Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. Get with the program, people.
A/N: It's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry for not updating sooner, but I decided to slack off during Christmas Break, and between then and exam season, I got a little lazy... *sweatdrops*
At any rate, thanks to Hekka, Rei-06, gadzooks97, cam169, newgirlhikari, Buni-San, wickedsistah1024, pricalthum, Jenn, , Akum, JadeRent, None93, Star Garden, rukia-neesan, CharmedNightSkye, OBSERVER01, AvaLuna, Mappadouji, and AriKitten for reviewing.
And a thank you as always to Fathom-x for Beta'ing.
It would start as a mere bead of water, hanging to the tip of a faucet head. Slowly, it'd grow, increasing in size until it was a plump droplet, precariously clinging to the metal fixture. And then, it would drop, colliding with the steel surface of the sink below.
The cycle would start again as another droplet formed anew in its place.
Orihime averted her gaze from the dripping tap in the kitchen, her fingers rapidly strumming against a plush olive armrest. She wondered briefly just how many times she had heard the faucet drip. Was it mere minutes? A mere hour? Multiple hours?
It was a foolish idea really, to not have clocks in the living room. Or at any rate, it felt like it now as she sat waiting, butt wedged between pillows.
When was Kurosaki-kun coming home again?
She sighed, running a hand through her locks of auburn hair. It really shouldn't have mattered this much, the fact that he was late.
Yet it did.
Every minute—No, second, that seemed to pass, felt like another moment between them wasted. Every moment of his absence meant another wasted chance to drink in his presence; to hear his mesmerizing voice, to drown in the depths of his entrancing caramel irises.
After all, today would be the day she finally broke up with him. Was it really too much to ask, to enjoy it while it lasted?
It wasn't an easy decision. Not like something like this could ever be an easy decision. She knew that they both deserved better, had realized that there was no point in living a fabricated lie.
But...she still longed to feel his hand graze tenderly against her flushed cheeks. She wanted to get a chance to kiss him, and be able to know that he was kissing her just as passionately and forcefully in return. To have him stare at her with a longing so strong that it consumed every portion of his sanity.
Yes, there were a lot of things that she wanted...but Kurosaki-kun was not the guy who could do those things for her.
As much as she wanted him to be that guy, it didn't seem like it was meant to be.
Orihime shifted in her seat, her glance flickering once more to the mahogany door at the entrance-way. The fact that it was still closed teased her, taunted her. Her heart would thrum wildly every time she laid her eyes upon it, as if it believed that if she stared hard enough, it would open this time.
On one hand, she wanted him to come home as soon as possible, just so she could get it over with. She could have her last few moments with him before she was out of his life, and be satisfied. That was good enough.
However, there was still that little part of her that wondered if it was possible for Ichigo to grow to love her. What if...
Orihime shook her head, repulsed that such thoughts could enter her mind at a time like this.
That side of her needed to stay quiet. It was wrong.
In some ways, Orihime assumed she was very much so like the beads of water upon the dripping faucet. Even when the reasons built up against her, like the growing droplet of water, she'd continue to cling to familiarity. But even if she held on with all her might, there would be a point where she'd have to let go.
As much as she desired to keep things the way they were, there would come a time when she'd have to let go, for the better of things. And if this was that time, for her to let go and achieve greater things, she'd do it. She'd break up with Ichigo...for herself.
I...can...do this. I...can do this. I can do this.
At any rate, if she said it often enough, she could begin to believe her own words.
"I," She cried, thrusting a clenched fist in the air, "Orihime Inoue, can do th-"
The door swung open.
Orihime's eyes widened as she clambered out of her chair frantically. "K-Kurosaki-kun!" She stammered, telltale patches of red upon her cheeks.
There was a pregnant pause as he stumbled inside, panting slightly. His slender face was slick with sweat, and his vivid mass of hair was clumped into sticky bunches. Slipping off his tattered blazer, Ichigo looked up and effectively broke the silence.
"Hey Inoue. How was your day?"
The question was curious enough, coming so casually from a man in a dishevelled state such as his. But it was his eyes, which smouldered with vehemence, which truly managed to unnerve her. Orihime felt a frown begin to tug at her face. Was he angry at her? Did she do something wrong? Was he aware that she was going to break up with him?
