Author's note: I decided that ending was lame and rewrote it. XD Sorry again!
The monastery existed inside Ichigo's inner world.
It hadn't before, not really. A lot of the inner Karakura town was sketchy, reflecting all the places Ichigo had never seen or cared about. The monastery had been one of those places, a simple etching of a building. Now, it was different. Shiro cared deeply and he knew every inch of the place. Ichigo's inner world reflected that now.
The white hollow prowled the empty halls, his hair flowing in the endless water. He stopped in the kitchen, opening a cupboard and taking out a teacup. He looked into the empty little piece of china for a moment, thinking about all the times he used it. Then he put it back, carefully closing the door.
He looked into Tataki's room, glancing over the small collection of glass animals sitting on the dresser. He stopped in Nakao's room, where everything was perfectly neat. Even the hamster cage was there and Shiro rested a hand on the bars, looking inside. It was filled with shavings and even had a bowl of food pellets, but Hermes wasn't there. Finally, he visited his own room. His messy bed, the blankets still speckled with blood, were exactly how he'd left them. The painting was there and Shiro picked up the brushes, trying to complete it. But any paint he tried to add quickly washed away.
Setting down the brushes, the hollow gazed at the painting for a moment, his eyes blank and his mind far away. Then he shook his head and turned away. He left the building, walked through the courtyard then paused at the gate, glancing over the gardens. Then he stepped outside, closing the gate firmly behind him.
He would not come back again.
Shiro sat on the edge of the roof of the tallest building in Karakura town. An old clock tower, Ichigo had never climbed it. But the stairs were still there, probably because he assumed there would be stairs. Shiro didn't need to take the stairs, but he had. The simple act of walking almost made him feel alive again.
"Shiro." The hollow glanced up at the quiet voice and smiled as he saw Zangetsu. The old man was looking at him with a solemn expression. "Are you well?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." He said indifferently. "I could be worse." He added as Zangetsu just looked at him. The zanpakuto nodded and took a seat beside him. "Hm?" That was slightly surprising. Zanpakuto in general were very solitary and Zangetsu was typical of that. They could go for weeks without speaking, and Shiro tried to give the zanpakuto his space.
"I am glad you are back. This place seemed empty without you." Zangetsu said and Shiro blinked before giving the zanpakuto a small smile. That was sort of touching. "I'm sure Ichigo will be here to see you soon."
"Mmm, you think?" Shiro knew Ichigo was very busy at the moment. It had been two days since his 'death' and he and his shinigami friends were working hard at convincing everyone that Shiro had been knifed by a thief he'd surprised in the act. It was proving to be very hard going. Several of the novices had been in the process of catching spiritual awareness off of him, and Ken was proving to be incredibly resistant to memory alterations. Apparently, he'd absorbed something during the demon's attack and he was definitely seeing ghosts and hollows now. It was all a complete pain in the ass for the shinigami and Shiro thought it was rather amusing.
However, he wasn't really sure how he felt about Ichigo coming to see him. His feelings about the teenager had changed. There was no doubt about that. Shiro felt much better about his place as the King's Horse, now. Ichigo had really looked at him, something he'd never done before. They'd shown each other honesty and trust. However… Shiro dropped his head, looking at his hands. He was trapped in Ichigo's inner world. He wouldn't be able to go skateboarding with him again. They couldn't hunt hollows together, they couldn't go to the movies, they couldn't do any of the normal things that Shiro had been coming to enjoy.
"Of course." Zangetsu said, a little surprised by Shiro's half-question. "Ichigo has been quite worried about you. You haven't been listening?"
"No." Shiro sighed, watching the bubbles rising through the water. "I just took a few looks when they went to the monastery." And then he'd wished he hadn't. Funny or not, seeing his old home hurt him in ways he could hardly describe. "Guess I should go see what he's doing." Now that Zangetsu had mentioned it, Shiro wasn't surprised that Ichigo would be concerned. Normally, he watched events through the teen's eyes all the time and made plenty of comments. His strange lack of attention had to be driving Ichigo nuts.
"That might be good." Zangetsu said and Shiro smiled before turning his attention inwards. It was always a strange feeling, sort of a push and a pull combined, but it let him gaze out from Ichigo's eyes. Right now, the teen was at school, eating his lunch. It included a brownie and Shiro couldn't help the wave of sadness that hit him. He knew Ichigo could feel it. The teen suddenly froze.
"Shiro?" He said under his breath and the hollow hesitated a moment before responding.
Yeah. Sorry… Zangetsu said you were worried about me. I'm fine. He said, even though he knew his emotions would be making it seem like a lie. But it wasn't, really. He was well enough.
