Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach, nor am I trying to make any profit from this silly little bunch of words. I write fanfiction because I love the characters and the worlds they live in, not because I need a little extra cash.
Author's Note: This fic is going to be in two parts - this first part is pretty PG-rated, but the second part is adult-rated, with a lemon. Hope you enjoy.
Oh I am growing tired
Of allowing you to steal
Everything I have
You're making me feel
Like I was born to service you
But I am growing by the hour
You left us far behind
So we all discard our souls
And blaze through your skies
So unafraid to die
'Cause I was born to destroy you
And I am growing by the hour
And I'm getting strong in every way
You led me on…
Muse, "Hate This And I'll Love You"
[ SADDLE BLANKET | PART ONE ]
Ichigo sighed as he turned off the light, making his way through the darkness to his bed. The springs creaked slightly as he lowered himself onto the mattress and twisted and turned until he was about as comfortable as he was going to get.
Sleeping had become a chore for him, something to be avoided altogether if possible. But it wasn't. He wouldn't be of any use to anybody if he wasn't sufficiently rested. But that was the point: getting sleep and getting rest were two different things, even if you had to get one to accomplish the other.
Shirosaki had been forcing himself upon his dreams lately. Ichigo had read somewhere that people dreamt every time they went to sleep, and remembered their dreams only rarely. He still hadn't considered himself much of a dreamer though, until now. Every single dream he had - every last one, and he had several each night - was invaded by the voice or presence of the snide, grinning hollow.
Even in his weirder dreams, which Ichigo doubted he would normally remember, Shirosaki was there. One night he had dreamed that he and his friends were playing soccer on the school oval dressed in Franciscan monks' robes, and his side was losing. All of a sudden, the hollow was standing in the middle of the field.
"What the fuck, King?"
That was when he had tripped over the hem of the ridiculous robe he'd been wearing and fell face-first into a puddle of mud which hadn't been there a second ago.
Shirosaki stood over him and grinned so widely it almost looked as though the bottom half of his face was going to fall off.
"Heh. The Franciscans were all 'bout humility, y' know," the hollow informed him smugly. "Perhaps bein' on the losin' side of this game and paintin' yer face with mud is yer subconscious' way of tellin' ya that ya need to be a little more humble, eh?"
"How the hell would you know anything about monks?" Ichigo snapped. He couldn't really think of anything else to say – perhaps the little bastard was right.
Shirosaki's eyes narrowed dangerously. However, all he said was: "Perhaps I pay more attention in your classes than you do, King."
Ichigo huffed, and wiped mud from his lips. "Piss off."
Every dream he had was a repeat, more of the same. Shirosaki made sure he remembered each and every one.
When he fell asleep that night, however, things were a little different.
He dreamed he was in that world, which he supposed was in his head anyway. Strange. He'd never come here before without any reason.
He stood alone atop one of the towering buildings, and the wind buffeted his body harder than he remembered from before. He felt cold, and shoved his hands under his armpits to warm them. Ah. His shinigami garb had more layers than the thin flannel pants and t-shirt he was wearing now. They were the same clothes he had fallen asleep in.
"Hey, King." It was a soft murmur. Ichigo felt the words more than heard them. He spun around.
Shirosaki sat on the other side of the building. For once, the hollow's black and gold gaze was not upon him - it was directed instead out into the distance of the surreal city. Every now and then the hollow's head lowered to watch his feet swing, out over the building's edge. The two existed in silence for a time.
"Y' know – " the hollow began.
Ichigo interrupted. "Shut it, Shirosaki. Don't you think I've heard enough of your voice over the past few nights to do me for the rest of my mortal life?"
"Y' know…" the voice was quieter this time. "Y' know…it's in the nature of th' trapped wild creature t' attempt escape."
Ichigo frowned. "What you're saying…it isn't like you," he muttered suspiciously. "What – "
Shirosaki mumbled something that Ichigo couldn't quite hear, his head tucked into his chest.
"What did you say?"
The hollow sighed, and then stood, turning slowly.
"I said, when have I ever been known to speak anythin' other than th' truth? I have never lied to ya, no matter what ya may think," he added darkly.
Ichigo's brow furrowed further. "No," he said slowly, "I don't think you ever have." A muscle twitched in his jaw, and his fingers tightened to form a fist. "You have, however, used the truth unscrupulously to complicate, wound and confuse."
"Which would ya consider the lesser o' two evils?" Shirosaki asked.
"Would yeh rather I use lies or th' truth in order to hurt ya?"
Ichigo glared at the hollow in silence.
"At least when I use th' truth, yeh learn somethin' from it afterwards. Lies are only any good fer stories."
Finally, Ichigo replied angrily, "Is it necessary to use words to hurt at all?"
Shirosaki's spine straightened, and it was his turn to glare. His eyes sparked. "I refuse to be th' Horse forever, King. I'm gonna buck ya off, and when yeh fall, know that it's gonna hurt."
Ichigo reached behind his shoulder for his…where was Zangetsu? Right, this was a dream. Could he summon his sword here?
Shirosaki sneered at him contemptuously. Even though they were the same height, Ichigo felt as though he was being looked down upon. "Ah, I don't feel like clashin' swords with ya today. I'm too bitter to enjoy th' fight." He looked disappointed with himself, and turned away in disgust.
Ichigo's eyebrows lifted involuntarily in astonishment. What was wrong with Shirosaki? Had he lost his motivation? What kept him so determined anyway? Was it simply his nature, as he had implied at the beginning of their conversation? Ichigo felt exhausted. Sleep did not bring him rest these days.
