Actions

Work Header

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

Work Text:

 

“What do you mean no?!” Isshin all but shrieks. “You have to!”

Ichigo doesn’t sneer. He scowls, glares, glowers, but he doesn’t really sneer.

He tries it out now, and he puts all the anger and disgust and condescendence he feels behind it, and the way even Isshin flinches back a little in the face of it is downright gratifying. He makes a mental note to thank Ishida later.

“It’s my soul!” Ichigo snaps back. “You don’t get to decide what I wanna do with it!”

Unfortunately, this seems to puff Isshin right back up, and Ichigo just wants to punch him now. It’s not a feeling he’s unfamiliar with.

“Do you have any idea what will happen if Aizen wins?” Isshin barks at him. “Everyone is depending on you to get the job done! We can’t afford you getting cold feet or whatever it is you think you’re doing!”

Ichigo’s spirits bristle at the back of his mind, and his lip curls in response. “If you’re that worried, why don’t you destroy half your soul for the cause? If you can teach the Final Getsuga Tenshou, that’s gotta mean you know it too.”

“I have my reasons why I can’t!” Isshin blusters. “And you have more reiatsu anyway so it has to be you! You can’t abandon your duty now!”

Ichigo’s temper flares, but before he can retort, a flicker of reiatsu and a rush of displaced air passes overhead, and then Urahara is there, his coat dusty and a little singed, and the man himself looks ever so slightly ruffled but otherwise uninjured from his clash with Aizen. He lands a few feet away, his Zanpakutou - still sealed but unsheathed - in one hand, his other on his hat, and his gaze darts between them with a guarded sort of intent. “Is there a problem, Kurosaki-san, Isshin-san?”

“Yes, there’s a damn problem!” Isshin practically spits, visibly frustrated. “Ichigo’s backing out! He won’t learn the Final Getsuga Tenshou, and Aizen’s probably halfway to Soul Society already!” He glares at Ichigo. “What do you think all your battles have been for up until this point? None of it will mean anything if you chicken out now! If you don’t care about the Shinigami, then at least think about your sisters! How are you going to protect them if you don’t fight?”

Ichigo almost snarls in response, and he can feel his Hollow pressing up against the back of his eyes, all dark fury and bloodthirsty hunger. He nudges the spirit back but glowers with just as much force as he grits out, “I would do anything to protect Karin and Yuzu! But what, all of a sudden, because I don’t wanna fucking rip out half my soul, you think I’m gonna pack up my sword and run?”

Isshin’s expression turns utterly derisive as he crosses his arms. “There are no other options. You don’t do this, and Aizen wins. Do I have to remind you what he’s planning to do with Karakura? Where your sisters are?”

Ichigo almost scoffs at that one. And whose fault is it that they’re still there? He thinks bitterly. Why aren’t you with them instead of here trying to make me sacrifice half my soul? Why didn’t you get them out while you still could instead of just leaving them there if you knew this was Aizen’s plan all along?

And why the fuck doesn’t anybody ever tell me this shit beforehand?! Do they think I’m so dumb I can’t contribute as anything except an overpowered pawn?

“We’re running out of time,” Isshin continues ranting obliviously. “So hurry up and get back in the Dangai and initiate Jinzen with your Zanpakutou already!” When Ichigo doesn’t so much as twitch, Isshin’s face darkens into something ugly. “Damn it, Ichigo, man up and get back in there now! I didn’t think I raised a coward!”

Ichigo finally snorts, and genuine resentment goads his tongue. “You raised me? That’s a new one.”

He turns dismissively away from Isshin’s consequent outraged spluttering and pins Urahara with a hard stare for a moment. The shopkeeper doesn’t do anything as obvious as squirm of course, but he’s uncharacteristically silent and somber under Ichigo’s gaze.

And then Isshin growls out irritably, loud and tactless but perhaps the most informative he’s ever been around Ichigo, “Urahara! Talk some sense into him! Weren’t you supposed to have prepared him for this?”

A long silence follows. Ichigo stiffens, and his jaw flexes, but all he does is raise his eyebrows, even as he also keeps an extra close eye on Urahara’s grip on Benihime. The blade remains nonaggressive and still at the man’s side though, and Urahara still doesn’t show much expression but Ichigo thinks maybe he’s finally gotten to know the shopkeeper well enough when he manages to pick up the slight wince that passes through Urahara’s eyes before the man tilts his hat down to hide them.

