A year

A year. It had been a solid year.

At first he'd though he would go insane. Ichigo's inner world had to be, without doubt, one of the most dull and lifeless places he'd ever seen. Granted, he hadn't seen a whole lot of places (okay none but this one) but there just had to be more interesting metaphysical planes than this. It was a soul! Didn't that mean it was supposed to be lush and verdant; not an endless landscape of skyscrapers and upside-down, shifting clouds?

"Gods, I'm so bored," Shirosaki murmured to himself, staring out over the side of a building towards the empty street below. It would have been more interesting if there had been little metaphysical people wandering around, something to break the silence that seemed to permeate everything. It was as though the hush were a living thing, like it was literally invading every facet of his body, seeping into his very pores to leave him…blank. Empty. Vacant. Bare.


-What's wrong Shirosaki?-

The voice startled him from his trance, making him look up towards the sky with a frustrated scowl. It wasn't as though Ichigo didn't know what the problem was, seeing as how he was sort of in the same boat himself. The teenager had enjoyed his quiet life for a while once the war was over, but slowly and surely the young man had found that "normal" life wasn't just quiet…it was tedious. Sometimes, if Shirosaki bothered to listen to Ichigo's thoughts, he could almost hear him wishing that something huge would happen, just so they could have something exciting to do.

"Just bored, the usual," Shiro answered back, dangling his legs over the side of the building. "Why?"

-Come out, I have a surprise for you.-

"Is this a joke?"

-Quit being a paranoid asshole and get out here.-

Shiro's pale eyebrows came together as he glanced around his current surroundings with growing suspicion. It wasn't that he thought Ichigo was going to do anything dangerous (or painful) to him, it was just that he still wasn't quite used to the fact that he and his counterpart weren't constantly at each other's throats anymore. There were times, like now, that Shirosaki couldn't quite figure out when they'd gone from vying for dominance and threatening each other's life to talking in the middle of the night and willingly sharing the same body. If it hadn't been for the fact that he found the interaction so pleasantly addicting, Shiro never would have allowed the relationship to develop as much as it had.

But therein lay the problem. As much as he tried to deny the feeling, he did like it, and he was growing…attached. It was almost sickening.

"Fine, fine," he waved his hand airily and stepped through the nearest window, feeling the world shift around him until he suddenly found his feet sinking into plush carpeting and his eyes staring into an annoyingly grinning face. "Here I am."

"You are so bitchy today, what's the problem? Are you on the hollow rag again?" Ichigo questioned, cocking his head to the side before giving him a confused pout and small smirk. To be honest, Shiro actually found the expression kind of cute (in a childish way), but he'd be damned if he'd admit that to anyone. Ichigo was cocky enough without hearing that his inner hollow thought he was attractive in any shape or form; the boy didn't need any help being self-satisfied. And Shirosaki didn't need the embarrassment.

"Please shut up," Shiro deadpanned, watching Ichigo as he walked away from the tall mirror to sit on the bed and smile widely. Something was up. Ichigo never smiled unless something was up. "You seem…cheerful. Did you get laid without me knowing or something?"

The world would have been perfect if he'd had a camera at that moment to capture the myriad of colors Ichigo's face went through in a mere ten second span. Pale pink to ruby red and everything in between cascaded across his high cheekbones, a veritable lightshow of humiliation all in under a minute. It was priceless. It was also enough to jolt Shiro from his self-imposed bad mood and prompt his feet to walk across the small room to plop down on the bed near the indignant redhead. If there was one thing he never grew tired of, it was embarrassing the hell out of Ichigo. It never got old.

"I don't want to be with anyone like that!" the teenager sputtered, scooting to the corner of the bed and drawing his knees up to his chest, for all the world an innocent virgin. "You'd know if I did anyway!"

"No one, your highness?" Shiro purred, suddenly intrigued. Ichigo's reaction was…curious. It almost seemed too extreme for what had actually been said and the intense response made the wheels in Shirosaki's head start to turn in all sorts of strange directions. Why the blushing? Why the peeking over his knees like a scared kitten? It was so unlike Ichigo…rather alluring actually. All in all worth pursuing. Shiro smiled as he realized his boredom had just been alleviated in a most unexpected way.

