Longings

(Dedicated to Sariniste, who loves Aizen/Ichigo! :) Enjoy!)

By Spunky0ne

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Chapter 1: Whispers

Ichigo rested quietly in his bed, glad for the return of power to his body, and even more pleased that the fullbringer, Ginjou, had been properly buried.

He may have gone really wrong when he learned how the shinigamis tried to control him, but he was human, like me...a substitute shinigami like me. And I do realize that if I had gone wrong too, it would have been their duty to kill both of us.

I'm glad for Kisuke stepping in and helping me...for my friends for standing by me all of this time, even when I lost my own powers. Without them, I might have ended up like Ginjou...or even worse, another Sousuke Aizen.

His mind drifted as he neared sleep, and he slipped, as he often did, into those last moments of his battle with the would-be king.

I still wonder...did he? Did I really feel what I thought I did? Kisuke didn't seem so sure. And I don't know what to think, even over a year later. But I think of the solitude that I felt in his zanpakutou...the sadness. That was what was beneath all of that arrogance he showed us.

Loneliness...sadness...pain...

And now it's even worse. Now, they've got him wrapped up in leather bindings so that he can't move...can't see...can't speak.

I know that Aizen is a criminal, but it had to have come from somewhere...perhaps from the burden of being different, and of not being able to bridge the distance between himself and others.

I wonder...

I wonder what he would have been like if someone had been there for him...

Ichigo drifted off to sleep still wondering.

Ichigo...

He thought, at first, that the voice was Zangetsu's. He was used to the zanpakutou spirit speaking to him while he slept. But this voice was not so deep. It was lighter and more youthful.

"Hello?" Ichigo queried, opening his eyes and finding himself on a small, grass covered rise that overlooked a reflective lake, "Huh...this is strange. It feels kinda like my inner world. But this feels completely different. If it is someone's inner world, I wonder whose it is."

Rain came down in riled droplets, disturbing the surface of the lake and obscuring his reflection. And to his surprise, he saw the reflection of a tall, pale man, reminiscent of Byakuya, with a gentler, aristocratic air about him. His hair was short cropped and very black against his pale skin, and he had bright, emerald eyes. Ichigo turned to speak to the man, but found himself alone.

"Huh?"

He looked back into the water and saw the man sitting on the ground, next to him. Ichigo knelt and gazed down at the man with curious eyes.

"Will you tell me something?" he asked softly, "Will you tell me who you are?"

The pale face looked up from the surface of the water and his thin lips moved, but Ichigo couldn't hear the name. He frowned and listened harder, but heard only the sound of droplets of water falling. Suddenly, something occurred to him.

"Are you...a zanpakutou?" he asked softly.

The man in the reflection looked back at him and nodded.

Ichigo took a breath and closed his eyes, focusing on the inner world that had drawn him in, and listening to the sound of the falling rain. It took several minutes, but with concentration, he could sense that someone powerful inhabited the world, but that, whoever it was, hadn't been there in some time.

Ichigo?

"Yeah," he answered, "That's who I am. But...I don't know you, and I don't know whose inner world this might be."

Search your heart.

Ichigo's eyes narrowed, and he reached out, not just with his mind or with his reiatsu, but with the part of himself that guided him, the part that caused him to connect to others, friend or foe. He looked into the water and fell deeply into the eyes of the man reflected there.

"I know this guy...not by how he looks, but by what is in his heart. Solitude. Kyouka Suigetsu," he whispered, "You are Sousuke Aizen's zanpkautou!"

The spirit nodded back at him.

I am.

"But..." Ichigo said, thinking quickly, "What are you doing here? Why did you come to me? I'm your enemy! And besides that, I saw you crumble. I saw you die! How can you still be here?"

The man looked back at him calmly.

I do not know how it happened, only that when I started to break apart, I was freed. Sousuke Aizen let go of me. He abandoned me. I should have withered and died, but...instead, as the pieces of me fell and laid upon the ground, some part of you touched me, and I was drawn inside you. I have been here for awhile. At first, I feared that you would kill me out of hand if you learned of me. So, I concealed my reiatsu within yours, which worked for awhile. Then, you lost your powers. Zangetsu could no longer speak to you, nor could you use his powers. We were, both of us, weak, so I was able to convince him to bond with me, so that we could both stay alive. It wasn't until you were infused with new power that I was able to break free, and to return to my former master's inner world.