When he finally speaks, it’s only to murmur, “If this is what Kurosaki-san has decided, I can hardly force him to change his mind.”

Ichigo relaxes minutely. Isshin does the exact opposite, voice practically catapulting up an octave with disbelief. “What?! This was your plan in the first place!”

“Indeed,” Urahara agrees with such abrupt brightness that a flicker of wariness immediately clouds the thunder in Isshin’s expression. “And as it was my plan, then it should be my prerogative if and when I toss it out.”

He looks to Ichigo again, and Ichigo has to shove his inner Hollow back again, lest Shiro actually manages to take control of Ichigo’s sword and take a stab at Urahara. Ichigo can’t afford to get pissed about that right now. He can rage later and maybe elbow Urahara in the face again when the world as they know it isn’t in imminent danger of ending. For now, if Isshin’s right about anything, it’s that they are running out of time, and Ichigo will be damned if he lets Aizen lay a finger on any of the people he cares about in Karakura Town.

“Do you have another plan in mind, Kurosaki-san?” Urahara asks, tone light, eyes as sharp as the steel of his blade. “Because I’m afraid I have no more cards to play, and if we do not stop Aizen-san…”

He trails off, but he doesn’t have to finish-- Ichigo can fill in the blanks just fine. He didn’t understand every nuance of Aizen’s monologuing - all that stuff about creating the Ouken - but he got the gist of it, and he knows it requires the destruction of all of Karakura. That’s enough motivation for him.

“Yeah,” He says curtly, glancing down at Zangetsu, and then at his empty hand. He flexes it once, focus turning inward, and it’s only a matter of seconds before a katana with a purple hilt materializes in front of him in a flash of purple light.

He looks up, meets Urahara’s widened eyes again, and he can practically see the quicksilver flash of connect-the-dots as the shopkeeper makes the jump to the same solution Ichigo has had in mind ever since he heard that Aizen no longer had his Zanpakutou.

“Aizen sacrificed Kyouka Suigetsu,” Ichigo smiles grimly and with a twisted sort of horrified mirth. “He sacrificed the part of his soul meant to protect him.”

He hefts the katana - still so strange and new compared to Zangetsu, but not in a bad way - and he hears the whisper of its spirit in his mind, a reassuring presence as the clock ticks down.

He grins, and it’s echoed by the laughter of his Hollow. “Let’s make him regret it.”

 


 

Some spirits, Muramasa once told him in one of the many conversations they’ve had late at night when Ichigo couldn’t sleep, after the whole Zanpakutou rebellion mess was over and Muramasa appeared in Ichigo’s soulscape, can have a stable and healthy enough relationship with their Shinigami to resist my ability, or are simply that strong. Not many, but it has happened.

(Urahara Kisuke and his Benihime were apparently one such pair, and that made Ichigo feel equal parts impressed and guarded. A man with a resolve that extended all the way down to his soul is a man willing to do anything to achieve his end goals, and he wouldn’t hesitate either. Urahara was already the kind of smart and powerful that Ichigo would’ve been wary to face; coupled with what Muramasa has told him of Urahara’s bond with his Zanpakutou spirit - with trust and loyalty enough for both of them to resist Muramasa’s influence - and even Ichigo knows better than to ever underestimate someone so in tune with their own soul.)

They leave Isshin behind. For one thing, the man had no idea Ichigo has an extra Zanpakutou now because Ichigo never bothered telling him, because Isshin isn’t supposed to be a Shinigami and thus shouldn’t be involved, and fair’s fair, in Ichigo’s vindictive opinion. Secrets seem to run in the family.

Besides, both Ichigo and Urahara had gotten tired very quickly of Isshin demanding answers in-between continuing to push for Ichigo to get back into the Dangai.

“You’re going to trust whatever reckless spur-of-the-moment idea Ichigo’s come up with over the plan you’ve been working on for over a decade?!” Isshin had finally yelled at Urahara.

