Thank you so much for the suggestions and the support. I felt like I'd totally lost this story and I'm doing my best to get it back on track.

Tastes Like Strawberries- 33

In the early hours of the morning, Shiro got up without disturbing Ichigo who was still sleeping. He reached out to trail his fingers lightly down the redhead's cheek. The bruising didn't look quite so bad in the shadowed light of the moon that came through the window but it still pissed him off. Clenching his jaw, he pulled on a sweatshirt and a pair of loose pants before opening the window and slipping out onto the roof. The anger was good. He could use that. He'd been losing his focus this whole time and he needed to find a way to get it back. Breathing in the chill night air, he ignored how his breath was creating faint puffs of fog. The cold would help too.

Pulling out his phone and the card everyone probably thought he'd lost or thrown away by now, he dialed the last number he thought he'd ever need. Shiro didn't care that it was the small hours of the morning. If the guy wanted information, he'd have to suck it up. After ringing several times, the phone was finally answered.

There was a long, barely stifled yawn. "Urahara."

"So. You want Aizen?" Shiro could practically hear the other man's attention instantly focus.

"What made you change your mind? You didn't seem all that eager to help before."

"Yes or no."

An amused chuckle came over the line. "Yes, of course. And what would you like in return?"

Shiro smirked. "And here I thought you were a complete and total moron."

"Some days are better than others," Urahara said easily.

"Did you hear about today?" The information he was about to share made Shiro feel slightly ill but he knew he had to give a little to get anything in return. That's the way things worked.

"There may have been a few birdies chirping in my ear. But I figure it's not the vandalism on the high school athletic field you're talking about."

"Of course not, jackass. Don't be cute."

"My apologies. What else were you thinking about?"

Shiro took a breath and gave him a few details from the meeting in the lawyer's office. "He was all nice and shit but he assumes he owns me and I think I know why. And if I'm right, I'm pretty sure you can hang him with it."

"And what would you need from me?"

"A new lawyer. Somebody who's an expert on custody stuff. And financial stuff. Heavy duty. There's a lot of money involved. I mean seriously. And I don't want some pussy police lawyer. I need a fucking shark."

"That's a pretty tall order." There was a scruffy sound, like the other man was scratching at the stubble on his jaw. "But I think my partner might know someone who fits the bill. Let me get back to you."

"Wait a sec." Shiro tried to catch his attention before he hung up. "What about labs? I need a blood test done. Something independent that I can actually trust."

"I believe I can do that too. Is there anything else?"

"Nah. That pretty much covers it. But don't think this makes me trust you or anything," Shiro added.

"Of course not. But do me a favor."

"What? Making your career with case of the decade isn't enough?" Because this thing was big. He'd done some thinking last night after he'd freaked out and this could turn out to be huge. Something that went back years.

"Keep an eye on him." There was really no question as to who Urahara meant.

Shiro turned his head a little so he could see Ichigo's shadowed silhouette under the blanket in the room behind him. "That's kind of a given. You don't even have to ask me." And he didn't. The redhead had somehow become as necessary as breathing and there was no way Shiro was giving him up.

"Good enough," Urahara murmured before he hung up the phone.

The albino closed the phone and shivered a little in the cold. Past time to go back in. Slipping back in through the window, he stripped off the sweatshirt and crawled back into bed.

"Cold-" Ichigo mumbled as he shifted in his sleep. Shiro chuckled and pressed his chilled lips to Ichigo's forehead before wrapping himself around him to try and warm up.

"Go back to sleep," Shiro whispered before tucking the other teenager's head under his chin. After he'd warmed up a little, Ichigo snuggled back up against him and sighed quietly. It took a while for Shiro to follow him into sleep but when he did, it was peaceful.

. . . . . . .

When morning light started streaming in through the window, Shiro shifted lazily. He cracked an eye open and saw Ichigo was propped on his elbow beside him with a quiet smile on his face.

"Morning," the redhead said with a smile.

Shiro scrunched his nose, unhappy that sleep seemed to be slipping away from him completely. "Does it have to be?" Stretching, he sighed. "You seem awfully happy this morning for somebody that got kicked in the teeth yesterday."

