I never wanted to live forever
He has experienced many things in his abnormally long life, moments of great frustration and anger, sadness and sorrow, but also happiness and satisfaction. He doesn't hate anything or anyone, nor does he hold grudges, he doesn't have time too, which is ironic since time is the one thing that never seems to run out for him.
Well, perhaps that isn't exactly true, there is one thing he hates.
Square marble tiles flooring a round room, white walls encircling half of it, intricately carved marble pillars finishing the rest of the way so that the eternally blue sky is viewable to the sole constant occupant of the room. Half of the room's floor, on the side encased by full walls, is raised up slightly like a stage, a single marble step breaching the gap between the two levels.
The two halves are split by elegant velvet curtains of royal purple, only partially opened to reveal a translucent crystal prism housing one man bound in black straps. Only his head was left uncovered, though not completely, his right eye too was covered in the same black material.
It was unnaturally cool in the room, the air still and oppressive despite the breeze which moved freely on the other side of the open pillars.
This room was the one thing that he hated, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he hated the sins that this room, and the people who once founded it harboured. The origins of the Soul Society, Hueco Mundo and Human World was a story wrought with wickedness, one that he wished he could forget.
"Even after all this time, you look as smug as ever," a gruff voice spoke out cutting the silence of the throne room, eyeing the brown swept-back hair and angular face he'd become so familiar with over the millennia.
The voice belonged to a man who looked to be in his mid to late eighties, though his real age was many thousands of times greater than that. His white hair – a stark contrast to the colour he sported in his youth – was slicked back in an elegant manner, though signs of his hairs former wild appearance still showed through giving him a more rugged yet still regal look.
His face was cleanly shaven, which allowed onlookers to see the many wrinkles and lines that were etched into his skin. Despite age, his eyes were still the same warm golden-brown they had been in his youth, not losing even a hint of their radiance over time. Perhaps it was his supernatural genes, but he still stood at an impressive six foot, back straight with his hands tucked into the sleeves of his Shihakushō.
He was a two-time war hero, the most powerful Shinigami to ever exist and a Soul King candidate too once upon a time, though thankfully the man floating lifelessly before him took that sacrifice in his stead.
Feeling his gnarled hand start to tremble he rested it on the hilt of the Zanpakutō at his hip, "I doubt this was what you expected when we came to you with the offer, eh Sōsuke?" He continued, a smirk lifting his wrinkled cheek as he spoke to the silence around them. "You who knew of the Soul Kings cursed existence and thought you could overcome it are now the same empty husk of a man that the original was, though I suppose you still being in one piece does make your tenure better than his."
Fear of the original Soul Kings power was what led to the founding ancestors of the Five Great Noble Houses cutting his body apart and spreading the pieces to the far corners of the world, though the action led to far more harm than good.
The Reiō's heart, brain and left hand were all Quincy that helped Yhwach destroy the Seireitei and nearly brought the world to an end, and the right hand while technically on the Shinigami side ended up being absorbed by Yhwach and thus added to his already terrible might.
Aizen too – at least in Ichibē's mind – was born at that moment during the original sin, maybe not physically, but his arrival was surely set into motion.
Perhaps it was because he could see into the far-flung future, maybe he could not escape his fear... or maybe he found some hope in the new world, but the Soul King did not resist the ancestor's sin. Ichibē believed that Ichigo was the hope he saw in the future, and he believed that Aizen was born with the Reiō's will to guide Ichigo to them all.
As vehemently as he would've denied it in his youth, the wiser and more world-weary outlook he'd gained through his many years of life left him unable to do so; it just made far too much sense when he looked back on it all.
Well, the original Reiō's will or not, he was glad that they never had to give Aizen the same treatment. The megalomaniac was fortunate to have been imprisoned in Muken, the bindings created by the late Kurotsuchi were sufficient enough at suppressing his powers, meaning they didn't have to do it the more.. gruesome way.
"Oh? I was wondering when you'd get back," a jovial voice called out from one of the gaps between the many pillars lining half the room.
"Hmph, don't play innocent; do you really think that I didn't notice you stood there watching me?" The original occupant of the room called back, turning and cracking his eyes open slightly to peer at the bald-headed Monk.
Ichibē grinned further, something more reminiscent shining in his eyes as their gazes met. "You really do remind me of Shigekuni the way you slowly open your eyes like that; it feels like he's back here scolding me again."
