The Hypnotist – Chapter 1

A/N: Against his father's wishes, Prince Ichigo attends the performance of the renowned hypnotist Sousuke Aizen and, unknown to him, is given a post-hypnotic suggestion to visit Aizen in his hotel room that night. What hold will Aizen develop over Ichigo? And where will it lead? AU set in Victorian Europe, AiIchi.

Note: This story has been edited to comply with FFnet's content guidelines. If you are interested in the unedited version, it will be posted on my private site.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach by Tite Kubo. All characters are 18 or older in this story.

(Originally posted 11/25/11.)

XxXxXxX

The young Prince hurried along the cobbled streets, trailed by his men-at-arms Uryuu and Chad. His bright orange hair was muffled in a thick cloak as he ducked his head against the cold wind that whipped between the high, old stone buildings rising up along the edges of the narrow streets. He was taking the back way from the palace to the theater because he didn't want anyone he knew to see him and report it to his father.

"I can't believe you want to attend such lowbrow entertainment, Ichigo," the black-haired King had said with a frown, tossing the handbill onto the glossy parquet floor in his private chambers in the palace of Karakura Town.

Ichigo scowled in return, his brows beetling over his brown eyes, now dark with frustration. "There's not much that passes for entertainment anywhere in this humdrum town," he muttered.

Isshin's face darkened. "You will not speak that way of your future kingdom, Ichigo. You're eighteen now, old enough to start taking on the responsibilities of the crown prince."

Ichigo lifted his eyes to his father's, glaring. "I've already been leading the troops into battle since I was sixteen! If risking my life for the kingdom isn't a responsibility, I don't know what is."

Isshin sighed. "That's exactly what I mean. You're quite an able fighter, but you've shown less interest in the finer arts of diplomacy and the requirements of politics."

The orange-haired prince snorted. "What you really mean is you want me to take an interest in one of the princesses from the neighboring kingdoms."

Isshin's voice was surprisingly gentle. "One of the primary requirements of royalty is to produce an heir for the next generation," he reminded Ichigo once again.

The youth sighed. Sometimes it felt like his life was so mind-numbingly boring that it was going to rise up and strangle him. It was not that he wanted to evade his duty; it was just that the approved activities he was allowed to participate in were becoming more circumscribed every year as he approached his official coronation as crown prince. And it wasn't that he didn't like the princesses Rukia and Orihime that his father was pressing him to choose between. They were both his childhood friends and he enjoyed their company. It was that he had these other, darker feelings; these secret passions that he yearned to indulge in; to even for one night throw away all the restrictions and responsibilities that life as royalty of Karakura was imposing on him like a slowly tightening cage. The thought of being married felt like a noose that would strangle him, would choke all the life out of him.

Angrily, he turned his back on Isshin and stared out the window at the leaden autumn skies over Karakura Town.

Sighing, Isshin picked the handbill up off the floor and smoothed it out, a frown creasing his black brows. "Coming Soon," the handbill proclaimed in one of the bright, brassy lettering styles designed to appeal to the masses. The poster depicted a brown-haired man in swirling black robes with a red silk lining, one hand upraised and holding a slim rod. The man's eyes were drawn larger than life, deep brown and mesmerizing, beneath slanted brows with a single curl of brown hair hanging between them. "Master Magician and Hypnotist Sousuke Aizen." Isshin scowled. "Prepare to be Amazed," the poster went on in smaller lettering, listing the dates and times of shows at the local theater. Why did Ichigo persist in his odd fetishes and interests in wholly inappropriate entertainment? Everyone knew the theater was a hotbed of immorality and all these so-called magicians, although highly popular with the general public, were at best frauds and at worst, seditious and dangerous. It was not appropriate for the crown prince to be seen attending such shows.

With a frown, Isshin tossed the handbill into the fireplace and watched for a moment as the paper curled and smoked in the embers, finally igniting with a flash and a whoosh. "That's enough of that, Ichigo. Now, I have no time to discuss this further. I have to prepare for my journey tomorrow to Seireitei; this is an important diplomatic mission." He scowled at Ichigo's back. "One that you should take an interest in." When Ichigo said nothing, he grunted, and then swept out of the room without a further word, his brows still drawn together.

Ichigo did not turn around until he heard the door click softly shut behind his father. Then his eyes went to the handbill in the fireplace. Almost all of it had burned, except for a small piece. Curiously, Ichigo moved forward to examine the embers. A single face stared out at him from the unburned portion of the paper, the fine, aristocratic features of the magician Sousuke Aizen, large dark eyes apparently fixed on Ichigo. The youth turned away as a sudden shiver passed over him.

XxXxXxX

After his father had left on his mission, Ichigo had found himself at loose ends in the palace, and as usual, bored out of his mind. After a particularly mind-numbing etiquette lesson with his deportment instructor, Ichigo sat staring out the window of his room, looking out over the town spread below him as heavy, dark clouds sped across the western sky, gradually dimming as night approached. Then a sudden thought had struck him. His father had not specifically forbidden him from seeking entertainment while he was gone. Ichigo clenched his fists. He was eighteen, for goodness' sake; certainly old enough to make his own decisions.