"Yeah?" Ichigo's smile shifted into a glaring frown. "I wasn't the one having an emotional breakdown. How's that working out for you?" He seemed to regret the words as soon as he said them and rolled onto his back before draping an arm over his eyes. "Sorry. That was uncalled for."

"Don't worry about it." Shiro had been pretty messed up lately but Ichigo had been there for him the whole time. Shiro raised himself up and moved over so he was straddling his hips. He kept an eye out for any signs that the redhead was uncomfortable but Ichigo didn't move except to sneer a little.

"If you think you're getting lucky again this morning, forget it. I'm so not in the mood now."

"Awwww. Somebody's a little grumpy this morning." Shiro leaned down pressed light kisses along Ichigo's forearm and saw the sneer twitching. The redhead seemed to be fighting a smile but his look sobered and his brow remained furrowed when he pulled his arm away.

"You scared me a little yesterday."

Shiro shrugged, refusing to let his lingering emotions get the best of him. "I got surprised by some stupid shit and I'm working on it."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Ichigo reached up with both hands and cupped Shiro's face gently between his palms. The albino felt himself softening his own look as he leaned down to kiss him. It was a soft brush of lips that made him sigh. He looked into Ichigo's eyes and contemplated the warm, honey brown.

"Just keep being you. That's all I need."

Ichigo raised a brow and searched his face but seemed to content to let it go for now. "I can do that." He lowered his hands to knead Shiro's thighs softly. "Do you want to talk about what happened yesterday?"

"Not really." When Ichigo frowned, Shiro sighed again and lowered himself down so he was laying on top of him. "Not yet anyway. Let me sort some stuff out for myself and I'll get back to you. Tell me about your afternoon."

"So stupid," Ichigo muttered before he gave him a rundown of what happened. It sounded like he helped just about everybody in the entire school. He could be such a sucker sometimes but that was part of why Shiro loved him. When Ichigo got to the description of the guys who jumped him, Shiro's expression darkened. He knew exact who he was talking about. He'd loaned half of those guys money at one point or another and they had some serious payback coming. He was snapped out of his revenge thoughts by Ichigo patting his cheek. "Hey. You're getting scary again."

"Sorry. Stuff like that really pisses me off. Wish you'd nailed them harder."

"Got a few of them pretty good." Ichigo hugged him and changed the subject. "It's a little late but if we look pathetic enough, Yuzu might make us something."

"That's okay." Shiro pecked him on the lips and found himself deepening the kiss for a few moments before coming back up. "I've got it." That earned him a weird look and he just smiled in return before he got up and pulled a shirt on. Ichigo got dressed himself and followed him down to the kitchen.

"I didn't know you could cook."

"Don't expect anything fancy. It's not like it takes much talent to scramble eggs."

"Good morning, Shiro. Oni-chan." Yuzu was sitting on the couch with her sewing kit. "Would you like me to make you something?" she asked brightly.

Shiro made a detour and went over to kiss her on top of the head. "Don't worry about it." He looked down at the fabric in her hands. "Did you make that yourself?"

She smiled up at him before the expression mellowed and became a little shy. "Yes. I make all of my doll's clothes."

"That's awesome." Shiro grinned before he continued on to the kitchen.

If Ichigo didn't love him already he would have fallen for him right then. The way Yuzu was beaming up at him tugged on his heart and somehow he knew he wasn't faking the interest. He sighed happily and sat at the breakfast bar while Shiro went around and started rooting through the cabinets for a pan.

"Where is everybody?" Ichigo couldn't remember what his dad's hours were this week and he hadn't seen Karin anywhere.

"Dad had to go to the hospital this morning to check on one of his patients and Karin is at the park. Soccer finals are coming up." Yuzu put her things away and came over to reach up and pat Ichigo on the cheek. "You should get some rest this weekend. It looks like it's been rough for you lately."

Ichigo shrugged. He'd gotten into a lot of fights over the years but he tried not to bring the stress home with him. "I'm okay." Of course, he didn't really want to do anything so he probably would just lay around all day.