"You don't feel fine. What's wrong?" Ichigo asked and the hollow tried to think of what to say. Everything would be the truth, but it wouldn't be a helpful truth.
I miss chocolate. He finally said. That simple thing seemed to encompass the whole of his sorrow and he thought that Ichigo would understand. The teen swallowed hard and Shiro thought he'd gotten the message.
"Shiro, can you taste it through me?" He asked and the hollow was slightly surprised. Ichigo had never offered anything like that before. But then, it did involve trust, which had been sadly lacking in their relationship.
Yes, we can do that. But it means you have to give up a bit of control. He warned and the teen nodded, unsurprised. Remember how it felt when we worked together against the demon? It's a bit like that. Then Shiro concentrated on reaching out. Again, it was like offering a hand and having it taken. Shiro's awareness of Ichigo's body increased to the point that he could feel the chair beneath him, feel it as Ichigo picked up the brownie and took a bite. He was still a passive passenger, but if he fought now there was a good chance he could change that, if only briefly.
The thought didn't even tempt him. Instead, Shiro simply enjoyed the brownie. It was one of Yuzu's, he could tell. When lunch was finished he gently let go, retreating a bit but still looking through Ichigo's eyes. Thanks. He murmured, still feeling sad but… a bit less so.
"It was nothing." Ichigo murmured, keeping his voice down as other students passed by. He was eating outside, no surprise on such a wonderful day. "I want to talk to you. I'll come visit you tonight, okay?" He said and Shiro chuckled.
Anytime King. We are always at your service. His tone was gently mocking and Ichigo snorted.
"As if!" He said but it was friendly banter and Shiro chuckled before retreating back to his inner world. Zangetsu was gone – it was hard to say how long he'd been sitting there, time in the inner world was often warped – but Shiro didn't mind.
He honestly felt a bit better now.
"Shiro, unh!" Ichigo moaned as his hollow placed a hand on his stomach.
The last thing he'd expected when he entered his inner world was for Shiro to immediately go down on him. But his inner hollow hadn't even given him time to speak before shoving him against a wall and kissing him, hard. He'd tried to protest but that had died very quickly when Shiro began putting his mouth on him.
That mouth was doing sinful things to him and Ichigo groaned, his head falling back. Under his pleasure was worry – this was far too fast, something had to be wrong – but he couldn't concentrate on it. He ran his fingers through thick white hair, wordlessly urging Shiro on.
He managed to pant out a warning just before sparks flashed over his eyes and he gasped as he felt the suction of Shiro's mouth on his member, sucking and swallowing his cum.
"What… was that for?" He managed to say as his hollow stood, their bodies tightly pressed together. Shiro gave him a grin before kissing him firmly on the lips.
"For trusting me… King." He said as they parted and Ichigo blinked at the tone. Before, when Shiro had called him that, it had been full of mockery and hatred. Now it sounded intimate yet oddly sad. Ichigo studied Shiro's face for a moment before reaching out to gently touch his cheek. Yellow and black eyes looked at him in puzzlement before he spoke.
"Shiro, I'm sorry." He said softly and grief flashed through those strange eyes. It was gone quickly and Shiro gave him a brittle smile.
"Nothing to be sorry about. It just had to be. And I'll take the fish bowl over being demon food any day." Shiro said lightly and Ichigo chuckled before reaching down to do up his pants. They were threatening to fall off his hips. "Would you like to spar?" He asked and Ichigo stared in surprise.
"Spar? We can do that?" His hollow had never suggested that before. But then, that had been when they were busy hating each other. Shiro nodded.
"We always could. And it might be good for you to fight against someone other than Zangetsu. He's good, but we fight differently." He said and Ichigo suddenly understood. Before, his Shiro wouldn't have wanted to let him examine his fighting style, give him any kind of advantage in their fights for dominance. Now, it was like he didn't care. Ichigo wasn't sure how he felt about that.
"Are you okay Shiro?" He said softly, meeting black and gold eyes for a moment. Then his hollow huffed out a soft breath.
"What do you expect, King? I'm as good as I can be, considering I just lost my life, all my friends, pretty much everything I care about." Ichigo flinched and Shiro touched his shoulder. "It's fine King. I told you, it had to be. And I've still got you and Zangetsu." He said, trying to put the best face on it. Ichigo was touched and a bit surprised to hear his hollow putting him in the same category as his zanpakuto. He knew they were close.
"Sure. We can spar." He said and his hollow flashed him a quick smile. Ichigo wished he could make the sadness, the wound in those strange eyes go away. Maybe a good spar would help him forget for a while.
