"Rukia…" Ichigo stared at the raven-haired shinigami, eyes wide as he raised a shaking hand to the sword hilt protruding from

Disclaimer: Not mine. That good enough for you? Warning of evil!Rukia; normally, I don't mind her all that much, but the story kept insisting that she was the bad guy. Don't really include a lot of background for this – make of the concept what you will.

Shaper

"Rukia…" Ichigo stared at the raven-haired shinigami, eyes wide as he raised a shaking hand to the sword hilt protruding from the exact center of his chest.

There was a curious pounding in his ears; a rumbling after-echo as if he'd ducked his head underwater. It seemed to smother all sound as he felt his knees go weak, blood leaking from the between his lips as he gasped, choking on his own breath. The rattle in his throat was plainly audible as he tilted dangerously, taking a fumbling step forward in an instinctive attempt to keep his balance. He cried out, a soft whimper of pain as he inadvertently impaled himself further on the sword rapidly draining his life away.

Rukia's face was as cold as the ice-white blade of her soul slayer as she jerked her arm backwards, yanking Sode no Shirayuki from the substitute shinigami's chest in a single smooth motion. The shock of the movement drove the red-haired teen to his knees as he collapsed, free of the support offered by his attacker's blade. The tableau was achingly familiar; a cruel parody of the night the two of them had met as he stared at the face of his killer through suddenly heavy eyes.

He could draw Zangetsu. He had strength enough for that, power enough to spin the blade and avenge his encroaching death. He could slice her delicate head from her pretty shoulders in the time it took to draw breath, chest numb as his nerves fought to comprehend their predicament. One fumbled stroke, one lunge with the last of his will and the rapidly dwindling remnants of his power, and he could –

His killers knew him too well. Rukia was the one person he could never raise his blade against.

Ichigo stared up at her, one hand clutching his chest in an instinctive attempt to halt the burning flow of heat leaking from between his fingers. There was pain now, sharp and distinct, an oddly hollow sensation of agony ratcheting through his being. However, it was nothing as compared to the roaring night that overflowed his soul. "Why?" The word was a strangled whisper, smothered somewhat by his suddenly thick throat as he was wracked with violent coughs, splatters of red wetness flying from his mouth.

Rukia stepped backward, face dispassionate as she effortlessly avoided the spray of his bloodstained saliva. Drawing herself to her full height, she stared down at the face of her victim, and, for the first time since she had swung her sword, a taint of emotion was discernable in the sharp contourrs of her face. Ichigo felt his eyes grow wide as the full weight of her disgust struck him like a physical blow; his head jerked backwards, and he collapsed helplessly, his rapidly-fading strength no longer sufficient to keep him upright.

His eyesight was failing, colors darkening to dull shades of grey; he managed to make out the swirl of her robes as she turned on her heel, casually cleaning her blade with a flick of her wrist. Her footsteps were loud in the sudden silence as she walked away from his helpless form; she did not turn to look behind her.

He was cold, he realized dimly as he sprawled on his back in a puddle of rapidly-cooling blood. Cold…he was panting now, breathing shallow and intense as his body fought for air. Strange, that, how his flesh struggled to survive when his spirit was utterly spent, drowning in the emptiness sliding through his veins. He'd felt this before – his thoughts were slow now, like leaves drifting sideways through the chill waters of an autumn pond – he remembered; yes, it had felt like this, just like this…

Ichigo closed his eyes, feeling the world wrench sideways.

OOO

He opened his eyes, somehow unsurprised to recognize the pale face of his hollow hovering above his limp form.

Shirosaki was crouched over him, long limbs akimbo as he stared down at the battered teen, golden eyes intense. For once, his expression was serious, lacking any form of mockery or belittlement; even his customary maniac grin was absent. His pale features were drawn as he stared down at his other, balancing on one arm as he leaned over the body of his counterpart.

It was raining, Ichigo noted dimly. His thoughts were curiously numb, mind refusing to focus as he stared at the manifestation of his own personal darkness. Shiro's colorless hair was plastered to his head, rivulets of water trailing across his face and dripping from his chin. His clothing was soaked through; the dragging folds of his long robe swung awkwardly through the air as he scuttled closer, leaning over the form of his counterpart. Ichigo realized, without surprise, that the hollow appeared to be attempting to shield him from the worst of the rain.

He should be furious, Ichigo noted calmly, head resting against rain-streaked glass as he gazed numbly upwards. He should be – be raging, or screaming, wailing his betrayal. He couldn't seem to muster the emotion. He was – he was hollow. He nearly laughed at the thought, but it fit. He was empty; the corners of his being scraped raw by the shock of sudden betrayal.