"But, why did you call me here?" Ichigo asked, "I don't understand. What do you want from me?"

The man in the reflection sighed, rippling the water on the surface of the lake.

I need your help.

"What? You've got to be kidding! I just helped to defeat your master. Why would you think that I would help you now?"

I felt your heart touch mine, the man whispered, And I realized...you are special, Ichigo.

"What? How? How am I special? How can I help you? Why would I help you?"

You link strongly with people and creatures. You have empathy, Ichigo! And this empathy reached out to me when I would have died, and it anchored me. I am alive because of you. I owe my existence to you now. I have not forgotten my master, though he happily parted with me. It is just that, being understood by you...it had an impact on me. You reached out to me in a way that not even my own master ever has. And I think that if anyone can help us...you can, Ichigo!

Ichigo's eyes widened, and he caught his breath in surprise.

"You've gotta be kidding, right? Your master...tried to destroy Karakura Town! He was going to kill everyone there to make the king's key!"

I will not deny that that was my master's plan. But I think that, once you hear what I have to say, you will feel differently about helping us.

Ichigo took a steadying breath and frowned, his eyes hardening.

"No," he said solemnly, "There is no way that anything you say can convince me! I wouldn't be able to believe any of it. And how would you prove a word of it? Who is going to verify that your story is true?"

The man in the water gave him a sad, soulful look and nodded briefly.

No one will stand up for me and tell you it is true, because my master never confided it in anyone. Indeed, the ones involved in his past are mostly dead, and he used my powers to cover up what he did not want to remember. But perhaps you are right. Perhaps it is better to leave the past behind...to forget...to allow myself to pass from life. It is just that my soul will not rest...unless I do something to make things right.

"But...by 'right,' are you talking about making Sousuke Aizen the king? That's what he wanted...to be king. He fought for it with all he had."

No. He did not. And that is why the hougyoku rejected him. It sensed his weakness...his inner desire to connect with someone, to bond with someone. But you know that, Ichigo Kurosaki. You felt it. I know that you did.

"Yeah, maybe I did," Ichigo said, thinking, "I felt the solitude, the desire to connect to others by letting go of his powers. But, even so, I won't help you. I can't trust you...not when people I care about could get hurt."

Very well. I will bother you no more.

The man vanished suddenly from the surface of the lake.

"Whoa!" cried Ichigo, "Hey, wait a minute! Just because I said I wouldn't help you didn't mean...!"

He looked all around the lake's surface, but could find no sign of the mysterious man.

"Huh...I guess he's gone," the youth mused.

He walked slowly around the lake again, and obtained the same result.

"Well, now that he's gone, I wonder how I get out of here."

He spotted what looked like a tall building in the distance and began to walk towards it. As he moved closer and the building got larger, other buildings came into view as well. And the closer he got, the more buildings there were.

And the buildings looked familiar...

"Hmmm," Ichigo mused, "Is that...my inner world? And if it is, then what the hell is it doing here?"

Ichigo...

"Zangetsu?"

Yes.

"What's going on?" Ichigo asked, looking back into Aizen's world, "Why is this world fused with ours like that? What's happening?"

I am not sure. A connection of some kind has formed between Sousuke Aizen and you. You have unresolved feelings about that man. They affect you more than you want to admit.

Ichigo gave him a troubled look, but nodded.

"I guess I am kind of confused in my feelings about him. But I can't help that guy. He was Aizen's zanpakutou, and I'll bet part of what he wants is to free his master."

I think you are right. But Ichigo...I have unusual feelings about this situation, something that urges caution. Do not be too hasty in your actions...for or against him. Think carefully before you make a move.

"I will," Ichigo promised, "I'm going back now. I need to think about this."

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Ichigo sat up in his bed and rubbed his eyes sleepily.

"Hey, Ichi, it's about time you got your sorry ass outta bed!" exclaimed Kon, "Now that you're back to normal..."

"Shut up," Ichigo muttered, "I would hardly call anything about my life, especially you...normal! So, back off, okay?"

"Sheesh! What a grouch!" grumbled the mod soul, stalking away, "You know you might think that you're the only one who suffered while your powers went 'poof,' but I gotta tell you my life just about bored me to death! NOTHING to do, but stare out the window all day. No one to talk to 'cause you couldn't even hear me. I wondered why you kept me around..."

