queenofchalices: (Dragon Cuisine OMM NOM NOM!)
[personal profile] queenofchalices
Title: Moon Over the Tower: Chapter Two
Series: Bleach
Rating: R
Warnings: het (IchiHime), blood, scariness. Should be read with the lights off.
Spoilers: This is AU. We don't need spoilers where we're going.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to a lot of Japanese people, namely people like Tite Kubo and Shonen Jump. You'll notice how none of those are me. The LiveJournal format that you'll probably be reading this in (if you're one of my friends) is rough draft and is subject to revision. Consider this a 'sneak peek'. If something sits the wrong way with you, let me know. This will probably (never) be updated weekly, until I eventually drop it like every other project ever. Not responsible for epileptic seizures or allergic reactions. May contain eye-and-brain-bleeding levels of radioactive ANGST and/or peanut products. Please sit a reasonable distance from your computer screen.

Author’s Note: This is coming along faster than I thought it would! Which is good, maybe I’ve found a new way to update fics that’ll take less time than the old way! Either way, please enjoy this new chapter!

As a note, I'm going to be away from my computer over Christmas, so you'll have to wait a while for chapter three. I'll still be able to work on it with my BlackBerry, I just won't be able to upload until I get home again.

Orihime stared straight ahead, her hands clutched tightly together. She was perched on the edge of the massive bed she'd been given, her feet barely grazing the floor. She felt something like a princess in a fairy story; the main difference being that she wasn't entirely sure how romantic this story could be.

As soon as the Count had told her what he wanted, she'd been shuffled off to the large room he'd arranged for her. Her new quarters were larger than her entire house; the bed she'd been given was as big as two of the one she had back home. She had been assigned a maid servant, a black-haired girl named Tatsuki who was close to her own age. Tatsuki had lit the large fireplace across the room from Orihime's bed, filling the room with light and warmth and chasing some of the damp chill out of the cold stone room.

Now, even though she was sleepy and Tatsuki had given her a fine linen night shrift to wear, she couldn't get to sleep. It wasn't that she was afraid; no, this castle was built like a fortress, and something told her that for as gruff as the Count looked, he wouldn't allow any harm to come to her. It was just that her mind was crowded with the night's confusing events.

Putting aside the eerie eyes she'd seen during her carriage ride - she was certain whatever it was couldn't reach her here - there was the matter of why she was called here in the first place. The explanation she had been given was quite perfunctory and succinct. The Count needed her to pretend to be his fiancee to get his father off his back. The older Marquis Kurosaki had been pressuring him to find a wife for some time and had given him until Christmastide to do so. As soon as his father left at the beginning of the new year, Orihime would be free to return to her normal life in the village with her sister; the Count would tell his father she'd had a tragic accident, thus giving him a convenient excuse to avoid the topic further in the future.

This was all a bit intimidating to Orihime. She was a simple village girl with few fine manners and a flighty imagination. Tatsuki had been tasked with giving her instructions in etiquette, but the presence of a man older and more powerful than the Count himself would surely intimidate her into complete silence.

And then there was the matter of the Count himself. He was tall and imposing and devastatingly handsome. As pointless as she knew it was - her entire reason for being here was so he could get out of being married - she couldn't help but feel attracted to him. She'd never had this kind of reaction to any of the boys in town, so why was the Count different? Just the idea of talking to him was enough to make her stomach feel like it was trying to turn itself inside-out.

Then there was the castle itself. Although Ishida had assured her there was no need for a fire in the great hall, surely the Count would've had one in his study. And she'd had to ask Tatsuki for one of her own. It was as if they didn't feel cold at all! Orihime couldn't understand it at all; with the bitter mountain weather, how could they not need fires? Unless they were some kind of ghosts, in which case she was sure they wouldn't even be able to handle the firewood to build a fire in the first place.

She had also been instructed not to roam the castle with abandon. The Count had personally forbidden her from coming into his rooms and had told her to stick mostly to her own for the time being. In particular, he didn't want her out of her rooms alone after dark. The reason he'd given was that if his staff was asleep and if she happened to get lost or injured, she would have no help. On the other hand, she was permitted in his library, in the great hall, and in the dining room; when asked if she could see the kitchen sometime, he also reluctantly agreed. Aside from that, though, Orihime was much too shy to want to steal into his private quarters, so that all worked out without much fuss. Still, it helped to reemphasize that even though she was a guest here for the next month, she was still just a commoner.

