He was no longer a child; this time someone was going to pay.
"I'm going after Aizen," he said into the silence surrounding him. All eyes turned to him, widening in surprise.
"Now," asked Rukia in a choked voice.
"Yeah," he responded. "I have to."
"Now," she repeated insistently, looking at her brother's body with shimmering eyes. "It can't wait until after…."
He turned to look fully at her, cutting her off. She recoiled at the towering rage and aching sorrow in his mismatched eyes.
"I can't watch him go into the ground unavenged, Rukia. It has to be this way." He left unspoken that he could never stand to watch his lover be buried; forever cold and far away. "Please, Rukia. Just this once, don't argue with me."
"But…at least take some shinigami with you!"
"No," he replied, opening a portal to Hueco Mundo. "I won't die before Aizen. No one else will be in harm's way ever again."
About to enter the portal, he paused and looked back over his shoulder at Byakuya's prone body. Remembering a thousand little things that had made their relationship what it was; the promises they'd made. The future that would – could - never be. Closing his eyes, he straightened his spine, and walked towards the now-visible sand of Hueco Mundo. "Who wants forever anyway?"