I'd died that day. No one knew it, they didn't even suspect it, but I had. The moment Aizen had gotten hold of me, imprisoned me, I'd fallen. Hard, fast, and painfully. By the time I'd been pulled out it was too late, even the blood of my tormenter – and Aizen had never suspected that his toy might lash out, might put a sword straight through his throat – had done nothing to fill the hole Aizen had carved out of me. Even watching him die, choking on his own blood, hadn't brought the closure or satisfaction I'd thought it would. I was broken, irreparably so, and only I knew it. By the time my 'friends' had gotten there – some friends they were, leaving me to suffer, leaving me in the white, the endless white and silence – I was sitting in Aizen's throne, still stained with the blood of the false god. They'd questioned me, endless repetitions of the same questions – are you alright? What did they fucking think? Did they think Aizen had brought me here for tea and polite conversations? How ignorant and naïve – and I hadn't given anymore of a fuck than I had about Aizen's body. Still I'd forced the correct answers out, struggled to appear normal and undamaged. Lied to them, told them that I was still the Kurosaki they knew, that Aizen hadn't ripped that person to shreds and that I was still alive.

They'd freaked out when the espada had appeared, but I'd understood. Somewhere in my hybrid mind I'd known why they were there. Stark had approached me, grey eyes narrowed, and Ishida had stepped between us, like he had any chance of fighting the espada and emerging as anything but dead. A pulse of forced reiatsu had shoved Ishida to the side – one of Aizen's little tricks that I'd picked up on, just like I now knew how to manipulate my reiatsu as a physical thing, how to cast a kidou, how to handle a knife – and my friends had stared in disbelief when Stark sank to one knee before me, calling me 'Kurosaki-sama' of all things. I'd understood. I'd defeated Aizen, and that made me ruler of Las Noches. Even Grimmjow had been standing in the shadows, watching me with a wary respect.

Still, I hadn't liked Stark kneeling before me, it was too familiar – Aizen preferred me on my knees, lower both physically and mentally, and silent unless I was screaming – and I hadn't wanted to be anything like my captor. "Get up, Stark, and don't call me that." He'd risen, taller than me, – just tall enough to tower over me, to hold me down with nothing but weight, to carve into me till I was too hoarse to even scream and he- ENOUGH! – and watched to see what I would do. "I name you ruler in my place. I don't care what you do so long as you stay in Hueco Mundo." He'd given me a look of respect, and approval, to counter the cry of outrage from Ishida and Renji.

"I accept. Do you intend to keep your title or are you giving me that as well?" No, I'd had no real confidence that the espada would keep to my rule unless I maintained a firm hold on them. Not that I'd had any intention of staying there, it would've torn what little remained of my sanity to shreds and done what Aizen – he'd tried so hard, pain and torture till I gave up struggling and let him have what he wanted – had never fully succeeded at. Breaking me.

"No. I'll keep my title, and come back every once in awhile to reinforce it." To the white walls, endless white and blood red – my blood? – "Does that work?" No, Aizen's blood, he was dead, remember that, needed to remember.

Stark had nodded, his eyes flicking to the shadows, to the other espada. "I'll make sure they know." He'd given me a shallow bow and backed up several steps, half-turning to leave. "Till next time, Kurosaki-sama." He'd vanished before I could tell him not to call me that, the other espada following shortly after. My friends had moved closer, Ishida practically seething and Renji not much calmer.

"What the hell was that?" he'd hissed at me, and I'd met his eyes squarely. "Why let them go? They served Aizen!" Rukia and Yoruichi had trailed behind them, quiet but with narrowed eyes. I hadn't quite known how to explain it to them without telling them what Aizen – no, don't think about him – had done.

"They were just following Aizen's orders, he kept them under control through fear. Not their fault." Renji had taken over, glaring into the shadows that had housed the espada. The glare hadn't fazed me, nor had Ishida's quiet fury, I feared other things and other – a tiny smirk and that godforsaken smile that laughed and tortured and please HELP ME! – looks now.

