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[personal profile] queenofchalices
Title: Moon Over the Tower: Chapter Seven
Series: Bleach
Rating: R
Warnings: het (IchiHime), blood, scariness, religious topics, abusive sexual situations. 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: Oh man, this week's been hard. Work has been pretty relentless and I've not been able to get the chapter written on time. But it's here now! And it's actually longer than most other chapters! But as a reminder, please go reread the warnings, since they've changed for this chapter and I don't want to blindside anyone. This is a pretty dark chapter and might make some readers uncomfortable. Still, I hope you enjoy it.


A pair of red eyes followed the black-haired figure across the field of snow, jealously taking in its movements as it headed towards its destination.

Even at this distance, and with the cover of the edges of the dark forest, he could make out enough about the traveler. The figure was male, first of all; that much was obvious from his frame and his gait. He could see a shock of spiky black hair contrasting the brilliant moonlit blues and whites of the early evening snowfall. There were scars all down one side of his face, as though he'd been clawed by a wild animal. And in his hands, a basket full of bread.

The predator's eyes narrowed at this intruder. The black-haired interloper had been sniffing around his territory for over a week now, bringing food and spending the night at the house he'd had his eye on. His Rangiku hadn't come out since Kurosaki's men had visited the first time, either. He knew she was still alive in there; otherwise, that annoying intruder wouldn't have kept coming by. But he was growing tired of waiting for her to emerge, and irritated with the visitor that was constantly calling. Even worse, he was starting to feel hungry again. It was time to take matters into his own hands.

Unfortunately, the annoying black-haired man reached the house before the hunter could give chase. He would have relished a chance to tear that man limb from limb, but at this point an attack would only attract attention. He was bloodthirsty, not stupid.

So he let him go on to the house and knock on the door. He listened intently as the black-haired man laid three heavy knocks on the door before announcing himself to Rangiku. After another few moments, the woman in question opened the door and exclaimed her excitement; the visitor was happily ushered inside, the door shutting and bathing the snow in the nightfall's darkness once again.

Mere yards away, a low growl sounded in the hunter's throat as the thin tree branch he'd been holding snapped.


"Thank you, Shuuhei!"

The blonde leaned up on her tiptoes and planted a small kiss on the blacksmith's scarred cheek. He blushed shyly, his ruddy skin turning pale red in the firelight. And just as quickly she was gone again, his basket in hand and moving toward the fire.

"A-Ah, you're welcome, Miss Rangiku," he said quietly, haltingly. Rangiku pouted at him from over her shoulder.

"Oh, Shuuhei," she sighed, "You can drop the 'miss', you know. We know each other better than that." If possible, his blush deepened.

"A-Alright," he agreed, coming to rest at the table. After watching Rangiku coo over the potato and beet soup she was making for a moment, he finally broke the silence. "How are you feeling today?"

"Fit as a fiddle!" she chirped, standing straight again, "I just don't know if I'm ready to go back to work just yet." Shuuhei raised his good eyebrow, thankful for a distraction from being flustered by her. Then again, that was a near-constant state for him whenever she was nearby.

"Why not?" he asked, genuinely curious. Sure, Rangiku could be lazy, but she rarely missed work; she just goofed off once she got there.

"If the Count keeps giving us money, neither Orihime nor I will have to work ever again!" she happily explained. Shuuhei let a little concern color his otherwise stoic expression.

"Rangiku," he finally said, "Aren't you worried?" She stopped tending her stew to cast Shuuhei a tender look. "About Miss Orihime, I mean." The silence stretched on for several seconds before she finally answered him.

"Of course I worry," she replied softly, "But the Count seems like a decent man. And it's only for a month. And who knows, maybe he'll decide to keep her. Then she can have a nice wardrobe and plenty to eat and a big castle to live in." Shuuhei couldn't help but feel like her voice was heavy with sadness, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he rose from his spot at the table and moved to embrace Rangiku from behind silently.

"I miss her, Shuuhei," she finally said quietly, "I'll be happy if she does well, but I still miss her." He rested his chin on the crown of her head, giving her midsection a squeeze.