Yuzu smiled at him and headed toward the door. "I'm going over to Misumi's house today but I'll be home for dinner. See you later."

"Later," Ichigo called after her. After she was gone, he leaned forward and rested his chin on his folded arms. Shiro was cracking eggs into a bowl while trying not to drop any shell bits in it. The loose t-shirt he wore hung off his shoulders. His build was lean like Ichigo's but he looked a little thin right now. With the way he'd been living before and all that had happened, it wasn't all that surprising. It made Ichigo want to feed him but here he was watching him make eggs for both of them. Getting up off his stool, he went to the fridge to get some juice and butter for toast. They moved around each other comfortably as they put breakfast together. When they finally sat down to eat, Ichigo was smiling and he just couldn't help it.

"What?" Shiro asked him.

"Nothing." Ichigo held out a bit of egg on his fork. "I just like looking at you."

The albino took the bite and smirked back at him. But when the door opened and Ichigo's father came in, Shiro stiffened slightly. It wasn't really obvious but Ichigo noticed. He glanced at his dad who didn't look particularly happy himself. What was that all about? "How is your patient?" Ichigo asked when nobody spoke.

"Well enough," Isshin answered vaguely. "And how are you two this morning?"

"Fine." Ichigo was still at a loss as to what was going on. He saw Shiro shrug and grunt in reply as he finished eating and took his dishes to the sink. Ichigo was just finishing up his own. As he drank the last of his juice and set his glass down, his father leaned in.

"Could you give us a few minutes alone, Ichigo? I'll take care of this."

"Um, sure." Ichigo saw Shiro's shoulders stiffen and hunch just a little where he still stood at the sink. He hated to leave him when he didn't know what was going on. Was it something at the lawyer's office? He wanted to know but he really didn't feel that he could ask. At least not right now. So Ichigo headed up to his room to make the bed and try to keep himself occupied until they were done.

In the kitchen, Shiro clenched his fingers on the edge of the sink. He really didn't want to do this right now. "What?" he asked without turning.

"I would like to apologize to you, Hichigo."

He sounded sincere enough but Shiro just wasn't in the mood. "For what? For taking a blood sample and testing me without my permission or not bothering to mention it at all?" He still hadn't turned around yet.

"For both, I suppose."

"And that's supposed to make it better?" Shiro's voice was rising but he didn't bother to do anything about it.

"You're allowed to be angry."

"Good thing." Shiro did turn now and gave him a flat look. "But believe me, I don't need your permission to be pissed." Some of the fury that had assaulted him yesterday started to well up. "I've been screwed over a lot so I guess I should just get used to it."

"No." Isshin came over to lean against the counter next to him. But was very careful not touch him which was probably a good thing. "You shouldn't. If the test had turned out differently, there was no reason to say anything."

"I still don't buy it," Shiro said with some bitterness. As much as he hated the idea, having Yuu be his dad was the least of his worries at the moment.

"Yes, Urahara phoned me earlier."

Shiro should have expected as much and he tried not to hold it against Ichigo's dad. "Are you gonna give me a hard time about that?"

"No. Your choices are your own."

"It hardly ever feels like it." And that sounded perilously close to whining. Shiro's temper had drained away leaving him feeling hollow. He looked away and sighed. "If I ask you not to do anything like that again without asking me first, will you actually keep your word?"

"Yes. You probably don't have much reason to believe me but I promise."

That would have to be good enough. This guy was Ichigo's dad and he'd been better to him than anyone he could remember. He couldn't go on hating everyone. Something had to change. "Okay." He left Isshin to finish up the dishes. The other man scrubbed the plates without another word as Shiro headed upstairs.

Up in their room, Ichigo was sitting on the freshly made bed looking a little lost. He looked up when Shiro came in and his expression was troubled. "Is everything okay?"

