A/N: Orihime is a chemist at a startup company that is acquired by Aizen in a hostile takeover. Ichigo is a doctor engaged to her. Orihime has developed an amazing power, with Ichigo's help. But what will Aizen do to control it? Can Orihime and Ichigo work together to stop him?
This is an AU co-written with Sophia E; everyone is human and there are no shinigami, but we try to keep everyone mostly in character. There will be many echoes from the canon story line, especially the events up through manga chapter 423 that came out in the fall of 2010. This story is an adventure thriller / romance. Most of the chapters involve various interactions between the three main characters, but many other Bleach characters have walk-on parts (see below for a chapter-by-chapter guide to characters). Thanks for reading.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.
Orihime was sitting at her lab bench, carefully pipetting a reagent into an Erlenmeyer flask, when the lab door opened and Yamamoto came in with a group of men in suits. She studiously avoided looking at them and concentrated on her work. There had been many rumors that the company was a takeover target, and executive types had been coming through her lab at all hours.
"This is Dr. Orihime Inoue, our head biochemist, and the inventor of our patented retrovirus rejection process." Orihime sighed inwardly. Ever since her work had become the chief source of revenue for the Gotei Corporation, the company president was eager to show her off to all the visiting bigwigs. She found it annoying because it interfered with her work.
She plastered a smile on her face and then looked up at the group. Her smile froze when she caught a glimpse of the man in front. Impeccably dressed in a tailored gray suit, he wore an expression of amused arrogance that immediately seemed familiar to her, although she had not laid eyes on this man for well over a decade. His deep brown eyes caught and held her gaze. His appearance had changed: he now wore his wavy brown hair swept back from his face, and there were no glasses obscuring his thickly lashed eyes. But the intensity and power of his expression was unchanged.
Yamamoto was still speaking. "Orihime, this is Sousuke Aizen, CEO of Las Noches Corporation. He -"
But Aizen was moving forward to take her hand. He smiled at her warmly. "Orihime and I are old friends. We went to high school together," he explained to Yamamoto in his rich baritone, not taking his eyes off Orihime.
Hearing his voice again after all these years, she was thrown back into a nightmare memory from her high school days.
"You can't go in there." Kaname Tousen, one of the lieutenants in Aizen's gang, stepped in front of the door to the school basement and blocked her entrance.
Orihime looked stricken. "Please," she whispered, "Aizen-san said I should come." She was lying, but she had to see him and ask the question that was burning in her mind.
Tousen looked at her with doubt in his eyes. He knew Aizen had a relationship with this girl, and might be angry if Tousen went against his wishes. On the other hand, Aizen had left strict instructions not to be disturbed. He often held secret meetings with his gang in the basement room, and always posted guards at the entrance.
He sighed and opened the door. Nodding her thanks, Orihime slipped inside quickly. As she made her way down the stairs, she heard voices below. There were about a dozen people in the dim room, standing in a rough semi-circle around a dark-haired girl with her head bowed. Aizen was relaxing in a chair on a raised platform at one end of the room, his chin propped on his hand. His bangs were falling over his face, and the dim light reflected off his glasses.
"So, you no longer wish to be a courier for me, Rukia?" Aizen's voice sounded calm and gentle. "In that case, you are no longer of any use to me." He lifted his gaze to look at the boy standing in the back of the room with slitted eyes and a wide smile. "Kill her, Gin."
"If I must," Gin Ichimaru said in a mocking voice as he moved forward, drawing a knife. There was a flurry of movement below and Orihime let out a gasp. In the shadows, she couldn't see what was happening.
Suddenly, Aizen was by her side. "Orihime, what are you doing here?" he asked as he steered her up the stairs with a hand in the middle of her back. Before she could protest, she was out the door and Aizen was glaring at Tousen, who was stammering his apologies.
"Sousuke," she asked in a panicked voice, "you weren't really ordering Gin to kill Rukia, were you?"
Aizen turned to her with a reassuring smile on his face. "Of course not. It was only a figure of speech." He ran his hand through her hair and brought his lips close to her ear. "You surely don't think I would do anything like that, do you?"
Indeed, Rukia had been alive and well after that incident. And as far as Orihime knew, she was still alive today.
But Aizen had terrified her ever since. She was not sure what he was capable of.
Now he was looking down at her, noting the fear in her eyes with amusement. "Orihime knew me in my wild, lawless days in high school. Perhaps she doesn't realize that I have reformed and am now a model citizen." He looked back over his shoulder at Yamamoto. "I would like to spend some time talking with Dr. Inoue about her process."
"Of course," said the old man with a dismissive gesture. "Should I leave you to talk now?"
Aizen looked back at Orihime. "I think perhaps... a lengthier period to talk... later tonight?" His voice dropped seductively and he stepped closer to her. "Orihime, are you available for dinner?"
"I, uh, ..." Orihime stuttered, looking up at him wide-eyed. She could not look away from the intensity of his gaze. His liquid-center brown eyes were even more beautiful than she remembered, and her knees suddenly felt weak. She could feel herself blushing, and Aizen's smile deepened in response.
Yamamoto said quickly, "I am sure Dr. Inoue can make time tonight." He looked meaningly at Orihime. He wanted her to be agreeable to the potential buyers of the company.
"Yeah, sure. I can cancel... I mean, I can be available tonight." She wasn't happy, because she would have to cancel a date with her fiance. But it didn't look like Yamamoto was giving her any choice.
"Good." Aizen's voice was silky with satisfaction. "I'll pick you up at six."
The men left the room and Orihime frowned in annoyance. She picked up her cell phone. "Ichigo? I'm afraid I have to cancel for tonight. Something's come up at work. Yeah, I'm sorry too."
She tried to ignore the hurt in his voice as he patiently said it was okay, he understood. Ichigo was a doctor at the clinic down the street, and he often had to work late as well. But she couldn't avoid a twinge of guilt that she wasn't being entirely truthful about tonight's plans. She knew that if Ichigo knew she was going out with Sousuke Aizen, he would be furious and all his protective instincts would be roused. Ichigo had gone to their high school as well and knew Aizen's reputation.
She closed the phone and sighed. She really didn't want to do this. Aizen was a chapter of her past that she regretted intensely. They had dated for a while, but it was mostly because Aizen had inexplicably developed an interest in her and had pursued her vigorously. Their relationship had been… strange. She still felt embarrassed about some of the things he had somehow persuaded her to do with him. When she finally realized that he was not only a member of the most ruthless gang in her school, but its leader, she had tried furiously to get away, and had eventually succeeded when Aizen developed an interest in someone else. She hadn't heard of him in years.
She had long thought that he was probably in jail somewhere, given his criminal past. Now he had turned up as a corporate executive, most likely powerful and rich. But she didn't believe that he had really "reformed." Aizen was too used to getting his way to put much effort into obeying the law.
It did not bode well for her if he became interested in her again. Well, she thought, surely he came into contact with many beautiful women now, and would not find a mere scientist appealing. She would just have to keep tonight's conversation strictly on business.
She smiled to herself. As she remembered, Aizen was brilliant and manipulative, but he was also insatiably curious. He would likely be fascinated by the latest developments in her research. She would just have to pique his curiosity appropriately, and she could talk all evening about biochemistry.