He could only hum at the familiar words, spoken to him so many times before. He didn't slouch over as Jii-san did, nor did he seal his Zanpakutō in the shape of a cane, but the scars of his past that marred his skin along with his stern expression, overwhelming power and vast wisdom often caused people to draw comparisons between the two.
Only the weight on his shoulders was a little heavier. Yamamoto had been the pillar of strength for the Gotei 13, but now it was different. If Aizen was the key which kept the word from collapsing, then he was the pillar which gave not just the Gotei 13 strength, but the three worlds as a whole.
"So what took you so long?" Ichibē prodded, pulling the man from his obscure thoughts, "usually succession ceremonies don't take this long, how many does this make now?"
"Itsuki Shiba, the 51st head of the Shiba Clan and a total brat,' he grunted out, a fond annoyance lacing his tone.
"Itsuki huh?" Ichibē affirmed, stroking his beard. "If I'm not mistaken, his name can be read as 'Go My Way' or 'Independence' right? He sure sounds a lot like you," the Monk finished with a hearty laugh, though the elder Shinigami merely grunted at his teasing.
"He's a good kid," Ichigo finally spoke up again having let the silence sit around them for a couple of moments, "he's currently Captain of the Eighth and on a fast track toward promotion to Captain-Commander if the Kuchiki brat's words are true."
"Oh? He's following in your footsteps then?"
Ichigo could only nod sheepishly. In truth, the newest clan head idolized him, though he'd never been very good at dealing with that sort of worship.
"Speaking of the Eighth.. have you spoken to him recently?"
Again Ichigo nodded at the Monk's words, "that's why I was so late to come back, there was a lot I wanted to say to Shunsui, and it took longer than I expected."
It was Ichibē's turn to nod this time, his grin fading away for something more solemn. It was no secret that Ichigo had become a master at hiding his emotions during his long life, but the members of the Zero Division had been with his so long that he couldn't hide everything from them anymore, and not one of them could miss the cloud of melancholy that hung over him every day.
Of course, the man missed everyone from his younger days, but Shunsui had earned a special place in his heart just for the sheer amount of time they'd spent together, and he made sure to visit the man's grave and speak to him at least a couple of times a month.
"It's hard to believe that it's already been seven hundred thousand years since his passing," Ichibē spoke out softly, almost like his mind was somewhere else. "How old are you now?" He quickly tacked on, conscious snapping back to reality.
"One million, nine hundred thousand and eighty-seven, but who's counting?" He shrugged.
'Clearly, you are,' the Monk wanted to say, though he held his tongue, it was obvious that the man was forcing himself to make light of the situation.
With every year that passed, the man would become more and more depressed, and why wouldn't he? Everyone that he once knew was gone, for someone like Ichibē who was born in the old world, he couldn't fathom the loneliness that gripped at the Hero's heart.
Tōshirō had lived to about eight hundred thousand, but Ichigo outlasted him. Zaraki could've made it past a million years with his supernatural levels of reiatsu, but he wasn't a man suited for peace, it drove him crazy.
Ichibē could still remember it vividly, the day Zaraki had charged into the office of the first division and demanded one final battle with him, the strongest Shinigami to ever live, a being who's heights no one would ever reach again.
After fighting for approximately nine days in Muken, and a little over nine hundred thousand years after the end of the thousand year blood war, the final mark of peace for the world, Ichigo exited the aphotic prison alone.
Tōshirō was gone, Zaraki was dead by his hand, and there was only one person left from his younger days, his surrogate uncle, teacher and friend, Shunsui Kyōraku.
The relationship the two shared was unique, from seventeen at the tail end of the thousand year blood war till damn near a million and two hundred thousand years afterwards they were together, and when Shunsui had finally passed away under his favourite cherry blossom tree in Ichigo's back yard, he simply secluded himself away.
It took about a month for him to come back out, though his return didn't last long because to the surprise of no one, he retired from his position as Captain of the First Division and Captain Commander of the Gotei 13 and accepted a promotion into the Zero Division.
Pulling himself from the depressing thoughts, Ichibē forced a smile onto his face, though the strain was obvious. "Almost two million years old eh? I remember when I was that young, oh how time flies."
Ichigo simply grinned half-heartedly at the Monk's words, he didn't want to think about it any longer. "So, why were you watching me?"