"Inoue with her ginormous tits?" he began, crawling on hands and knees towards Ichigo, stalking towards his furiously blushing prey. The young man squirmed a bit under his gaze, brown eyes glancing around almost panicked until he seemed to realize he had no place to go and plastered his back against the wall. "Rukia and her soft, soft skin? Tatsuki? Her body is killer. How about that strawberry blonde shinigami bitch? She seems fuckable."

"Don't call her that," Ichigo warned, eyes flicking upwards to lock with Shiro's, a bit of his normal fire asserting itself. Shirosaki waved off the reprimand with a shake of his head, sighing contentedly as he settled himself indian style in front of Ichigo's bent knees.

"I'm all apologies," he scoffed. "But seriously, haven't you ever had a sexual thought in all your life? You're almost seventeen for the love of god, shouldn't you be thinking about sex twenty-four-seven?"

A pale orange eyebrow raised in curiosity, lips pressing together thoughtfully before Ichigo finally answered. "You mean you can't tell what I'm thinking? You live in my head…"

Now that made Shirosaki laugh, tipping his head backwards as his voice sang through the tiny bedroom. His king was such a self-centered creature when it came right down to it. Even though they were basically two separate beings, even though Shiro had thoughts of his own to attend to, even though there was no real reason for him to be spying on Ichigo's thoughts, his youthful king still couldn't imagine that his mental images were not on display every second of the day. What a conceited thing he was turning out to be!

"What," Shiro struggled out through his fading laughter, grinning at Ichigo's look of annoyance. "Did you think that I just sit around in your inner world all day long watching your thoughts on a television screen?"

When Ichigo seemed about to respond, Shirosaki leaned forward and pushed their noses together so that there was no way to break the eye-contact. He hated when his royal highness avoided him. "Don't flatter yourself Ichigo. You aren't that awe-inspiring."

Brown eyes lowered almost sadly, making Shiro pull back in surprise. That was not exactly the response he had been expecting. Anger, yes. Indignation, certainly. But disappointment? No…he hadn't seen that one coming. Ichigo was looking towards the window now, his face a mask of concentration as he held his expressions in check. What was wrong? Damn…Ichigo's feelings were like a goddamn roller coaster, going from amusement to shyness to anger to sadness all in one conversation! And Shiro still didn't know what he'd originally been called out for.

Enough of this bullshit.

Though he was loathe to do so, he slowly began opening up the mental doors that protected him from the vast majority of Ichigo's thoughts, letting the teenagers emotions trickle through his consciousness one by one until they were laid bare before him. There was embarrassment obviously, overlaid by the distinct taste of disappointment that Shiro had seen flash through Ichigo's eyes earlier, and underneath all that was a sense of strange hopefulness and…desire…deep wanting…affection? It was the last feeling that caused him to scuttle backwards a bit, slamming the doors between their minds shut before he could read anything further. That had been more than enough, thank you.

"You gotta be kidding me," Shiro shook his head, watched in stunned amazement as Ichigo turned his gaze towards him and gave a resigned sigh. "Ichigo that isn't even close to normal."

Ichigo shrugged petulantly, glancing away before giving a small sniff of indifference.

"No, I'm serious," he demanded before advancing, spreading Ichigo's knees so that he could crawl in between and press their faces close together. He felt his eyes narrow with the effort of willing Ichigo to listen to his words, putting everything he had into convincing the boy king how absolutely foolish such feelings actually were. "Feeling anything for me but frustrated tolerance isn't right Ichigo. Dating girls…hell dating boys if you want to is normal, but not what I just caught a glimpse of in there."

To emphasize his point, he tapped his index finger sharply against Ichigo's forehead, startled into jumping when a tanned hand snapped up and caught his wrist. Anything he might have said was put on hold as he found himself drawn closer to Ichigo's much warmer body, blinking numbly in what had to be the most retarded way imaginable. Ichigo kept tugging until Shiro had no choice but to place his arms on either side of the lean body below, unable to find himself willing to pull away from the heat tingling down between the expanse of their flush torsos.

"Why?" Ichigo whispered, leaning his head down on Shirosaki's shoulder and rubbing his cheek against the cloth. He exhaled quickly then and looked back up, letting their eyes meet as his fingertips danced up Shiro's spine and dug into the hair at the base of his neck. "Since when do you care what's right or wrong?"