"They're hollows! They'll keep hurting people unless we kill them here!" All I had been able to think was that he was hopelessly ignorant. Hurting people? Aizen had taught me better, easily bringing any arrancar that so much as hinted at defiance into line with a single blow or a flex of his reiatsu. "We have to end them here!"

No, they had been in exactly the same position as I had been. "You're an idiot. They didn't have a choice, Aizen demanded obedience from them, it was that or die. And they're arrancar, not hollows." My tone had been carefully neutral, void of the anger that had wanted to seep into it. Renji clearly didn't believe me, but Ishida's eyes had showed a demand for more information. "Besides, who are they going to hurt here? There's only other hollows. If they go into the real world they'll be ignoring my orders, which makes them fair game and they know it."

Rukia had taken that moment to intervene, stepping forward and eyeing me with hands planted on her small hips. "And what the hell is up with that? Kurosaki-sama, what the fuck, Ichigo?" Of course, they hadn't understood. None of them had the advantage of a hollow side, none of them were equal to me.

I had sighed in annoyance, crossing my arms. "Hollows rule by power, the strongest is the King. That was Aizen, I defeated him, so now it's me. I'm their King until I choose to give the throne up or someone kills me and takes it." Yoruichi had echoed my sigh, had shifted and pinned me with a look that demanded my attention.

"Soul Society won't like this, Ichigo. They'll ignore anything you say, they might try to kill you. They'll definitely destroy all of Las Noches." My hollow had screamed a cry of challenge, of hatred, in my mind and I understood his fury. The arrancar were under my rule, part of my pack and my duty to defend. Our ordeal under Aizen – sweating and screaming and bleeding while he laughed – had strengthened our bonds, had almost fused us into one creature, one mind.

I had felt my eyes bleed black, felt Zangetsu vibrate on my back, crying for me to hold him, and given a low snarl. "They can fucking try." Renji and Rukia had gasped and I'd turned my eyes on them, on their wide eyes and the way Rukia had wrapped a hand around the hilt of her sword. I had focused on Renji, I'd known I scared him by the way he froze, breathing in short little gasps that screamed 'Prey' to the hollow within me. "Las Noches is mine, won by blood and death, and if you shinigami set foot here I will tear you all to pieces for daring to threaten my pack." Renji had shuddered – weak, not worth my time, no challenge there – and stepped backwards, every tremble of his body and quiver of his reiatsu screaming fear. "Am I understood?"

A hand had touched my arm and my head had snapped to the side, my eyes locked with Ishida's. Unlike Renji he didn't freeze, didn't as much as flinch under my gaze, under the power swirling around me. "Kurosaki-san, regain control of yourself. We're your friends, not your enemies." He hadn't sounded cautious, just matter of fact. The hollow had radiated a sense of approval, interested in the obviously weaker man that dared to stand against them. Not prey, not that one.

"I am in control, Ishida." His hand had tightened on my arm, and the look in his eyes made the hollow part of me turn to fully focus on him. I'd known Ishida was powerful. Nowhere near my level of course, almost no one was, but powerful in his own right. I hadn't known that he was dangerous till then. This one was another predator, an equal. This one would fight me without hesitation for the lead, even knowing he would lose, and he'd draw blood before he went down.

"Let him go, hollow."

"It doesn't work like that. The hollow is just part of me, not a separate person. He's me and I'm him, and we agree on this point." Partners under the knife, friends under his reiatsu, linked under his weight and hands and one entity beneath him. "If Soul Society wants to destroy Las Noches, they go through me first."

Ishida had released me, studied me for several moments, and then given a sharp nod. "Understood. I don't understand why you feel this hell is worth protecting, but if that's your decision I'll stand by you." Hell? He had no idea. He'd turned, looking at the three shinigami that stood stock still, their eyes still wide. "Abarai-san, Kuchiki-san, Yoruichi-san. We should leave, you can demand answers from Kurosaki-san later." They'd shaken themselves out of their fear induced stupors and agreed, turning and running towards the giant doors at the end of the hall. "Kurosaki-san." His voice had stopped me following them, snapped and full of order.


