A/N: Hello one hello all. How have you all been? Doing just fine myself. Welcome to my newest story. We're going to be in the Bleach universe today. Let's just jump right into it.
Senzaikyū Prison Tower, Central Seireitei
Ichigo's eyes were hollow and lifeless as he stared at the floor of his cell.
How had it all gone so wrong?
Not 24 hours ago he seemed to be on top of the world. He had finished what was said to be nearly impossible and attained his bankai after a mere three days. He had reached what was supposedly the pinnacle of a shinigami's ability and had finally obtained the power to save Rukia and protect his friends.
He felt pride.
He felt joy.
He felt strong.
Only for him to leave his training sanctuary and have it all turn to ashes in his mouth.
Ishida and Orihime were dead. Killed in action against a captain named Mayuri Kurotsuchi. Ichigo wished that Yoruichi hadn't told him. That she had waited just a few extra hours before letting him know.
If she had then he wouldn't have faltered. He wouldn't have wasted a few precious minutes reeling from their deaths.
He would have reached Rukia in time to stop the execution rather then getting there just to see her being immolated by the Sōkyoku. The peaceful look of acceptance on her face still haunted him whenever he shut his eyes.
The memories of what happened next were somewhat hazy. He remembered releasing his bankai and charging at Byakuya in a rage. Furious that he stood by as his sister was executed. Then there was an ungodly large amount of spiritual pressure released by the old man with the long beard and wooden cane. The next clear memory he had was waking up in this cell with spirit suppression cuffs over his wrists and ankles.
"Ichigo." his cellmate called. "Do you know what happened to Yoruichi and Ganju?"
Ichigo's gaze drifted slowly over to the oversized man chained up alongside him. The only other known survivor of this foolish escapade into Soul Society. "No Chad...I don't. Yoruichi is probably fine but I haven't seen Ganju in days. He's likely dead just like the others." he muttered softly.
Chad frowned at the dark tone in his friends voice. "It's not your fault Ichigo."
Ichigo scoffed with a hoarse throat. "How is it not? I'm the one who took Rukia's powers. I'm the one who got her arrested. I'm the reason you guys came to Soul Society. Everything that has happened...all of it...the reason they're dead...it's because of me."
"Oh? How surprising." A third voice announced sounding thoroughly amused. "You don't really believe all that do you?"
Ichigo's and Chad's heads both snapped up towards the newcomer. A male shinigami with brown hair and dressed in a white haori approached the cell with a smile on his face and smug laughter in his eyes.
"A captain?" Ichigo muttered in surprise before processing what was actually said. "What the hell do you mean by that? Who are you?" he demanded with a shout.
A little of the laughter in the man's eyes was replaced by puzzlement and his smile shrank ever so slightly. "Who...am I? Do you honestly not know?" he questioned with seeming sincerity. "Did your father never mention me? Did Kisuke Urahara not even show you the face of his enemy? You do work for the man don't you? He is the one who sent you here is he not?"
Ichigo's brow furrowed at the condescending tone. "Urahara? What does he have to do with this? And why would my father know anyone in soul society? I never told him anything about shinigami!"
The man's look shifted from mild confusion to one of pity as his expression fell down to neutral. "I see. You really are nothing more than an unwitting pawn in all this aren't you? They sent you off to die without bothering to explain a single thing." he said more to the room than his audience. "What a waste." he added with a sigh.
Ichigo's anger rose. "You better start making sense or-"
"Calm yourself Ichigo Kurosaki. I will explain in a moment. My name is Sōsuke Aizen and until a few days ago I was captain of the 5th division of the Gotei 13. You could say that I chose to tender my resignation shortly after your arrival. For the past 100 years I have been engaged in a shadow war with the ex-captain of the 12th division Kisuke Urahara after he fled Soul Society for being found guilty of treason. At the center of that war...was this." Aizen proclaimed as he reached into his sleeve and produced a small blue and purple orb the size of a large marble. A small fire danced brilliantly in its center that drew the attention of both prisoners. One couldn't help but look upon it.