He rose with sudden resolve and called for his men-at-arms to attend him. Uryuu looked hesitant upon hearing the plan.

"Sir, are you sure this is safe?" His black-haired cousin and long-time companion narrowed his eyes.

Ichigo scowled at him. "Safe? What could possibly happen to me on the way to the theater? Besides, you and Chad will be with me, right?"

"No, sir, I meant that I've heard some rumors of unsavory events happening after this magician's shows." Uryuu crossed himself. "There are rumors he has real power, and some say he is in league with the devil himself." Uryuu's voice was foreboding.

Ichigo made a disbelieving face. "Uryuu, you don't really believe in those old stories, do you? There is no such thing as magic, only science. At least, that's what Urahara has been pounding into my head ever since he's been my tutor." The youth grinned at his friend. "I've heard it's a hell of a show. Come on, don't you want to see it too?" He cocked his head to one side in inquiry.

Beside him, the tall and muscular Chad rumbled, "Besides, Uryuu, the three of us will be together. What could happen to us?"

Soon, the three of them were hastening along the darkening streets to the old theater.

Uryuu purchased tickets as Ichigo kept his face muffled in his cloak. Then they were inside, treading the deep red, threadbare carpet beneath elaborately brocaded wallpaper and brass wall sconces flickering with dim gaslight. They climbed the wide, carpeted stairs to the balcony and slipped into one of the private boxes with an excellent view of the stage.

Ichigo felt his heart pounding with excitement. Even he wasn't sure why he had been so intent on seeing this magician. It was true the rumors about him were quite titillating. All the gentry and even the servants who could afford tickets had been talking about the show in tones of hushed awe. Then his thoughts were interrupted as the lights dimmed and the dusty red velvet curtain rose. Slow, mysterious music began to rise from a hidden chamber, a soft pianoforte and a wailing violin. And then Sousuke Aizen walked gracefully onto the stage and everything else went away for Ichigo.

The man was even more handsome in person than he had been in the posters; tall and slender, wearing a black suit topped by a black cape lined with red silk hanging casually from his shoulders. He had a commanding presence, smoldering eyes, and a deep, resonant voice that seemed to reach down into Ichigo's core and pluck at nerves he hadn't known he had. He could hardly understand what the man was saying as each word seemed to send shivers up and down his spine.

The magician moved into his show, making objects appear and disappear to gasps from the audience. One of his assistants, a tall, thin, silver-haired man with eyes slitted shut, wheeled a large black box onto the stage. The other assistant, a tiny, demure girl with black hair swept up into a chignon, obediently climbed into the box and lay looking up at Aizen with a trusting expression as he unsheathed a long, glittering sword. With a single blow he sliced the box in half as the audience shrieked. Ichigo trained his opera glasses on the girl's head, protruding from one side of the box. Her eyes were closed and her face was in repose. Ichigo looked at the box. It did not look large enough for the girl to curl up in one half of it, and besides, those certainly looked like her feet sticking out the other end. He wondered how the trick was done.

He was still wondering when the halves of the box were placed together again and the girl arose from it again, smiling worshipfully at Aizen and taking a bow as the crowd cheered and applauded.

Then Aizen's voice, soft but somehow able to reach every corner of the theater, washed over him again. "Magic is but one of the tools I use to entertain you tonight; I also bring you a new, scientific discovery by the famed Austrian physician Dr. Franz Mesmer and the well-known Scottish surgeon Dr. James Braid. These two gentlemen have studied what is known as the mesmeric trance or hypnotism." Aizen's voice dropped even lower; you could have heard a pin drop in the crowded theater. "In such a trance, individuals can develop astonishing powers, telepathy, abnormal strength...even," the magician continued, "speak to loved ones beyond the grave."

A single chair had been placed on the stage with a spotlight focused on it. Aizen stood beside it, only his face visible in the stage lights. "Who," he whispered, "would like to be the first volunteer of the evening to experience this astounding process?" He glanced out over the audience, his gaze swinging from one end of the hall to the other. As Ichigo watched, frozen, Aizen's gaze, like a searchlight, locked onto his eyes as he sat in his box, immobile. Those deep brown eyes were focused on him; a slight, knowing smirk twisted those full lips. Before he realized it, Ichigo was standing up and Aizen was inviting him to come down to the stage.

