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[personal profile] queenofchalices
Title: Moon Over the Tower: Chapter Eighteen
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.


Orihime stared in stunned silence at the smiling man before her. This was the Duke Aizen, the one who had done so much wrong to her village and her family. And yet, on the surface, he seemed as unassuming as a lamb.

There were no spidery veins or age spots, no bald patches on his crown. Instead, he was the very picture of vitality. She guessed he was somewhere around Urahara's age - older than the Count, but younger than his father.

Even still, she knew there was something out of place about him. Beyond his pleasant demenor and angelic countenance, she could tell there lurked something abominable. Perhaps it was his eyes, which were a mixture of welcoming amd forboding. She couldn't tell. All Orihime knew for certain was that there was something simultaneously magnetic and repulsive about him.

"And you must be the Lady Inoue," the Duke said after she had failed to speak for several seconds. "I've heard quite a bit about you." Orihime thought she heard Tatsuki mutter something derisive beside her, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the Duke long enough to be certain.

"Yes, that's me," she said softly, finally remembering her etiquette. "All pleasant things, I hope?" She smiled as best she could, but it was difficult under his enormous presence. Before she could move away or do anything else, the Duke took her hand and brought it to his lips. A delicious shiver ran down Orihime's spine just from the coolness of his lips and caused her toes to curl in her slippers.

Outside she maintained her composure, but inside, Orihime was beside herself. Why was this happening? Only the Count should've been able to make her feel things like that. Did this mean she was a bad person? Or unfaithful? It wasn't as if she had asked to react like that. A part of her felt that all of this was distinctly unfair.

"Of course," the Duke answered in short order. "I can't imagine a creature such as yourself having anything but the... purest of intentions." If Orihime was distressed before, she was certainly almost mad with confusion now. Did he know? How could he? What was happening?

"You... You flatter me, sir," she stammered, feeling the annoying heat in her cheeks. The Duke simply chuckled, not bothering to release her hand.

"Oh no, my dear," he replied with a smile. "Merely stating my observation. I am a rather good judge of character." When Orihime didn't respond, her expression vaguely resembling that of a frightened deer, the Duke continued.

"I hear that you've captured the heart of the stubborn Count Kurosaki," he went on. "That must have been quite a feat." As he spoke, his cool thumb gently stroked the back of her hand. It was such an intimate gesture that Orihime was at once embarrassed and frightened - and still frozen in place. She suspected that if he moved to strip her naked right in the middle of the hallway, she'd be powerless to move then, as well.

"N-Not really," she protested weakly as he placed his other cool hand around hers. "It all happened quite suddenly." Now as he leaned forward, he seemed to be examining her. After he seemed to have come to a satisfactory conclusion, he smiled blithely.

"I can see why he'd be so enamoured of you, Lady Inoue," he murmured, something unfathomable stirring in those dark eyes of his.

Just as Orihime thought she might finally fall forward entirely, a firm arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her back against a body that was just as solid. Aizen released her hand and suddenly, the spell was broken. Orihime felt as though she'd just been dipped head-first into an icy stream. It was like suddenly waking up from a dream.

"I was just remarking on what charming taste you have, Count," Aizen said, smirking. Orihime tilted her head up to see the Count, arms wrapped about her possessively and leveling a murderous glare at the Duke. He looked as though he had just found an unwelcome vermin in his house.

"You'll have to excuse us," he murmured. "The lady has frequent fainting spells." Aizen's eyebrow quirked in amusement.

"My, my!" he remarked. "Is she anemic?" He seemed endlessly amused at his own joke. Orihime could see the faint outline of the Count's sharp canine teeth beneath his upper lip.

"She simply isn't well," he said succinctly. "Please excuse us." The Duke bowed graciously, giving them leave.

"Of course, Count," he acquiesed. "Lady Inoue, I hope to make your accquantance again very soon." Orihime nodded dumbly, lightly feeling her forehead with her hand.

"Thank you, sir," she said quietly. With that, the Count lifted her off her feet and walked past the Duke in the direction of her rooms. As they passed, Orihime could see the barest traces of a smirk forming on the dark-haired man's face.


"Tatsuki," the Count ground out as soon as Orihime's door was closed behind the three.

"I'm sorry, Ichigo," the black-haired girl apologized. "There was no way around him." His stormy brown eyes flickered back to his childhood friend as he sat his fiancee down on her bed.

"Don't be angry at Tatsuki," Orihime pleaded. "I didn't think he'd say anything to us." He knelt before her and took her hand, eyebrows pinched in concern.

"Neither of you could move, could you?" he asked, sparing a glance at Tatsuki. The maid shook her head as Orihime's cheeks colored violently.

"I-It was really strange," Orihime said shyly, refusing to meet his eyes. Ichigo gave her a curious look before sighing and shaking his head. She obviously wasn't telling him everything that was on her mind, but he wouldn't press for now.