"I'm fine, Kurosaki-kun. How about you?" She responded, berating herself for being too weak to discuss the topic on her mind.
"Yeah, I'm pretty good." He replied, walking over to the kitchen counter and pulling a piece of scrap paper from the inside of his shirt.
"Oh really?" She inquired, growing anxious as silence recommenced, thickening the atmosphere between them. "...That's good then."
Ichigo gave a non-committal grunt.
"So..." I can do this. I can do this. "Kurosaki-kun...I think I need to talk to you about something. W-well, it's not really something, it's about us actually, and I-"
Orihime's voice died off as she realized the man's attention was elsewhere, hastily scribbling upon a piece of paper. Curiously enough, his eyes looked not at the paper, but to the other side of the room. Not that she noticed by any means.
"Inoue, I think you should see this. You may find it interesting."
His voice cut through the silence like a knife through butter as he turned to face her. His expression was deadpan when he thrust the paper into her hands.
"You should read it. "
Reluctantly, she accepted the paper, eyes posing an unspoken question to the man in front of her. After slowly and deliberately unfolding it, she peered at the untidy scrawl, attempting to make out the words.
Inoue. Try not to make a reaction when you read this. Just nod and say you agree, and I'll know you understand what I mean. My hollow is taking over my body. I do not want him to know what I am doing for as long as I possibly can. I am going to leave tonight, to see if I can find a way to fix this issue. Tell the others if you are able to. I'm sorry if I troubled you recently.
She looked up, feeling an unpleasant chill sweep over her body as she gazed into his eyes.
Was he afraid, like she was right now? Did he feel that same dread devouring his insides, threatening to turn his body into a hollow shell?
Didn't he...hadn't he, controlled his hollow? Wasn't that why he wore a mask?
She could remember that mask clearly, from her first encounter with it in Hueco Mundo. It was so ominous...and scary. Kurosaki-kun's warm brown eyes were hidden when he wore that mask, and replaced with two...evil yellow pools of death, for lack a better word. His kindly face was obscured by a awful bone structure with crimson stripes and a set of jaws that looked like they were made to kill. When Kurosaki-kun put on the mask, he became one of them. A hollow.
So if his mask contained his hollow powers, it would be the mask that would take over his body...
A set of chills ran through her body as she processed this information. No wonder he had treated her the way that he did for the past few days. It would have been easy to adopt a cold manner with something like that on his mind.
Maybe.... Maybe he still....
"Do you agree?"
His voice jolted her from her reverie, causing her neck to snap up.
"Do you agree, Inoue?"
Orihime found herself looking once again into the warm brown eyes which had fuelled her desire.
He's just as afraid as I am...the only reason he treated me the way he did was because he was afraid. Why didn't I realize this earlier? He...still loves me. He just has a lot on his mind. But he still loves me. And once he manages to overcome his hollow, we can put this all behind us.
Bulky grey clouds hung over the phantom silhouette of the city while the moon peeked through, bathing it with a subtle white glow. The bus shook as it traveled along the road, jostling Ichigo and the other lone passenger aboard the vehicle. The driver, a portly man, sombrely hummed 'Ave Maria' under his breath as the bus once again jolted to a stop, allowing two passengers to board. Ichigo glanced at the map above him as he waited, tapping his feet in time to the song emitted from his headphones.
It's the next stop after this.
If all went well, he could manage to subdue his hollow again. It was a long shot, but if there was still a chance that the Vizards were in the area, he could turn to them for assistance. However, he had no idea whether they had accepted the offer of amnesty that Soul Society had provided for the group, along with his father and Urahara. Although they had previously resided in Soul Society, Ichigo was well aware of the deep rooted grudge towards the Shinigami that the Vizards still bore. His chances would be low, of course. But it'd still be worth a try, considering the amount of experience they had.
With that thought in mind, Ichigo clambered off the vehicle as it halted at an intersection, and began to walk. The road was winding, an asphalt maze which seemed to stretch out beyond the horizon. An avenue of street lights stood on either side of him, their slender grey forms standing out against the inky blue sky. The worn ends of his jacket fluttered as he strode, damp from the fog lingering in the air.
All the while, his heart thumped erratically. It was hard not to be aware that at any given moment, his hollow probably would realize what he was up to.
And that would mean...