"When we reach the real world, I will expect answers." His eyes had narrowed and his voice had darkened to something that made the hollow shift in anticipation and challenge. "I will expect the truth." That froze me for a second, made a cold flash run down my spine – how Aizen loved my spine, loved to stroke his hands down it, loved to litter it with bleeding bite marks, loved to make me arch so far I thought it would snap – and fear seize my lungs. I'd shuddered and clenched my eyes shut for a moment to gain some kind of control, to make sure my terror wasn't on display. When I'd looked back up he was still watching me, his expression carefully disciplined not to show whatever he was thinking.

"Fine." Ishida had nodded, turned, and left. I'd followed him after a second, settling easily into a loping run that only made a few of the slowly healing marks beneath my clothes twinge with pain. We didn't make it out of Las Noches very quickly, but then, we hadn't needed to. Word spread quickly, and the few arrancar we'd passed had drawn back against the walls and bowed when I passed by, none showed so much as a hint of aggression towards us.

"This is fucking weird." Renji had grumbled, one hand wrapped tight around Zangetsu's hilt. Another arrancar had come around the corner, making him half draw his sword before sheathing it. "Does you being their King really make that much of a difference?" I had watched the arrancar, young with black hair and a spiraling horn like a ram's on the left side of his head, and caught the flash of eyes upward to look at me. There had been relief and gratitude in his eyes, like I'd saved his life. He'd bowed his head and left in a swirl of white cloth, I followed him with my eyes till he rounded a corner.

"It might." I'd answered softly, turning my gaze forward to rest on the back of Renji's head. "They're just glad to be out from under Aizen." Under him, struggling and cursing, but all it ever did was amuse him, make him laugh and dig his teeth in harder.

"Whatever, I still think they chose to fight for him." Chose? No one chose – never a choice, it didn't matter how loud I screamed, it wouldn't stop – anything when it came to Aizen, he decided for you.


"Maybe if you please me, I'll leave your friends alone when they get here. Send them back with a warning and a few scratches after letting them see how well trained you are. Maybe."

I spent a week afterwards at Urahara's to recover, to wait for the gashes I carefully kept hidden to heal and to try and fix the hole Aizen had carved out of me and the cracks that spider-webbed across my inner world. The others had questioned me, over and over like if they asked the same question in the morning as opposed to the evening it would get a different response. No, I insisted to them that I was fine, that all Aizen had done was hold me – not exactly a lie, he'd enjoyed holding me once my strength had worn out, once I couldn't fight anymore – in a cell, nothing had happened. Urahara hadn't bought it, of course, but he left it alone.

I did end up telling Ishida almost everything. Not in one sitting, the memories threatened my shaky hold on sanity too much for that, but over the course of that week. I told him between flashbacks and dreams that made me struggle to hold back screams and a tremble in my hands whenever I thought of Aizen. I tried not to look at him, I couldn't bear watching his reactions to what Aizen had done. Me, specifically. But the few times I did look his eyes were cold and full of steel. Absorbing, understanding as much as he could, but not judging. That helped more than anything. If he had looked at me with pity, or disgust, I probably wouldn't have been able to stand the mental repeat of the torture.

When I got to the end of my story, the days right before they'd shown up to break me out, his eyes had narrowed. "We rescued Orihime nearly a month ago and there's no way you can heal that fast." He'd reached out and yanked the collar of my gi open and even though I flinched in fear, I let him do it. His eyes settled on the still-healing imprint of teeth on my shoulder and he sighed in annoyance. "You should have told us you were still injured, we could have gotten Inoue-san to heal you."