Urahara had peered at Isshin, then at Ichigo, expression utterly inscrutable. And then, very deliberately, he’d nodded once at Ichigo, and that had been that. Some of the tension Ichigo hadn’t even realized he’d been feeling drained out of him, and his hands had loosened from their grip around both Zangetsu and Muramasa, even as Isshin had gaped and his face had slowly flushed a dull indignant red.

His hand had dropped to his own Zanpakutou, and Ichigo had snorted, because even he - with his still-clumsy grasp on sensing reiatsu - could tell that Isshin was nowhere near as strong as Urahara. Maybe whatever happened to make him hide as a human weakened him, and he was more powerful in the past, but here and now, even Ichigo could take him on and win.

Evidently, Urahara had thought the same, because the man had sighed, shifted his weight, and then disappeared and reappeared behind Isshin. A swift blow to the neck, and Isshin had crumpled to the ground in an unconscious heap.

They’d both stared at the body for a moment before Urahara had suggested airily, “Well then, Kurosaki-san, shall we head for Karakura Town ourselves? I assume we will need to be in Aizen’s vicinity for this to work.”

Ichigo had opened his mouth to agree, then he’d paused as the wording registered. “Uh, ‘we’?”

Urahara had smiled winningly at him. “I’m coming with you of course.”

Ichigo had stared at him, and then, through a twist of a smile in return, “I thought it was supposed to be a final showdown to the death between me and Aizen?”

For a moment, it had seemed like Urahara might deflect with his usual sense of humour and empty words, but then his expression had faltered, and he’d tugged at the brim of his hat instead, looking almost uncomfortable.

In the end, all he had said was, “That has not been part of the plan for a while, Kurosaki-san.”

Ichigo had let it go. He thinks the man was even telling the truth, whatever this whole ‘plan’ entailed. Or maybe he just hopes - at least after they’d gotten to know each other, even just as acquaintances - that Urahara saw him as more than just a weapon in the Shinigami’s war against Aizen.

Either way, it wasn’t exactly the best time to stand around and hash that out so they’d taken off for Karakura after that. The Dangai was unpredictable on a good day, so Ichigo had opened a Garganta instead, the way he’d seen the Espada do countless times, and he’d been relieved when it had worked for him too.

He’s still not sure what all he can do, with his powers. It feels like every time he turns around, he’s always finding out something new.

And now here they are, him and Urahara, standing on the outskirts of the real Karakura Town in Soul Society and - in a truly ironic turn of events - waiting for Aizen to show.

“Are you certain this will work, Kurosaki-san?” Urahara murmurs from where he’s perched on a nearby stone.

Ichigo, leaning against the trunk of a tree, shrugs. “As certain as I can be. I mean nobody’s tried it before, right? But Muramasa says it should work, and I trust him to know what he’s talking about. He is the expert.”

Urahara is silent for several contemplative seconds. “I was not aware you had acquired a second Zanpakutou.”

Because no, Ichigo hadn’t told him either. In fact, he hadn’t told anybody about Muramasa except Byakuya, and he’d only discussed it with Byakuya because 1) if anybody deserved to know, it was probably him, if only for some peace of mind, and 2) Ichigo had been sure - mostly sure - that Byakuya wouldn’t spread it around. And he hadn’t. He’d even let Ichigo keep Muramasa without kicking up a fuss.

But Ichigo hadn’t told anyone else, partly because it wasn’t anybody’s business, and partly because Muramasa himself had preferred recovering in the relative peace and quiet and privacy of Ichigo’s soulscape without anyone the wiser. Until he was back at full strength, something he honestly hadn’t been since Kouga went off the deep end, he hadn’t wanted anyone knowing of his continued existence until he could defend both himself and his new wielder. Byakuya had been the only exception.

(Muramasa, Ichigo has to admit, had been a large part of why he’d said no to the Final Getsuga Tenshou. His newest Zanpakutou spirit is a reminder of everything Ichigo would be sacrificing, abandoning, and he’d already seen it happen once, already seen Muramasa abandoned once, and Ichigo just couldn’t do that to him again, let alone Zangetsu and Shiro too.)

“I didn’t tell anyone,” Ichigo finally replies vaguely and mostly truthfully. “I mean it would’ve been pretty troublesome if the Gotei came after him again. I would’ve had to fight them all. Again.”

