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[personal profile] queenofchalices
Title: Moon Over the Tower: Chapter Fourteen
Series: Bleach
Rating: R
Warnings: het (IchiHime), blood, scariness, religious topics, 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.

______________________________________________________________

"You're... You're Rangiku's friend?"

Orihime was huddled in on herself, knees drawn tight against her chest as she watched the vampire regard her in the dim light. He was smirking, his eerie red eyes thankfully closed, and still as a statue. Orihime wondered if such preternatural stillness was simply a vampire trait, or if it was unique to this particular one. Either way, he was stranger and more unsettling than any she had seen before.

"Oh, years an' years ago," he said dismissively. He plopped down on the floor of the cave right across from her and crossed his legs. Then, he regarded Orihime with a thoughtful look. "But that was way before you came along."

Orihime felt a chill run down her spine. His voice was laced with jealousy and bitterness, just barely detectable but seething under the surface nonetheless. Rangiku had to have known him before Sora adopted her - she'd never seen this man before in her life.

"Is that... Is that why you took me?" she asked sheepishly. As she looked up at the man from underneath her lashes, she could see his unwavering crooked smile. The longer he smiled like that, the more worried she became. It was the kind of smile someone had when they were playing a trick on someone, or knew a particularly nasty secret.

"You?" he returned, cocking his head to the side, "Oh no, I took you to get back at those damned Kurosakis." His smirk had bloomed into a full-blown grin now, sharp teeth and all. Orihime realized with a shudder that unlike Sado, the Count, and the others, this vampire didn't bother hiding his fangs. Or maybe it was just indicative of his intentions.

"Why are you mad at them?" she asked innocently. Maybe if she could keep him talking, help would come? Perhaps the Count would realize she and Sado were missing and mount a rescue? She knew there wasn't much she could do on her own against this vampire, so all she could really hope for was help on the Count's end - or perhaps to be able to talk this vampire into letting her go.

"Why?" he asked with something of a sneer, "Take a look around yerself! Jus' how many people d'you think I've killed in that village? Twen'y? Thirty? An' the first time I even got noticed was when I came around yer house!" Orihime's eyes widened as she realized he was right; he had been roaming free in the village, for as long as she could remember.

"This whole area is their territory," he said, spreading his arms wide, "But do they tend it? Of course not! They're too busy livin' it up in fancy Budapest to care about this little backwater! Jus' like all nobility."

This truly confused Orihime. It almost sounded like this vampire cared more about the villagers he had been killing than the vampires who were supposed to be protecting them. But then, why would he kill them in the first place?

"So you've been killing the people there all these years?" she asked, lip trembling, "You... You killed my brother? A-And Rangiku's family? Why?" At this, the vampire snorted.

"Jus' how old d'ya think I am?" he asked incredulously, propping an elbow on his upturned knee. Orihime thought for a second, looking sheepishly at him from beneath her hair.

"I-I don't know," she stammered, "Sixty?" She knew the Count was somewhere around that age, so it seemed like as good a guess as any. But the vampire simply chortled at her.

"I'm nineteen," he said, opening his red eyes, "Jus' like Rangiku."

_______________________________________________________

Gin Ichimaru's family had been killed when he was just five years old. First his father failed to come home. Then his mother and baby sister were drained of their blood while he watched, hidden inside a small cupboard. After the culprit had finished, Gin could have sworn he looked straight at him and smiled, his ruddy brown eyes crinkling at the edges.

He wouldn't understand why until years later.

After they had been buried, Gin was placed in a common home with other children whose families had also been taken from them by the killings. But he found he didn't like it there; he snuck out to return to his family's home as often as he could until he finally just stopped coming back to the orphanage at all. He could tend the house by himself. He'd show them.

It was hard work by himself, but he mostly got by alright. As winter turned to spring, he found his family's food stores dwindling. At this point, he started stealing things from the other townspeople to survive. A chicken here, a potato there, sometimes an apple or pear; it wasn't much, but it was just enough to feed himself.