There was nothing Shuuhei felt comfortable saying. He certainly didn't want Rangiku to know about the nasty rumors that had been circulating around town about her younger sister or the Count. Many of the townspeople had decided he was a demon of some kind already; as far as they knew, he was the small son of the Count that the older folks had known in their youth. The description Rangiku had given Shuuhei had gotten around already; it seemed to exactly match the memory of the scowling little boy that had lived in the castle on the hill some sixty years prior.

Shuuhei had prevailed upon them that it was most likely a grandson or nephew, but the older folk had been adamant. The most popular theory they'd come up with so far was that the Count and his family were some kind of demons that stole the souls of young girls to maintain their youth. Shuuhei had tried to insist they were being ridiculous, but he'd easily been overruled. And according to the townsfolk, Orihime was either already dead, or had been turned into some kind of demonic vixen that preyed on the souls of men.

Shuuhei couldn't help but think that last one was wishful thinking on the old men's part.

Still, with as much meanness as Rangiku had already attracted from the wives in town just by being pretty, he knew she would have a lot to say about them going after Orihime. Even worse than that, Orihime might actually be in some kind of real trouble; the situation was sketchy enough either way.

"Shuuhei," she finally breathed, turning and burying her face in his neck. He held her tightly, content to breathe in the scent of her hair. If she needed him, whether it was to bring her bread, or to march up that hill and bring her sister back, he would do it.


It was late into the night when she heard it.

Rangiku had been fast asleep in the main room of the house, her bedding fixed before the fire. Shuuhei lay beside her in a deep slumber; he'd decided it was too dark out to return home in light of the recent killings, and had opted instead to stay the night. He had agreed to leave as soon as the sun rose. It wasn't the first time this had happened to someone in their village, but it was still better to avoid any undue rumors.

The noise started softly at first, a tiny scratching that could've been made by a mouse. As it grew louder, Rangiku's eyes fluttered open. She blearily wondered where the noise was coming from as she sat up to rub her eyes.

Then the noise grew even louder. It was the sound of claws digging into wood and rattling the shutters. As she began to register the source of the sounds, she turned to the window, eyes slowly widening. Something was trying to get in.

Rangiku sprang from her bedding, diving for her house robe. As soon as her arms were inside it, she threw her thick outside coat on over it. Then she grabbed a kitchen knife and her broom and flung open the front door.

The scratching seemed to be coming from the side of the house, so Rangiku headed that way, bare feet crunching in the snow. She clenched her teeth together tightly to keep them from chattering, and her feet burned from the cold as she walked around the house. Finally, she had a clear look at the clattering shutter.

It was as normal as any other shutter on the house, and seemed to have been knocked loose from its latchings for no apparent reason. But now, it wasn't shaking or rattling; it was only flapping impotently against its frame. Rangiku sighed and shook her head, pulling her coat closed as she moved over to fasten the latch.

As her hand moved to latch the wooden boards shut again, a pair of ghostly white arms wrapped around Rangiku. As soon as she felt them, she jolted, a scream stuck in her throat. It never reached her lips; one pale, fine-boned hand reached up and clasped over her mouth. The other curled around her midsection, pulling her against something firm and cold. She continued to thrash until the owner of the arms leaned over to whisper into her ear.

"Hey, Rangiku," he murmured softly, "Miss me?" The voice sounded entirely too familiar to her for reasons she couldn't quite place. It seemed as though it had been many years since she'd heard it.

But before she got much chance to contemplate this, she suddenly felt very drowsy. She allowed herself to slump against her captor, the bitter cold and throbbing fear fading into background noise.

"Heh," he said, his voice watery and distant now, "Guess I didn't need to come inside after all. I lured ya out here just fine."

But Rangiku could hardly make out what he was saying, much less bring herself to care. All she knew was that she was vaguely cold and immobile. As she began to lose consciousness, she thought she felt the skin on her neck being pricked; but after a couple more seconds, it failed to matter at all.


Uryuu flew across the snow-covered hillside, kicking up a spray of white powder whenever a foot touched the ground. His eyes narrowed as he looked out over the last remaining sliver of the waning moon's light casting pale shadows over the landscape. He had been searching all night for the intruder in their sleepy town, and now that it was close to the end of the night, he had absolutely nothing to show for it.

Perhaps Ichigo or Sado had fared better.

Still, a tinge of worry shadowed Uryuu's features. It wasn't the intruder he was worried about; it was Nemu.

