Pairing: Sosuke Aizen x Ichigo Kurosaki

Music: The Sound of Pulling Heaven Down, by Blue October

Word count: ~ 3400

Rating: T

A/N: If you speak Latin and catch a glaring mistranslation, let me know. The quotes are taken from Tacitus's De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae. Several people have requested this pairing, but the one who actually made me get of my ass and write it was the anon reviewer Bloop.

Prompt 37: Kind

Inoue has been gone for eight hours—eight long, agonizing hours, every single one of which Ichigo has spent blaming himself—when Aizen shows up in his room.

Somehow, Ichigo can't find it in himself to be surprised. With a low growl, he tosses down the old, worn copy of Twelfth Night he has been attempting to distract himself with and rises from his chair. Distantly, he wishes that he were taller, that he could glare down at the Lord of Hueco Mundo at some great height, but dismisses the thought as soon as it occurs. Aizen has already shown that he is quite willing to cut down anyone in his way. A few inches aren't going to make a difference. Neither is switching to his shinigami form, as useless as it would be to try and fight the former captain when he can only hold his mask for a few brief seconds.

"What did you do with her?" he snaps, in no mood—not that he ever is—to be polite.

Aizen simply looks at him, a strange half-smile on his face, then shakes his head. "Nothing," he says, and when Ichigo scoffs, he just smiles. "Really, Kurosaki-kun. Inoue-san is quite safe—even more so with me in Las Noches than she would be here."

Contrary to what people seem to think, Ichigo isn't stupid. He has a good grasp of tactics, and can mostly tell when someone is lying to him. Carefully, he looks the former captain over, but can't find any hint of deception—and if Aizen had wanted him dead, Ichigo is certain he would already be a cooling corpse on the floor.

And for Aizen to say that Inoue is safer in Las Noches, there has to be something brewing, something that the traitor has nothing to do with. That leaves…

"Soul Society?" he asks, eyes narrowing as he takes a step back. His mind is racing. There's no reason to trust Aizen, but—but if he is serious about taking Inoue away for her own safety, then three isn't much reason not to. He stills, casting a short glance out at the darkness where the other shinigami are patrolling, and lets his thoughts catch and hold on the thousand tiny realizations that click into place in his brain.

Foremost is the image of Ukitake Juushiro handing him the badge, saying that it's what they give to authorized substitutes. But if there have been other substitutes, why has no one else mentioned them? Where are they? Why is Ichigo alone and fumbling blindly in the dark with his transformation when Soul Society has records of predecessors?

Unless they, like the Vizards—and as little as he trusts Shinji, he still trusts him—were supposed to be exterminated.

It makes sense, and he hates that.

"Inoue," he says, meeting Aizen's burning gaze with slightly wide eyes. "Her powers. That's why you took her away. And…my power." He remembers the Vizards again, bitter at both Aizen and Soul Society by turns, remembers how they would have been hunted down if they had remained traceable. "They found out what I am?"

Aizen nods slowly, though his gaze never wavers from Ichigo's. "I believe Kurotsuchi has been monitoring the spiritual activity in the area," he says, and doesn't even have the decency to sound sympathetic. "Calling on your mask to fight Grimmjow alerted him."

Slowly, Ichigo sinks down into his chair again, trying to wrap his mind around all the information. It's not that much, not really, but it's powerful. It changes everything.

"Why are you telling me?" It's not quite a demand, because he's grateful, but there's an edge to it, because this is Aizen.

He remembers the feel of a blade sliding through his skin, his muscle, scraping ever so lightly on his spine before it retreats, and has to fight down a shiver. Forcefully, he drags his thoughts away from that—away from the bright flash of blood that mimics Senbonzakura as Byakuya falls to his knees, the helplessness with which Rukia looks up at her captor, the faces of the ten remaining captains as the three traitors rise into the sky—and back to his question. "Why tell me?" he asks, and this time it is a demand. "We're enemies. You want to make the—"

Before he can finish, one of Aizen's long, lightly calloused fingers settled over his lips. The man is suddenly right in front of him, close enough to kiss.

Damn. Ichigo draws in a slightly ragged breath and wonders helplessly, 'Why are the bad guys always hot?'

