Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any other copyrighted material.

The Ritual

By: Princess Kitty1

Orihime Inoue lay upon the floor of her one-bedroom apartment, her half-lidded gray eyes focused on a single uninteresting spot above her, red hair spilling below her in waves. Her arm lifted, the back of her hand delicately resting on her forehead, as if to shield her eyes from the sun. Somewhere in the distance, she heard a bird singing through the open window. The silly thing had chosen to make its nest on the roof, but she didn't mind the sound; it was like listening to life itself, trying to discern the drama of the bird and its mate. She closed her eyes, sucking in the humid spring air through her nose. Rain had fallen recently, inflicting her slice of the world an oppressive mugginess that caused her tank top to cling to her sticky skin. But even this, she did not complain about. There was no way to stop nature from running its course, just as there was no way of stopping what was coming next.

Orihime turned onto her stomach, her hair falling to one side and moving sluggishly over her shoulder, leaving her back exposed. And there she felt it; the presence of another, his body heat so dangerously close to hers. Pale palms lay flat on the floor, trapping her between the two strong arms that had, unconsciously, become synonymous with safety. She had never been afraid of them, even as she had witnessed those arms working to destroy the people she cared for. It had simply never occurred to her that he could use that strength to do as he'd threatened: to rip open her chest, to break her skull. Words spoken from his very own mouth, and yet she hadn't believed them.

The mouth that now descended, pressing into the space between her bare shoulder blades, trailing upwards. She let out a soft sigh and closed her eyes, knowing better than to move. She might have tried, once upon a time when this had first begun, only to be trapped beneath the intensity of his emerald eyes. And she had gazed at him questioningly, as if to ask why he would not let her go. He'd stated that he had been careless and allowed her to escape him once; he would not have it happen a second time.

The pain that those words had caused her was enough to kill what little desire she had to leave.

Her eyes opened again, now fixed on the pattern of the carpeted floor. Things had been so calm after the war, almost annoyingly so. On days when she was truly bored, she exercised her imagination by trying to see pictures or messages in the rug. He would ask her what she was doing, and she would blink once, replying that she wasn't sure. He was coming to realize that she was a tad bit eccentric.

But that was alright; he could be considered the same – at least in her eyes. At first, she did not understand his reasoning for why, after a short time of living with her, he had felt compelled to start up this ritual. It happened at least once a week: they would come home from school, from the market, from the laundry downstairs; and suddenly she would find herself on the floor, on the sofa, against the wall. Always between some surface and his hard body, subject to his scrutiny, feeling completely naked despite being fully clothed. He had a real talent for seeing right through her. It would have been eerie, had she not acknowledged that this man, in the time of her imprisonment, had come to know a side of her rarely seen by even her closest companions. He was still getting used to her lighthearted side, but he usually reacted to her antics with the same degree of indifference that radiated from him as he channel-surfed on weekends.

No, the heart that now beat within his chest hadn't changed much at all… on the surface.

Sometimes she found herself wondering how her friends would react to this aspect of their relationship. If one of them were to walk in right now, they would probably attack him, force him off of her. They wouldn't understand. But Orihime didn't mind. She tilted her head to the side, offering the creamy skin of her neck to his wandering lips, her heart thundering within her ribcage. Ah, yes, no one would get it. She likened his treatment of her to that of an affectionate pet, desiring to leave their scent everywhere, driving off potential threats from their beloved masters. And like the affectionate pet, he was infinitely loyal, placing neither meaning nor importance into anything that did not involve her. He would never hurt her, powerful as he was. She could trust him to touch her, knowing that she would not break, for if he were to accidentally leave even the smallest mark on her skin, he would inflict a more painful one upon himself. And if she were to ask him to stop, he would do so immediately, without question.

It was rather fun, being the queen of his life.

Mostly, though, she left him to his freedom, despite the fact that she could easily govern his actions; he would not mind. Whenever she spoke with Kurosaki-kun or Ishida, and she happened to sense his reiatsu flare, she would send him a warning glare that would quickly put him in his place. But she did not like to do this often. After all, she preferred to think of them as equals. He was just as strong as she was, challenging her thoughts and actions when he could not wrap his rational mind around them. He had his say in anything and everything. It was a very comfortable arrangement.

And now she was on her back again, looking not at the ceiling, but into his eyes. She recalled the first time he had gazed upon her so fiercely. He'd been irritated, she could tell, and when she asked him why, he hesitated for the first time since she had come to know him. Then he had lifted a hand to his chest, his palm flat against skin where there had once been a gaping hole. He told her that he wasn't certain, but he felt discomfort there, like a hand was clenching the source of life that she had created within him. It was threatening; he did not enjoy it in the slightest.