I jerked away. "No." I couldn't, not after telling them Aizen hadn't hurt me. Orihime knew only the barest of what had been done to me, only the very start of it. Aizen had caught me – a single binding spell and I was helpless, held down by power that was so far above mine I couldn't breathe under the press of it – on our first attempt to rescue her, and they'd succeeded in getting her in the second attempt two weeks later, before Aizen had started in on the really painful and humiliating things. The two and a half months after that she didn't know anything about, and I wanted to keep it that way. "They can't know, especially not her. She'd…"

"Pity you." I flinched, but nodded. "Fine, but you will let me bandage those wounds." I drew in a breath to argue, to protest. Even though Ishida knew, even though I'd told him, what had been done to me, seeing was so much different than just hearing about it. "This is not up for negotiation, Kurosaki. You will let me bandage them, or I will inform Urahara-san and we will force you to let Inoue-san heal you."

I let out the breath in a sigh, dropping my head to look at the floor. "Alright." He gave me a curt nod, dark blue eyes still filled with steel.

"Stay here, I'll be back in a few minutes." He left, the sliding door shutting with a soft clack. I buried my head in my hands, noticing the faint trembling of my shoulders. It was hard to drag myself back out of the memories, especially the ones that I hadn't shared with Ishida. There were a few things that I couldn't bring myself to tell him. Things that were too personal, too painful.

Red eyes and red hair, splayed over me while his nails bit into my hips and his teeth dug into my collarbone. Not real, Renji would never hurt me, but it felt real. The hands holding my wrists to the bed above me shifted and Aizen gave a low chuckle, watching me flex and writhe under the illusion.

"Something wrong, Ichigo-kun?"

"Yeah Ichigo, something wrong?" The Renji gave a sharp thrust and I gave a cry of pain through my clenched teeth, unused to the feeling of something inside of me, tearing me apart. It was invasive, an intimate pain that hurt me more emotionally than any physical way. "I thought we were friends, Ichigo. Don't you like me?" Another thrust that made me arch and groan, straining against Aizen's hold on my wrists.

"Fuck! Go to hell, Aizen!"

Another laugh that turned distinctly familiar, my eyes snapped up in disbelief. "Aizen? What are you talking about?" Brown hair that hid his eyes, a face I knew as well as mine and maybe even better. "Ichigo?" No, god no. I trusted Chad, not something that I did easily or commonly. I couldn't-

"No! Please, Aizen! Please don't do this!"

The illusion of Renji groaned, nipping at my shoulder and raking his nails down my sides. "You're fucking pretty when you beg, Ichigo. Do it again." He spoke through them, they weren't real – weren't real – and he spoke through them.

I screwed my eyes shut for a second, struggling to ignore the pain that came from the rough thrusts of the illusion. When I spoke it was soft and desperate, my eyes fixed on Chad's, no, Aizen's eyes. "Please… Please not Chad. Please don't do this, Aizen. Please…" The Renji slammed into me and I whimpered at the sting of his seed – was there really someone there? – entering the tiny tears he'd created by forcing himself into me. There was silence for a moment before the illusion of Renji gave a breathless laugh and withdrew, red eyes narrowed in cruel amusement.

"Not bad, Ichigo-kun. But you forgot the magic word." I stared down at him in confusion, watched his face and body morph into Aizen's and shuddered. Aizen leaned down, cupping my cheek in his left hand and pressing his thumb against my lips. "What are you to call me, Ichigo-kun?" Shit. I'd forgotten that Aizen, at the start of this hell, had told me to call him something that I had promised myself I would never say. My eyes flicked up to the illusion of Chad and I felt my resistance melt. No, not him.

"Master…" I whispered, shame sunk into my chest and twisted deep enough that I knew it would never leave.

Aizen gave a soft smile, pressing a kiss to my forehead. "Much better. But then you have been very resistant today, I think it only fair you be punished for that." He stood from the bed, looking down at me. "Go ahead." The illusion shifted down over me and my eyes widened in horror. I struggled, writhed against his hold and weight, but I didn't have the strength to escape.

