Disclaimer: Kubo Tite owns Bleach. I own nothing and this is definitely for entertainment purposes only.
A/N: This story was born out of a discussion that I had some time ago with Nemesia23 (I dedicate this story to her); in spite of not resembling the original idea, it will still be close enough. I should also add that in spite of so much discussion about dying and everything, this is most definitely not a deathfic.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, you have lost." Aizen looked at him with perfect contempt on his face. His hideous cruel face, almost unrecognizable, twisted in ugliness with deformed eyes and expressionless face. He had transformed into something so nauseating and disgusting that Ichigo kneeled. However, as he was in front of the former captain, he couldn't help himself but feel sorry for him. "Observe. My zanpaktou is fading which means that Hogyoku considers that I can be even more powerful without my zanpaktou."
The young man looked at Aizen and then stared back at his hands, a picture of helplessness.
Aizen took another step towards him, watching carefully each expression that Ichigo makes, hungrily seeking for something although he wasn't sure exactly what. The young man in front of him was so different from the one back then, on that hill, where they had first met, when Aizen almost excitedly tasted that uncanny and so powerful reiatsu.
"Your power is fading." Aizen said with a tinge of regret and Ichigo's warm brown eyes, deep like a glass of wine, looked back at him expressionless. "I have defeated you again."
"Did you truly?" The young man finally opened his mouth and got up even as his hair was returning to its original orange color.
Bright as the sun. Suddenly Aizen thought and shook his head a little. What a strange insidious thought.
"You doubt of my victory?" His voice shook with anger. "Stubborn little child. Even as you are left defeated and weak in front of me, you still deny my power, you still deny my superiority?"
"I know you too well." Ichigo replied shaking his head slightly. The tattoos left on his torso by his own zanpaktou seemed carved in the very bones, a life of their own. "Actually I think you're dying just like me." The young man noticed hardheartedly, as if his own life meant nothing. Just a whisper in time.
"You dare to assume we are equals? You dare to assume you know me?" Aizen felt the same old anger pulling at the strings of his very own skin growing taut with tension.
"I am a monster." Ichigo stated cruelly, his matured face snarling at him. "You are a monster. I believe I can tell the truth in your heart just as you can tell mine."
Aizen tilted his head, feeling his zanpaktou fading away completely at last. His distorted eyes scanned hungrily each piece of Ichigo's body, measuring it, savagely analyzing it. Those bizarre tattoos were still carved in the body wrecked now with a tremble. What is left of his uniform was hanging low on his hips, lithe body in view, wounds proudly displayed in the sun that now dared to show itself from the coverage of the clouds.
"You're dying too." Aizen said suddenly, unable to control the pang of regret that he felt just as he mumbled those words.
"See? I told you that we monsters understand perfectly each other."
"You knew this would happen when you merged with your zanpaktou." Aizen continued ignoring the orange haired shinigami. "When you finally got to handle this ultimate Bankai, you knew this would happen. And yet you chose to do this? Why? What would possess you to do this?"
"Hunger for power." Ichigo gazed up at the sky with the same twisted sadness spilling from his every pore. "Hungry for power in order to protect people I love. In order to save those who were unable to stop this. In order not to disappoint." Those deep eyes looked back at him again. "Isn't it ironic that we will die at the same time in the same place but with different purposes?"
"Don't compare me with the likes of you!" Aizen lashed out which strangely it made Ichigo look even sadder. "We could have ruled the world together! Why do you think I kept you alive for so long? Why do you think I left Ulquiora to stay back and fight with you?"
"Ah, yes, Ulquiora." The name resonated with Ichigo's heart, but for all that he held dear, he wouldn't say a thing about it. "You have done all that to create another monster just like you." Ichigo inhaled deeply. "But now I return the favor." Suddenly he held up the hand as if reaching for Aizen and yet his hand and body didn't move. Essentially Ichigo looked as if he was asking Aizen to give him back something. Almost instantly, an inconceivable pain hit Aizen so strongly that he doubled over, his vision swimming in a sea of ultimate pain and hurt.
"What are you doing to me?" He managed to mutter even as he crashed on the ground, unable to control his body anymore. Ichigo seemed unfazed by the whole ordeal, his hand still reaching out.
"I am taking back what should have never been yours." Instantly Aizen doubled again and cringed as out of his body, with disregard to everything he truly and ultimately desired, Hogyoku left his body and settled in Ichigo's hand.
"No! No!" Aizen raged even as the little power left spread around the wrecked place. "Give it back to me! It's mine! I have sacrificed so much for it."
"What does Hyogaku ultimately do Aizen?" Ichigo asked finally letting his hand fall next to his body but grasping tightly that piece of significant stone.
"Stop with the stupid questions! Just give me back the Hogyoku!"
"What does it do?" Ichigo roared and for the first time since they ended up here, he looked like he was losing the little control that he had over his reiatsu.
"It reads people's hearts." Aizen answered dejectedly, groaning in pain. "It fulfills the deepest desires."
"Which was your desire?"
"To rule the world and destroy what is called the King of Soul Society."
"And yet you stand defeated in front of me. What does it say to you?"