Aizen simply shakes his head, keeping his finger where it is. "A misdirection," he explains simply, "to give me time for the Hōgyoku to awaken. Once it does, I will harness its power and create a barrier around Hueco Mundo that no shinigami can cross. The Hollows will be contained, the Arrancar will be the only ones able to cross the border, and our world will be preserved." He sees the question in Ichigo's eyes and sighs softly, stepping away to survey the bookshelf by the door. "I had thought that by turning eight of the highest-ranking shinigami in the Gotei 13 into Vizards—or Arrancar, as I was aiming for—would be enough to convince the Central 46 to accept those differences. Obviously, it did not go as I had hoped, and I have been forced to revert to a contingency plan. Does that satisfy your curiosity?"

Ichigo looks at him, looks at the firm set of his shoulders, the righteous, fierce fire in his eyes, the certainty in every inch of his powerful, magnetic personality, and finds that he believes.

He casts another glance out the windows, where the sky is slowly growing lighter, and then says mildly, "We'll need to let Chad and Ishida know. Soul Society will go after them, too, if they were planning to go after Inoue."

With this warning, this explanation, Aizen Sosuke has proven himself far kinder than Soul Society, than the fearful and cowardly 46, and Ichigo is not one to let that pass him by. Not when the lives of his friends hang on his choice of allies.

Something very close to surprise flickers through Aizen's brown eyes, and he smiles, small and sharp and satisfied, as he slides The Merchant of Venice back into place.

"Welcome," he says as he turns, and there is something eminently pleased in his voice, "welcome, Kurosaki-kun, to the fold."

Toshirou pauses at the very edge of Las Noches' throne room, trying to block out the sounds of fighting behind him. His instincts are clamoring at him in shrill warning, tension running sharp nails down his spine. There isn't enough fighting, though, not nearly enough for being so deep in Aizen's stronghold. They haven't encountered any Espada higher than the Séptima, even as the captains sweep the fortress for any Arrancar.

They aren't finding nearly enough to reassure him.

"Captain Hitsugaya," Byakuya greets coolly as he sweeps up, Senbonzakura condensing into a blade as he sheaths it. He regards the closed doors before them, looming darkly over the hallway, and then casts an assessing look at the younger captain. "Shall we?"

Toshirou steels himself, silently repeats that there is no reason to think that Aizen is even present—indeed, everything points to the opposite—and joins Byakuya in throwing the doors open. As they swing wide, eerily silent, Toshirou's heart stutters to a painful halt. He gapes, only slightly mollified by the open shock on Byakuya's face at the sight that greets them.

In the hush, Aizen smiles at them, seated at the head of the long table. Around him, the missing Espada watch with expressions that vary from fury to amusement, also seated, and none of them make any move to rise. That is even eerier, somehow, that these vicious monsters are so well trained that not even the arrival of their traditional enemies can stir them.

"Welcome, Byakuya-kun, Toshirou-kun," Aizen says easily, making a smooth, expansive gesture with one hand, as though presenting the Espada to them. "How nice to see you again. Would you care for some tea?"

He sounds utterly sincere, and Toshirou bristles, his grip tightening on Hyorinmaru as he faces the Gotei 13's greatest threat in anyone's memory. "Enough," he snaps, and the temperature plummets. It's like an icy balm against his skin, the sudden cold a relief from the dry heat of Hueco Mundo. "Face us, Aizen, or return the Hōgyoku and surrender."

The Espada sit in silence, watching with unwavering gazes.

The traitor's smile remains, utterly unchanging and infuriatingly agreeable. He doesn't move, but soft footsteps, echoing through the otherwise noiseless chamber. Toshirou doesn't want to look away from the dangerous assembly before them, but Byakuya's sharply indrawn breath is so unusual and shocking that he spins involuntarily.

Kurosaki Ichigo steps past them, but his eyes never waver, fixed on Aizen. For a brief, mad moment, hope flares in Toshirou's chest, a wild, crazy faith in Kurosaki suddenly appearing in the eleventh hour to win the unwinnable, defeat the invincible monster. He's been missing for almost five years now, gone from his bed and nowhere to be found when Kuchiki Rukia had finished her patrol and returned—the same time as same way that the Quincy boy and the other odd human vanished, gone as though they had never existed. The shinigami had thought, at first, that the three of them had gone off on their own to rescue the Inoue girl, but Urahara had sworn up and down that he hadn't opened any passages or aided the missing humans in any way.

Even then, Toshirou had expected him to appear out of nowhere, with Inoue rescued and the war won.

He had only stopped expecting that after three years had passed.

Then everything snaps back into focus, and his heart stutters once more and freezes in his chest.

