Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.
A/N: No, this is not a continuation of "An Exercise in Insanity"; this is a different take on the idea. I'm not sure what I want to do with this: at first it was perfect as a one-shot, but then I just had to write the first interaction. I may write more, I may not. Depends on inspiration, I guess. Thanks for reading and reviewing :)
The first time it happened, Rukia thought it was Ichigo...at first. She had been staring out the open window, unable to sleep, listening to the deep, even breathing of the Kurosaki sisters, and remembering a time once before, when the sound of small sleepers had filled the room around her every night. Although, Renji had always snored a bit; Karin and Yuzu were quieter.
The hand on her shoulder startled her; she turned to look up at her visitor and her eyes grew wide, her open mouth was covered instantly by a large hand. It was bent over, black and yellow eyes flashing malevolently several inches away from her own.
"Hush, hush, Shinigami-chan," a voice that should not be slithered into the air around her. "Don't want to wake the girls, now."
Ichigo's hand was removed from her mouth; the other remained resting on her shoulder, grip light but powerful. "I'll kill you if you tell him," it said conversationally, "and I'll kill the girls if you try to fight me. So relax, Shinigami; come sit and talk to me!"
She let it steer her to sit on the window ledge beside it, its legs dangling above a two-storey drop, her own on the sill as she sat perpendicular to him, resting her back against the wall. She was still trying to get over her shock.
"Ichigo?" She tried, but knew as soon as she said it that it was the wrong answer to the wrong question.
"Wrong." Its face tightened for a second. "Ichigo's asleep." The orange hair contrasted strangely with the black pits of its eyes; Rukia tried not to stare, but it was hard not to: something had slipped into Ichigo's skin, and it didn't quite...fit. Like a t-shirt too small for the wearer. She realized suddenly that it wore only Ichigo's faded sleep pants; in profile she could see the faint tracery of scars over Ichigo's shoulder and the side of his chest and back.
"You know I'm a hollow," it stated; Rukia nodded mutely, how could she not? The reiatsu all around her was jagged and polluted; she wondered how she hadn't noticed it before.
It cocked its head to the side. "Then you should know that I don't have a name. Shinigami." An emotion flashed across its face, too quick for Rukia to catch it, but slow enough that she knew it had something to do with her.
Rukia frowned. What did it want? "Hollows forsake their human names the moment they lose their hearts..." A memory flitted through her mind; Inoue crying, a monster writhing in emotional agony. "Though," she amended, "if they are recognized, their names can be given back...once they become self-aware."
Black eyes regarded her. "I am self-aware," it pointed out. "I know I'm not Ichigo. I know who and what I am; I know why I came into being." It gave her a twisted smile. "I bet some people would kill to be me; I know my purpose in life. I think and feel and hate -" it cut itself off abruptly, staring out at the street.
"Could you not name yourself?" Rukia ventured. Blazing eyes turned on her full-force; it took her shoulders and slammed her back into the wall behind her, snarling into her face.
"What makes you think I want a name?"
She turned her face away in fear, from familiar features pulled into insane, irrational anger. After a moment, it let her go and sat back, brooding.
"I don't need a name." Its distorted voice sounded almost petulant, addressed to its own feet. "I have no name. No-one can take that from me."
Rukia said nothing, but fought to breathe evenly, to control her reiatsu flow so as not to wake Karin, who was the most sensitive to reiatsu and often woke if a fight was near to the house. She saw the hollow in Ichigo's body glance her way, almost surreptitiously, and wondered if she was dreaming. Black eyes and orange hair. Warm hands and cruel intentions.
They sat like that for over twenty minutes; Rukia spent the time meditating, refusing to wonder, refusing to pay attention to the growing pain across the top of her shoulders, refusing to think whether it had planned this or woken up, suddenly in control.
"Shinigami..." Its voice broke the silence; she opened her eyes and looked at it. The hollow gazed at her through Ichigo's eyes, its expression unreadable, its hand reaching over, hovering in the air between them, undecided.