"I am not defeated." He cringed in pain again. "I will show you what-"
"Stop it!" Ichigo yelled anger seeping through his little reiatsu left. "Just fucking stop, you moron. You just answered your own questions. And you are defeated. Just like me. We are both defeated. There's no victor here."
"No." Aizen looked shell-shocked and again the young man's eyes filled with the same pain that now was crossing Aizen's body searing everything in its way. "No, no, no! It can't be!"
"Sorry." Those cinnamon eyes filled with regret looked at him as if he truly meant it. "I am truly sorry that whatever you truthfully wished didn't happen."
"Don't need your pity." He growled back and suddenly looked behind Ichigo. "Isn't this sweet? The cavalry finally arrived. Just like always. They let you take blow after blow for them and only then they come back for you." His eyes fixed on Ichigo with a sudden intensity. "They will betray you and discard you."
"I wouldn't talk if I were you." The gravelly voice sent shivers down the young man's body and Aizen's eyes widened in disbelief. This man, this piece of astounding art of reiatsu and innocence was in love all this time.
"What do you think the Hogyoku wanted for me? Which was my true desire?" Aizen was panting hard as he was trying to gather strength in order to get up. He wouldn't go down kneeling like a worm in front of those people. In front of Ichigo maybe, for he was the ultimate victor, but never, in front of those insignificant little blips on the map of destiny.
"To find an opponent powerful enough to oppose you." Ichigo almost smiled at him. "You wanted to find me, Aizen Sousuke. This was your true desire."
Aizen's brown eyes widened completely.
"You." He whispered and unlike any gesture before, he took a step and then another towards Ichigo until he reached him. He knew he was about to fade away, but there was suddenly a new light inside of him. He was the one to reach this time for Ichigo, slowly caressing his cheek. "You." He repeated again, and Ichigo nodded sadly. Aizen would want to ask him something else, he knew it was an important question and he knew that the boy would answer honestly, because Ichigo Kurosaki would never lie. However, his brain was already mangled and twisted and confused and just as he was about to ask the question, he finally disappeared, instead of him just a simple silvery cross with pointed bars.
"Me." Ichigo whispered and then slowly turned to the people that just arrived. He gripped the Hogyoku stronger, feeling that he didn't have much time.
Four people. Rukia, whose kind eyes were filled with unshed tears. Renji whose eyes were scanning each tattoo on Ichigo's body as if he didn't believe that this was his friend. Urahara-san, whose eyes were filled with guilt and remorse but somehow starring a little hungrily at the Hogyoku, and him.
"Byakuya." Ichigo whispered and the older man took a step towards him, for the first time, letting his emotions open softly on his face. "Byakuya, I think I'm dying."
"You are not going to die, Kurosaki Ichigo. You have bravely fought against the most powerful opponent and you have defeated him." Byakuya's eyes darkened with an unnamed emotion. "You are far too stubborn to die."
Ichigo smiled sadly this time and grasped tightly the Hogyoku.
"I wish I had said it before, I wish I had said it when we could be alone and not embarrass myself or you like this. But there won't be another occasion for this, Byakuya."
"What is it, Ichigo?"
The young man closed his eyes for a brief moment, savoring the sound of his name on Byakuya's lips. He suddenly opened them as another wave of pain hit him.
"I love you." He said fiercely, making the older man almost recoil in shock. His friends gasped in surprise, uneasiness floating in the dusty air between them. "I have loved you for a very long time. You are an unbelievable man and an inspirational leader and I wished I could have known better the real you. However, now it's too late." Ichigo's hands started to shake violently and he smiled despondently at Byakuya who was stunned into silence. He turned to Rukia, gentleness mixing with regret. "Thank you for always being there for me. For being an incredible friend."
"Ichigo, please, we can-" Rukia's voice drowned in tears shaking under the violence of the sobs.
"Take care of her." Ichigo ignored her tears, looking at Renji. "And maybe finally act on your goddamn feelings, pineapple head."
"Look who's talking, strawberry." Renji put his hand on Rukia's shoulders almost hugging her. "You could fight against this, you know?"
"Yeah, but I am too damn drained to fight." Ichigo looked at Urahara and the passion in the young man's eyes embarrassed the old shinigami, a faint blush covering his cheeks. "I am taking this with me. Tell dad that I will miss his antics and tell him also to take care of Yuzu and Karin."
Urahara only nodded because sometimes words were nothing compared to the suffering that occurred. And there was so much suffering tainting the whole place that each and every one of them could feel it.
A sense of calmness wrapped around Ichigo's body, his tattoos pulsing with life and reiatsu. He sighed again.
This was the last time.
"Wait!" Byakuya said unexpectedly. He could feel everybody's eyes on him but he cared only for those cinnamon eyes looking achingly alive even in his final moments. "Wait, just you can't spring something like that on me and not let me reply in turn."
"But I know what you will say." Ichigo grinned like his old self.
"What will I say?" Byakuya asked and his voice shook with the unshared emotions.
"That I am incredibly awesome and you loved m-" Ichigo's cheeky tone was still floating around them, but his body wasn't there anymore. Nothing was left of him. Aizen's cross was still there glittering cruelly in the sun, but no trace of Ichigo.
Byakuya felt his heart breaking a second time.