"I was curious to see if this would be the day you'd finally erase this worlds sin," he spoke bluntly, seemingly uncaring of the implications of his words, nor who may have been listening.
Ichigo too was surprised by the candid response, Ichibē had always been the one to stop the other Royal Guard members when they spoke a little too carelessly and yet here he was saying such things, "it almost sounds as though you don't think that would be a bad thing."
"Who knows?" He shrugged, a spark of mischief dancing in his eyes even though it was clear he would say no more.
With another extended hum, he turned back to the crystal, placed his hand on the black hilt of Zangetsu and drew, the silver blade gleaming through the air in a practised motion to rest casually at his side.
And then, as if a dam had given way, the wrinkled hand tightened up around the hilt and the still air which permeated the throne room was blown away by an invisible force, golden wisps of reiatsu stretching out into the emptiness of the room.
'Hmph, he won't even try and stop me, huh?' Ichigo sighed inwardly, nauseatingly sick of everything all the sudden.
It was no secret that even the head of the Royal Guard was powerless against him, but their job was the protection of the Reiō even at the risk of their own life, and yet the Monk just stood there as nonchalantly as ever.
'At least the others are taking this more seriously,' Tenjirō and Senjumaru had already arrived outside, and their reiatsu held proper concern for the situation, Kirio and Ōetsu weren't far off from the scene either, 'even though I have no intention of actually going through with this,' he mused, re-sheathing his blade and letting his reiatsu fade away as quickly as it came.
"Well, as strongly as I feel about it, I wouldn't be able to anyways," Ichigo continued, answering the Monk's original question. "Ignoring the sins which founded it, this world isn't all that bad, asides from the unlucky few like you and me most people are blissfully unaware of the forces working silently around them, good or bad, I don't see a reason to end it."
"And what of Aizen?"
"It weighs on me," he admitted, shifting his lidded eyes toward the crystal, "when Yhwach's corpse began to deteriorate and the world once again fell into chaos, Aizen – because of the Hōgyoku – was the obvious choice to replace him, an immortal key to the world.
And, perhaps it was because of his power that grew infinitely even while just sitting in Muken, or maybe it was his knowledge, but he seriously believed he could overcome the curse of the Soul King and be an active ruler, so he walked willingly toward this fate when the offer was presented, and for that reason I feel no guilt.
We, however, knew he would succumb to the curse no matter how much he struggled and yet we said nothing, not that he would've listened anyways, but still, the fact that I held my tongue, not even warning him of the dangers he faced has bothered me to this day."
With a small smile, Ichibē could only shake his head lightly; he really should've foreseen such an answer. "You always were too nice," he continued under his breath, too quiet for anyone else to hear, though thankfully before his words could be clarified the pair was interrupted.
"Yo Gramps what the hell was that about, you damn near gave me a heart attack!" Tenjirō hollered bursting through one of the spaces between the pillars. He would admit in the solace of his own mind that he got great amusement seeing the twitch of annoyance on Ichigo's brow at his choice of name.
"Yeah Ichi-chan, you can't be doing that in the Reiō's throne room no matter who our King is," the bubbly 'Ruler of Grain' added, further chastising the man.
"I don't know what's weirder, you calling him 'Gramps' when you're older than he is or Kirio calling him 'Ichi-chan' when he looks as old as he does," Senjumaru sighed out, moving across the marble floor with all the grace of Queen.
The elder Shinigami resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the trio, though it was all in good fun. Instead, Ichigo allowed his eyes to open fully once again so that he could gaze upon the faces of his longtime friends, amusement sparkling in the golden brown as Kirio turned her false ire toward the Monk who should've been more concerned by his release of power in front of the Reiō.
But there was something else in his eyes too, something much more sombre, sombre yet comforting at the same time.
"I'm glad you're all here," Ichigo cut in, drawing five sets of eyes to his person, "there's something I've been meaning to tell you all...
...it seems my time has finally come."
Neither said anything as Ichibē came to sit beside Ichigo, their eyes briefly meeting before gazing back out over the vast garden, no words of greeting were needed between the two.
He didn't need to be a mind reader to tell that Ichibē and the others were conflicted about his announcement, though he supposed no one could really take someone announcing their own death in stride, it wasn't exactly normal.