In any event, she would begin training with Tatsuki first thing in the morning. By evening, she should be fit to at least have dinner in a respectable manner. Orihime nodded to herself with determination; she would do her best and then return to Rangiku none the worse for wear. She pulled her legs up and slid beneath the comforter on her bed, tucking herself in neatly. If she could just quell her excitement, she could get to sleep.


"Well? Say something."

The black-haired man with the monocle allowed the edge of his lip to pull up into something almost resembling a grin. Ever since the village girl had left the study, his master had been sullenly pacing the length of the room.

"What do you want me to say?" the redheaded man replied gruffly.

Uryuu watched him intently. He had known Ichigo Kurosaki for years; ever since his birth, he'd been destined to serve the Kurosaki family. In that time, he'd come to be able to read Ichigo's moods, no matter how sullen he became. And right now, he was heavily agitated. It didn't take any special knowledge to figure that out. No, the important part was why.

"You know, if you want to back out, I can always take her back to the village," Uryuu said, removing his monocle to clean it on his coat sleeve, "It's not as if she belongs here anyway." Ichigo stopped pacing long enough to cast him an exasperated glare.

"No," Ichigo said firmly, "I'm not backing out. I'm not going to let that old man force me into a marriage I don't want." Now it was Uryuu's turn to look wearily at Ichigo.

"Why do you protest so much, anyway?" the valet asked, "You already know he'd pick the Marquise Kuchiki. It isn't as though the two of you aren't already close." Ichigo froze, an unreadable look flitting across his brown eyes.

"Would you want to tell her she was going to be my wife?" Ichigo asked skeptically. Uryuu suddenly realized his mistake; that look in Ichigo's eyes had been fear.

"Good point," he conceded. Uryuu knew very well what Ichigo was driving at.

Ichigo had been close friends with the Marquise, Rukia, since they were children. She was always quite willful and independent and ruthless when she wanted her way. And that was the sticking point.

Ichigo and Uryuu were both well aware that Rukia had no intentions of being married off for political purposes. In fact, Ichigo had been known to spread rumors of her bloodthirsty nature from time to time as a favor to her, to keep the suitors at bay. Nothing would make a man reconsider a marriage proposal faster than the prospect of no longer having the means to perform his marital duties.

Ichigo had his own pride to think of, as well. He and Uryuu were well aware that Rukia had her heart set on her brother's valet, and had for some time now. How her brother, the Marquis of Kuchiki, allowed that dalliance, Uryuu didn't know, but he knew Ichigo didn't want the headache of being cuckolded before he was even married.

And neither man was entirely sure that Rukia wouldn't make those unpleasant rumors a reality if he tried to pursue a marriage with her. They weren't inclined to find out either way.

And unfortunately for his father, Ichigo had no inclination to go hunting down a bride, either. Which left Uryuu where he now found himself; watching his hard-headed master pace over his course of action.

"Why did you have to pick someone like... like that?!" Ichigo finally blurted out, causing Uryuu to arch an eyebrow.

"You told me to pick someone your father would like," Uryuu replied calmly. Ichigo simply snorted.

"I didn't mean for you to pick someone that reminds me of my mother," Ichigo shot back sharply.

Now it was Uryuu's turn to be incredulous. While the village girl bore a superficial resemblance to the Marquise Kurosaki, it was only in the vaguest detail. They were both generously curvy, both light-complected, and both had an honest, open air about them; it was for that reason that he had chosen her in the first place. He knew it was those same qualities that had endeared Ichigo's father to his mother, but he hadn't actually thought they were strong enough to remind Ichigo of her.

Suddenly, Uryuu realized what Ichigo's problem was. Yes, the girl reminded Ichigo vaguely of his mother, but that wouldn't be enough to cause him this much discomfort. He must have been attracted to her on some level to elicit that kind of reaction from him. It was definitely a new, unsettling feeling for his master, he was sure.

"I honestly don't think there's that much similarity, lord," Uryuu noted cooly, "Just enough that your father will be pleased and won't ask too many questions." Ichigo huffed, but was finally still. After a long silence, he spoke again.

"She smells good," he said quietly, his voice a low rumble now. Uryuu couldn't resist the opportunity to needle his master a bit more.

"I believe it is just you, sire," he replied, knowing it would draw Ichigo's ire, "I hadn't noticed, personally." That wasn't exactly true; the girl did have a pleasant, attractive smell about her. She was clearly still fresh and innocent. It was hard to miss. Either way, it got Ichigo's hackles up again, which made the corners of Uryuu's mouth strain to tug upward.