The two of them left to find a good, flat surface, oblivious to Zangetsu watching over them approvingly.
It was Isshin's birthday today. Ichigo watched with a smile as his dad tried valiantly to blow out over forty candles. He knew his dad was actually a shinigami, so if they'd used the right amount of candles it would have required a sheet cake. It was already pretty impressive.
That'd be asking to set the curtains on fire. His hollow commented and Ichigo grinned. Shiro had gradually gone back to his usual, sarcastic self and it felt good to have him back. And tell him to stop spitting on the cake, that's just nasty.
"Dad! Stop spitting on the cake." Karin snapped and Ichigo almost cracked up. His hollow burst into laughter. Isshin stopped with a wounded look.
"But my daughters! I wanted to make a wish…. Ah. Too late." There were still a bunch of candles lit. "But I already have my fondest wish! My beautiful family." He said with teary eyes and Ichigo shook his head with a smile. His dad could be so sappy sometimes.
He waited until after Yuzu and Karin had given their presents before bringing his out. He knew it would be the best, and he didn't want to detract from what they had given. He was holding the painting backwards, and carefully turned it around so they could all see.
Ichigo had hardly ever seen his father look so completely stunned. Yuzu and Karin were shocked into silence, both staring at the painting. He could feel Shiro's pride at his work, and also a faint sadness. It made him wish that his hollow could be here, sharing this moment with them.
I am. I'm right here. Shiro's whisper was almost inaudible. Then his father gently took the painting, gazing at it for a moment, tears slowly filling his eyes.
"It is… priceless… Ichigo, this is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me." Isshin said and Ichigo smiled before hugging his father from the side. Yuzu was wiping her eyes now as she sniffled and Karin was just staring at the picture as if she was trying to memorize it. "Thank you."
"Happy birthday dad." He murmured before letting go. Isshin began plotting out where to put the painting as his sister's went to him.
"Ichi, where did you get it?" Yuzu asked, quietly in awe. Ichigo hesitated a moment before going with something close to the truth.
"You remember that kid at the monastery, the one who was attacked by a thief?" He said a touch awkwardly. He knew his hollow wasn't too happy with that cover story, but Shiro didn't complain. "He did it from me from that old photo of mom."
Close enough. Shiro murmured and Ichigo smiled to himself. The hollow was loosening up a bit about the truth. Karin gave him a skeptical look.
"How did you pay for it?" She asked and Ichigo had a good response for that. It was even the truth.
"I traded him some things and a night at the movies. He was a novice so he couldn't accept money anyway." He said and Karin gave him a searching look as Yuzu blinked.
"It sounds like he was your friend. Are you going to go to the service?" She asked and Ichigo froze as he felt a bolt of pain from Shiro. The funeral service. He hadn't been planning to attend because, well, none of the monks really knew him. But he hadn't thought to ask Shiro if he wanted to go… wanted to attend his own funeral.
No. That's the past. I don't want to look back. Shiro said firmly. Ichigo nodded to himself. That was probably a healthy way to look at it. Then he turned his attention back to his sisters.
"No, we'd just met. I don't want to intrude." He said and they both nodded.
Shiro was right. There was no point in looking back.
"Zangetsu?" Shiro said, watching his hair move idly in the water. He was sitting on the clock tower again. It was his new favorite place, and the zanpakuto had joined him here. "What's going on?" The underwater world seemed to be changing.
Things did change in Ichigo's inner world. At first the place had been towering skyscrapers, signifying his hopes and dreams. But they had also been largely empty. To Shiro the world had seemed unfinished. Zangetsu had enlightened him about why… Ichigo had been very nearly a child when he first came into his powers. A brave and powerful young man, to be sure, but still very young. The sketchiness of his inner world had been a reflection of his lack of experience.
Now his inner world was Karakura town, which made the zanpakuto slightly sad. It meant Ichigo had lost much of his hope and had settled more into reality, but it also meant he had matured. He was beginning to find his adult self, and the changes in his inner world reflected that.
Now, it seemed the inner world was shifting again. Shiro glanced towards the west side of town. Ichigo had never really gone there, which was perhaps why it had been the start of the change. There were larger buildings there, places that did not correspond to anything in Karakura Town. They weren't soaring skyscrapers but they were interesting and Shiro had gone to take a look. He'd discovered that they were old looking buildings made of warm stone, covered in ivy. They reminded him of an old university, not that he really knew what a university looked like.
