Slave to Her Passions

Part 5: A Mutual Show of Concern

Bleach; Ichihime AU

Word Count: 3788

Warning: T+; mild adult situations

Disclaimer: all characters herein are the property of Kubo Tite.

~o0o~

Ichigo sat cross-legged on the dusty ground with the other stable slaves, eating a simple evening meal of flavorful strips of meat and rice heated on a small brazier. He remained unaware that elsewhere in the compound his life was being arranged on a chessboard as he scooped fragrant rice from a wooden bowl with a piece of bread.

While the others talked in hushed tones about a stable boy, he fought against the urge to wolf down his food, and instead, ate steadily and listened in silence. Apparently, the body he hauled beyond the fortresses walls yesterday was that of a recently purchased slave. Ichigo curled his lip at the reminder and tossed his dish into the bucket the kitchen supplied for just such a purpose, his appetite gone.

He needed some fresh air and headed for the door –only to be stopped by the thick arm of the foreman. Ichigo indicated he was only going the short distance to the stone well and was allowed to pass. With every move he made, he could feel the weight of many eyes following his progress as he lowered and then raised a brimming bucket from the well.

The cool water went a long way to washing away a thick layer of dirt and he wished it could wash away the memory of the slave's battered body as easily. By all accounts, the young man's only crime was to appeal to one of Aizen's soldiers, a sadistic man by the name of Tesla.

He'd heard that name before. But where?

Too tired to think about it now, he shelved the matter for the time being. His back ached and his mind was fuzzy. Ichigo had done rough physical labor before. However, two full days of backbreaking work in the stable, doing the most menial and filthy jobs imaginable, exhausted him as nothing had before.

The remaining water left in the bucket was poured over his head, dislodging little of the dirt and sweat from his scalp. He tilted his face up to the darkening sky and rolled the stiffness from his shoulders. Sleep would come easy tonight. Ichigo thought with a groan before freezing at the sensation of someone's eyes burning a hole in his back.

It wasn't surprising that Aizen had guards keeping a close eye on him; he noticed their stares earlier. This felt different though. He could practically feel rage and killing intent humming in the air. Grimmjow …

Ichigo dropped the bucket and straightened to his full height; shoulders back, eyes narrowed. A slow survey of the stable yard and surrounding training grounds turned up nothing but a battered handcart and a dark goshawk perched on the storehouse roof, looking for one last snack before night fell.

He couldn't see Grimmjow, but he knew he was out there, waiting, wanting to finish this. As did he. Ichigo was practically chomping at the bit. He wished he would show himself so he could challenge the filthy son of a jackal who captured him by the foulest means possible.

When Grimmjow attacked the unarmed caravan Ichigo was traveling in, the general realized after a prolonged battle that an easy victory was beyond his grasp. Instead, he turned his sights on the innocent group of people, pitting their lives against his surrender. Ichigo intended to pay him back for that, among other things.

The stable foreman's raspy voice cut through the gathering darkness, calling him back for night. Ichigo cursed under his breath at the interruption of his subsequent search and flicked his eyes to the big bull of a man standing just outside the stable before glancing once more over darkened line of arches cut into the neighboring buildings. With no clues as to Grimmjow's location, he returned to the musty smelling building that served as his new prison.

He would keep his guard raised from now on. It was an unlucky twist of fate he tucked his sword, along with the princess' dagger, under the thick mattress of her sleeping couch. Neither did him any good there. He needed a weapon now. Ichigo eyed the pitchfork leaning against the wall favorably and glanced from side to side before grabbing it and holding it close to his body.

With his makeshift weapon in hand, he slipped into the stall where he slept and buried it under the straw. If Grimmjow –or anyone else came for him in the night, they would soon wish they hadn't when they found themselves with a belly full of sharply carved tines.

Ichigo stretched out on his scratchy bed with his hands clasped behind his head and stared blindly up at the thick ceiling beams, waiting. Time passed slowly and his eyes burned with the need to close. They drifted shut –time and time again only to jerk open once more. Until, he heard the sound of sandaled feet shuffling against stone and the faint light of a shuttered lamp drawing closer. Ichigo's drowsiness vanished as he shifted to his side, fingers sliding into the straw.

The lantern was lifted high, spilling muted light over his face and Ichigo feigned sleep. He was tensed to attack when he noticed the unmistakable wheeze of the foreman's breathing. The big man was only making his nightly rounds. The moment the light withdrew, his eyes opened and his fingers loosened from around the handle of the pitchfork. Lucky goat didn't even realize he'd been seconds from being eviscerated. Ichigo listened as the corpulent man dragged his feet down the stone aisle before making a report to the passing patrol the slave was secured for the night.