Shrugging off Uryuu's restraining hand, Ichigo clambered out of the box, swinging down the steps leading into the orchestra pit and walking up the aisle to the stage. All the while, the magician was watching him with eyes that Ichigo was certain could stare into the depths of his being. He sat down in the chair on stage as Aizen pulled out a gold pocket-watch and began swinging it in front of Ichigo's eyes, his melodic voice continuing on with words that had lost meaning…

XxXxXxX

Abruptly, Ichigo shook his head to clear it. Had he fallen asleep? He suddenly realized he was still sitting on the chair, on stage, in front of a large audience, who were now clapping and cheering. He looked up at the brown-haired man standing beside him wearing a faint smile. He raised his hand and Ichigo stared at his long, white fingers. Then the man snapped his fingers and Ichigo felt jolted back to reality. He looked around at the clapping crowd and abruptly stood up. What was he doing here? Coming up on stage? This was crazy. His father was bound to hear about it. Jerkily, he started to move toward the edge of the stage, hoping the magician would not object to him leaving in the middle of the show. But the man was already calling for his next volunteer.

Ichigo entered the box again shakily. Uryuu stared at him with wide eyes. "Wow. That was incredible, sir."

"What?" said Ichigo, irritated. "I didn't do anything."

Chad turned and met Uryuu's gaze. "You mean you don't remember?" His usually placid voice was concerned.

"Remember what?" snapped Ichigo.

"All those things you did under the hypnotic trance," said Uryuu with a note of urgency.

The Prince stared at him, panic starting to bubble up in his chest. "What did I do?" he asked.

Uryuu looked nervously around at the audience, now intently focused on the next volunteer walking up on stage. "You know, sir, I think we better leave now, while the crowd is still distracted."

Chad stood up too. "I agree."

Disconcerted by his companions' unaccustomed agreement, and still somewhat dazed from whatever had happened on stage, Ichigo stood up with surprising docility and allowed them to lead him home.

XxXxXxX

The high-ceilinged hotel suite was spacious and luxurious; heavy velvet drapes covered numerous floor-to-ceiling mullioned windows; gaslights glowed from elaborately designed and burnished brass fixtures; huge Oriental carpets graced the parquet floor.

On a large couch upholstered in white satin, a tall, brown-haired man reclined at his ease, a glass of red wine held lightly in long white fingers. He was wearing a black silk robe, tied loosely at the waist by a red sash so the lapels fell open, exposing a great deal of muscular chest. His long legs were wrapped in soft black silk trousers and propped up on an ottoman. A young girl knelt at his feet, her black hair pulled into a chignon at the back of her head. She was assiduously massaging one of his bare feet, her strong fingers dexterously working their way along the arch as he sighed and flexed his long toes with contentment.

The silver-haired man sitting in an armchair across the room was smiling, eyes nearly shut. "Ne, Aizen-sama, it was one of yer most successful evenin's, I'd say."

Aizen closed his eyes and hummed as the girl's fingers struck a sore spot. "Do you think so, Gin?"

Gin rested his pointed chin on one palm, his smile unchanging. "Tousen reports the box-office take was our highest since arrival in Karakura Town." He turned his head to regard his master with narrowed eyes. "An' ya finally snared your quarry, didn't ya?"

A faint smirk spread over the other man's lips. "It's not over yet, Gin."

The silver-haired man snorted. "Pish. It looked ta me like ya hooked him good. I saw some evidence of firm control durin' the show tonight. The only question is whether your post-hypnotic suggestion took."

Aizen shook his head and sipped from his wine glass. "That's not in question. My suggestions always take. I was referring to the fact that there are further instructions to implant in his mind to accomplish my plans… and besides, the evening's entertainment is not over yet."

Gin's grin widened. A door buzzer sounded in the room, and Aizen smiled. "Right on cue. That'll be our crown prince, I warrant." He straightened on the couch, re-tying his robe and gently extracting his feet from the girl's grasp, bestowing a warm smile upon her that had her beaming at him in renewed adoration. "Thank you, Momo. That was wonderfully relaxing as usual."

Gin had arisen and opened the large double doors at the entrance to the suite, one hand surreptitiously on the knife at his belt. A young, orange-haired man stood in the doorway, brown eyes confused. "Excuse me," he said hesitantly, "Is this the suite of Sousuke Aizen?"

Gin stepped aside so that the visitor could see Aizen sitting on the couch. Aizen waved a hand gracefully. "Please come in, Ichigo." His voice was at once intimate and commanding.

The young man stepped cautiously into the suite, eyes locked on Aizen's as though endlessly fascinated. Aizen's lips curved in a slight smile. The Prince had not even flinched when Aizen addressed him familiarly by his first name. It was a good indication of solid control.

"I'm pleased to see you obeying my commands so promptly," Aizen murmured. "Did you come alone?"

"Yes…" the youth muttered, stepping closer to the man on the couch.

"You will address me as Aizen-sama, and each time you utter my name you will go deeper into the trance," said Aizen in his low and melodic voice. "Now come here and sit at my feet."

"Yes… Aizen-sama," murmured the boy, stumbling forward and collapsing onto his knees on the carpet in front of the couch.

Aizen's eyes gleamed with dark anticipation. "Now then," he said with a lazy drawl, reclining onto the pillows of the couch. "What shall I have him do, Momo?"