"Ichigo is regaining his hope in the future." Zangetsu sounded happy and Shiro tilted his head. "He will be going to university soon." Shiro blinked in surprise, then laughed. The zanpakuto gave him a quizzical glance.
"Sorry. I was just thinkin' that those new buildings looked like an old university. So that's it, hey? He's remembering his dreams." Shiro smiled almost fondly. That was good, his King should have hopes and dreams.
"He's looking towards the future. Will you be part of it?" The zanpakuto asked him seriously and Shiro cocked an eyebrow at him. That was a strange question.
"What choice do I have? I'm part of him." He pointed out and the old man nodded.
"But you can be more than you are now. Shiro, you are at a turning point as well." He said and Shiro frowned, not understanding what he was referring to. "Before, you and Ichigo rejected each other and fought for dominance. Now, you are coming to accept each other. Shiro, if you wish, you can remain a hollow. Or you can choose another path."
"What are you talking about? I am a hollow old man!" He snapped, beginning to feel unsettled. He didn't like where this was going. "That can't change." He said mulishly and Zangetsu smiled.
"You're right, it can't." He agreed and Shiro felt a bit of relief. "But you can change. If you give your power fully to Ichigo and accept him as your King, without reservation, you will change. You will become a kind of zanpakuto." Shiro blinked at the thought. "One based in hollow power but a zanpakuto nonetheless."
"…" Shiro looked towards the new buildings, feeling a strange conflict in his heart. He should be rejecting this idea out of hand. His instinct was to devour Ichigo and take his body for himself. But he was more than instincts now and he was becoming genuinely fond of his King. They'd made love many, many times since the first time. Shiro was uncomfortably aware that he probably couldn't bring himself to strike Ichigo down now. Sleeping with someone and then killing them was like lying, but worse. It was lying with actions rather than words and he was repulsed by the thought. "You're asking me to give up my dreams." His dream was to have a life again. The memories he had of his brief life were so bittersweet. Zangetsu said nothing. What was there to say? "I'll think about it." He finally said and Zangetsu nodded.
That was all he could ask.
Shiro looked at Ichigo, considering his options.
Ichigo was in his inner world, taking a nap as his physical body also took a nap. His head was resting in his hollow's lap and Shiro smiled as he played with the soft orange strands. His King didn't stir at all, dead to the world on a fine Sunday morning. But Shiro wanted to talk to him and after waiting a decent amount of time he gently shook his shoulder.
"Hm?" Ichigo opened his eyes lazily and Shiro smiled at the sleepy look on his face. "Shiro? What is it?" He asked with a yawn. "I was dreaming about you." He murmured and Shiro lost his smile. That made him feel serious again.
"I have enough power to challenge you again." He said it simply and Ichigo went still, his eyes opening wide. "I really want to, you know?" He was dying to have a life again. Ichigo frowned and sat up, pulling away from him. Shiro let him go. It was the sensible response when someone had just said they wanted to kill you. "But I don't think I could." The determined look that was building in Ichigo's eyes gave way to confusion, then thoughtfulness as he spotted the sadness in his hollow.
"Because you like me now?" He asked and Shiro smiled. That was a cute, human way to put it.
"We're mates now. It goes against my instincts to devour my mate." That was true. Shiro knew that hollows tended to be monogamous. It wasn't perfect – the strong did what they wanted, so rape was fairly common – but when hollows developed an emotional connection it was not a small thing. It made him wonder. Could he have forged a bond with Grimmjow, or would that have just been a one time thing? Putting that thought aside he turned his attention back to Ichigo. The teen was looking a little wide eyed.
"Mates? I guess we are…" He murmured. "I would have called us lovers though." He said with a blush. Shiro grinned. That was the human way to put it. "What are you going to do?" He asked seriously and from the look on his face Ichigo understood his dilemma. It went against his instincts to devour his mate, but his instincts also demanded that he take over this body.
"I'm going to take Zangetsu's advice." Shiro said before hugging the teen. His hair spilled over Ichigo's shoulder, a curtain of silky white. "Do you accept me, King?" He asked as Ichigo's arms went around him. Warm lips pressed against the curve of his jawline.
"Yes, I accept you." Ichigo murmured and Shiro felt something inside himself shift. He breathed a slow sigh as he surrendered his dream.
"Then I accept you… King." He said and felt the connection happen. A settling of Ichigo's soul, a mending of a long open wound. Ichigo could feel it too and his grip tightened, his hand tugging on Shiro's jacket.
"What was that?" He asked and Shiro just didn't feel up to explaining.
"You'll find out in time." He murmured. Although he wouldn't wait very long to let Ichigo know.
He would need time to adapt to using two weapons.