Something warms inside him, at the back of his mind, in the depths of his chest, like standing in a patch of sunlight on a cool spring day, and sometimes, Ichigo still marvels at it. Neither Zangetsu nor Shiro are like that-- one remains a slightly distant mentor figure while the other pushes and goads and taunts. But Muramasa loves him, needs him, with a desperate sort of fragility that’s a little embarrassing and a little sad, and just plain terrible in how surprised he is every time he gets proof of that love returned. Ichigo still doesn’t understand how Kouga could’ve thrown that all away, and he doesn’t want to find out what would happen if he ever willingly gives any of his spirits up, even for the good of the world.

Especially when there’s another way.

“Certainly a possibility,” Urahara agrees. “But you believe Muramasa-san will be able to affect Aizen-san’s soul despite the fact that he now lacks a Zanpakutou to manipulate?”

The spirit in question materializes a moment later, a sword of his own in hand, and Ichigo feels more than sees Urahara stiffen. But when he looks over, the shopkeeper only looks thoughtfully interested, and he makes no move to slide down from his seat on the boulder.

Muramasa surveys Urahara coolly before glancing at Ichigo and then answering directly, “My abilities lie in spirit manifestation and manipulation. Affecting a Shinigami’s soul is beyond me when the part I have power over no longer exists. But likewise, without that protection, there is nothing preventing me from transporting my wielder into Aizen’s inner world.” He smiles at Urahara, brief and thin and somehow politely annoyed. “Some spirits, after all, are strong enough to resist me, as you should be well aware of. But no matter how powerful the Hougyoku is, Aizen has no such defense anymore, and in theory, I should be able to bring Ichigo into the traitor’s soulscape.”

“Where I’ll be able to hack away at him from the inside,” Ichigo picks up with a humourless grin that’s more a baring of teeth. “Hopefully anyway. The way I see it, our problem right now is that nothing we hit him with actually lands, or if it does, it doesn’t cause enough damage, and the Hougyoku just heals him right away. So we need to get him from somewhere he can’t defend and the Hougyoku can’t heal. From what I’ve seen, the Hougyoku heals physical damage, right? Probably doesn’t matter how bad, it still heals it, but it doesn’t heal… the soul, I guess. Because it consumes it. That’s what it does, what it did to Kyouka Suigetsu and like a million other souls cuz that’s how Aizen was trying to create the thing in the first place. Probably you too, with yours, except you succeeded.”

Urahara winces at that. Ichigo ignores it.

“And since Aizen doesn’t have that connection with his Zanpakutou anymore, he’s probably not gonna be able to come after us into his soulscape, right? I mean, that’s how everybody trains to reach their inner world in the first place - their Zanpakutou guides them there as they try to hear their name, and learning their Zanpakutou’s abilities is the same way.” He glances at Muramasa, who nods. “So, in theory, I should be able to get in there with Muramasa’s help, and take him apart that way.” He shrugs again. “That’s what I think, and Muramasa agrees.” He scoffs. “Better than ripping up my own soul anyway.”

He pauses, and then because Aizen still hasn’t arrived, and Ichigo wants to be absolutely clear, he adds, “And just so you know, that’s never gonna happen unless there’s absolutely no other way and the planet’s about to explode or something and my sisters are about to die. And if you or Goat-Face ever try to trick me into it again by telling me shit and backing me into some last-minute do-or-die corner,” His eyes narrow, and he knows without needing to look that they’ve turned gold on black. “I don’t care how strong you are, I’m gonna break every bone in your body and make sure you’ll be eating out of a tube for the rest of your life.”

Urahara doesn’t wince this time. His face goes blank instead, and after a moment of staring at Ichigo, his gaze drops, and he bows his head, deeper than strictly necessary. For a second, he even looks like he wants to get down on the ground and kneel. “I understand, Kurosaki-san. I apologize.”

Ichigo shifts uncomfortably. “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” He grumbles gruffly. “Just don’t do it again and we’ll be good.”

The air suddenly ripples, the thrum of foreign reiatsu rolling over them like a heatwave, and there’s no more time to talk. Ichigo shoves himself to his full height, and Urahara does the same, gaze snapping up again as he leaps to the ground. Muramasa begins glowing a hazy purple, and in Ichigo’s hand, the corresponding katana does too.