At the time, she had fleetingly recalled a similar experience when she had seen Kurosaki-kun talking to Rukia so freely, an unspoken affection charging the air between them. Yes, she knew the feeling well. So she had given a name to his discomfort: jealousy. But he hadn't understood that, either.

Instinct, he knew well. Emotion… that one was taking a while.

This was why it hadn't surprised her when, after some weeks of this not-so-mysterious behavior, he had whispered into her ear, "Want me to tell you a secret?" His voice had been low, deadly serious, as if trying to convey the importance of his message, the reason behind the ritual. "I lust for everything about you, woman."

Ah, but that was a good thing in his limited language, she thought as she lifted her hand to cup his pale cheek, her thumb tracing the line that still ran from the bottom of his eye to the edge of his jaw. He then lowered himself out of her grasp until his mouth found the other side of her neck, soft kisses leaving his trace on her skin. She could practically hear the word with every caress: mine – kiss – mine –kiss – all mine. He was laying claim to her, warding off the competition. She was his, and that would never change.

How she felt about this, she had yet to decide. Certainly she was not angry with him. Two months ago he had received her first kiss, a precious gift that she had almost handed to a boy who had never given her the time of day, whereas this man saw nothing but her. How silly she had been back then.

Her breathing became unsteady as his hands slipped beneath the hem of her shirt, fingers softly tickling her abdomen, feeling the dip of her waist, then following the slope of her curves and smoothing over every inch of skin that wasn't covered in clothing. His eyes never left her face as he touched her, which always made her feel embarrassed. Here she was, completely vulnerable and caught in a compromising position, with no willpower to move away, to tell him to stop, and he stared so openly.

Ah, but there was no time to worry about that. This was the part where things usually got fuzzy, clouded in some pleasant, rosy haze. His lips brushed against hers, scattering most of her thoughts. It was the last part of the ritual, the signature at the bottom of the page. He kissed her again, more firmly, but in a manner that lasted one stupefying second before he pulled back, only to repeat the action. And gradually, the length of time increased that he would keep his mouth on hers, curious and anxious to investigate. Her lips moved with his slowly, igniting within her a passion that nothing had ever made her feel, and nobody but him ever would. Their mouths molded together, desperate and seeking, her hands coming up to tangle into his black hair and pull him closer. Then his probing tongue flickered across her bottom lip and the rest of her thoughts were lost to oblivion. She could never be sure how long these kisses lasted; time seemed to melt away the moment her lips parted for him, a soft moan escaping her throat as he explored her mouth, challenging her dominance over his life with his dominance over her body.

Five seconds until she regained control… and his tongue wrestled with hers, causing heat to coil in her center. Four seconds… and her nails raked down his muscled back gently. Three seconds… and she whispered his name before he captured her mouth again. Two seconds… and he sucked on her bottom lip, eliciting another soft moan from her. One second… and he pressed into her, letting her know just how badly he wanted her.

"Enough," she panted against his lips, and he withdrew without a moment's hesitation.

Orihime struggled to regain her breath, taking in shallow gulps of the thick, humid air. The bird had started singing again – had it ever stopped? – and the sounds of cars puttering past on a nearby street reached her slightly ringing ears. Her half-lidded eyes fixed themselves on the ceiling, but she was all too aware of the presence of her human-esque lover; the hollow with a heart, who had once believed life to be meaningless, but recently claimed that the purpose of one's life was up to their own desires, and what he desired was her. She pulled herself up from the floor, her gray eyes taking in the sight of the man whose jealousy had manifested itself in this ritual that no one but her could possibly understand. His head was turned away from her, his breathing nice and even, his back straight against the couch.

She crawled forward on hands and knees until she reached him, waiting for him to look at her. This was the part where he considered being ashamed of his behavior, then remembered that he had no reason to be. It lasted about a minute, then he would turn his gaze to her again, and she would take the opportunity to slide onto his lap. She leaned into his chest, her forehead resting against his collarbone, where she would place a kiss to reassure him that she wasn't angry. Then those arms, strong enough to rip her limbs from their sockets, would slip around her waist with both the gentleness of one handling an infant and the firmness of one holding onto the entire world. Listening to his quickened heartbeat, she would smile and close her eyes, proud that she could say that she had never been afraid of him.

It was the lust that this ritual evoked, always lurking beneath her skin, that was so utterly terrifying.

The End

A/N: Short and sweet, ne? It was fun to write. Now I will be writing one more one-shot (a Halloween themed horror story!) before returning to finish Muse. I hope you enjoyed this. :D

/Princess Kitty1/