"It's fine." Shiro was so happy that Ichigo didn't pry. Instead, the redhead scooted back on the bed and lay with his arms held open. Shiro closed the door and went to him. Settling at Ichigo's side, he buried his face in his neck and tried not to sigh as he felt a hand stroking his hair. They lay there like that together for a while and he let himself forget about everything. Shiro didn't intend to tell him. He was going to hold it in because he didn't want to worry him but he couldn't quite hold it in.

"That fucker might not be my dad."


"They did a paternity test without asking me. Remember that Aizen guy? The one from the second photo? He showed up at the lawyer's office yesterday. They had some stupid test results and everything." And didn't that just sound whiney and pathetic.

"Holy shit," Ichigo murmured. "Is it true?"

"Dunno. I think it's a load of shit. As much as I'd like to pretend that asshole isn't my dad, I don't think the alternative is any better." It did feel a little better to get it out but he was starting to feel a little stupid about the whole thing. "I hate this shit." He snuggled closer and inhaled the warm scent of Ichigo.

It was a later in the morning when Shiro finally stirred again. He'd lain awake long after Ichigo had fallen asleep beside him. The redhead was still extremely tired after yesterday would likely rest most of the afternoon. Kissing him lightly on the corner of his jaw, Shiro got up carefully. But he intended to do much more than make a phone call this time. He had some business to take care of. He'd spent way too much time waiting around for things to happen recently and he was getting really tired of that. It was past time to take some action.

Leaving Ichigo a note on the desk saying that he'd be back later, Shiro got dressed and headed outside. Fortunately, there was nobody downstairs so he didn't have to answer any questions. He did some minor stretching and warming up on the way to his destination. He was a little out of shape due to illness and inactivity lately but that was going to change soon. Ichigo had told him what the guys had said when they attacked him. That he'd gotten soft. He was about to show them how very wrong they were.

The corner store down by the river was always a pit stop for some of the people he was looking for. All he had to do was find at least one of them. They'd tell him where the others were. Sure enough, Kaguma was lounging against the side wall eating a candy bar. When he saw Shiro, a brief look of panic flitted across his face before he took off running in the other direction. Shiro was already moving, his running steps light on his toes as he ate up ground in the chase. He was so not getting away.

After chasing him for two blocks and following over a chain link fence, Shiro finally go close enough to get a hold of his jean jacket so he could toss him into a brick wall. "Where do you think you're going, dickhead," Shiro rasped as he sucked in a few hasty breaths and kneed him in the gut. Kaguma doubled over and the albino yanked him back up forcefully.

"Now I know you've got no dick because you didn't lift a hand one way or the other yesterday. But I might be nice enough not to give you a limp if you tell me what I want to know." Which was only a half truth. This was one of the assholes that had tried to lure him back to the office building for Grimmjow. Just thinking the name had enough embarrassment and anger roiling up to drown him. He nailed Kaguma across the jaw before he could stop himself.

"Please," the other teenager gasped.

"Right. Play on my sense of mercy. Like that'll work." Shiro ducked a weak punch from Kaguma before spinning him around and slamming him face first into the bricks. "I'm done playing nice. Where's the new place?"

"Place?" "You know. Since you helped that shithead burn down my building."

"We didn't know he was going to do that! I swear. Jesus, he said he was just going to talk to you!"

A new voice spoke up from the mouth of the alley. "If you're done beating up on him, how about a real challenge?"

Shiro turned to see three more of the guys he was looking for standing there trying to look tough. Out of the corner of his eye, Shiro saw Kaguma slinking away and he let him go. There was no point in beating on someone who couldn't put a decent fight. This would be so much better.

. . . . . . .

When Ichigo woke, he was alone in bed and he frowned as he ran his hand through his hair. Where the hell did Shiro go? He'd been so upset earlier. Getting up and stretching, he checked the time and saw it was already well into the afternoon. On top of the desk, a piece of paper with Shiro's neat handwriting on it caught his eye. It said he'd be back later. From where? As he shuffled to the bathroom, Ichigo decided to give him a call and make sure everything was okay. But as he came back out, he saw Shiro stumbling up the stairs.