“Showtime,” Ichigo mutters as a patch of space several feet away begins to warp with the mouth of a Garganta.

“Kurosaki-san,” Urahara interjects abruptly, almost urgently. “Would it be possible-”

He’s cut off as the Garganta bursts open, a hole of miasmic black with two white-clad figures at its center.

Aizen spots them, a split second too late. It’s probably the first and only time Ichigo will ever see the man look surprised.

“Now, Muramasa!” Ichigo shouts even as Muramasa grabs him by the arm, and a Shunpo whisks them straight towards Aizen.

White light tinted with purple fills his vision, but just before the world disappears around him, he feels a second hand close around his other arm, vice-like and unyielding.

And then he’s gone.

 


 

Ichigo lands on a hard surface with a painful smack. Half a second later, all the air is squeezed out of his lungs as Urahara crash-lands on top of him, and the guy isn’t exactly light.

“Apologies,” Urahara mumbles, rolling off and groping for his hat, which fell off during the tumble. Ichigo supposes he should count himself lucky that neither of them stabbed each other with their unsheathed Zanpakutou on their way down.

Muramasa seriously needs to work on his soulscape touchdowns.

What are you doing here anyway?” Ichigo asks irritably, rubbing at what’s sure to be bruised ribs from where Urahara incidentally jabbed a pointy elbow into him. “Are you- Did you grab me?”

“I was unsure if Muramasa-san would have been able to transport me into Aizen-san’s inner world as well, if I had waited,” Urahara explains mildly as they both clamber to their feet. “As it is, I didn’t know this would work either. I’m glad it did.”

Ichigo scowls, perplexed. “You didn’t have to come in the first place!” He considers that for a moment as he bends down to retrieve his Zanpakutou, dismissing the katana but keeping the daitou as he checks in with his spirits, Muramasa a steady pulse in his mind again. “But I guess you wouldn’t have wanted to stay out there facing Aizen when you didn’t know how long I’d take. I forgot about tha-”

He stops when Urahara steps up beside him.

“This is not a final showdown to the death between you and Aizen-san, Kurosaki-san,” The shopkeeper says lightly, for all that his eyes are completely serious when they meet Ichigo’s.

Ichigo huffs, scowling harder with something like embarrassment. “It’s not like I think I’m gonna die in here,” He mutters.

But… he can’t say he isn’t glad for Urahara’s presence either. Surprised, but not unhappy about it.

(He thought he would only have his spirits with him at this point, the only ones he could count on, and he loves them, he does, but at the same time, they are essentially himself, even Muramasa, in a way, since he merged with his soul, and a part of Ichigo - even if he tried not to think about it - found that unbearably lonely.)

Urahara seems to read that off his face - the thanks he can’t quite say - because of course he does, but at least he doesn’t bring it up, mostly suppressing a smile that’s somehow both amused and fond as he replaces his hat on his head and looks around. “So then, Aizen-san’s inner world.”

Ichigo looks around too, taking in his surroundings more closely. They’re standing between two towering bookshelves of all things, and on top of some kind of translucent surface, like fogged crystal, or glass. He looks up, and he can just barely make out where the bookshelves end. Above that, acting as a ceiling, it looks to be more glass, or windows perhaps, with dark shapes positioned beyond them.

He shares a glance with Urahara, and then they both venture towards one end of the bookshelves. They step around the corner, and-

Rows and rows and rows of more bookshelves greet their eyes. It’s organized the way most libraries are, neat and orderly, every shelf lined full with books and scrolls, hardcovers and paperbacks, even files and binders and dictionaries. The shelves loom like giants over them as they wander along the aisles, all elegant dark wood but layered with dust like a place forgotten, standing tall and unmoving on a plane of smooth crystal that echoes with every step they take.

But the thing that strikes Ichigo most is the silence. It isn’t as if his own inner world didn’t have its moments of tranquility, especially before Shiro showed up. The old man’s never been much of a chatterbox, but even his silence wasn’t like this. Even when no one was talking in his soulscape, Ichigo could still tell there were people there.

Aizen’s soulscape isn’t like that at all. The silence is a hollow, empty sort, dead in a way only cemeteries and barren moons could be, and it makes him more than a little uneasy.