Chad forced my legs open to accommodate the size of his body and shoved inside me without warning. I screamed and arched, his erection forcing me open even further and widening the tears that Renji had put there. No, no, NO! Not Chad, not the only friend I truly trusted to watch my back and fight for me. This wasn't real, it was just Aizen's illusions because Chad would never hurt me like this, would never turn on me. It didn't help, something in my soul still quivered in pain and snapped with a resounding crack. I knew, deep inside my own mind, that I would never be able to really be at ease around Chad again. I would never be able to trust him the way I had.

I didn't realize I was crying till Aizen's fingers brushed a tear away from my cheek, a deceptively gentle smile on his face. "Hush, Ichigo-kun. Give in and-"


I jumped and gasped, wrenched forcefully out of the memory. My eyes snapped upwards to concerned blue eyes and a worried frown. Ishida straightened when our eyes connected. "Good to have you back with me, Kurosaki." He withdrew a rag from a stuffed bag that he was carrying and offered it to me. I took it, wiping the tears from my cheeks and giving a shuddering breath. "A memory?" I nodded and forced the panic and grief down, forced my fingers to still and my breathing to steady.

"Ishida… There are things I didn't tell you." He sighed and sat down on the floor beside me, watching me carefully.

"I assumed as much, your stories seemed carefully edited to avoid several events. If you don't wish to tell me, I won't press. Only know that I will expect the truth eventually, when these memories have dulled slightly. Agreed?" I could only force out a strained smile and nod.

"Thank you."

He gave a sharp nod, acknowledging me, and then reached into his bag. When he spoke it was as fond as I'd ever heard him sound. "Alright, shirt off and let me tend to your wounds. You idiot."

I found out that being King of Las Noches was pretty simple. Stark, Ulquiorra, and Halibel handled the everyday workings of it, and only asked me if it was something I might have issues with. For example, they'd asked me if they could tear down the throne, to which I'd responded with a loud 'fuck yes' and then later if they could pair off openly. That was the first time I learned that Aizen had forbidden relationships within his arrancar, looked down on relationships as something that weakened you. I'd granted that, of course, and settled into an established routine.

I stopped by once a week, Fridays usually, to check in and deal with anyone that might have challenged my right to be King. It didn't happen often, the arrancar seemed inordinately pleased with having a King that was hardly ever there and didn't care what they did or didn't do. I'd put a stop to them calling me 'Your Highness' pretty quickly, demanding that they just call me by my name, not that many of them took me up on that. I got used to being called 'Kurosaki-sama', it stopped bothering me after the first month. The one time an arrancar had called me 'Master' I had very nearly killed him before Stark had stopped me, whereupon he'd calmly explained to the terrified man that no, the King he was currently holding against the ground was never to be called master. No one ever did it again and I swear they started looking at me like I was the God Aizen had tried to be.

The rest of the week I spent at home and school, though soon enough that had switched to Urahara's shop – where he let me stay free of charge – and college. I distanced myself from my circle of friends, gradually so that no one but Ishida noticed, and did my best to heal from my time under Aizen. It took a long time, three years, but eventually I managed to reach a point where certain words – scream, knees, pet, blood, under, teeth, etc. – no longer made my hands tremble and my mind immediately return to thoughts of Aizen and Las Noches. Instead it was other things, fears so deeply engrained that I doubted they'd ever really go away. I still had to control the panic and desperate want to flee whenever I saw someone smile that particular smile that Aizen used, whenever someone chuckled in the same tone as him, and whenever I was in a room that had white walls. But those fears I could deal with, and I did.