Then, shortly before the last snow melted, he met her. She was as dirty and bedraggled as he was and had taken shelter beside the woodpile he'd worked so hard to build by himself. Her pretty blonde hair had been matted together with oil and filth, and her white skin was smudged with soot and dirt.

He pulled her inside and cleaned her up, gave her some of his clothes to wear. He liked to think that if his little sister had lived, she would look just like her in a few years. But this girl, Rangiku, she became his new family. It was just the two of them against the world.

He found out that her family had died as well. Her father simply left one night and didn't return, while her mother simply withered away from illness. She'd also been taken to the orphanage, but the lady who'd taken her into her home treated her like a servant; she'd been made to do the wash for five people, clean the house from top to bottom every day, cook for the entire family, and even help in the fields, while the lady's own children rarely helped. If her chores weren't finished on time, or weren't done well enough, she was beaten; it was rare that the unkind lady deigned that the chores were done well enough, so Rangiku was likely to receive two or even three beatings in a day. Finally, she'd just had enough and decided to strike out on her own.

In some measure, it was good that Rangiku knew how to do those things, though. Gin was grateful for her; when she cooked the meals were better, they no longer had to want for clean clothes, and he now had help in stealing the things they needed to live. And as spring gave way to summer, things became brighter.

As the first fruits and vegetables began to ripen in the town's gardens, the two children had their share of good food to eat. First came strawberries. Then, as the weather got warmer, things like blackberries, squash, and carrots began to appear. Finally, towards the end of the season, corn and pumpkins. These were fat, happy times, and the children became close while enjoying the bounty.

They did everything together - they washed, played, cooked, worked, stole, and slept together. They were each other's sole family; they each believed that when they were grown, they'd continue just like this, as husband and wife.

But as the weather turned cool, their stores began to dwindle. Being children, they hadn't yet learned how to dry or cure meat or vegetables. They'd stashed away a bit of food and ate much less now, but even so they found their supplies completely depleted by the beginning of winter. By the time the ground was covered in snow, finding food was almost impossible.

Gin ate as little as he could, just to ensure Rangiku had enough to eat, but that only went so far. They both had to scavenge more frequently, and farther from home. Food was kept locked in cupboards and pantries now, and they got caught more often. Some days one of them would return home beaten; other days, both of them would.

Occasionally, a kindhearted old lady would give the children a loaf of bread or a piece of dried meat; those were happier days in the otherwise bleak landscape. They knew they couldn't always depend on that kindness, though; if they tried going back the next day, often the charitable person had no more to give, or didn't want to encourage them further. They did have something of a reputation by this point.

They both tried their best, though, and worked their hardest. Gin took to going out at night, after Rangiku had gone to sleep, and breaking into smokehouses and pantries to try and find food. It was on one of these nights that Gin finally met him.

He wasn't from those parts, Gin could tell. He was dressed all in white, gleaming clothes, fine clothes like nothing Gin had ever seen before. His skin was pale and flawless, framed by his rich, mousy brown hair. And his eyes, ruddy and brown, looked kind at first glance but belied a kind of scheming malevolence. Everything about him shone like moonlight. The man was obviously a noble.

And Gin recognized him immediately. This was the man who killed his mother and sister.

Gin braced himself to fight, but to his surprise, the man did not attack. Instead, he simply smiled, flashing his sharp teeth, and held a hand out to Gin. Mesmerized, Gin hesitantly took it. And that was when his life changed forever.

The man's name was Sousuke Aizen, and he was a Duke from Spain. Before Gin knew exactly what was happening, he was being loaded into a waiting carriage on the outskirts of the forest and hauled away with him.

As it turned out, Aizen hunted in this area frequently during the winter. He often had to pass through on his many business trips, and knew the castle belonging to the Kurosaki family had been abandoned for years. Their negligence provided good hunting for him year after year.