“Kurosaki-san,” Urahara murmurs, and when Ichigo looks over, he finds the man staring at the floor beneath their feet. Ichigo follows his gaze, and it takes him a minute because the surface isn’t completely transparent, but the longer he squints, the more shapes he can make out, until finally-

“Are those more bookshelves?” Ichigo asks incredulously. “Is Aizen’s inner world just a million books?”

“Aizen-san values knowledge,” Urahara muses as he looks from side to side, then up at the ceiling far above their heads. “I suppose it isn’t terribly shocking that his inner world would be a library. Or rather…”

He trails off and begins walking again. Ichigo frowns but follows. More and more bookshelves are revealed, and soon stumble on stairs, some that go up, some that go down, some that go sideways, and always leading to another library, and another and another and another, a sprawling Escher labyrinth that never seems to end.

When he looks up again, minutes later, he can finally understand what he’s looking at, what lies beyond that high ceiling of glass - more books. Who knows - at this point, he’s so turned around that maybe he’s even looking at the original library that Muramasa first dropped them off in.

“How can anyone know so much though?” Ichigo asks at last, hesitantly pulling a random book off a shelf just to flip through it, and then picking another just to make sure they’re not all the same, or even blank. They aren’t. Chemical equations stare back at him, along with a bunch of information Ichigo can’t even begin to understand, but they’re still very clearly two different books.

Another row, another shelf, another text, and this time it’s Japanese theatre. Then the art of shoemaking. Then genetic engineering. Then carpentry. Cooking seafood dishes. Weaving. Psychology.

The knowledge seems endless, information on every imaginable field, and this is just one corner of what feels like a limitless archive. Ichigo doesn’t know how any one person can learn so much, even if they have the lifespan of a Shinigami.

“This is not all his,” Urahara finally answers, and there is something grim in the way his gaze flits from one shelf to the next. “Some of it, yes, but-” He echoes Ichigo’s thought. “-it is very unlikely that even a Shinigami could amass such a wide variety of knowledge. Not by himself. And look at how these libraries are joined together.” He gestures upward, then taps the tip of his blade against the floor, the soft clink of it reverberating through the soulscape. “They’re cobbled together like mismatched building blocks. As far as I’ve seen, there’s very little order to them at all. Not what I would expect from Aizen-san.”

Not what Ichigo would expect either. Aizen may have thrown all of Soul Society into chaos with his bid for world domination, but he didn’t get there by making a mess of things. Waging war is easy to say, but in reality, it probably takes quite a bit of management and organization.

“So… the Hougyoku then?” Ichigo guesses with a grimace.

Urahara nods. “That would be my belief. With every soul Aizen-san fed it, alive or dead, human or spirit, he gained the knowledge of each and every one of those souls. I’m not certain exactly how - perhaps he was more closely connected with the Hougyoku even before his latest… evolution; I would not be surprised - but it makes sense.” He absently taps his blade against the floor again, mouth twisted into an odd smile. “And with every soul he sacrificed, the information he was able to consume created another library. I did wonder why it took him over a hundred years before he finally came after mine. One would think, after the first couple decades and however many hundred souls, he would’ve figured out his way wasn’t working. But if it could grant him even this, well. Knowledge beyond measure must have been exceedingly tempting.”

“...That’s disgusting,” is all Ichigo can say, and Urahara blinks at him. Ichigo snorts and shoves the book he’s holding back on the shelf. Suddenly, he can’t wait to get out of here. “And also cheating. I thought he was supposed to be smart. This isn’t smart. This is just theft.”

Although, Ichigo realizes, that’s pretty much par for the course. The greatest source of Aizen’s current powers, the object that would grant him his ambition, was also stolen after all.

He looks around once more, at this dusty lifeless world reflecting more books than any one person could read in a lifetime, and abandoned now, with its caretaker removed and a master who no longer cares.

It’s an empire of sand and glass and behemoth glory. The libraries of a thousand cities stolen, collected in the grand archives. A library of libraries, magnificent in its immensity, but monstrous in its very existence.

And it feels a little like blasphemy, but still Ichigo can’t wait to destroy it all.

Aizen had no right to take what did not belong to him.

He glances at Urahara, who straightens and looks just as ready as Ichigo to see this to an end.