"100 years...over that little thing?" Ichigo breathed out.
Aizen smiled. "Yes...It does sound strange doesn't it? So much time for such a small thing. However, I assure you that this small artifact known as the Hōgyoku is capable of some truly incredible things. Perhaps I will tell you more on it later." Aizen said serenely as he re-pocketed the item. "For 100 years this object was hidden from me...always just beyond my grasp...but then something happened a few months ago. An unexpected wildcard to change Kisuke Urahara's strategy. Would you care to guess what event that was Ichigo Kurosaki?"
"W-What?" Ichigo stuttered. Still trying to mentally play catch up all the information he was receiving. Urahara was a captain? Found guilty of treason? And earlier this man Aizen implied that his goofball father was somehow involved with Soul Society.
"A young unranked shinigami was forced to grant her powers over to a human. Sound familiar? While normally such an occurrence would resolve itself on it's own and warrant nothing more than a slap on the wrist from the shinigami's superior this young shinigami woman had the distinct misfortune of losing her powers in the same area where Kisuke Urahara was hiding in the living world. Tell me Ichigo Kurosaki, did Rukia Kuchiki ever mention or perhaps complain that her powers should have returned to her after some time but for some reason did not?"
"Y-yeah. She did. Are you saying Urahara is the reason behind that?" Ichigo asked, desperate to finally start receiving answers.
Aizen smiled. This conversation was already proceeding better than anticipated.
"Exactly. Kisuke Urahara was so desperate to keep the Hōgyoku away from me that he was willing to ruin that young lady's life. He approached Rukia Kuchiki that very night, offering her a gigai to use while she awaited the return of her abilities. If it were a normal gigai then the process would have taken approximately 10-12 days. The girls powers would return to her, she would leave for Soul Society, and you would return to your simple life. So one must ask oneself the question. Why did this not happen?"
For a change it was the silent giant who spoke up. "It would mean that the gigai Urahara offered Rukia wasn't normal."
"Correct Yasutora Sado." Aizen said like a teacher congratulating a student. "The gigai Kisuke Urahara provided was not normal in any sense of the word. It was a one of a kind custom gigai that would slowly transform its user from a shinigami soul into an ordinary human one. In addition, through this gigai he managed to hide the Hōgyoku in the one place where no one should ever be able to find it. Inside Rukia Kuchiki's very soul. If everything went according to his plan young Rukia would have been stranded in the living world away from everyone she knew for the rest of her natural life. A considerably shortened life since humans live for under a hundred years whilst shinigami can easily reach ten times that."
"He was going to ruin Rukia's entire life just to stop you from getting that dumb little marble!" Ichigo questioned in outrage.
"Yes Ichigo. He was. And he very nearly succeeded." Aizen replied calmly. His features then shifted into a pensive, almost sorrowful, look. "For the next part of this story I'm going to have to ask that you try and refrain from yelling. It involves me taking some actions you will not appreciate. After I learned of Rukia Kuchiki being stuck without her powers in Karakura town I was able to piece together what Kisuke Urahara's plan was and developed appropriate counter measures. I manipulated events so that captain Kuchiki and vice-captain Abarai would be deployed to return her to Soul Society. I need not remind you on how that encounter played out. Once Rukia Kuchiki and far more importantly the Hōgyoku were back in Soul Society I once again used my own influence to ensure that she was executed by the Sōkyoku. Only it's power was great enough to burn away the soul but not harm any foreign-"
The chains rattled violently as Ichigo strained against his bindings. "YOU BASTARD! YOU KILLED HER!" he screamed with furious tears in his eyes.