He had spared Gin the previous year, intending to return straight away and collect him. He was a handsome boy and looked like he could potentially make good stock someday, and being young, he would be highly impressionable. But he had lost track of him after he entered the orphanage, and had simply decided to try and find him when he stopped back through the next year. Of course, Aizen didn't tell Gin any of this until years later, and by that point Gin had figured most of it out on his own anyway.

From there, they left the village behind and headed to Spain. As Aizen's hypnosis wore off of Gin and his mind came back to itself, one thought plagued his mind. He had abandoned Rangiku, and had no way of knowing how she was. And even though he never spoke of it, for fear of what Aizen might do to her, that thought remained in the back of his mind for years.

His own life was far different from what he'd experienced in the village, though. Gin was given the finest clothes and food, private tutors, and was generally spoiled as far as he was concerned. He turned out to be highly intelligent; within months, he'd become fluent in Spanish and had moved on to French and then Italian. He was taught how to ride horses, how to fence, and everything Aizen knew about vampires and ghouls.

Because of the older vampire's lack of anything resembling morals, he'd conducted many experiments with ghouls and with the creation of such. He knew exactly how far the rules concerning them could be bent, what sorts of things they could and couldn't do, what all they could eat, how they thought, and even how they rested and healed. And he taught Gin everything he knew about them, one way or the other.

When he turned fourteen, Aizen began to demonstrate for him just how far a human could go without being made into a ghoul when they were finally turned. He started small - a touch here or there, a surreptitious rub - and worked his way up. He showed Gin what could be done with hands and mouth, how that would affect him, and what awaited him once he turned sixteen.

Far from being dazzled by it all, Gin simply played along. He knew Aizen wanted a companion out of him, but he had plans of his own. Once he became a vampire, it would only be a matter of time until he could set his plan into motion. And finally, when he turned sixteen, Aizen gave him what he wanted; true to his word, Aizen finally turned him into a vampire.

Suddenly, all the feelings he'd been secretly nursing for years were so much stronger. His hatred for Aizen, he could keep covered. But his grudge against the happy, stupid, neglectful Kurosaki family, that was something he could barely keep from boiling to the surface. After he had been turned, he even met them once at a formal function in Vienna. The two insipid girls, the arrogant son, the vacant mother, and worst of all, the buffoon of a father; Aizen had to pull him aside before he did something regrettable.

Most of all, though, he yearned for Rangiku. He hadn't seen her in years - Aizen hadn't permitted the boy to go along with him on his trips to the Carpathians - but since he was now allowed to travel with his lord, he counted the days until they'd pass back through his old hometown and see her again. And hopefully, he'd be able to escape Aizen's clutches while he was there. But when he finally arrived back in his village, nothing was as he thought it'd be.

Rangiku had grown up just as striking and lovely as he'd always imagined, true. But it hadn't gone unnoticed by the men in the village. She was particularly close to one, an affable-enough young man with chin-length black hair and a nice smile. Rangiku lived with him and another child, this one a young girl with red hair. Gin assumed she was the man's sister or niece. He hated the two of them on sight.

So instead of following Aizen's orders to stay close to him, he stole away to the little cottage the three lived in during the night and waited until the man emerged. When he finally did - it looked like he was fetching firewood - Gin quickly set upon him. Before the man had realized what was happening, Gin's teeth were in his neck, tearing flesh and opening veins. And within a few minutes, the man dropped to the ground, as cold as the snow beneath him.

By that time, Aizen had caught up to him, though. Oh, he'd taken a scolding, but it was well worth it. Still, he'd have to wait another two years before he could break free of his master's grasp.

Finally, Gin's chance came and he seized it. He'd intentionally gotten separated from Aizen's traveling party while in the western part of Hungary. Before Aizen was any the wiser what had happened, Gin was already several days ahead of him. He'd quickly taken wing and made it back to his hometown in a matter of days.