"It's Rukia," she told it quietly; its fingers made a fist and it withdrew its hand reflexively, muscles shifting under skin.
"I know," it said, and then grinned at her, feral, savage. Had Ichigo's teeth always been so large? "I told you; I know why I was made."
She didn't want to delve into that one. "What are you doing here?"
It shrugged, its grin turning sly, almost conspiratorial. "Gotta have fun some time. Can't do much, though, or I'll wake him up...can't kill, or I'll wake up the old man, too."
Rukia assumed he meant Zangetsu, and was forever grateful for small mercies.
"So don't tell 'em about this. Got it?" It leaned over, bare chest brushing her kneecaps, eyes hungry, promising, threatening. Rukia gulped, and nodded until it leaned back again. "Good. I haven't talked to anyone in...well, ever. Besides Ichigo, but he doesn't count; he ain't got half a brain." It leered at Rukia.
"I suppose you have it, then." The sour words were said before she could help it; she clapped her hand over her mouth in horror.
The hollow, however, snickered, and Rukia was struck once again by the alien look of it on Ichigo's features. "Damn right I do, smartass. Take your hand away."
She did as it told her.
"You're kinda funny, Rukia," it said flippantly. "I can see why he keeps you around." It gave her a sidelong glance as she bristled at its words. "Don't be like that. That's how it works; he's more powerful than you could ever hope to be, and so you're just an accessory. Helpful, but only just. More entertaining than anything else, like I see now."
Rukia's eyes flashed in anger. "I taught him everything he knows," she growled, fear forgotten. How dare it!
"Even bankai?" It raised an eyebrow mockingly. Rukia glared mutinously. "I thought not. Yet he keeps you around anyway. I was interested; I wanted to meet you, to see what he found so fascinating about you, why he keeps you around even though he's settled his debt with you."
Rukia was too furious to say anything, and the hollow continued, its voice malicious, aware that it was provoking her.
"Don't worry, Rukia-chan. Once I'm in control - for good, cause once he wakes up, I'll be gone again - I may keep you around, too. I think I see what he does in you...but as for the rest of them, they can go." It waved its hand dismissively. "I don't really see a need for friends and family. Drags one down."
"You would think that," Rukia spat; this time, its eyes darkened considerably.
"Yeah." It shot back, wrapping its hand around her ankle and yanking, "I would think that, actually."
Rukia stifled a yelp as it dragged her forcibly over to where it sat; she found herself sitting in its lap, arms pinned to her sides by its powerful hands on her upper arms. Without warning, it shoved its hands forwards: Rukia dangled, helpless, two stories in the air, afraid to scream, unable to fight.
"What good are friends and family now?" The hollow hissed at her; its grip was like iron bands around her arms. When she didn't answer, it shook her slightly. "Huh? Huh? Is your brother gonna come save you? Are your friends gonna come running to your rescue? Who's gonna stop me, even if you had the guts to scream?"
Rukia remained wordless. She'd been hazed at the Academy; she'd been given grief over her family before; she'd been given empty threats many times before. And so she remained silent, until she could feel Ichigo's arms shaking, until the hollow drew her back, until she sat between Ichigo's legs, Ichigo's chest at her back, Ichigo's arms draped loosely around her shoulders, Ichigo's lips near her ear, the hollow's voice buzzing through her mind with all the wrong words.
"Stop it," she whispered.
"Never," it said, voice wicked and self-indulgent; she cringed away from the heat of its breath, from the feel of Ichigo's body, solid around her. It should have been comforting.
"Let me go." She said, pushing its left arm away from her. To her surprise, it let her go, following her suit as she clambered back in to the room, and walking with her to her bedside. She sat down; it moved to the door.
"Until next time, Rukia," its voice was light; the soft glow from the small hallway nightlight highlighted a swathe of Ichigo's chest and a stripe of face. Its eyes glinted. "Remember...don't tell..."
She did not sleep for a very long time after it had left.