“Right,” Ichigo says briskly, motioning with Zangetsu. “Since I’m probably better at just blowing things up, I think it would help if you deconstruct everything first. Take the place apart, and I’ll blast it to kingdom come- what?”

Urahara stares at him for a moment longer. “...You know my Bankai. Muramasa-san, I presume?”

Ichigo shrugs, inwardly wincing. Maybe he shouldn’t have given that little skill away. Ah well, too late now. “Uh, yeah, he couldn’t affect your bond with Benihime, but he could still get a general sense for what she can do.”

He watches Urahara carefully, but the man doesn’t seem offended or even particularly disturbed. “Interesting,” He only remarks, and it sounds honest. “Perhaps you could tell me more about it later? I would be delighted serve as a sparring partner if you would like someone to test Muramasa-san’s abilities on.”

“You’d do that?” Ichigo blurts out, because he remembers the Kouga mess very clearly, and just because Muramasa’s no longer wreaking havoc on the behalf of a nutjob doesn’t make his abilities any less… well, to put it bluntly, intrusive.

But Urahara just arches an eyebrow before smiling again, brief but with the same flavour of amused fondness as before. “It’s already been proven that Muramasa-san cannot manipulate Benihime on his own, and there would be no lasting damage even if I allow it in a spar. And that would only be if you could control her at all, even in a spar.” A sly smirk tips one corner of his mouth this time. “Benihime doesn’t take kindly to most people.”

Ichigo takes that as the future throwdown it is, because as far as he’s managed to figure out, Urahara’s never sparred any of them with even half his strength when he was still training them, but if the man is willing to let loose more later, then Ichigo is all for it.

Later.

“I’ll kick your ass later,” Ichigo promises with a grin. “Whether or not Benihime can kick mine.”

“I suppose we’ll see,” Urahara replies serenely, but there’s an answering spark in his eyes that Ichigo is very familiar with, and something in him preens at the implication that Urahara now acknowledges him to be enough of a threat to at least provide a challenge.

For now though, they have work to do, and Ichigo doesn’t want to find out if Aizen will be able to get the Hougyoku to attack them in his own soulscape once the lunatic figures out exactly where Ichigo and Urahara have gone, if he doesn’t already. He’s kept Muramasa a secret, even through the toughest of his battles so far. Maybe it’s because Aizen and Kouga never really interacted, back in the day, and so he never laid eyes on Muramasa and wouldn’t associate him with Kouga’s Zanpakutou even if he’d heard of his abilities. Whatever the reason, Ichigo’s glad he decided to keep Muramasa as a trump card since it’s obviously paid off. Aizen didn’t expect it at all.

“Awaken, Benihime,” Urahara murmurs, and a flash of crimson sears down the length of his sword as it transforms into the black-and-silver of his Shikai. The shopkeeper glances at Ichigo next, and Ichigo backs away even further as Urahara raises his unsealed blade once more.

“Bankai,” The man intones, and his voice echoes off the world’s glittering glass walls. “Kannonbiraki Benihime Aratame!

And in the resulting flash of brilliant crimson, a woman rises behind Urahara, proud and regal, and the glittering walls around them - lit up to an eerie red - suddenly make the soulscape seem like a world drenched in blood.

As stitch marks lace themselves across every surface in the vicinity, and the sound of cracking glass shrieks across the mad collection of stolen libraries, Ichigo lifts a hand to his face, feels his mask rush forth, and with Shiro’s laughter in his ears and all his spirits feeding him their strength, Ichigo grins and lets his reiatsu explode.

 


 

(Aizen dies screaming, and Gin is the only one to witness it. He doesn’t know how, but he knows who, and he’s simultaneously furious that he wasn’t the one to do it and relieved that it’s finally over.

Aizen dies screaming, scrabbling at his chest and ripping into his flesh, even as the Hougyoku glows ominously in his body.

Aizen dies screaming, on his knees, writhing in agony, his body crumbling around his precious orb like sand on the wind, and it goes on and on and on until even his voice is taken from him.

Aizen dies screaming, and when Kurosaki Ichigo and Urahara Kisuke reappear again in a flash of purple light, Gin puts up his hands and wonders if they’ll do the same to him or if he’ll be allowed to say his piece.)

(But Aizen dies screaming, and Gin is content.)