Shiro had to admit…he did have a point. It had never really been in his nature to give a shit whether or not what he wanted to do was the morally upstanding thing (he was a hollow after all). He'd always, from the moment of his creation, simply acted in whatever way he found suitable for his own interests. The only difference between then and now was that his desires lay not in claming the gently parting lips and trembling limbs of his host to use them for his purposes, but to simply claim them for his own…to have Ichigo want to be claimed…to share that tanned expanse of skin between the two of them and give his own in return. It was a desire born of residing within the same mind, of breaths lingering between two entities, of the security of knowing that even when there was no one else to depend on that you would never be entirely alone. They were joined in ways that no man and woman could ever achieve. Not through sex or marriage or children or a million shared experiences.

Everything in his being was screaming at him that this was wrong, that it was something akin to a symbiotic relationship gone horribly horribly awry, but Ichigo was…silently persuasive. There was a pleading in his brown eyes that would forever go unspoken, but it twisted and swayed Shiro's resolve nonetheless, beating at his determination until he lowered his head and sighed in utter defeat. Loser again. It was depressing to lose as often as he did, but if he had to do it at least it was to Ichigo. Anyone else and it might have been pathetic.

Ichigo must have taken his actions as a sign of consent, because before Shiro knew what was happening he was wrapped securely in the young man's arms, rolled onto his side so that he could be repositioned to Ichigo's satisfaction. Soft orange hair brushed at the base of his chin, smelling faintly of some girly shampoo that nearly made him laugh in amusement. Peppermint. He would have made mention of that if not for the fact that the the most scrumptious sounds were coming from the back of Ichigo's throat, setting off just about every single base instinct in Shirosaki's body.

"Stop that," he slapped at Ichigo's thigh, scraping his nails into the fabric of the boy's jeans and delighting in the surprised gasp he received in return. "You'll get more than you bargained for."

"Sorry," came the almost sleepy murmur. "This is weird isn't it? I mean, us…as an us."

"Yes, Ichigo," Shiro responded, rolling his eyes before shutting them all together. "Us as an us is pretty much the most twisted thing we could have wound up as."

They lay there for another moment or two before Shiro suddenly realized that through all this nonsense, he still had no idea what Ichigo had actually wanted. Well, obviously Ichigo had wanted this all along, but the original intent for the conversation had been lost along the way somewhere.

"Ichigo," Shiro prodded him into opening his eyes, shifting so that there was a little space between them on the bed. "What did you want anyway? All this girly bullshit kind of got in the way."

"Oh!" Ichigo sat up with a laugh, getting up fluidly (damn he had a nice ass) and moving towards the desk to pick up a small white box with a pale blue ribbon tying it shut. Without a word he climbed back onto the bed and crossed his legs, placing the box in front of Shiro with a pleased gesture. "It's for your birthday."

"My…birthday?" Shiro echoed. "Ichigo I don't have one of those."

"Well…wasn't this when you woke up at Urahara's?" Ichigo shrugged as he opened the lid and pulled out a very large, very chocolate, very sweet-looking cupcake and placed it delicately on the comforter. "It has pudding filling."

"Pudding," he repeated again, raising his eyebrow. "You realize I don't eat…right?"

For a moment Ichigo seemed to stop and consider this minor overlooked detail, glancing down at the pastry, up at Shirosaki, then back down at the cupcake. "Well shit," he murmured, picking it up and inspecting at it rather forlornly. "I forgot."

"Don't worry about it," Shirosaki laughed, patting Ichigo's hair affectionately only to have his hand shoved away with a stinging slap. "You eat it. I'll watch."

"I'll give you something better next year. Maybe a new set of clothes or something," Ichigo promised around a mouthful of cake, making Shiro grimace slightly at the mess that tumbled down towards the once-clean sheets. There were probably two-year olds with better table manners than Kurosaki Ichigo.

Shaking his head, he reached up towards Ichigo's chin with a pale fingertip and pulled their faces close, letting his tongue came out to lap at pudding-covered lips. Not too bad actually, a little too sweet, but not too terrible. Instantly Ichigo's cheeks flushed brightly, wrenching away with an embarrassed scowl. Such a beautiful blush. Shiro could have lived off nothing but that delicious humiliation.

"Nah," he replied, rolling onto his back and putting his hands behind his head. "Next year I want diamonds."