"Don't be stupid," Ichigo murmured, "I know you can smell her, too." He had begun to occupy himself with his window, folding his arms behind his back as he surveyed his dark castle's courtyard. He refused to meet Uryuu's eyes; it didn't go unnoticed by the black-haired man. His small smirk faded.

"If it bothers you that much, avoid her," Uryuu said, feeling a chill for the first time in years, "You won't have to see her much over the next month, if at all. Just introduce her to your father and let her go." He had a bad feeling as to why Ichigo was discussing this with him now. It only got worse as he waited for Ichigo to respond.

"I'd like to avoid what happened with the Kurotsuchi girl," Ichigo finally said softly, “Or with Tatsuki.” He knew the first incident was a sensitive topic with Uryuu; even now, the black-haired man froze at the mention of it. The second one hadn’t been very pleasant, either. He felt his throat go dry at those unpleasant memories. He swallowed down a lump before he spoke again.

"Do you... trust yourself that little?" Uryuu finally asked, his voice strained. Ichigo cast him a look full of subtle pity over his shoulder. It left a bitter taste in Uryuu's mouth.

"You know how I can get when..." Ichigo said, looking away again as he trailed off, "I don't like the idea of her being here when it's time for that. But I don't think we can get around it." Uryuu knew exactly why he was so anxious.

"Sado, Miss Arisawa and I will help," Uryuu reassured him, "We'll keep her in her own quarters." Ichigo stayed absorbed in his window and didn't turn to face him.

"Thank you, Uryuu," he said, "I'll be counting on you."


Orihime awoke early, before dawn, the next morning. She wasn't exactly sure what to do with herself until Tatsuki arrived, so she contented herself with stoking her dying fire and poking around the now-warm room.

There were a few old books on a shelf - some epic poetry, some fairy tales - that caught her eye. She made a mental note to go back to those later. She knew the basics of how to read and write from attending church, although it was nothing fancy; she hoped this might give her an opportunity to improve.

Further into the room, there was also a large wardrobe. As she peered inside, Orihime saw the firelight shine on a collection of gowns, slippers, wraps, and gauzy material richer and more elaborate than anything she'd ever laid eyes on before. Her eyes widened, breath pulling in sharply. Was this what Mr. Ishida had meant when he told her she'd be given appropriate clothing?

Orihime snapped the wardrobe shut again, her face burning. She would be ridiculous in those clothes! It would be like wrapping a sheep in silk! They belonged on some beautiful noblewoman in a glamorous city like Vienna or Paris or Venice, not on some little peasant shepherdess! She briefly imagined herself wearing one of those fine, small-waisted gowns while bleating and being covered in wool; it was mortifying enough that she didn't dare open the wardrobe back up.

But that left the problem of just how she was going to get breakfast without wearing any of those fine gowns. Surely the servants would be up and about by now; it wasn't light out yet, but it was well late enough for them to be engaged by now, right? At home, she'd already be starting the morning's porridge by now. So surely she could just go down with her regular clothes on?

As she slipped out of her nightgown and back into the clothes she'd worn to the castle, Orihime allowed her mind to wander. She wondered if Rangiku was alright. Was she feeling better? Had she woken up on time? Orihime knew she didn't have to work until later in the morning, but she was worried she might sleep in. Had she started breakfast yet? She should have left instructions. Rangiku might burn the house down.

She tried to push the worry from her mind, latching onto the first thing she could think of, lest she go insane. That thing happened to be breakfast. What if the Count was there? No, that would be absurd; wouldn't he take his breakfast in his room? That was what nobility did, right? Breakfast in bed?

Orihime paused while tying her skirt, her cheeks heating up. The thought of the handsome Count waking up amid a swirl of sheets with bare chest and tousled red hair was enough to make her heart beat as fast as a scared rabbit.

"No!" She slapped both cheeks sharply, trying to drive the naughty thoughts away. At this rate, she was going to have something to confess before breakfast. And she didn't even know where the chapel was here!

Orihime finished dressing and stood before the elegant vanity she'd been provided. She ran the brush left there for her through her long hair before securing it against the side of her head with a perfumed comb. As she lifted it to her hair, she noted how lovely the comb was; it was ornately carved and inlaid with mother of pearl and a few pearls. A couple of red ribbons dangled from it, weaving themselves into her hair.

With that, Orihime went to the large door of her room and poked her head out. The dark, pre-dawn hallways were devoid of any servants, which Orihime took as a good sign. There would be fewer people to question her that way, and less chance she'd get in trouble if she wasn't supposed to go to the kitchen on her own.