A sharp flare of pain jarred through his ennui and his eyes flickered open; he hadn't even realized that he'd closed them. His hollow's face abruptly filled his field of vision, one hand raised as if to slap him once more. The pale features scowled, molding into a twisted reflection of a familiar expression as Shiro eyed him intently; the hollow drew back slightly, face receding somewhat as he crouched on his heels.

"None 'o that." The accent was as guttural as ever, the low drawl of the lower districts he'd visited on occasion when fleeing the worst of his schoolyard tormenters. Ichigo's eyes drifted to the side. "Oi!" The hollow shook his shoulders, face twisted with sudden rage. "I said, none o' that!" The black lips scowled, a blue, cat-like tongue emerging momentarily to lick across pale teeth. "Are ya just gonna sit here and let her do this ta us? Wake up!" The hollow yanked him roughly into a sitting position, eyes burning gold flames.

"So the black-haired bitch betrayed us! So what!" Ichigo stared numbly at his hollow as the creature raved, expression twisted into a caricature of utter hatred. "Ya live! She hasn't killed ya – not yet – so get off yer ass and do something!" Shiro scowled, the expression strangely foreign on his features. "Ya don't just give up! Ya NEVER give up! Ya – " the hollow paused, taking in Ichigo's expression – or lack thereof. He sighed, running a clawed hand through his drenched hair. "Oh hell, King…" He looked downwards, rain-drenched face momentarily helpless before firming in an expression of utter resolve. "Yer gonna kill me for this…"

Abruptly, Ichigo felt himself yanked forward, bedraggled white fabric filling his vision as he was pressed against the other's chest. He stiffened with shock, struggling instinctively as the hollow wrapped rain-soaked arms around his battered form. Panic jarred though his being, replacing the yawning emptiness with alarm as he desperately tried to escape the other's touch. Shiro's grip was unyielding; he held his other closer even as the substitute shinigami began to writhe in earnest, heaving his entire body in a frantic attempt to buck the other off.

Shiro didn't say a word. Not when Ichigo tried biting him – a tactic he hadn't used since he was four – or clawed at him with stiff fingers. He didn't move, not even when the shinigami began to scream, a high, thin wail of utter torment that muted slowly into an endless sob of pain. He didn't make a sound as the black-cloaked teen finally collapsed against him, muscles going limp as his shoulders jerked convulsively.

Shiro tentatively released one arm, when Ichigo began to shiver uncontrollably, hesitantly stroking the smooth arch of the other's spine in long, slow arches; his face was curiously unsure as he touched the other male. The teen stiffened for a moment before relaxing into the touch. A harsh sound escaped from the redhead's form as he raised a rain-streaked face to the visage of his other.

Shirosaki stared at the rain-soaked countenance of his king, expression oddly gentle in the strange half-light of their inner world. He smiled; expression nothing more then a faint tilt of his lips as he leaned forward, gathering the teen into his arms and tucking the other's head beneath his chin. "It's all right, king. Let it out."

Permission was given; Ichigo howled, fingers clenching convulsively into the bleached fabric of the other's garments as he finally – finally allowed himself to cry. The sobs were wracking, biting their way out from the depths of his innermost being as he cried, the tears indistinguishable from the rain that poured from the cloud-streaked heavens in a never-ending torrent.

And Shirosaki held him, and did not let him go.

OOO

"Do I gotta do everything here?" Shiro's voice had regained its usual abrasive character as he glared down at the huddled mass of black fabric at his feet.

"I can't – I can't face her." Ichigo's voice was dull as he scrubbed a rain-soaked sleeve across his eyes. "She – " he looked upwards helplessly, hesitantly meeting his hollow's incensed scowl. "She was everything to me." His voice was quiet as he finally admitted the truth he'd been so desperate to hide. He swallowed convulsively, the words spilling forth from him in a jumbled confession. "She wasn't – I never liked her, not like that, but she was my nakama, closer then my family. I would have – I would have done anything for her, but she – " his voice cut off abruptly as he leaned forwards, face twisting with pain.

He laughed bitterly, glancing away from Shiro's face. "They chose the right person, Hollow. They knew I could never hurt her."

"That utter BITCH!" The hollow raged, whirling on his heel. Once hand lashed out, a clenched fist slamming against the nearest window with punishing force; Ichigo could feel the vibrations reverberating in his bones as a latticework of cracks spread across the slick glass. "That utter – that, that –" a flurry of profanities followed; Ichigo listened, darkly amused. He'd never heard of some of those words, and he absently wondered where his counterpart had acquired his vocabulary.