They consider this secured? He laughed silently, knowing he could walk out of the building with minimal effort. The guard continued to talk with the stable master in hushed voices and Ichigo moved under a shuttered window set in the outside wall to eavesdrop on their conversation, hoping for some information he could use. Instead, talk centered once more on the young stable hand. He blocked it out, only listening with half an ear until he heard mention of the princess –and Ichigo's heart tripped.

He remembered where he'd heard Tesla's name. That murderous beast had been in the princess' room the afternoon he was taken away.

The dusty straw shifted under him as Ichigo slowly slid down the wall and to his back. Sleep evaded him as concern for the princess grew like a canker in his mind. He couldn't help but superimpose her face and body over that of the dead boy, bleeding and bruised, beaten beyond recognition. She was an innocent, painfully naïve, and under the questionable protection of only those two bickering women and the tattooed guard. Ichigo didn't have much faith they would offer the princess much protection.

He gave up on sleep and rolled from his pallet; he had to know if she was all right. Ichigo unlatched the stall's gate with care and knelt at the opening, listening for any sound from his stable mates, two legged or four. All was as it should be. The patrol continued with their rounds some time ago and rumbling snores came from the foreman's bed in the front corner.

Perfect.

The deep shadows inside the stable hid him from view as he slipped over the gate in back and followed the same path from the other night through the jumble of buildings. He would sneak into her room and assure himself of her safety, then return before anyone was the wiser. Nothing more, he promised himself.

Ichigo ducked through a low arch and crossed the wide marble terrace, his bare feet making nothing more than a whisper of sound as he rushed forward. He paused at the base of the stairs for only a moment before barreling ahead into the main garden when he sensed no one nearby. Thin bands of moonlight cut across the open courtyard and faintly illuminated the hidden door leading to the harem. He crouched down at the shadowy base of a fragrant cedar while he caught his breath and swiped his forearm over his sweaty brow. Ichigo stilled and wrinkled his nose –he was rank. He couldn't go to the princess' rooms stinking of horses and sweat.

He separated from the shadows and waded into the courtyard's white marble fountain fully dressed. He groaned at the feel of cool water lapping at his legs before ducking under to rake his fingers through his short hair, dislodging what remained of the dirt and straw from his day's work. Ichigo stood in the moonlight and shook the water from his hair before pulling his shirt over his head. With the thin fabric balled in his hand, Ichigo used it to scrub at his arms and upper body before dunking under the water once more. Sluicing water from his face and hair, he then went to work on wringing out his filthy clothes.

At the soft rustle of sound coming from the wall behind him, he was out of the water in an instant with shirt in hand. Ichigo peered around the tree he hid behind and watched as the harem door opened bit by bit enough for a shrouded figure to slip out. He thought moving deeper into the trees might be prudent, until he noticed something familiar about the woman creeping through the shadows in his direction. The reckless little fool …

Ichigo left his hiding place and tossed his bundled shirt aside. He stood in the middle of the path and crossed his arms over his bare chest. "What do you think you're doing here?"

The woman gasped in surprise at the voice coming out of the darkness and lowered her head, shielding her face with a veil as she passed. "Forgive the intrusion, I-I am merely on an errand for my mistress."

His lips twisted at her obvious falsehood. What a troublesome woman. "I didn't know princesses ran errands."

She took another step, froze, then whirled to face him. "How-"

Startled brown eyes stared up at him from over the edge of her dark veil. Ichigo would never admit he was happy to see her. However, even he could not deny a certain relief at seeing she suffered no lasting effects from her fall the other day and that his earlier concerns were groundless. She was fine, and he was a fool for worrying.

With that maddening thought in mind, he stepped closer, looming over her small frame. "I'll ask again. What are you doing here?"

He strained his ears, attempting to understand what mumbled excuse she offered for wandering outside the protective walls of the harem –alone –in the dead of night. It was forbidden, not to mention dangerous. Would this woman continue to bewilder him by always doing the unexpected?

"What was that again, princess?"

Orihime fidgeted under his sharp gaze, unspeaking until he moved even closer. Ichigo left only inches between them and unashamedly used his size to intimidate her. Her eyes dropped to his bare chest and a strangled moan slipped past her lips before she started to stammer.

"I-I was coming to see …to see you."

"You were coming to see me?" Ichigo repeated dumbly and relaxed his stance. A smile played at the corners of his mouth while he rubbed the back of his neck in a nervous gesture, and he regretted his earlier harshness –no matter how well deserved.

