Hogyoku Ex Machina
Dedication: This story is dedicated to the awesome people who run and contribute to the Bleach Wiki, because otherwise the fic would not exist. The background research would be so much harder without it. Thank you!
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. Translations (and therefore most of the dialog from this prologue) were taken either from Bleach MangaScans Online or SpectrumNexus.
Spoiler Alert: For pretty much everything up to Chapter 423.
The orange-haired young man was in an unfortunate situation. A monster with half a dozen huge white wings, each with eyes and extra heads, was holding him inside a glowing ring of power with a single clawlike hand. His black trenchcoat was tattered from battle, and though the black daito in his right hand was still coated with the blood of the monster, the stone in the monster's chest had healed the wounds it had taken after each new transformation.
"…Can you hear me, Kurosaki Ichigo?" the monster asked. Its voice was barely recognizable, a twisted parody of the honeyed tones of the master manipulator it had once been.
"It is true that at one point you destroyed the barrier between shinigami and hollow and became a transcendental. But now, you have lost that power you once possessed, a mere shadow of your former self. The way you are now, you are not even worth taking in and understanding. You will meet death by my transcendental hand, and my killing you will invoke complete separation from the vulgar existences of shinigami and hollow. You are finished, Kurosaki Ichigo!"
The young man had simply been floating, his long orange hair covering his eyes. At last, the monster's rant seemed to be at an end, and his audience spoke for the first time since his capture.
He raised his head slightly, allowing the monster to see his amber eyes, calm and confident despite his precarious position.
"Is that all you've got?" And with a single swing of his sword, the entrapping circle of light was obliterated, and the young man was free.
"Let's put an end to this, Aizen," he said quietly. "I'm sick and tired of your logic. This will end with one final blow."
He could have used Mugetsu. It would have ended the battle, decisively, but… he could not forget a young man in his inner world, a young man who had only sadness behind his blade. They were one soul again; his shinigami and hollow powers had been re-adsorbed. Now, they were only himself. Human, maybe. He wasn't really sure anymore.
'What I wanted to protect- was you, Ichigo.'
They were one being. Was it selfishness to want to protect him in return? Was it cowardice to not wish to use a technique that would silence the part of his soul that young man had become?
No. No, even if that boy had never existed outside of his own mind, even if half of Tensa Zangetsu had tried repeatedly to remove him from his throne, he was someone that should not die. Self-sacrifice should not be murder.
Kurosaki Ichigo chose to protect.
"IMPOSSIBLE!" the monster suddenly yelled. Ichigo couldn't help but compare the creature to the calm, confident former captain that he had replaced. He wasn't sure if it was the merge with the Hogyoku, or simply Aizen's own insanity coming to the forefront now that he was so close to his goal, but it was clear that Aizen's uncanny ability to be several steps in front of the opposition had been neutralized without any action on Ichigo's part. Ichigo prepared himself, calling up a Getsuga Tensho and keeping it within Tensa Zangetsu to enhance the blade's power.
"How can such a thing be? How can a mere human surpass me? It is-"
Only the greatest masters of flash-step could have gotten even a glimpse of the rapid events that followed. In an instant, Ichigo was in front of Aizen, his sword aiming up while Aizen's eyes widened in sudden fear.
In the second instant, Tensa Zangetsu pierced through his chin and entered Aizen's brain.
In the third instant, Ichigo released his hold on the Getsuga Tensho held within the blade.
In the fourth instant, the energy blast should have destroyed Aizen past any hope of regeneration. It did not, because
In the third-and-a-half instant, the Hogyoku responded to its hosts' fear, and let out an energy pulse that connected to the soul of its host, and to the souls attached to its host- namely, the soul of Aizen's sword and the soul of the sword stabbed into Aizen's body.
In the fourth instant, they were pushed.
"I carefully researched everything that Urahara Kisuke ever did," the pleasant-faced, brown-haired man with glasses explained "because implanting foreign objects into a spirit is a technique that he invented. So naturally, the extraction procedure must also be hidden somewhere in his research records."
He stuck his hand into the chest of the small black-haired woman trembling in front of him and extracted a small black ball imbedded inside a transparent crystal. He raised it up in front of his eyes.
"So this is the Hogyoku-"
That was as far as he got before both he and the boy lying near his feet started screaming.
And thus begins my hopefully-original voyage into time-traveling Bleach fic. I've got about twelve chapters planned. The first four chapters and significant parts of the middle are written and the ending is laid out, so I can say with reasonable confidence that the fic will be finished (unlike pretty much every other time travel fic I've seen) and I can guarantee weekly updates for at least the first month. Although almost all of the dialogue from this chapter was from the manga, this is the only time that will happen, and every other chapter will be several times longer. Ichigo and Aizen are both going to be freely sharing information, and Ichigo will be changing everything he can. I will be mentioning events from the manga, the movies, and the anime-exclusive arcs, although the fic was started before the 'Lost Agent' arc in the manga was begun. Silly me, I thought the series was over when he lost his powers. The fic will have only canon romance pairings, but, like Tite Kubo himself, I will cheerfully exploit one-sided and hinted romance for humor or dramatic purposes.
And, as a teaser for what I consider the most awesome moment in next Saturday's chapter:
"Tell me, Captain-commander. What would it take to force you to release your bankai? Not the total defeat of your forces, I know. Nor even the imminent destruction of everything that you have worked for your entire life. Something more personal, perhaps? The men you loved as your own sons?"