After a few moment's deliberation, she headed out, candlestick in hand. This early in the morning, the castle was actually fairly eerie; the night before, there had been the hustle and bustle of getting her settled in, but now there seemed to be nothing. It was almost as if Orihime were walking through a dusty crypt. She couldn't imagine all the staff were asleep at this hour. Perhaps they were all simply in the kitchen?

When she finally got there, however, there was no one in sight. Even though it was clean, the kitchen itself looked barely used. Upon closer inspection, Orihime found some fresh provisions - cured ham, vegetables, beans, preserves, oats - and a few dusty pots and pans, but nothing like she would've imagined a lord and his retinue would use. In fact, the food that had been stocked there looked like it would barely feed one person for very long, let alone the four she'd already encountered. She wondered if perhaps the Count was actually struggling to survive, and if she should take any food at all.

Finally, her complaining stomach got the better of her and she gave in, deciding that she'd do no one any good if she starved to death. She took a cup or two of oats, set some water to boiling, and waited. Eventually she was able to mix together a little gruel. The kitchen itself was pretty drafty, as was the dining area, so she figured the hot meal would help warm her up.

Orihime took her bowl out to the desolate dining room just as the hazy gray light of early morning was beginning to peek through the heavy curtains. There were still no signs of life in the castle and no sounds of anyone stirring. She was completely alone. Maybe the Count slept in, so his servants had no reason to move about early? Maybe nobility could afford to be that lazy? Either way, it felt quite lonely to eat in the great, dark dining hall without another living soul around.

After finishing her gruel and cleaning her dishes, Orihime made her way back to her room. Dawn had come and gone by the time she made it back, so she at least no longer needed a candle. But the sky was covered with thick, heavy clouds that portended snow, so it was still dim and murky in the stone halls. Still, as curious as she was, the castle's forbidding atmosphere discouraged her from exploring - not to mention that her room was the only warm room in the entire castle, as far as she knew.

She made her way back to her room and back to the comfort of her large bed. She had expected Tatsuki to be waiting impatiently for her when she arrived, but the black-haired woman was still not there. Instead, Orihime was left to her own devices for most of the morning, looking through the books left in her room and resisting the urge to peek into the rich wardrobe she'd been gifted with.

Finally, half-way through the morning, the black-haired girl turned up. Her dress wasn't much different from what Orihime was used to wearing - dull and brown, but functional. She also appeared to at least be wearing warm undergarments; Orihime could see the warm woolen petticoats peeking out from beneath her skirts. Well, at least she wasn't imagining the cold here.

"Oh, good," Tatsuki said, gravitating to the fireplace, "You're already up. Are you ready to get dressed?" Orihime cocked her head in confusion.

"I'm already dressed," she said innocently. Tatsuki put her hands on her hips and clucked her tongue.

"Not for being a Countess-in-training, you aren't," she replied, moving toward the wardrobe, "You're going to have to get used to the clothes. You probably won't even be used to them by the time the Marquis gets here, so we might as well start early." Orihime shrank beneath her quilt.

"If I won't be used to them anyway, shouldn't we just skip this part?" she asked sheepishly, "I'm just going back home at the end of the month anyway." Tatsuki pulled a few articles of clothing out before giving Orihime a bored look.

"And then you'll look like some bumpkin that the Count picked up off the farm and shoved into fancy clothes," Tatsuki quipped, "Even if that is true, we don't want the Marquis to know that." Orihime flinched. Even if it was true, she didn't need to be reminded.

"You don't have to say it like that," she weakly protested. Tatsuki ignored her comment as she pulled a long gown and some undergarments from the wardrobe.

"Come on, get up," she encouraged sternly, "Let's get you dressed."

Orihime did as she was told while the black-haired girl buzzed around, holding the dress up to her. She made a few notes, clucked her tongue a bit, and then began undressing Orihime.

"E-Ehh?!" the redhead squeaked, "What are you doing? I-I can undress myself!" Tatsuki was completely undeterred.

"A lady doesn't," she replied, "Now hold still so I can get a good idea of your size. We can have Mr. Ishida take in whatever doesn't fit." Orihime quietly did as she was told while Tatsuki busied herself. The black-haired girl measured and pulled, tutting as she figured out Orihime's size.

"Mr. Ishida sews?" she asked finally. Tatsuki made a note on a small sheet of paper before tucking it into one of her skirt pockets.

"It's a hobby of his," she said as she picked up an embroidered wedge of white cloth, threaded with laces, "If he wasn't with the Count, I'm sure he'd be a tailor. Hold your arms up." Orihime did as she was told, holding her arms out to her sides. Tatsuki slipped the stiff fabric around her back and began fastening the metal clasps in front. Orihime watched her curiously.