"Y-yes," Orihime twisted her fingers together as her eyes drifted to the side. "As my slave, I have a responsibly to make certain my p-property is being treated well."

His face fell, hardened. Her property? The warmth that spread through his chest at her unexpected arrival, cooled. "You shouldn't be here. It's not safe."

"B-but there's something I need to talk to you about-"

"But nothing." His hand slashed out, cutting her off. He didn't want to hear any more. "Return to where you belong."

Her rounded chin jutted out and her eyes flashed with exasperation. "Rukia's right; you are insolent for a slave."

He shrugged his shoulders in indifference. "You think I care for either of your opinions?" The corner of his mouth curled and there was a hint of mockery in his gaze. "I've told you before; I am no slave, least of all a foolish woman's."

Orihime's eyes went wide, full of some nameless emotion before she hid her expression. Guilt coiled in his gut. Again. What was it about this woman that made him so defensive, so quick to lash out? This naïve princess twisted him in knots, making him think and feel thing he did not want. She frustrated him, aroused him, and unnerved him in equal measures.

"W-what are you doing here anyway?"

Ichigo looked up at her hesitant voice and argued with himself over telling her he had been worried about her. It reeked of a vulnerability he didn't want to own up to –especially not to her. So he said nothing.

Orihime fidgeted in the ensuing silence and stole a look at him before blurting. "I was told you were assigned to the stables."

His mouth dipped into an even deeper frown. Had she planned to sneak all the way down to the stables to see him? Impossible. Unbidden, his mind supplied a variety of images of what could have happened to her if she was found by anyone but him. Did she not have one ounce of self-preservation anywhere in that sweetly curved body?

The princess didn't need a love slave; she needed a keeper.

Ready to tear verbal strips from her reckless hide, his angry words died in his throat as he jerked his head to the side, tensing. There was someone else approaching. It was too early for the guards to make their rounds. Besides which, they would come from the west, not the south.

Instinctively, Ichigo wrapped an arm around the princess, holding her against his body as he pulled her deep into the dense grove of the trees. Footsteps drew closer, hardly making a sound against the stones of the courtyard. They moved cautiously as if stalking prey and Ichigo knew who it was almost immediately.

Blue hair glowed in the moonlight as Grimmjow stepped out of the shadows not far from where they stood only moments ago. Orihime gasped in recognition and Ichigo covered her mouth, warningly. The filthy son of a goat must have followed him. Now, he was not only unarmed, but the princess was indirectly in danger as well. This was not how Ichigo wanted to confront him.

His eyes swept the area methodically, looking for something he could use as a weapon when his gaze landed on the clothing he discarded at the edge of the fountain. Ichigo's hand fisted against the princess' back and he cursed under his breath. If Grimmjow noticed his shirt, he would find them in an instant.

Tensed for a fight, he was surprised when Grimmjow instead circled to the right of the fountain and moved deeper into the garden, never noticing the damp bundle lying close by. Ichigo slowly released the breath he was holding while the princess struggled in his arms, wordlessly asking to be let go. He kept an eye on Grimmjow's departing form and lowered his mouth to her ear, whispered for her to stay silent. They weren't out of danger yet. She shivered as his lips brushed against her skin, but obeyed.

Ichigo felt her tremble and realized just how close they were. Her soft breasts pillowed against his chest; each shuddering breath she took traveled from her through him. Too close, much too close, he chanted in his head even as the hand splayed low on her back slid to her gently rounded hip and pulled her even closer. The princesses swayed in his hold with a thready mewl of distress as the full length of her body was brought into contact with his. His sex rose, pressing against the softness of her stomach and they both froze.

No, no, no –a thousand times no. Ichigo cursed his undisciplined body. This was not right. By all accounts, they never should have been alone together, regardless of the warped plans Aizen's had in store for her. The princess was a good and chaste woman, and he should release her. Yes, he should release her, this instant. Now, if only his arms would comply.

Ichigo held himself very still and repeated his father's tenets of manhood in his mind, hoping thoughts of his asinine sire would dampen this drugging heat flaring to life between them. He was gradually winning against the driving need to pull the princess' shapely body tight against his, until she squirmed in his hold.

Sweet little vixen, she was playing with fire.

Unthinkingly, he touched his lips to her temple and he felt her pulse leap. This was madness, Ichigo thought even as he dipped his head to whisper another warning but instead traced the shell of her ear with the tip of his tongue.

It was sweet, sweet madness.

Heat uncoiled like a whip, spreading warmth through his limbs, setting him aflame as the heady scent of her perfume rose between them. The smell of musk, roses, and heated skin wreathed his senses and drew him in. Their hated roles as mistress and slave slipped away, their shared enemy forgotten. Only the two of them existed in this place.