Shiro whirled to face him once more, chest heaving. Black blood oozed from his clenched fist; stark against his colorless skin; Ichigo couldn't draw his eyes away from the spirals of ebony slowly dissolving into the wailing rain.

Golden eyes seethed down at him in blazing fury. "She forfeited your loyalty th' instant she set a blade to your chest. Ya owe her nothing; not anymore."

"I know that. But I still - " Ichigo rubbed a hand across his face, swallowing as his eyes slid to the side, unable to meet his hollow's incandescent rage.

"She'll kill them." Shirosaki leaned in closer as he felt his king stiffen. He pressed his advantage. "They'll never suspect her; not her. She'll probably make up some cock-and-bull story about an arrancar ambush, and then when they least expect it, she'll be there with her blade in their backs." Shiro smiled, his expression a twisted parody of amusement. "She'll go for the pineapple first – he'd never turn a sword at her. She'll take out Hat-and-clogs next; who'd ever suspect poor littl' Rukia?" He fluttered his eyelashes, voice shrill.

"Then she'll go for the brat-captain, for featherbrows an' baldie; she'll take out the Quincy when no one's watching, and slice 'hime's throat without a care in the world." Shiro laughed grimly, voice inexorable as he continued. "She'll take down Chado and every last one of your precious little nakama. Then she'll hunt down your family – can't leave any loose ends behind, can we? She'll get goat-face next, and then she'll go after your sisters…"

"ALRIGHT ALREADY!" Ichigo surged to his feet, face livid as he lashed out with a clenched fist "I get it!" The teen continued, shouting furiously at his hollow, features twisted in rage and pain - but vibrantly alive. Shiro staggered backwards, pale hands pressed against his face as he grinned manically. "I get it!" Ichigo swallowed. "But I still can't harm her."

"What?" The hollow's tone was dumbstruck as he stared at his counterpart, eyes twisted with confusion.

"I can't harm her." Ichigo's sudden grin was vicious, teeth gleaming white; he smiled like a shark as he gazed at his other's suddenly wary face. "I can't hurt her – but you can." He stepped forward, strides measured as he grabbed the other's collar, staring directly into black-and-gold eyes.

"She's yours." His smile was humorless, sharp as the blade of a knife as he jerked the other forward until their faces were almost touching. "I give her to you freely; do whatever you want with her, I won't interfere." He stepped backwards, face pained but resolute; the hollow's eyes following his every movement as if drawn by some irresistible force.

Shirosaki began to grin, his insane smile a perfect match to the snarl on his king's face. It was not a nice expression. He cackled, his laugh one of fierce glee as he raised his face to the pouring heavens, chest heaving as he wrapped his arms around his sides an attempt to contain his mirth.

"Done an' done!" He straightened, cracked giggles still escaping his lips. "Don't worry, king – " he winked, expression filled with manic joy as he swept low in a mocking bow. "Your faithful subject shall obey your command." Some of the amusement in his face faded into predatory anticipation as he drew his blade, turning on his heel in preparation to depart.

Ichigo's soft voice made him pause. "Hey." The teen looked up at his pale reflection, expression suddenly unsure. "I – why?" He gestured helplessly, hands moving in aimless patterns. "I mean – why'd you do all this?"

Shirosaki stared at him for a moment. Golden eyes bored into hazel as the hollow's expression softened.

"Yer mine." The hollow's voice was oddly solemn as he struggled to explain, face twisted in frustration as he attempted to put the concept into words. "Ain't no one allowed to touch you except for me. Ain't no one allowed to hurt you except for me. She – " he turned to the side, white knuckles standing stark against the black pommel of his sword. Eyes like pale flames stared directly into deep ochre as Shiro's voice dropped to a whisper. "I can't explain it better than that. But she hurt you." He straightened. "She dies for that." His voice was matter of fact.

Ichigo stared. "I'm not worth that." He swallowed, throat suddenly tight.

A quick step and Shiro was at his side, their faces almost touching as one black-nailed hand ran soothing fingers through the shinigami's hair. "Don't say that," The fingers tightened, gently rubbing the other's scalp. "Don't ya ever say that." Shiro's voice was soft, chest rumbling in a subdued purr as he leaned forward, eyes like amber shards. Cool lips brushed briefly against the teen's forehead; Ichigo shuddered, eyes closing as he melted into the other's touch.

Shirosaki sighed, gathering his king in his arms before gently disentangling himself from the teen. He smiled softly, trailing one hand through short auburn hair until it rested on Ichigo's cheek. Shiro's grin was strangely gentle as he gazed into the dazed eyes of his befuddled king. He leaned forward, bumping noses with the other before withdrawing.

Shiro stepped backwards.

"She made the rain fall." His expression hardened to stone. "I'll kill her."