Uryuu used to have no problem leaving her back in the castle. Even though she obeyed his every command, she was fairly useless in a fight. She tended to fight too brutally and without thinking. And of course he didn't want to see her get hurt. And he had no problem leaving her with Tatsuki; the black-haired girl was well strong enough to deal with anything Nemu threw at her.

No, now he worried for a different reason. Now there was a human girl prancing through their home.

To Nemu's addled mind, humans were nothing more than food. As a ghoul, she lacked the ability to reason at a normal adult level; instead, she mindlessly obeyed every word Uryuu uttered. He'd learned very early on to watch what he said around her; to her, his slightest comment could be construed as a dangerous command.

Uryuu frowned. Tatsuki had already warned him about Nemu stalking Orihime. And while he was aware that Tatsuki had warned her too, he still worried that her instinct would get the better of her. Tatsuki was not the one she listened to, and even though he'd given her a direct order, it might not be within her ability to follow it properly.

It was not her fault. None of it was. That knowledge was a bitter reminder to Uryuu; Nemu had not chosen what she became. In truth, neither had Uryuu, not completely. Oh, he certainly felt the burden of his own decisions heavily on his shoulders, and emotionally he blamed himself. But logically, he knew his own sins were minuscule compared to those of Mayuri Kurotsuchi.

He had first encountered Nemu and her father on the outskirts of Budapest ten years earlier. The Marquis Kurosaki had interest in acquiring a blood replacement drug, and Mayuri had a reputation at the time as something of a mad genius. When every other apothecary in town had come up empty-handed, he was the man to turn to.

He was also known to be fairly unscrupulous when it came to his work. Ethics were of no concern to him when it came to synthesizing his drugs; neither were laws. As unsavory as the man could be, it also meant he'd ask few questions of his customers. This was exactly the kind of situation the Marquis had been looking for.

Since his own father was the Marquis' valet, and Uryuu was to become Ichigo's, the elder Kurosaki thought this a perfect opportunity to let Uryuu get his feet wet with the procurement of the drugs. Naturally, such a request had never been made of Kurotsuchi before, and he seemed to relish the challenge. He worked tirelessly to create the elusive drug, and Uryuu stopped by frequently to monitor his progress. At first, it seemed to be the perfect arrangement.

As the weeks passed, Uryuu became fast friends with the daughter, Nemu. She was quiet and withdrawn, but she smiled and blushed prettily when he talked to her. Her voice, when she used it, was light and pretty, and when she laughed it was awkward but sweet. Above all, she was dutiful to her father, who was her mentor and sole support. Uryuu, for as stoic as he could normally be, was smitten by her.

Such an idyllic state of affairs couldn't last, of course. One day, as Uryuu dropped by for his usual visit, he happened to spot another customer on his way out of the shop. Now, his scruffy clothes and sloppy demeanor didn't get Uryuu's attention; the Kurotsuchis worked in one of the more run-down districts in town, so seeing an unkempt customer was nothing extraordinary. It was the man's smell. He smelled like sex.

Uryuu's eyebrows drew together as the man passed, whistling to himself as he readjusted his shirt. Did Nemu have a lover? Why someone as classless as that? Uryuu felt jealousy prick his heart; did she not have feelings for him after all? His gaze was downcast with concentration as he entered the apothecary's shop.

Nemu was nowhere to be found while Mayuri sat at his workbench, counting and placing small, round coins into a small purse. Uryuu's mind was still a bit slow to see anything rational or logical at this point and just assumed he had sold something recently, so he said nothing. In hindsight, he could have prevented everything had he killed the apothecary on the spot.

Instead, he inquired politely about the research and engaged in a little idle chit-chat, trying to ignore that jealousy he'd felt before. If Nemu had someone else, that was none of his business and he'd just have to live with it. But presently, she came down from her quarters above the shop.

She was pale and wan and a bit bedraggled. Instead of the small smile she usually wore whenever she saw Uryuu, an understated look of horror crossed her face. It was gone in an instant, replaced with a passive, well-practiced mask of indifference. Still, it had not gone unnoticed. Neither had the swelling and redness around her eyes, sure signs she'd been crying. And worst of all, she smelled of sex, as well.