I eventually got a job at a business firm, nice and safe and boring and that was the way I liked it. Soul Society pretty much ignored me once they'd realized that I had no inclination to continue Aizen's insane plots, though people did occasionally stop by to say hello and catch up with me. Renji and Rukia mostly, though Hitsugaya, Matsumoto, Ikkaku and Yumichika were pretty frequent visitors too. Renji had even attempted to court me before I'd very firmly told him no. Maybe, in another lifetime, it might have worked, but not in this one. I did find the other man attractive, but after the illusions Aizen had tortured me with I didn't think I could handle being under Renji in any kind of even vaguely sexual sense. Urahara had made the same offer, but when I really looked at the older man I realized that he was far too similar to Aizen for my tastes, with the same smirk and way of carefully manipulating everything around him so there was no possible outcome but the one he wanted. I'd turned him down even faster than Renji.

When I did finally approach the one person that I truly wanted and that didn't immediately remind me of Aizen – Ishida – he'd only sighed and lightly smacked me in the ribs. "It's about damn time, Kurosaki."

Our first time was three weeks later because Ishida had insisted on being slow and making me court him the 'proper' way, and though I complained about it I appreciated the pace. It was a Saturday and we'd barricaded ourselves inside his apartment to watch some horribly dubbed movie, since neither of us felt entirely comfortable at Urahara's shop after the first time he'd jokingly mentioned filming us together. It wasn't planned, wasn't even mentioned, but it ended up being the night.

It started as an accident. He tripped, not something I ever thought I'd see the famously graceful archer do, and I jumped forwards to catch him. I overcompensated, he lost his balance, and we both ended up on the ground, him straddling my hips. We laughed about it, and then he kissed me, soft and gentle beyond belief. He stood and pulled me towards the bedroom and I followed without really thinking.

It was gentle, slow, passionate, everything I'd always thought sex should be. For the first time I reached back and used what Aizen had taught me, all the tricks I'd picked up of how to make someone lose their mind in pleasure, and didn't have a single regret or moment of fear. And I did manage to break past Ishida's iron control and his giant walls, though he never fully let go of his biting sarcasm. And when we were done, when we were both wrapped around each other in a sticky mess of sweat and other things, he pressed a gentle kiss to my chest and gave me a challenging smirk.

"I hope you can keep up, Ichigo. I'll expect you to keep this standard from now on."

I smiled and tightened my embrace for a moment. "Naturally."

But the best part was when I woke up halfway through the night, trembling and trying not to howl in agony, he was right there. He held me, stroking through my hair, whispering meaningless words into my ears until the memory of Aizen retreated and I could breathe again without fighting down screams. That, more than the sex or the atmosphere or anything else we shared, convinced me that Ishida was who I wanted to be with. That he had the capability to understand, to not judge me for being unable to completely forget Aizen and everything he'd done, and most of all to not pity me for what I'd been through. That was worth more to me than any amount of pleasure or friendship.

From that point on it didn't matter what happened or what people said, we were a pair. The arrancar accepted him as my mate immediately, everyone but Grimmjow anyway, he took a little bit of convincing in the form of Ishida very casually outlining his head with arrows, then he accepted Ishida as my mate with a laugh and a grin. Yamamoto grumbled about it, made vague threats that he might send the second division to kill us both. But once he realized that any hint of aggression towards me would also antagonize the vizards, over half the captains and vice-captains, and all of Las Noches, he reconsidered. In the end, he decided to consider it, more for his own pride than anything else, as a diplomatic union.

The King of Las Noches, with ties to Soul Society, the vizards, and even Urahara's group, paired with the last Quincy, one of the protectors of the most spiritually rich town in Japan, Karakura Town. A matter of convenience, to tie all the different races and worlds together and maintain a peaceful relationship between them. If that made him feel better about not being able to control us he could consider our relationship whatever he wanted. The facts wouldn't change.

Ishida was mine, and I was his.

Years passed, and eventually we abandoned the human world and made our home in Las Noches. Our world, to build as we wanted, to live in as we wished. Where no one would judge, or fear, or try and control us. Las Noches, our palace. The story ends there, with two lovers in a world of sand and moonlight. A life full of peace and love and the occasional visit between worlds to reunite with friends and family.

I couldn't ask for more.