"Huh," huffed the youth, yawning and climbing out of bed, "I was keeping you out of everyone else's hair. That's what I was doing. And I kinda liked not having you babble at me all freaking day."

"Not nice, Ichigo," snapped Kon, stomping out the door.

He stopped outside, when he was just out of Ichigo's line of sight and stole a glance back at the youth, just in time to see him smile and shake his head.

"Yeah," said Kon, "It's good to have you back too."

Back in his room, Ichigo pulled on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, then stumbled out of his room and down the stairs. Yuzu called out a good morning, while Karin offered a more stoic one between bites of her breakfast. He mumbled a good morning back at the two, and was considering actually sitting down and eating, until his mind strayed back to the dream he had had.

It was really strange. I think I should tell Kisuke.

He set out towards the shop, walking through the park, near the river and remembering...

I need your help.

"I wonder why he would think that I, of all people would help him," Ichigo mused aloud, "He said it was because of my empathy, but he also happened to show up just after my powers were returned. He probably wanted me to help him get Aizen out of prison. But, there's no way on hell I'd do that! That guy was heartless..."

Ichigo felt an odd catch inside his own heart.

If he was heartless, then why did I feel loneliness?

Damn!

I know I should just get it out of my head and let it go, but...

He paused as he reached the end of the park and stopped. Urahara's shop was close...and he knew he should go to the former captain with his concerns. But a part of him just wasn't sure.

Let's face it. When I told him about what I felt in Aizen's sword, he went quiet on me. He didn't want to talk about it. And every time I brought it up after that, he tried to change the subject. He doesn't want to deal with it. I guess he figures that Aizen is in a cage, and he's not getting out any time soon, so he wants to just let it go and forget.

I wonder if I can do that.

I know I said right away that I wouldn't help him. And I won't help him to get Aizen free. That bastard belongs where he is...

Another flash of memory coursed through him.

No one will stand up for me and tell you it is true, because my master never confided it in anyone. Indeed, the ones involved in his past are mostly dead, and he used my powers to cover up what he did not want to remember. But perhaps you are right. Perhaps it is better to leave the past behind...to forget...to allow myself to pass from life. It is just that my soul will not rest...unless I do something to make things right.

Ichigo let out a soft, disturbed breath.

"Hey," said a feminine voice from somewhere behind him, "Are you all right?"

Ichigo turned around and smiled in greeting.

"Hey, Yoruichi," he said, good naturedly, "How's it going?"

"I was going to ask you that," said the cat woman, "You had a pretty serious expression on your face. Is something wrong?"

"Eh, no, not really. I was just...you know, remembering some things. It's been over a year now, but it still seems like it just happened, you know?"

"I know what you mean," Yoruichi acknowledged, "Even though all of us were glad when Sousuke Aizen was caught, we never forgot how powerful he was. And it made us all work hard to get stronger...in case someone like that should ever come along again...or in case he should somehow get free."

"Do you think he could?" asked Ichigo, "I thought that Central 46 was pretty much impossible to get out of."

"It would take someone with a lot of skill, and detailed knowledge of the headquarters and prison. We don't think it would ever happen, but we aren't taking chances."

"Yeah, it's probably best not to."

He looked up at her and smiled again, not wanting to continue talking about Aizen.

"So, what are you up to?"

"Oh," she said, grinning, "Byakuya invited me to the manor. He and Renji have been training hard, but he needs someone who can challenge his flash step. So, I agreed...for old time's sake."

"Heh," chuckled Ichigo, "You just like pissing him off."

"Yup," said the cat woman, proudly, "and I think that he secretly enjoys loosening up a little. Those stuffy old elders around the manor are enough to bore the poor guy to death!"

"Oh, I don't know," laughed Ichigo, "His cousin, Tetsuya, and Rukia are pretty lively."

"They're going to be there. Why don't you come along? It will be fun. Maybe Byakuya and you could indulge in a friendly rematch..."

"I...don't think so," said Ichigo, "I have some things to do."

"Yeah?" said Yoruichi, crossing her arms, "Like what? Staring into that river and thinking about drowning yourself?"

"What? No!" snapped Ichigo, "I was going to train at Kisuke's."

"Oh? Well, he's gone fishing with the kids. So, you can just come and train with Byakuya and me."

"What?" Ichigo squawked as she took hold of him and opened a senkaimon, "Yoruichi! What the hell?"

"Come on!"