Uryuu felt anger swell within his breast. Something strange was going on here, and it was looking less and less like Nemu actually had a lover. He dropped whatever conversation he'd been having with Mayuri and moved to intercept her from the staircase.

She was cagey and shy and refused to meet his eyes. Every non-answer and deflection she gave Uryuu made him angrier and angrier. Finally, having had enough of Nemu's evasiveness, he rounded on her father. And that's when the ugly truth came out.

Yes, of course she had slept with that man. Mayuri had arranged it himself, and had been doing so for quite some time. In his estimation, Nemu was useless as a marriage prospect and barely much better as an assistant and needed to find some way to pay for her keep. Besides which, the supplies needed to make the fabulous drugs the two created didn't come cheap; this side "business" of his helped him maintain his apothecary's solvency.

Furthermore, when Uryuu started visiting under the Marquis' orders, Mayuri had ordered Nemu to seduce the young nobleman in the hopes of creating a profitable union between the two. Once she was safely an Ishida, there would no longer be any need for them to scrape to survive. At this revelation, Uryuu had turned to Nemu to ask if it was true, but she would not look at him. Instead, she studied the ground, a look of guilt obscured by her long black bangs.

Even with all these revelations, it was evident the elder Kurotsuchi felt no shame. He didn't flinch or fidget or blush; he looked straight at Uryuu with his unnerving, stony glare. He even offered to sell Nemu to him, if he wanted her that badly, either for a night or as his wife.

Naturally, Uryuu didn't take this new proposition well. In fact, he was furious. He lunged at Mayuri from across the room, knocking several noxious beakers full of bubbling liquid to the floor. Horrified, Nemu hung back, covering her face as the two fought.

Mayuri was no fool, though. Far from it; Uryuu had little idea at the time, but even as soon as his second visit, Mayuri had already figured out his exact nature. It was little trouble for him to then figure out exactly how best to kill Uryuu, should the need arise. And clearly, it had.

After clumsily fending off the enraged vampire for several seconds, he finally reached the table he'd been looking for. He picked up a single metal syringe, then wheeled around and stabbed Uryuu right in the chest with it. Uryuu stared in shock for a moment as his mind processed what was happening; but by the time he realized Kurotsuchi was injecting him with something deadly, it was already too late. The silver nitrate was already coursing through his veins.

He was on his knees in an instant, clutching his chest. The burning metal solution slid through his body like a snake, burning and poisoning everything it touched. Worse yet, Uryuu could smell smoke and fire; the chemicals he'd knocked to the floor had mixed, combusted, and were now rapidly spreading across the shop. It took him a second to realize that he could also smell his own body burning from the inside out.

Most of what happened next remained a blur to Uryuu, even ten years later. He knew bare facts: Mayuri attempted to finish him off with a sword, Nemu had taken the blow herself, and the two were left to burn to death in the hellish blaze. Past that, he didn't know much. He didn't know how he'd gotten them both to safety. He didn't know at what point he realized Nemu was dying. He didn't know why he'd decided to give her his blood while he was dying as well. Perhaps he thought that she should live, even if he should die. In retrospect, it was a horrendously unsound idea. But at the time, it was the only thing that made sense to him.

So he did. He opened a vein on the arm opposite his wound and pressed it to her lips, even as blood rushed from the wound across her chest. She made no motion to drink, instead merely laying there and accepting the blood. He knew she was still barely alive; he could feel her heartbeat. But soon, that faded as well. Uryuu didn't worry; that was a normal death.

The Kurosakis would surely come looking and find them and bury her. After several hours, she would rise again, good as new. Then they could watch over her and train her properly. These were Uryuu's last thoughts before darkness overwhelmed him.

When next he woke, many days had passed. Nemu awaited him, as did the Kurosaki clan... and his incensed father. He'd never heard the white-haired man utter such profanity, although his proclamations of Uryuu's incompetence were hardly new. And he hardly approved of his son's newly-created new companion, for reasons Uryuu would soon learn.

In addition, there was another visitor, one that Uryuu had seldom seen. He was a tall, thin man with blond hair, and he'd come from the west at the Marquis' request. He was obviously one of their kind, his pale skin and toothy grin a dead give away. He explained what he'd done to expel Mayuri's poison, and although Uryuu was quite intelligent, the workings of this man's mind were beyond him. However, he was grateful for the tall man's help.