Ichigo paused, realizing that he was now facing a large derelict warehouse which cast a looming shadow upon the pavement. Despite its size, the building was not something one would refer to as 'impressive'. The concrete plaster was detailed with chips and scratches, a web of cracks stretching across the imposing structure. Copper coloured rust adorned the entrance door, clashing ever so brilliantly with the faded olive hue of the metal surface.
The Vizard hideout.
It had been years since he had last laid his eyes upon the building—years to cloud his memory, and to alter his observations. However, Ichigo doubted he could blame his unreliable memory for the surprisingly derelict appearance of the warehouse. To him, it seemed more like it had been abandoned.
At any rate, he dared not to mull over the possibility for too long. Instead, he ventured inside, prying open the sectional steel door, and fumbling for the light switch as he'd done all those times before.
However, this time there were no faces to greet him as the fluorescent lights slowly illuminated the area with a flickering blue-white glow.
There were no people awaiting him as he scaled down the room's trapdoor and into the training grounds, where the earth was parched with dust– neither were there possessions or food. Not even a stray wrapper strewn absently on the floor. Hell, not even one of Lisa's explicit porno rags that she kept lying about the place.
Just space. Barren, empty, useless...space.
After what felt like hours of searching, Ichigo sighed, and began to make his way out of the room. With any luck, he could still manage to trace them by some means, even though he was only limited to knowing their names.
It was around then that he heard him, his voice snide and laced with sarcasm.
"Did you have a good time King?"
There was always something unsettling about hearing a voice inside his head that wasn't his. Normally, this alone would have caused Ichigo's stomach to unwillingly twist into knots, as it did on every other occasion. However, this time, it was the fact that he got caught that caused his face to blanch to a shade of chalk. There was no denying that he had been expecting this, known that it was coming. But there was only so much that he could brace himself for, it seemed.
Ichigo opened his mouth, and promptly closed it, realizing there was no use to offer an explanation to his white haired counterpart. Instead, he opted to mount the ladder leading out of the grounds and gritted his teeth.
There's no point in answering him...that's what he wants.
A few moments passed by before his voice rang once more, a little dourer, and less playful.
"Too high and mighty to answer me then, King?"
Ichigo could visualize Shirosaki perfectly at this point, his lidded eyes narrowed, mouth curled into a half amused, and half scornful sneer. He'd be leaning haughtily against an object, feigning indifference while his mind quietly assessed the situation.
Shirosaki was not the type who liked unpredictability if it wasn't created by him.
"You were looking for your friends, right? Too bad they aren't here then, eh King?"
He had switched to a new angle of attack. Not so amused now as it was taunting, egging Ichigo for a response. But as tempting as it was take the hollow's bait, there was a grim satisfaction in him knowing that he had finally managed to get a rise out of his hollow, something he'd once thought to be unimaginable..
"You fucking little shit. Reply to me already. Do you think you can just fucking ignore me because you're the king of this fucking place? Do you?"
Shirosaki's words tumbled out in a steady spiteful hiss, spiked with profanities. The amused tone was gone now, replaced by that Ichigo still hadn't bothered to reply, even though the positions were reversed, and it was he who truly wielded the power. He was supposed to have the upper hand, which meant that Ichigo ought to have been compliant, and treaded carefully. Not act the same way he had before the whole situation had even occurred, like he was merely an existence that could be ignored if you concentrated hard enough.
"I'm not in charge of anything, hollow. Get over yourself."
Funnily enough, it was Ichigo's voice which managed to hold that last fragment of composure. Composure which he shouldn't have even been able to hold, seeing the position he was currently in.
Shirosaki also happened to take note of his fact, as he immediately lowered his voice so that it was hardly more than a whisper.
"That's it." He growled bitingly, "I'm taking over your body, King. And there is nothing you can do about it."
And for the second time that day, everything went black.
Shirosaki opened his eyes, observing the scenery around him slowly sharpen and become more detailed. Brown blobs turning into magnificent rugged crags of rock beneath him. Grey smears separating and melding together until they formed the ladder that he was currently upon.
It was all rather exciting of course.
