Bite the Hand that Feeds

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. That honor belongs to Tite Kubo.

Warnings: AU-ish

AN: For the Bleach contest on LJ. The prompt was "Pain." I blame this one entirely on Dracoqueen22.

Marigold for despair. For deep agony of the soul. For the rise of bile in his throat at the thought that he ever supported this man. That he ever looked up to him. Ever loved him. Always eager for his praise. For a pat on the head. Like a stray begging to be brought in from the cold. Willing to take the punishment day after day for a single moment of kindness. To hear that he'd been a good boy.

He wears the symbol on the band around his arm. And sometimes, it burns like a brand. Like someone has taken a blazing hot iron and pressed it to his flesh. The scorch of it stings more than the words whispered behind his back and all the unsubstantiated rumors that drift to his ears. The taste of ash on his tongue and blood in his mouth from biting his lip to stay quiet.

Ichimaru-taichou took him from the obscurity of the fourth division. From being passed around from captain to captain, unwanted and useless to everyone. Made him into a lieutenant when even his own friends could only offer polite laughter. Never questioned his thoughts or ideas or implied that he is lesser because of them. Supported him. Believed in him… or at least pretended to do so. Which is more than he can say of the others.

But that had all been a lie. A clever ploy. And Izuru was just the useful tool. The willing but unknowing sacrifice on the altar of Aizen's greatness. To be used and then discarded when no longer needed. The loyal hound sent out to lead the hunters away from his master, never knowing that all his years of service meant absolutely nothing. Were worth less than nothing. That his only value to Ichimaru was how amusing he could be while playing fetch and performing other tricks.

And now, the same man who twisted him until he is all but unrecognizable stands before him. Confident. Arrogant. So certain that he can scratch Izuru's ears and still get a tail wag. That he'll come to heel with a single word and let all else fall away.

"Well, well. Look a' what the cat dragged in?" Ichimaru cocks his head to the side and just grins. "Didja miss me?"

Izuru feels his eyes narrow but says nothing. He doesn't speak on command. He doesn't obey this man. He's not a pet.

Ichimaru only laughs at him. "Oh, look at that? My lil' doggie. Always so eager ta please me. Always there when I look down. But ya seem ta have forgotten yer place, Izuru. Yer supposed to come when yer masters calls. All good dogs do."

His hand tightens at his side. But he loosens it immediately and lets it drift to his zanpakutou instead.

"Oh, ho ho…" Ichimaru gives an amused sound. "This one's got teeth, doesn't he? But he won't bite me. Will ya, Izuru? Ya never disobey me." He makes a beckoning motion, the same that one would use for a dog. Dismissive and patronizing. Forcing the lesser creature to come to him.

And really, that is all Izuru is to him. Just a little boy toddling in his shadow. Just a dog needing to be put back in place.

But people forget; they always do. That dogs, while domesticated, are the descendants of wolves. That they still have the same instincts buried underneath. That they are predators. That there are only two categories for everything and everyone else. Pack or prey. And Ichimaru certainly isn't the first one. Not anymore.

The silence between them is deafening, and he knows that Ichimaru is slightly discomfited, even if he doesn't really show it. The old Izuru, Ichimaru's Izuru, would have long ago broken. Would've have whined or huffed or barked if only to have some sort of sound. Would've done just about anything to have all that attention focused on him and remain that way.

But even dogs and little boys can learn new tricks. Can remember who they once were and become something better.

He sees Ichimaru falter, sees his nervousness start to take form as his shoulder twitches. Izuru feels his lips curl upward. His hand is firm on Wabisuke's hilt, steady and without hesitation. And Ichimaru is the first one to break.

"Aren't ya gonna say anythin' ta that? Aren't ya gonna deny it?" His voice is smooth, smug. Smile widening once more. "Or can ya not even do that anymore? Can't even speak without me there ta hold yer hand? My boy was always so weak and dainty, weren't ya?"

Izuru is smiling now for real. He tilts his head and takes one step forward. The sword in his hand is unsheathed and eager for blood. Eager to bite into flesh and tear asunder. To rip and claw and snap. To take all the years of undeserved cruelty and harshness and deliver them back.

"Speak up now, boy," Ichimaru all but demands, face hardening but smirk still there. "And look a' me when I talk to ya."

"Boy?" Izuru just lifts his chin with teeth bared. "I'm not your boy anymore."

Ichimaru stops grinning.

Ever Hopeful,