"Do you hate me Ichigo Kurosaki?" Aizen asked totally unfazed. "Go ahead. I don't mind. I am not a saintly man. I have no compunctions about staining my hands with blood in order to get what I want. Especially the blood of a complete stranger. I knew of no other guaranteed way to separate her from the Hōgyoku. If it's any consolation to you her death was painless. The Sōkyoku burns so hot that it would have been quicker than falling asleep. A far better fate than most shinigami receive. A painful death of screaming in agony while being ripped apart in combat."
"That's no excuse...there must've been another way...there had to be." Ichigo whispered mostly to himself as his tears splashed against the stone floor.
"I did have some backup contingencies in place but all of them were considerably more violent and likely would've killed the girl anyway. But let us get back to the subject of you. I must say I was rather surprised when you invaded Seireitei with a misfit band of empowered humans and your cousin in order to take back Rukia Kuchiki. I was expecting Kisuke Urahara to send Yoruichi Shihōin or perhaps even your father to try and retrieve the Hōgyoku. Not a bunch of untested teenagers who haven't the slightest idea what they're doing."
Ichigo's eyes widened. "My cousin? And that's the second time you've mentioned my father! How is he involved here? Tell me!"
'How easily the rat walks into the trap' Aizen mused to himself. "Isshin Kurosaki. Formerly Isshin Shiba, uncle to Kūkaku and Ganju Shiba and ex-captain of the 10th division. Disappeared almost two decades ago from Soul Society and currently wanted for dereliction of duty. Did you never question why you conveniently had your own shinigami powers to call upon after Rukia Kuchiki's were lost to you? Not to mention that your powers were greater than most of Soul Societies elites? Did you think you were special? Did you think it was your resolve granting you all your strength? I'm sorry boy but it's just a simple case of genetics. Your father really never mentioned this? Even after you obtained shinigami abilities?" Aizen asked with faux concern.
"No...never...He never mentioned a damn thing!" Ichigo spat angrily as he stared at the ground of his cell.
Aizen put on his best comforting face and softened his voice."Ichigo Kurosaki. When I first walked into this cell it was on a whim. To thank you for making such a scene at Sōkyoku hill after the execution that I was able to grab the Hōgyoku completely undetected. A parting barb to send at one who I presumed was a loyal soldier of my enemy. Now I see that this is not the case. So I would like to offer you something instead."
"You may not be aware of this yet but your state executions are both being scheduled right now. In just about a weeks time you will both be dead. Most likely by beheading. You have but two choices. Option one. You can stay in this cell and await whatever fate Soul Society deems appropriate for you...or you can go with door number two."
"And that is?"
"Join me. As I mentioned earlier I have effectively resigned from the Gotei 13. Two other captains alongside myself have decided to rebel against the status quo. We seek a complete overhaul of the current system. I'm gathering an army to tear down this arrogant and outdated place. I would like to offer both you and your friend Yasutora Sado a place in that army. I offer you a chance to live. A chance to avenge the deaths of your friends. Perhaps even a chance to strike back at Kisuke Urahara who played you like a fiddle so expertly. And if one day you choose to come for my head for the part I played in Rukia Kuchiki's death then I will not object."
Ichigo sat there silently for a few moments. Mulling over everything he had learned in the past few minutes. He turned to his best friend with an obvious question etched on his face. 'What do you think?'
"I have no family or real ties left in the living world Ichigo. When I followed you here I knew that I might die or that my life might be changed forever." The tall man spoke. "Whatever you decide...I'm with you to the end." he promised, somehow finding the inner strength to smile on this darkest of all days.
"If it makes it any easier I promise that I will never lie to you Ichigo." Aizen lied.
Ichigo's eyes hardened with determination as he reached his decision. "Alright Aizen. Deal. But one day...one day I will come for you over what you did to Rukia."
Aizen smiled as the conversation finished exactly the way he planned it to. "That is acceptable. Now let us be off. It is time to reconvene with my other allies." Aizen said as he diced the prison bars with a quick slash and removed the suppression cuffs from the prisoners with two more.
"And where's that?" Ichigo asked as he rubbed one of his wrists.