The world around him started shifting, lifting itself away from his vision. Shirosaki's dispassionate form was the last thing to fade as Ichigo fell into another dream.
Ichigo was both relieved and worried.
For the past week and a half, Shirosaki had made no more appearances in his dreams. The few dreams he did remember felt vague and without substance, as if the hollow's presence had strengthened them.
Ichigo wondered now if he tried to bring forth the mask, if the hollow would even come.
It was 11:00 at night, and he was editing the final copy of an essay he had been given as part of an assignment. The words seemed meaningless, the irrelevant regurgitation of already-known thoughts and opinions on a piece of literature. Even though the words themselves were his own (he would never cheat with his schoolwork), the ideas behind those words were nothing new – something taught to year after year of students, with little change or original thought.
What he used his words for seemed particularly important to him, especially after Shirosaki had expressed his own concern for such things.
"For a guy I can't even find in my head anymore, I sure can't seem to stop thinking about the bastard," Ichigo grumbled to himself, and yawned widely. Suddenly fed up with his homework efforts, he stood up and stumbled into bed.
It was the first dream of the night, or at least Ichigo thought so.
He was there again, for all he knew on top of the same building. He waited for Shirosaki to appear. He waited for several minutes before growing impatient.
"Shirosaki!" he bellowed. "Where the hell are you?"
His voice echoed across the city; he felt like he was trying to make noise in a vacuum. The vibrations of his voice were sucked into the very pores of the city; everything was bounced and absorbed, yet also was oddly silent. He swore to himself – no matter how he yelled or screamed, Shirosaki wouldn't hear him if he wasn't here. He would have to search.
Time was malleable in dreams, he knew. It could be stretched, bent, folded, scrunched up into a ball. It swelled around Ichigo in this place of endless towers and alleys. He had no idea how long he had been searching. The place was all white – Zangetsu had been a beautiful ink stain here, a centre of focus. Where was he now? Ichigo suspected that he wasn't actually in the real city (if the word 'real' could be applied in this case), where he and Zangetsu had met and fought; where he had fought Shirosaki for the first time, swinging the twin of his blade by the wrappings. No, this place was a dream, a memory-picture of the city. If it was the real city, he would have had his blade with him when he arrived, right? Only he, and Shirosaki it seemed, could come here. Shirosaki might not even be here at all – it was possible that he was in the real city, and Ichigo had no idea how to get there on his own. He might simply be gone. No. That was impossible. Urahara's training had wrenched this part of himself away from the whole – he laughed at himself. From the whole, which he no longer was. He was a shinigami and a hollow.
White, so much white. Only the blue of the sky reflected in the windows kept him sane. It seemed as though Shirosaki had been born from the city, or perhaps the city had been born from him.
A flash of something made Ichigo slow his steps. Backing up, he peered back into the alley he had just passed. It was all white, like every other alley he had passed. However, not all of the lines were the straight, geometric ones that made the city. An irregular, organic shape had caught his eye.
Shirosaki lay on his back on the hard concrete, his arms spread wide. His eyes were closed and his features were serene. Asleep.
Ichigo stepped hesitantly closer. Had the hollow been sleeping this whole time? He crouched to get a better look. From a distance, Shirosaki had looked peaceful. Ichigo realised that he was stupid to assume that there was anything peaceful about the hollow. Calm maybe, but never peaceful.
Shirosaki looked sad.
"What happened to you, Shirosaki?"
Having his alter ego here, helpless and so much under his mercy, made Ichigo feel light-headed. This was an opportunity to be considered. He shook his head in confusion. He knew that Shirosaki needed him if he was ever to take full control of his body – if Shirosaki wanted to kill him, he would have to have that first, which was why he had helped Ichigo survive in the past.
Did Ichigo need Shirosaki?
His thoughts wandered back to Urahara. Urahara wouldn't have allowed this to happen unless he had known that Ichigo would need the power that Shirosaki would bring. Right? He had needed to increase both his power and skills quickly. Urahara had done the job. And the truth was, Ichigo might still need Shirosaki's help in the future.
Even the idea of killing someone in their sleep filled Ichigo with revulsion. He couldn't afford to kill him.
Perhaps Shirosaki had also come to a similar conclusion, and that was why he was like this now.
This was so weird.
Shirosaki looked so benign, so white and pure, with his eyes closed. Ichigo reached out a hand and brushed the eyelids with his fingertips. They fluttered lightly.
"King…" the hollow murmured. His head turned to the side, away from Ichigo. He sighed. Ichigo watched Shirosaki's chest, so very like his own, rise and fall gently.
"Yes, Horse?" he replied, even though he doubted Shirosaki could hear him. He slid his fingers through the soft, spiky white hair. His mane, his mind supplied, and Ichigo laughed. He was the Horse, after all. He wondered if Shirosaki knew that the knight in shining armour was always assumed to ride in on a white stallion. The bad guy always rode the bad-ass black stallion. Ichigo supposed that his black shinigami clothing was close enough for Shirosaki.
Why was he finding this situation suddenly humourous?
He flopped down so that he lay next to Shirosaki. He gripped the other's hand, and without much thought, kissed it.
Shit what did I just do?
His eyes flicked up to Shirosaki's face in panic. There was no need for alarm, however – he hadn't awoken. If anything, Shirosaki's fingers tightened almost imperceptibly around his own. Ichigo sighed in relief. He leaned closer, and dared to lay a feather-light kiss on Shirosaki's cheek.
Shirosaki exhaled softly, and his eyes opened.