"It's because both of you have human blood," he explained. "Aizen is very good at placing humans into a swoon just by being near them. It's his particular talent. You must take care to keep out of his presence." Even though Orihime nodded slowly in understanding, Ichigo noticed she didn't look him in the eyes. Was she afraid he had done the same thing to her? Or was there something else there? Either way, no matter how wounded it made him feel, she would tell him when she was ready. Or maybe she'd even tell Rukia or Tatsuki if she couldn't tell him.

Pushing those thoughts aside, he leaned forward and caught Orihime's lips in a relatively chaste kiss. It was impulsive and meant to distract her back into giving her attention to him, and it worked. Her eyes widened and her pulse fluttered at first. After a few seconds, her eyelids drifted shut and she relaxed into the kiss, her heartbeat slowing to a more normal rate.

They lingered like that for a few more moments before Tatsuki cleared her throat to remind them she was there. Ichigo pulled back, color slowly rising to his face, as Orihime blushed violently and hid her cheeks with her hands.

"Aren't there things you need to be doing?" Tatsuki asked slyly. "Besides, you're supposed to save that stuff for when you're married." Ichigo sputtered at Tatsuki's teasing; why did she always have to embarrass him so? Especially in front of Orihime!

"This is fine to do!" Ichigo protested. "It's not like we're in public!" Orihime slid her hands completely over her face in mortification while Tatsuki snorted with laughter.

"That's even worse!" she retorted. "If you're alone, who knows what you'll do!" Ichigo knew what she was getting at; rather than being angry with her - he could hardly bring himself to be truly angry with Tatsuki - he was simply mortified.

"Sh-Shut up, Tatsuki!" he finally squawked, causing the maid to break out into gales of laughter. Orihime squeaked at her spot on the bed.

"Please... Please don't fight!" she mewled, causing the two friends to draw up short. Tatsuki chuckled as her laughter finally died down, and Ichigo stood in bare mortification. Did she really think this was serious?

"Don't worry about it, Orihime," Tatsuki said after some few seconds. "We tease him like this all the time." The human girl still looked timid, so Ichigo sighed and ran a hand through his unruly hair.

"She's right, Miss Inoue," he reassured her, doing his best to smile for her, "If I was really angry, you'd know." Orihime probably realized he was right because she nodded sheepishly. He placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed; the comforting gesture ellicited a smile from the redheaded girl.

"Alright," Ichigo said, leaning down to look Orihime in the eye, "I have important business to attend to. Rukia and Renji should be here soon." With that, he leaned in to place a peck on her forehead and then stood. As quickly as he could, Ichigo then retreated before anyone noticed the quickly deepening blush on his pale face.


A flutter of leathery black wings greeted the noble lord upon his return to his chamber. The Duke smiled; not the congenial, warm smile that didn't quite meet his eyes, the one he'd used on the human girl in the castle hallway. No, this was the smile of a predator.

The winged creature that awaited him had perched itself upside-down in a shady corner of the room and had been shifting its wings when he came in. Upon his arrival, the black bat let go of the ceiling and righted himself in mid-air before fluttering to the ground. As the heavy oaken door behind Aizen swung shut, the bat began its transformation.

Wings receeded into thin, white arms. Tiny legs stretched to the proportions of a tall, spindly human. The black fur receeded up his body, ending just above his shoulders, leaving bare alabaster skin and a white suit in its wake. Finally, only the black head of hair and the startling green eyes of the creature remained unchanged.

"Master," he tonelessly greeted the Duke. Aizen inclined his head at his subordinate.

"What news, Ulquiorra?" the vampire lord asked imperiously. He knew what he'd sent his valet to do; now he wanted to know the results.

"An inspection of the town reveals that Mr. Ichimaru had been living here for several months," he informed his lord in a monotone. "There are signs of fighting at one of the houses at the edge of town. I also found his blood, along with Lord Kurosaki's and the two women, outside of a cave near here."

As his servant spoke, Aizen drifted to the dresser his hosts had provided. He had brought a rather nice traveling decanter set with him, a viscous red liquid swirling just beyond the crystal exterior. He opened the stopper on top as he listened, passing the bottle under his nose to take in the scent before pouring himself a glass half-full of the crimson elixir.

"I see," he said softly, taking a sip of the delicious liquid. It slid down his throat, sending warmth throughout his body and a shiver up his spine. His mind, however, was working quite quickly. Of course Gin had confronted the Count; although his erstwhile lover had never voiced his distaste for the Kurosaki family, Aizen wasn't stupid or unobservant. He knew Gin harbored a deep grudge against them for their neglectfulness. So it was hardly surprising that he would try to rob Kurosaki of everything he held dear that he could get his hands on.

He wondered if there might be another reason, though.

"Where was his scent in the town?" the shrewd man asked.

"Only near the one house," Ulquiorra answered dispassionately. "It was a few days old already. He seemed to have been hiding since."

"And who lives there?"

"Only a young couple," came the reply. "Kurosaki had visited recently, although they seem to have fought there, as well."