Kurosaki Ichigo walks right up to Aizen's chair and then turns to face them like some sort of bodyguard, his white robes settling with a soft rustle. He stares at them, face blank and eyes burning through the shattered shard of a red-and-white mask that frames his right eye.

It takes more restraint than it should for Toshirou not to stab something and swear.

Aizen's smile never falters. He reaches out and Ichigo reaches back, and their fingers tangle. Toshirou stops breathing. He suspects that Byakuya does, too.

Slowly, elegantly, Aizen rises to his feet, all but pressing himself to Ichigo's back. "Forgive me, but I fear that won't work," the traitor says politely. His smile doesn't seem to change, but it's suddenly full of hardness and sharp edges. "Soul Society has destroyed enough, don't you think? 'Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.' That is the process, is it not?"

It's a quote, from a long-dead historian in the world of the living. Toshirou has heard it before, can understand the Latin, and translates swiftly. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.

For some reason, he cannot find his voice to refute the words, and though it is obvious that Byakuya also understands, he says nothing, either.

Seeming satisfied with their silence, Aizen nods once, then steps to Ichigo's side and catches his gaze. "Is it done?"

Ichigo doesn't bow, doesn't even incline his head. He offers no sort of obeisance, but simply turns to Aizen and nods. "Yes," he says quietly, a strangled fury vibrating through his voice. "Gin is just waiting for your signal."

"Ah." Aizen's smile widens, pleasure softening his eyes. "Very good. Captains, you will want to leave before the Hōgyoku or one of us will have to toss you back through the barrier, and I'm not sure I can control them if they must do so." His eyes return to Ichigo, and there is something almost like fondness in them. "Ichigo-kun, show them out?"

Ichigo looks back at the two shinigami, and that smothered fury is still burning in the bottom of his eyes. Nevertheless, Ichigo nods again and steps forward with that eerie, Arrancar-like grace that is so odd against Toshirou's memory of long-limbed, somewhat awkward boy.

"Go," he says, and it is more agreement than order. "I'll return them to the others and get them through." With a bare rustle of white cloth, he sweeps past the captains and out the doors, not looking back.

Toshirou and Byakuya exchange glances, and then look back at the still-smiling Aizen. The traitor just raises an eyebrow at them. "You might as well," he offers. "We don't want to keep you here any more than you want to be kept here. Besides, I like my Arrancar as they are—in one piece."

The idea of being stranded here, with Aizen and his Arrancar and the other traitors, is patently horrifying. Byakuya and Toshirou turn as one, eyes meeting carefully and then looking to where Ichigo is waiting at the end of the hall. There is a purposeful blankness to his face that is even more eerie than the grace. Toshirou looks at that empty expression and nearly chokes on all the questions that push up into his throat.

"Why?" he manages to spit out, the moment they are close enough. There is a wealth of meaning to the word, a thousand answers that can be given, and Toshirou is willing to accept any of them.

Ichigo pauses his even, deliberate steps, but doesn't turn. For a long moment, he is silent, before he says softly, "Who would they have sent, when the order came?" Another second of silence and he turns to face them. His expression is cold, but his eyes burn hot with anger. "Who would the 46 have sent to kill us? You, Byakuya? You, Toshirou? Suì-Fēng? Or would the old man have stirred himself for the likes of us?"

Toshirou's jaw drops in utter shock, and he splutters. "What?"

Byakuya is pale, but more coherent, even though his knuckles are white around Senbonzakura's hilt. Slowly, as though shaping the words takes him great effort, he ventures, "The Central 46 sent someone after you, Kurosaki?"

Ichigo's eyes settle on the captain, and one brow slowly inches upwards. "It was planned," he says simply, but there is a wealth of complicated feeling behind those three words. Anger, definitely, and hurt, and confusion, and disgust, and many things Toshirou can't even begin to name. "Ishida, too. Chad. Inoue. We scared them, so they were going to get rid of us."

Toshirou vainly tries to pull a few genius brain cells together. Central 46. Inoue. The Quincy. Ichigo. An elimination order. Aizen. Aizen, who is shutting himself in instead of launching an attack on Soul Society or Karakura.



He meets Ichigo's eyes, feeling almost wild. "It's not about the Key, is it?" he demands. "Becoming a god…that was a ruse?"

The barest hint of a wry smile touches Ichigo's mouth, and he steps into a wide room lit from everywhere and nowhere. Tousen is waiting, a firm, stern figure that frowns at them fiercely, but remains silent.