Perhaps it was because they were souls tasked with guiding other souls to the afterlife, or maybe it was because they had such deep connections with their inner selves through the Zanpakutō, but most Shinigami could just sort of feel when death was approaching, and Ichigo knew he didn't have long left in this world.
But it didn't bother him; in fact, he was relieved.
He knew that the members of the Royal Guard – his friends – understood that as well, which is why none of them made a fuss about it. As morbid as it was to say, they understood how tired he was of living.
"I thought about it a lot when I was younger, the concept of time, especially after coming to the Soul Society and accepting the position of Captain for the Eighth Division, how long my life could really be.. it scared me," he started, unsure of where his words would lead him but unwilling to stop none the less.
"Uryū, Chad and Inoue lasted quite long in human terms due to their supernatural powers, Uryū especially, but I understood that they – and the rest of my human friends – would be leaving me behind pretty early.
Thankfully Kūkaku, Ganju, my Oyaji, Yuzu and Karin lasted a few hundred thousand years due to the Shiba genes, but they weren't freaks of nature like me and eventually, time claimed them as well...
I'll be honest; when everyone from my time as a human finally left, I was so sick of the pain that losing someone brought that I considered just ending it all and joining them in the next life, and if it wasn't for Shaolin, I probably would have. She pulled me off my ass, slapped some sense into me and pushed me forward. I realized that as hard as it would be, my friends and family would want me to live a long, happy and healthy life, and if I were to give in so early, I would just be letting them down."
Ichigo had to pause briefly, a grin easing its way onto his face as he reminisced. "You know, at one point, I refused to even consider getting married because it was depressing to think of how long I would outlive my wife," he admitted, earning a surprised look from Ichibē, though the Monk just continued to listen. "But Yoruichi, that damn troublesome cat loved to meddle and play matchmaker between Shinigami, and she got me too."
"Shaolin was such a pain in the ass when I first met her, even more obsessed with rules and orders than Byakuya was, and that's saying something! I had never known someone who could be so generally reserved and yet arrogant at the same time until I met Shaolin, she drove me nuts!
If she wasn't beating me into the ground with my Hakuda training than she was ignoring me, and when we did talk, she treated me like a spec of dirt not worth her time, gah! just thinking about this is pissing me off!" Ichigo bit out, his exaggerated and over-excited movements not fitting his elderly body, though Ichibē certainly found it amusing.
"The only time she would treat me half-decently was when Yoruichi-sama was around, and you bet your ass that cat knew it too, she just thought it was so hilarious to watch that she never did anything about it."
"But," he continued in a softer tone, a warmth filling his eyes that the head of the Royal Guard hadn't seen in a long time, "I fell in love with her, and no matter how much I tried to play it cool, I was in way over my head."
"I think her death hit me the hardest, even more than Okaa-san, Oyaji, Yuzu or Karin... love sure is a scary thing," he mused, something close to a grin on his face but more painful.
"Every year that passed after her death, things just became... harder, more annoying, I had less patience for everything. But, as always, time for me was forever moving onward. Rukia, Renji, Byakuya, everyone was dying around me. The younger generation was coming up, and I cared for them in a nephew and niece sort of fashion, but the bond I forged with them were never the same.
Tōshirō's passing was hard on me, although he was about a hundred and fifty years older than me at the time, it didn't feel like it, he was the person I felt closest with, age-wise at least. Kenpachi's request was interesting, we weren't best friends or anything like that, he wasn't the kind of guy to go for such relationships, he just either respected you or he didn't, and I respected that straight forward attitude of his.
I wasn't bothered that he'd had enough with the world – hell, I felt the same way damn near every day – it was just hard having to be the one to end his life, though I won't lie, the look of satisfaction and gratitude on his face as he passed on made it all a little easier.
After Kenpachi, the never ending sense of loss that had become a part of my existence got so much worse, and the next hundred thousand years were the most trying of my life.
There is something incredibly... dark, about outliving all of your children."
Ichibē said nothing; there was nothing he could say, he hadn't experienced loss in the sense that Ichigo had, but the shadows skulking in the man's eyes told him all he needed to know.
He could remember their deaths clearly. At that point, Ichigo had already made contact with the Ichibē and the other Zero Division members a few times, and their friendship had grown, so they were, of course, welcomed to attend the three funerals.
Asuka was the first to go, and he could tell the moment he saw Ichigo at her funeral that something had died inside of him. Yuuto – their only son – was second to go, and Ichigo became a little darker, a little more cold toward the world around them afterwards. And finally, their third daughter Hisana left this world for the next.