"What's this?" she asked as Tatsuki moved to her back. Before she answered, she started pulling laces from the small of her back and in between her shoulder blades.

"A corset," Tatsuki replied, pulling the laces tight, "You'll need to get used to it." As the corset tightened, Orihime felt her midsection constrict. It straightened her back and pushed her generous bosom upward.

"H-How do you move in this?" she asked, starting to become a bit distressed. It was making it harder for her to breathe; how would anyone do chores in one of these things?

"Move?" she snorted, "Noblewomen don't need to move. They just need to look pretty." Orihime couldn't help but think Tatsuki sounded a little resentful.

"Do you... know many noblewomen?" Orihime asked, trying to get used to the feel of the tight garment.

"Just the Kurosaki ladies," Tatsuki replied, "Ichigo's mother and sisters. And a few friends of their family." Orihime's cheeks lit up with a dull shade of pink.

"Ichigo?" she asked gently.

"The Count," Tatsuki corrected as she continued with her lacing, "I've been serving his family since I was a child. They're all back in Budapest right now, though." Orihime took this new information in thoughtfully.

"Why isn't he with them?" she asked, hoping she wouldn't be seen as rude, "He could find a real wife that way, in the big city..." Tatsuki shook her head.

"He doesn't get along with his father," Tatsuki said gently, "That's why he's out here. This is their old family estate. And he doesn't want a wife. He has... problems with women." Orihime's curiosity was piqued.

"Problems?" she asked, hoping for more information. Tatsuki was wise to her and raised an eyebrow, though.

"Not my place to say," she replied, "It's better if you don't know at all." Orihime knew the topic was closed and decided to drop it. Tatsuki finally finished lacing the corset and tied it in a knot around Orihime's waist.

"There," she said succinctly, "How does it fit?" Orihime took as deep of a breath as she could and twisted from side to side to test its fit.

"It's a little tight," she said warily, "But... I can breathe just fine." Tatsuki nodded in satisfaction, an appraising look on her face.

"Good," she said thoughtfully, "It's supposed to be a little tight. You'll get used to it. It's a pain at first, but it helps your posture and your figure." Orihime's eyes softened.

"Thank you, Miss Tatsuki," Orihime murmured. The black-haired girl looked her over appreciatively.

"It's just Tatsuki," she corrected with a smile, "It looks good on you." Orihime blushed and held her cheeks.

"O-Oh no!" Orihime exclaimed, "I'll look so out of place in one of those fancy gowns! Like a fat sheep! It'll be really ridiculous!" Tatsuki rolled her eyes.

"Don't be dumb," she scolded, "Those gigantic breasts of yours are fashionable. The point of the corset is to get them as high as possible. You'll probably make the Count faint when he sees you today." Orihime was absolutely mortified.


"Don't protest," the taller girl said with a small grin, "You've got the looks for it. We just have to work on your manners."

"If... If you say so," Orihime reluctantly agreed. She allowed Tatsuki to continue around her, layering her underdress and petticoats with cotton and linen. She found herself wrapped in cream and pale pink and wine red. It was warm enough that she no longer felt the chill of the weather, although she had the distinct impression that what Tatsuki was dressing her with was just a casual dress. There were much more intimidating things in that wardrobe.

"There," the maid finally said, stepping back to take in her handiwork, "Take a look in the mirror. I think I did a good job." Orihime turned to look into the vanity she'd groomed herself with earlier. It was like looking at a completely different person.

Her face and hair looked the same. The comb she'd placed in her hair earlier complemented the colors of the dress, which also complimented her hair. But the dress itself was like looking into another world. It pushed her bosom up, the creamy flesh spilling gracefully over the scalloped neckline of the dress. The sleeves hugged her upper arms before opening into layers of lace and frills. And the skirt spilled from the waistline in a cascade of ribbons and crinoline, accentuating Orihime's slight hips.

"We'll do your hair next," Tatsuki said, pushing Orihime onto the stool before the vanity, "Then we'll practice some basic etiquette. You should be at least a little ready by dinner time." Orihime suddenly felt a trickle of sweat down her back, between her shoulder blades and beneath the laces of her corset.

"Dinner?" she asked skeptically, “Ready for what?” Tatsuki shrugged as she gathered up a hair brush and took Orihime's hair down from its comb.

"With the Count," she replied, "You'll be having dinner with him tonight."
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Crystal Dawn

February 2012


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