"Mah, mah! Very good, Shiro-chan," a sly voice mocks, and Gin sweeps in, grinning like always. Toshirou twists away from him as he passes, but the former captain doesn't even look at him. Instead, he drapes himself over Ichigo's shoulder with a chuckle. He looks at the redhead, eyes slitted, and says cheerfully, "Ichi-kun, ya have five minutes."

Even as he speaks, the air shimmers, and the four other captains who had accompanied them to Las Noches appear, staggering as though they have just been snatched mid-blow. Almost unconsciously, Toshirou catches Ukitake's elbow and keeps him from falling, even as Kyoraku supports him from the other side.

"What the hell?" Renji demands, regaining his feet. He's lost his 9th Division haori, but is only bleeding lightly, looking angry more than pained. "What was—" His voice cracks and he chokes on the words as his eyes settle on the former substitute in his Arrancar-white robes.

Ichigo doesn't even glance at him, but turns away and puts his hand on a section of wall. "We're ready," he says simply, then steps back. For a brief moment, his eyes linger on the assembled captains, and he looks grim. Then, with a nearly soundless sigh, he shakes his head slightly and says, quietly, "When Soul Society can finally look at others without seeing enemies, send someone to negotiate. Until then, we'll stay separate and let you destroy yourselves."

Light rises around then, starting pale and quickly growing bright enough to blind. Just before it reaches the point where Toshirou is forced to close his eyes, he looks at Ichigo one last time, to see the Vizard watching them with something horrifyingly close to pity. He murmurs something, and it only just makes it to Toshirou's ears before there is a sharp sensation, like a full-body shock.

'Idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset.'

'Because they didn't know better, they called it 'civilization,' when it was part of their slavery.'

There is a moment of freefall before the world returns in a rush. Toshirou staggers a step, colliding with something soft and squishy.

It squeaks.

Confused, Toshirou blinks the spots from his eyes, and is met with a close-up view of a pair of huge breasts. His blood runs cold—well, colder—even as he forces his gaze up to meet his lieutenant's grin.

"Oh, Captain," she squeals, crushing him against her chest. "If you wanted to grope me, all you had to do was ask!"

Toshirou groans and curses Aizen to hell.


Perhaps it is not the way he would have before.

A soft rap at the door wakes him, the sound echoing through the white room. He sighs into his (firm, lovely, warm) pillow and pushes himself up onto one elbow, running a hand through spiky orange hair.

"Yeah?" he calls blearily, rubbing his eyes. "What is it?"

The door creaks open just a crack, and one flat green eye stares at him, empty of all emotion. "Kurosaki-sama," Ulquiorra says formally, "the barrier has been stabilized and is showing no signs of fluctuation. We will continue to monitor its condition, but Szayel believes it will hold steady."

Ichigo blinks at the Arrancar for a moment before his sleep-dazed mind can process the words, then rolls over and sits up, swinging his legs over the size of the bed. "Right," he says firmly. "Thanks, Ulquiorra."

The Cuarto Espada nods once in acknowledgement and closes the door. Ichigo sighs again and makes to stand, but is pulled back by a ropy, muscular arm around his waist.

"Must you?" Sosuke asks vaguely, clearly still asleep in all the ways that count.

Ichigo looks back and him and can't help but smile—it's thrilling, really, to see this powerful, fearsome lord so attached to him that seeing the final result of the culmination of all their plans isn't enough to make him release Ichigo early in the morning.

The predawn cuddling has become a habit with him, but Ichigo isn't going to say anything.

He wavers for a moment, but it is early, and Ulquiorra didn't say that either of them was needed, so he allows himself to be dragged back down to the mattress. Sosuke pulls Ichigo close and wraps his arms around him, tucks him under his chin and holds him as though he is everything good and wanted and needed all condensed into one leanly muscled form. Their bodies are pressed flush together, and while it is most definitely sexual, there is nothing erotic about it. More than anything, it is closeness, and sensuality, and a love so fierce and gentle that Ichigo could never have imagined it five years ago.

"And now?" he murmurs, tracing his fingers lazily over the curve of Sosuke's shoulder.

Sosuke tightens his grip and kisses his hair. "Now, beloved, we build our kingdom as we wish, and wait for the fools to realize they are drowning in their own filth."

"Our kingdom," Ichigo repeats, and smiles slightly, tilting his head to accept Sosuke's next kiss on the lips.