Together, the blond man and the Marquis asked Uryuu what had happened. Then, once they had all the relevant information, they explained Nemu's situation to Uryuu.

Nemu was no longer human, but she wasn't actually a vampire, either. She was a ghoul, a soulless, emotionless doll with an insatiable appetite for blood and human flesh. She had little motivation or will to do anything without Uryuu's order, or that didn't bend to her hellish desire for blood. This was why his father had been so angry about her; now that Uryuu had created her, he basically had to watch her at all times.

And as much as Uryuu wanted to believe otherwise, he knew that she was now incapable of returning his feelings. Without free will of her own, she could never feel more than the compulsive need to obey him. She would be unable to learn new skills or retain new information for long periods of time. Her interest in medicine was now nonexistent. She would never bear children; even if she physically could (and given the propensity of her father to run experiments on her, he doubted it), she wouldn't recognize them as her own children. And even if she was able to emotionally connect with them, she would still be likely to injure or kill them. For all intents and purposes, Nemu was now nearly a stranger, almost an animal, even.

Yet Uryuu still felt responsibility towards her. He knew this was his own bad judgment and that without free will, she would've been better off just dying. Had he been less selfish and less panicked, she would never have been condemned to this living hell. But there was nothing to be done for it now; regardless of what she had become, Uryuu still loved her.

With the blond man's care, he recovered quickly. Nemu hovered silently beside him the entire time. When she was hungry, which was more often at the beginning, Ichigo or Sado would take her out to hunt; when they realized this was a dangerous proposition, they brought prey to her. Since she had no physical requirement for the blood of the living, she was often given corpses. Even by vampire standards, it was repugnant.

Finally, Uryuu was fully healed. Unfortunately, since the process had taken a few weeks, by the time he was well, Mayuri had already salvaged what was left of his apothecary and skipped town. Now, in addition to the impotent frustration he felt at Nemu's condition, he couldn't even take vengeance for her or himself.

Thus began a several week long quest to hunt down the alchemist and make him pay. Uryuu took Nemu with him as he traveled, covering as much ground as they could during the night while Mayuri fled north and westward during the day. They finally caught up to him outside of Prague, having established another small shop in the poorest part of town.

When they went to confront him, however, to Uryuu's surprise Nemu was the one to attack. She needed no order from Uryuu; in fact, he had expected her to remain entirely passive, as she usually did. Instead, she tore her own father limb-from-limb without remorse.

To this day, Uryuu didn't know why she did it. Was it instinct? Did she remember her father from her life before? Had she realized Uryuu's intent and simply acted on it without being told? Or was it possible she recognized her former tormentor and wanted revenge for how she'd suffered? No answers were forthcoming when Uryuu asked, but it did give him hope that the old Nemu was still alive in there somewhere.

After that, things were fairly peaceful for the two of them. Uryuu's father never came to accept her, but the Kurosaki family themselves were fairly accommodating towards her. And although she never expressed emotion, Uryuu came to suspect that it wasn't because she didn't feel it. In fact, the two of them became closer because of her transformation.

She was at his side whenever possible, which usually meant whenever Uryuu was inside the castle. She did smile at him from time to time like she used to; occasionally, she even kissed him on her own. There were even the rare occasions that she initiated sex with him. Because of her limited capabilities, it was something that Uryuu was loathe to even suggest to her; but if she asked, he was unable to deny her.

And thus they were now. Uryuu wanted to get home quickly to keep an eye on her. Tatsuki had already made it very clear that if Nemu attacked Orihime, she wouldn't hesitate to kill her, and Uryuu didn't want that. And to his mind, her hunger wasn't really her fault; they had brought a living girl into their midst and expected Nemu to exhibit an amount of self-control that might very well have been overwhelming for her.

As he navigated the hidden path the Kurosakis used to get to their castle from the village, Uryuu heard the soft flapping of wings behind him. He paused in his flight, turning to see the little brown bat following in his wake as he hit the ground.

"Did you find something?" Uryuu asked, watching as the bat transformed into his tall Spanish friend.

"Ichigo has been fighting," he replied simply, "He needs you at Miss Inoue's house."
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Crystal Dawn

February 2012


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