"Shiro! What happened?" Ichigo ran forward and caught the albino as he stumbled. His clothes were dirty and ripped. There were bruises on his face and his knuckles were torn and swollen. But even though he looked horrible, Shiro was smiling for some strange reason.

"Who's the pussy now?" he laughed quietly.

"What?" Ichigo didn't know quite what he was talking about and he steered him toward the bathroom. After flipping down the lid, he sat him on the flush and started running hot water in the sink. "What happened?" he asked again.

"Showed 'em I'm no fuckin' pushover is what." Shiro pursed his lips. "Sorry. Not supposed to swear."

"Your not supposed to block punches with your face either but that didn't seem to stop you," Ichigo murmured as he came over with a wet wash cloth, only pausing long enough on the way to start the tub filling. He dabbed at the blood and grime on Shiro's face and stared into his eyes to make sure he didn't have a concussion. But his pupils weren't unequally dilated and he didn't look dazed. Just a little goofy.

After thinking about it for a moment, Ichigo figured he could guess what happened. Shiro had been pissed when he described the fight from the day before and he'd gone looking for some payback. It was kind of sweet that he'd go out and fight for him but Ichigo was a little pissed at the same time. He didn't need to be protected. Gripping Shiro's chin, he scowled at him. "Did you go out and pick a fight for me?"

"Naw. I totally kicked ass for you!" After another nervous giggle, Shiro's expression grew sober. "I'd do anything for you."

Inwardly touched by the thought, Ichigo kept his face looking stern. "I'd like you in one piece while you're doing it." He held his gaze for a few moments more before he reached forward and started to take Shiro's clothes off.

"Why is it always like this?" the albino muttered.

"Like what?" Ichigo tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice.

"Whenever you take the time to strip me, I'm always too beat to crap to enjoy it." There was a resigned tone to Shiro's voice and he huffed quietly.

"Stop getting beat up and we'll work on that."

The bruising wasn't too bad on his torso and Ichigo was glad for that. It didn't look like anything was cracked or broken as he probed gently with his fingers. Shiro's hand covered his own.

"You comin' in with me?"

Ichigo couldn't help the smirk that pulled at his own lips. "That pretty much goes without saying."

"Good," Shiro said as he let Ichigo guide him up and into the full bathtub. "Cause I've only got a little while before I'm going to be too stiff and sore to do anything fun." He settled in the hot water and sighed quietly as Ichigo undressed and got in with him.

"I shouldn't be rewarding you for doing something stupid," Ichigo said as he grabbed a washcloth and started cleaning his face more thoroughly.

"Rewarding? Tandem bathing is nice but. . .oh." Shiro lay back and sighed again as the redhead's slick fingers encircled him and slid gently up and down his quickly hardening flesh. "Hmmm. . .that's nice too."

The water sloshed as Ichigo moved closer to him. "You didn't go out and create more trouble today, did you?"

"Uh, hang on a sec. I. . ." Shiro swallowed audibly as his head fell back and he had to swallow a few times. It didn't help that Ichigo started kissing his exposed throat. "Maybe?" Shiro said tentatively.

"Maybe?" Ichigo murmured.

"Probably. But it's okay. . .ah!" His breath blew out in a slow sigh of appreciation as he came with a low moan. "It'll be fine," he said with his eyes still closed.

Ichigo wasn't so sure about that but he let it go for now as he started cleaning up the abraded skin on Shiro's knuckles. Until Shiro pulled his hand away and returned the favor. Ichigo blinked through the sudden haze of arousal that surged up into an unexpected orgasm. He leaned forward and kissed Shiro on the lips as he cupped his reddened cheek.

"Just be careful, okay?"

"You got it, baby." Shiro held him close and nuzzled his neck. "Just had to take care of some business." When he pulled back, he looked at the redhead seriously. "There's stuff going on and it might get a little weird. But I'm going to stick with you no matter what."

"If you think I'm letting you get away, you're wrong. I need you too." Ichigo knew that wasn't what Shiro had said but he meant it himself. "Just take care of yourself. I mean it."

"Okay." Shiro relaxed into him and they sat in the warm water together.