Hisana's death was the most shocking because you could tell the man had already reached his breaking point, he just tried to laugh it all off, constantly recalling back to the priceless looks on Rukia and Byakuya's faces when he told them that his and Suì-Fēng's third child and second daughter would be named in honour of the late sister/wife.
It was tragic for all of his friends and family to watch how low into depression he'd fallen, and to be honest, "I'm surprised you stayed in the Soul Society after their passing."
"I didn't want to," he admitted, "I was fully ready to come up here and leave it all behind, but I could never abandon Shunsui like that, just as he was the only one left from my old life, so was I the last person left from his. When he finally passed away, of course, I was crushed, but I also felt set free."
"I remember that," Ichibē began, "after you finally left your house again, you hit everyone with the news that you were leaving, the Seireitei went crazy."
Ichigo couldn't help but genuinely grin at those words. It really had been crazy; you'd think the Reiō had died and the world was ending with how gloomy everyone got.
"Mm, I outlived my mother, father and sisters, my human friends, my Shinigami friends, my wife and children, and now I've outlived my grandchildren and great-grandchildren too. It's hard to put what that feels like into words, but they understood enough to relent and let me be free."
"We're going to miss you," the Monk spoke softly after a couple of moments of silence, an uncharacteristically sombre tone for him.
"I really wish you would've accepted the Ōken, I've done so well to avoid the pain you've gone through, but now here I am, and it sucks."
Ichigo smirked at his words, "trust me, I know...
...but I never wanted to live forever."
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.
I didn't really have a goal with this one-shot, it's just something I've wanted to write for a long time. I've seen a lot of stories that write about the aftermath of the Winter War, and even some that speak on the aftermath of the Thousand Year Blood War, but I've personally never seen a story that goes so far in the future and describes what Ichigo's life was like leading up to his death.
I will apologize if this one-shot seems a little rushed, rough or unpolished, but I will admit that it was my intent; I didn't want to over-think or over-edit it, I just wanted to write what first came to my mind and leave it at that.
If you couldn't tell, I wanted to go for a darker, more depressing tone for the one-shot which is why I kept going back to the fact that Ichigo has outlived everyone he ever loved or cared about and what his life is like now, I hope I conveyed it well enough.
So, I eluded to the fact that Ichigo was Captain of the Eighth and first Division's at some point in his life but didn't really go into depth with it because it just wasn't relevant to the story, but I'll explain it a little better now for anyone that is curious.
After Ichigo graduated university, he came to the Soul Society and became Captain of the Eighth with Lisa as his Lieutenant, he spent some time learning the job but it didn't take too long, we all know how quick of a learner Ichigo is.
About a thousand years after Yhwach's defeat the Shiba Clan was reinstated as one of the five great families, and Ichigo was placed as the head. Roughly four hundred thousand years after canon Shunsui asks Ichigo for his old position back and Ichigo is voted into the position of Captain Commander by the other Captains.
As Captain Commander and head of one of the great families with allies like Byakuya, Yoruichi and ties to the Royal Guard Ichigo greatly improves the Soul Society and more importantly the Rukongai.
Ichigo remains Captain Commander until he joins the Royal Guard, but he gives up his position of Clan head pretty early due to simply not wanted to deal with the position any longer, as a Shiba elder he still has lots of say in the clan though, not that he needed to step in, the Shiba's were all good people.
After Shunsui's death, when Ichigo is around 1.2 million years old, he joins the Royal Guard, and the rest is history.
Also, for anyone thinking Ichigo living to be nearly two million years old is crazy, go read the Bleach Light Novel 'Can't Fear Your Own World.' Ichibē is over a million years old, and Yamamoto is at the very least a few hundred thousand years old – probably close to a million – at the start of canon, and considering how powerful Ichigo is, it isn't that far fetched.
And yes, Ichigo married Suì-Fēng. I love IchiRuki and would take it all day every day over IchiHime, but crack ships are where it's at xD. And this story isn't even about the romance, so if you're that bothered by it than good riddance and don't let the door hit you on the way out. I only bring it up because I know there's a lot of bitter and salty shippers out there still.
Anyways, I hope you all enjoyed! If you have and thoughts than feel free to leave a review or message me, I'd love to chat with you!