Moving solely by instinct, he dragged his hand away from her mouth and reached up to brush her veil aside. Not taking the time to admire that which he uncovered, Ichigo only wanted to taste, to explore, to feel more of this forbidden passion.

His teeth teased the sensitive spot below her lobe where her perfume was strongest. His heart stopped, stuttered, then started to race when her small hands moved restlessly over his bare chest, kneading and stroking.

Ichigo delighted in her touch. His lips slid down to caress her throat and the princess caught her breath on a sob, and held it. She made no effort to deny him, even going so far as to tip her head back to give him greater access, and he greedily accepted. He found the pounding pulse point at the base of her slender throat and he bathed it with lips and tongue before sucking lightly, marking her. Her slender fingers curled into his shoulders, clinging, and his body shuddered, throbbing. Y'Allah, he wanted …

The heavy iron ring on the harem door scrapped and rattled against wood, and Ichigo raised his head, feeling as if he'd just surfaced after being submerged in a dark otherworldly place. He shook away his confusion and put some much-needed space between him and the princess.

With the sound of his heart pounding in his ears, Ichigo narrowed his eyes as his forgotten adversary came back into sight. What did Grimmjow think he was doing even touching that forbidden door? And what was he doing getting distracted at such a time by a woman? Even if she was a beautifully enticing woman with the body of a houri, this was still unfamiliar territory behind enemy walls and she did not belong to him. Forgetting either -for even a moment- would lead to his death.

Ichigo inwardly cursed, irritated with her in this instance as much as himself. He forced himself to calm down and watched from under lowered brows as Grimmjow swept passed with an angry swish of his cloak.

"Curse you Kurosaki."

Ichigo stiffened at the general's growl, as did the princess. Grimmjow glanced around once more, his blue gaze trying to penetrate even the densest shadows before he disappeared through the southern gate to return to the barracks.

Before the reverberations of the gate closing died away, Orihime skittered away from his tense, hard body with a hand to her racing heart. She raised her eyes to see him watching and hesitantly asked. "W-who is Kurosaki?"

Now was not the time for talk. Ichigo no longer trusted himself around her. "Go." He waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal.

"But do you know? I have questions and-" She made a move towards him and stopped at his hard look.

Did the woman not understand the precarious position she was in? She almost pushed him too far already. He could have her on her back and be between her spread thighs in a trice.

Ichigo hid those thoughts behind an impassive façade and sharply inclined his head toward the harem door when she made no move to leave. He would brook no resistance. In this, she would obey him. There were too many dangers afoot tonight, him being chief among them.

He clenched his jaw, fighting against the urge to look her way when he heard her footsteps finally move towards the door. Instead, he silently cursed himself and his still hard body. Where was his self-control? His father and others have been throwing skilled concubines and harlots at his head for years now and none tempted him as the innocent Orihime did. He didn't want to want her; he wasn't even sure he liked her. But his body was proving to be a mindless beast, and it found the princess hard to resist.

You'd better resist, or you might end up dead. He muttered before calling himself a fool as he gave into the urge to watch the princess tug at the iron-banded door. Her thin arms straining, Ichigo fought his natural inclination to help and was grateful when she pried the door open enough to slip inside.

Ichigo scooped his clothing from the flagstones with a heavy sigh and stared at the harem's closed door for a long moment before flicking his gaze to the left. He could see in his mind's eye the small door in outer wall he unlocked the other night. It really wasn't too far from where he stood now.

He clenched his shirt in his hand and shook his head and called himself a fool yet again before turning resolutely away, putting it from his mind. Ichigo didn't even question his willingness to stay.

Dashing through the shadows without looking back, his only intent was on returning to the stables before someone raised a hue and a cry over him gone missing. Then –with luck on the morrow, he could lose himself in mind numbing labor, forgetting about tonight's lack of self-control and the feel of the princess trembling sweetly in his arms.

Absorbed in his chaotic thoughts, Ichigo remained unaware of another set of eyes peering out from a nearby grove of citrus, where they had watched both the blue-haired general and the young couple with genuine interest.

~o0o~

A/N: Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read and review this story, I am truly grateful for each and every message. I'd also like to say I'm sorry for the length of time it took me to update, but as an apology, I'll have another update ready soon. It was actually part of this chapter, but one part has been giving me fits for two weeks now and I decided to just post what I had done. As a very good friend reminded me, even if it's not what I had planned, it's still an update. Such a wise woman. :)

As always, thanks for reading. ~Rairakku