Aizen hummed to himself quietly. He had the fleeting idea that perhaps Gin had sought out the little girl he used to live with, but it disappeared as soon as it formed. He had never mentioned the girl to Aizen, but he always wondered at just how close the two had been. But this sounded more like a territory dispute. Why was that house important to Kurosaki? Perhaps it was only coincidence.

"And the girl?" Aizen knew Ulquiorra would know exactly who he was talking about.

"She's quite wary," Ulquiorra replied. "She woke while I was watching her and left the room. Other than that, she simply slept." Aizen smiled.

"She sounds more clever than she let on," he murmured. "Very well. Thank you, Ulquiorra." The dark-haired valet dipped his head in reverance before addressing his master again.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?" the pale man asked. Aizen peered shrewdly over his glass at him.

"That will be all for now," he said smoothly. "Our meeting with the Kurosakis will begin presently."


As the sky grew progressively darker, Orihime's heart fretted more and more. It was evident to everyone in the room - Rukia, Renji, even Tatsuki, who was currently sleeping - that something was troubling her. She paced up one side of the room and back, subconsciously wringing her hands from time to time. As she went, the conscious couple's eyes followed her.

"Miss Inoue," Rukia finally said, causing Orihime to turn her pale face toward her, "If you keep pacing like that, even I'll become nauseous." Orihime looked away, abashed, and came to sit beside Rukia on her large bed.

"Miss Kuchiki," she began hesitantly, "May I ask you something?" As she spoke, her eyes flittered over to Rukia. The black-haired girl was smiling reassuredly at her, squeezing her shoulder with one delicate, fine-boned hand.

"Go ahead," the older girl encouraged her. Orihime gave her a shy smile as she continued.

"The Duke isn't... he's not like what I expected at all," she confessed. Rukia's face grew curious.

"How so?" she asked.

"For one thing," Orihime said slowly, "he's... young." Rukia's eyebrows went up for a second before she smiled.

"From the way we spoke of him," she observed, "You expected a decrepit old man? Or a monster?" Orihime's face colored as she nodded.

"I did," she affirmed softly. "But he seemed rather... kind. And polite." Rukia's look turned skeptical.

"Do not let his mannerisms fool you," she said firmly. "Aizen may appear harmless, but he is actually quite tracherous." Orihime's cheeks grew darker as she listened, remembering her body's reaction to the man. Was it possible he'd somehow controlled her mind? Somehow, it didn't make her feel any less guilty.

"I see," she replied. "But... Miss Kuchiki... May I confess something to you? As another woman?" Rukia cocked her head to the side and raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"Of course, Miss Inoue," she said, her eyes betraying her curiosity. "You may rely on me to keep your confidence." Orihime looked at her uncertainly, still ashamed of the thing she was about to confess.

"When I spoke with him in the hallway," she began, "Aizen, I mean... When I spoke with him, something awful came over me." Rukia's eyes narrowed a bit as she took in Orihime's words.

"Awful?" she asked. "How so?"

"It was... a dizzy feeling," Orihime continued. "And warm. I couldn't walk away, and it stirred something lewd within me. I felt like I do when I'm with the Count." The last sentence was said in barely a whisper; that was the shameful part. The Count was her fiance now, so feeling those heated things for him was embarassing, but by no means awful. But to have those same feelings stirred by another man, a complete stranger and one that was supposed to be a complete monster at that, that was another story.

A look of recognition dawned on Rukia's face, though.

"Oh, Miss Inoue," she said, a gentle smile curling her lips, "You feel guilty about it, do you not?" Orihime barely met her eyes as she nodded, drawing her lip between her teeth as unshed tears threatened to fall.

"Please put it from your mind," the older girl said, reaching over to pat Orihime's hand. "Aizen has a unique gift for manipulation of the senses. That is all that happened." Orihime's eyes went wide in realization.

"That's..." she began, "That's the same thing he did to get Gin Ichimaru to leave with him!" The memory of Gin recounting his fuzzy-headedness to her came back, causing her to wonder why she hadn't connected the two sooner. Rukia simply nodded.

"Most likely, yes," she replied. "Although we have no way of being sure. But it is a talent that any vampire would find useful. It is meant to attract prey." Orihime's blood ran cold. Didn't the Count say his hypnosis only affected those with human blood? That would explain why she, Gin, and even Tatsuki had fallen prey to it, but the Kurosaki clan had not.

"Then he was trying... to drink my blood?" Orihime asked shakily. Rukia shook her head.

"I doubt it," the black-haired girl replied. "Most likely, he was conniving to simply play with your mind. He is good at that." Orihime's brows knitted as her mouth drew down into a pout. Was this all to spite Ichigo? But Rukia's attention suddenly turned elsewhere, as though she had heard something that Orihime had not.

"Do not let it trouble you," she finally said after a few quiet moments. "Ichigo is about to take care of everything."
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Crystal Dawn

February 2012


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