His hands were still holding the ladder, somehow managing to retain its grip even after he had taken control. Normally, he wouldn't have risked it, knowing that there was that possibility he could fall. But there was something inside of him that had snapped when the king treated him indifferently. Just because he was a hollow didn't mean he could be ignored. Even though he lacked a physical body to call his own, he was not of a lesser importance. He was strong, stronger than the king. He was smarter than the king as well. If there was anyone who deserved to be treated as a lesser being, it should have been the king.
Unfortunately, the real world was never as fair.
Shirosaki reached once more for the cool metal bars of the ladder, ascending towards the narrow shaft of light at the peak. The ropy veins along his arms rose and fell with each step, protruding due to fatigue. Before long, he felt the familiar feeling of loose dusty earth under his nail, and was back upon the main level of the hideout once more.
He diligently brushed off the specks of dirt upon his clothes. It was still early in the night, so he had no reason to rush. Since he had taken possession before expected, he could manage to purify more than a couple of hollows...
Shirosaki's train of thought stopped as the fragrance of cinnamon wafted past his nose. And sure enough, as he turned, it appeared that he was not alone.
The fool had been waiting for him, it seemed. Her zanpakutō was unsheathed and pointed it towards him in determination. Her robes, like silken twilight, clung loosely to her body. She glared at him through her vivid indigo irises, mouth set into an unwavering thin line.
Shirosaki noted her lack of response and allowed his expression to settle into the scowl primarily adopted by the king. "Giving me the silent treatment as well?" He commented bitterly, eyeing the woman with chagrin. "Sadly enough, I'm not in the mood to play. So you might as well go home."
The Shinigami didn't move, not like he had honestly expected her to.
"I am going to defeat you, Shirosaki Hichigo."
Shirosaki laughed. "You should be glad that I don't feel like attacking you, Shinigami. Now go home before I change my mind and kill you."
"I won't let you do this to Ichigo." She spat, glowering. "I can't just stand by and let him suffer becau—"
"Is it really worth it, Shinigami?" Shirosaki interjected, dropping the amused demeanour. "To die for him just because I seek to have freedom? Is he really of that much importance to you?"
"He's...my friend. He saved my life. I owe him, at least, this much. " The Shinigami responded, eyes briefly flickering downwards as if in shame before they returned to face him.
Shirosaki cocked an eyebrow and sneered. "Tell me your name, Shinigami. Tell me, so I can tell him all about the foolish Shinigami who choose to die at my hands. "
She looked at him and paused, evidently unsure of whether or not she ought to reply.
"Kuchiki Rukia. "
Shirosaki felt his mouth stretch into an ear to ear grin. "Really?" He replied, unsheathing his zanpakutō.
Inspiration had struck.
A small grey pebble dug into the meat of his thigh as Ichigo woke, nauseated, and sprawled awkwardly on the surface of a rooftop. It was not necessary to open his eyes to realize his location this time around; he could already tell from the charged, giddy feeling that seemed to run through the air.
"Damn it..." He groaned groggily, almost feeling the miniature sparks of electricity dance on the surface of his skin, creating goose bumps. "Back in this place already..."
Ichigo resisted the urge to respond as Shirosaki's voice came into earshot.
He's only looking for a reaction. Keep quiet and figure out a way to get the hell out of here.
His eyes quickly scanned his surroundings for a means to escape. A ladder, resting haphazardly against the side of the building; a tightrope running from the edge of the roof before it stopped abruptly on the side of another building; a crack overhead, spewing puffs of black smoke. If the ladder was anything like the one he had come across previously, it would lead to the ground, and he would have to venture about from there. Not easy, but possible. The tightrope was a dead end. But the crack...?
"I see you're still ignoring me then, aren't you? Fine, let's see just how long you can keep that up for, King..."
It showed moving images of the outside world. And last time I did manage to remove a bit of it before it resealed. It's possible that if I work faster, I could manage to escape before it reseals itself.
"...Aren't you curious about what I'm doing right now in your body? Don't you want to know?"
But my attempts haven't worked before. So they might not work now. I can't afford to waste any more time than I already am. The longer the hollow manages to control my body, the more likely that someone will get hurt. I can't just let that happen.
"I'm talking to a very nice girl right now you see. She's a little hot-tempered like you are as well, a nice fiery little number. She says that she's going to fight me, you know. Personally, between you and me, I think she's going to lose. But let's keep that our little secret, shall we?"