He'd taken up residence in this very cave. Even though he had become accustomed to elegant living, he knew quite well that all a vampire needed to get by was an ample food supply, a dark place to sleep during the day, and some of the earth in which they had once been interred. From there, he set his plan into motion.

He had terrorized the village for months, killing anyone who dared set foot outside after dark. This was his revenge, against the town that had turned its back on him, and the lazy nobles who'd allowed another vampire to run lose in their territory.

Gin had even managed to catch Rangiku a few times, coming home from her job at the local inn. It was always the same, every time; he'd make her swoon, feed a bit, and then get interrupted and have to let her go. The wounds always healed themselves quickly, but it was a frustrating game nonetheless. All he wanted was to kill wantonly throughout the town, and to take Rangiku with him, but he could never seem to get the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place.

It didn't help that the redhaired girl he'd seen three years prior was still with her. He'd much rather she step outside at night where he could get her, but she always seemed to stay in the house after dark. He fantasized about it; once he was rid of that little pest, Rangiku would be his again and he would have no trouble taking her with him.

But then came a stroke of luck. A carriage arrived one night from the Kurosaki estate and took the meddling girl away. So now not only were some of the Kurosaki family around for him to exact revenge on, but they'd also removed his last obstacle for him. But even that didn't work out as well as he'd hoped. As soon as the girl left, another person took her place.

This time, it was the black-haired blacksmith Gin had seen sometimes talk to Rangiku. This one really angered him. Unlike the girl, this man's intentions were clear: he wanted Rangiku. Didn't he know she was already spoken for? Gin fumed for days as he watched the blacksmith come and go, just barely escaping his wrath each time. Just when it was finally dark enough for Gin to strike, the other man would move to safety, out of his reach. This went on for weeks until Gin finally realized that he didn't need to kill the interloper; he'd simply take Rangiku and then have her do it.

So he came up with a simple plan. He waited until the both of them were fast asleep, then he crept around the side of the house and unfastened one of the shutters. He clattered and clamored with it, banging it against the window frame as hard as he could without splintering it. And it worked; soon enough, the woman he was after came peering around the corner to find the noisy window.

Once again, he had her. Even if her blood wasn't as sweet as it could've been had she still been a virgin, in that moment, she was his alone. But before he could do much more than take a sip, that damned Kurosaki caught him.

They fought tooth and nail, as though the redhead was also protecting something. Gin could only surmise the other vampire cared simply because this was the house the girl he had sent for had come from. If that was the case, then that girl was probably important to him. But it didn't matter that night; the fight drug on for the better part of an hour while the Kurosakis' Spaniard drug Rangiku to safety, then flew off for help.

Finally, as the sky began to lighten, Gin retreated back to his cave. But not before he'd taken a good shot at the Kurosaki brat - he'd had enough foresight to bring one of Aizen's finest silver daggers with him when he'd parted ways with him. He had made good use of it, for sure. He only hoped the redhead would bleed until he was nothing but a dried-up husk. And maybe one day, he could even use it on Aizen himself.

Alas, soon afterward he'd caught scent of several other vampires in the area. The rest of the family seemed to have descended upon the old castle. He was hemmed into his cave, careful not to make too much ruckus or venture too far with all the extra attention around him. As it turned out, he shouldn't have even worried; the Kurosakis were far too absorbed in their own petty squabbles to care much about him.

And finally, just when he was beginning to lose hope that the family of interlopers would ever leave, they sent that same girl he'd had his eye on back down the castle road.

______________________________________________________

Orihime stared, wide-eyed, at the smiling silver-haired man before her. His story was sad, to be sure; he'd had no choice in what he became and of how his life had gone. But at the same time, he'd also become sadistic and twisted himself. He'd taken his unfortunate circumstances out on the innocent people around him. Her eyes welled with tears.

"So..." she began slowly, "Now that you have me, what are... what are you going to do with me?" Orihime could guess at the answer, but if his story had taught her anything, it was that he didn't think quite predictably.

"Oh, you?" he asked innocently, "I thought I'd make you into a ghoul." A crease formed between Orihime's eyebrows as she took that answer in. It wasn't what she was expecting, to say the least.

"B-But I'm still a virgin," she said softly, not liking where this conversation was headed. Gin simply smiled, baring his fangs, and leaned toward her.

"I know," he said simply. Orihime felt a chill run down her spine as she huddled in on herself in disbelief. Just as she was about to protest, the silver-haired man leaned back and gave her an almost friendly grin.

"Just kidding!" he said lightly. Orihime felt like she'd been doused in ice water. He was only joking? About something like that? "You didn't really believe that, didya?"

"Y-Yes?" she replied sheepishly, "But then, what are you..?"

"Well, t' tell ya the truth," he said with a shrug, "I thought I'd jus' feed on ya, then throw yer corpse in Kurosaki's courtyard." Orihime got the distinct feeling he wasn't joking this time.

"But... what about Rangiku?" she asked, hoping she could at least stall him for time, "She'll be sad if I die." He raised an eyebrow as though considering this for a second before shrugging again.

"Nah," he dismissed her, "Once we're together, all she'll need is me." Something else occurred to Orihime, as though she'd just realized it.

"But she can't be a vampire anymore!" she exclaimed, "She would just become a ghoul! You can't... If you love her, you won't do that to her!" Gin looked unmoved.

"What do ya think a ghoul actually is?" he asked, cocking his head to the side, "Those Kurosakis probably fed you that line about them bein' mindless or soulless or somethin', huh?" Orihime looked sheepishly up at him. It was true; all she knew of ghouls, she'd learned from Tatsuki and, by extension, Nemu.

"That's not it," he said as though he were giving her a little lesson, "They retain their personality. It's just clouded by hunger most of the time. They haveta like ya t' wanna follow ya in the first place, or they disobey." Orihime processed this information. Didn't Nemu only obey Uryuu? If that was the case, she must've been attached to him as a human.

"S-So you think Rangiku will... love you as a ghoul?" she asked quietly, "But... But if you kill the people she loves..." Gin's face turned grim.

"She'll get over it," he said firmly, "It won't matter any more, once we're together." Orihime glanced skittishly off to the side, contemplating whether she really wanted to tell him what she was thinking or not.

"But I... I've lived with her for thirteen years," Orihime replied softly, "And she never mentioned you before." As soon as she'd uttered them, she knew those were exactly the wrong words to say.

"Liar!" Gin snarled, his face contorting into a mask of rage, "Yer jus' tryin' t' trick me!" A pale hand shot out, clasping tightly around Orihime's throat. As stars flashed before her eyes, his grip grew firmer. He was cutting off her air supply and shaking her at the same time.

"Instead of bitin' ya, why don't I jus' snap yer pretty li'l neck?!" he growled, giving her another hard shake. He was inhumanly strong, and all she could do was try weakly to pry his hand away from her throat with her feeble hands.

Suddenly, though, Gin froze. His grip neither tightened nor loosened; rather, it was perfectly still. Orihime struggled to gasp for air to no avail. He was still strangling her.

Then, just as suddenly as he'd begun, Gin tossed her aside like an old toy, flinging her into the sloped wall of the cave. As her back cracked against the rock, Orihime drew in a sharp breath, eager to refill her lungs with the air of which they'd been deprived.

"Ah well," Gin tutted, drawing something sharp and gleaming from his belt, "Looks like yer little lover finally caught up t'us. Guess I didn't hide my tracks as well as I thought I did! Oops!" His voice betrayed a smile, as though he'd left a trail on purpose. As Orihime opened her aching eyes, she saw the silver dagger in his right hand catching the moonlight.

"Just stay put," he said lightly, "I'll be back for ya in a bit."
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Crystal Dawn

February 2012

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