Damn it, it's better than doing nothing. I've got to get out of here befor-
"And you know, King, she's a bit of a joker too. She's telling me her name's Kuchiki Rukia. Now would you believe that?"
He would forever relish those few seconds afterwards, when Ichigo finally managed to make sense of what he just said, and replied in the most wounded, apprehensive tone Shirosaki ever had the privilege to hear.
"...What did you just say?"
In all honesty, he found it rather becoming of him.
"You know, I suppose it's a lucky thing that you say her name so often huh? Otherwise I probably wouldn't have recognized her, considering how I've never seen her face. You must really care for her a lot though, huh. To go through all that trouble to rescue he—"
Shirosaki was interrupted as an alabaster blade flew towards his neck, nicking his collarbone as he dodged.
"You really have no patience, don't you?" He commented, looking up to glance at the woman in question. Rukia regarded him with lustreless eyes, rivulets of blood running down her skin and clothes; a labyrinth of crimson upon her body. She breathed erratically, her breaths raspy and hoarse. She made no reply as she shifted her stance, attacking him again with a barrage of swings and thrusts.
In the back of his mind, Shirosaki heard the pained cry that had escaped the king's lips, and savoured it greedily as he blocked her blows.
Do you have any idea what it's like to truly live on the inside, King? To feel so weak, so useless, so unnecessary when you have to just watch it unfold in front of you? To have to live in a place where it rains so often that the weight of the sorrow around you is almost tangible upon your shoulders?
He retaliated, and the King's cry turned into a moan of despair as she stumbled back with a newly formed gash just above her ribcage, bleeding profusely.
Do you have any idea what it's like to feel so insignificant, as if your thoughts don't even matter? To be a lesser being deemed worthy to only observe? To be told you are not even deserving of your own body?
Rukia was tougher than he originally expected. Her eyes may have been dull and glazed, but her will was sharp. With a wiry tenacity, she continued to fight, biting back gasps as new cuts and wounds detailed her skin.
"Sode no Mai! Hakuren!"
It seemed he had stalled for a second too long as a jet of ice erupted from the tip of her sword.
"Shit." He muttered, fixing his gaze upon the free hand that was now engulfed within a solid block of ice.
And in the fraction of a second that passed, she was there at his side, the flat of her blade against the base of his throat.
"I don't want to have to kill this body. But I'll do it if you don't give him control." She demanded, pressing his blade closer so that he could feel the blood tainted metal against his skin.
He dropped his sword and gripped her arm suddenly, delighting in the exclamation of protests that emerged as their skin came into contact.
"Let go of her! Let go of her right now! Don't you dare fucking touch her!"
"I think I'd rather die before I let that happen, Kuchiki." Shirosaki replied, successfully ignoring his counterpart. "But are you willing to kill me?"
The blade pressed even harder. But it did not hide the slight tremor in her grip.
"You care too much for his wellbeing." He replied, wheeling around to elbow her hard in the gut.
Rukia fell to the ground, panting. "You." She snarled venomously, rising to her feet. "Like I'd let you live.
She swung Shirayuki wildly, no longer caring about technique or precision, overcome by a sudden lust to maim as much of the hollow as she could. But Shirosaki held no mercy as he elbowed her again, causing her to collapse.
This time, she did not get up as he ground his heel upon her fingers.
How does it feel, king? How does it feel to watch, and know that there is nothing you can do? To scream, and know that not a single soul is listening?
Shirosaki tugged on Rukia's arm, her weakened body falling upon his. With a lecherous smirk, he slid his hand up her shoulders and neck, so that his bloodied fingers cupped her fair cheek.
Nobody will hear you when I do exactly what you have longed for so long, King.
Drawing closer, he pressed his lips against hers with force, using his tongue to forcefully pry hers apart and probe inside. She tasted of cinnamon, of spice and warmth. Hungrily, he devoured her taste, sucking until every last breath was stolen. He had forgotten just how delicious a shinigami could be.
And as Ichigo's cries began to swell to an agonized yell, Hichigo stifled a snicker.
Revenge was sweet.
A/N: Like it? Don't like it? Think I should find a new substance to threaten lurkers with besides sugar free cookies? Compliments and Crit are both openly welcomed, as well as whatever nonsense that you have to share. And remember kids, if you're going to insult someone, at least make it constructive.