Title- Bread & Circuses.
Summary- Folks came from far and wide to see the young boy who dances with fire. I was just going along with the crowd, but once the show began I was captivated, just like the rest of them.
Disclaimer- I do not own bleach, and this is not guaranteed to be historically accurate.
A/N- Apologies for the colossal wait leading up to this chapter. I have culled most of the notes, but i would appreciate it if you'd check out a new project i've started with a friend, called 'Fair Game.' That is, if you haven't already. ;) Thank you!
The humble, pale blonde tavern-owner invited those of us remaining to a feast. He grinned and bounced around, gesturing to his prized possessions and bragging as if the auction had already begun.
The silver glint in his eyes irked me, as if the mind inside that joyous, carefree facade was already measuring and planning. I could smell his wit a mile away, and he could smell our gold.
All of us were wealthy men, and the blonde was not stupid attempting gaining our favour. But it went unsaid that we were only interested in one thing.
We sat at his personal dining table, as serving wenches brought us even finer wines than the previous. The merchant lay his gold enthroned feat upon the wood, as he grinned, joked and laughed with the slave master.
The Egyptian paid his companions no mind, instead he seemed enthralled by studying Rome's exotics; the bountiful frame's of the serving girls were all meat beneath his gaze. When he turned his examining eye to study me instead, I felt indescribably uncomfortable.
But I was not the only one feeling awkward; the wealthy noble seemed equally out of place. His ink black hair draped his shoulders as he shut his coal black eyes. I could feel conceit dripping like sweat from his pores, could practically hear him thinking us all unworthy company, wishing he weren't sharing a table with such barbarians. Yet as his eyes flickered to the senator, I could see his brain churning. It seemed even a man of his excessive wealth was wary of the brunette.
Aizen Sosuke's lips quirked in a wry smirk as he sipped his wine, feigning obliviousness to his surroundings. Sharp brown eyes scanned us all, yet he didn't see opponents like I did; he saw animals, and this irked even the stoic noble.
"I am honoured to be seated with such esteemed men as yourselves!" The tavern owner was saying, waving his goblet around wildly and wasting wine in his glee. "I never thought a day would come when I sat with such an unlikely congregation. Five of the most famous men in the entire Roman Empire! I am truly a lucky man to have such a gift bestowed!"
"Oh save us your flattery, Urahara. We are all aware that you only care for two things; gold and women!" The merchant chuckled, propping himself on an elbow to smile at the other man. "Therefore, it is lucky we care for what you do not."
I could already tell from his twinkling smile, what tactic the merchant was going for. He was a truly beautiful man; extravagant, exotic, lithe. His sunshine yellow hair cut just so, and his makeup painted to perfectly accentuate his eyes. But his political standing was nowhere near the rest of us. No matter how much he earned, or how prettily he dressed, he would always be a sea merchant; never a noble, gladiator or political ambassador. So he chose to play a game of charm, in the hope that he could strike a private deal with the slave master.
"Let us partake in introductions, for formalities sake." The noble muttered, willing us to hurry along the conversation. "I do believe our Egyptian guest might appreciate it."
"Yes… There are some here who's names I do not know. But it is no concern. I know names that matter." The painted man smiled, his creepy golden eyes boring into me. "I am Mayuri Kurotsuji. In employ of our revered Pharaoh on a search for riches beyond the world to honor him in the afterlife."
It took me a moment to decipher his foreign accent, but I bristled as I realized his intention. The pharaoh of Egypt grew old, and there had begun a worldwide search for treasures to store in his tomb, and send to the next life with him. Those who brought him acceptable gifts received his generous promotion and promises. This Mayuri character intended Ichigo to be a sacrificial offer upon the Pharaohs death. All that beauty would be sent to the afterlife with the king; never to be viewed by mortals again.
"That just won't do." Aizen commented, even his words carrying an undeniable weight and power. "We cannot have our dearest Roman treasures rotting away in an Egyptian vault with a dead man."
The Egyptian should have been insulted at the jibe to his king, but he shrugged it off. "Rome has many treasures; you can spare a few upon our kings passing, else the tentative peace might crumble." Mayuri grinned as Aizen frowned, recognizing the dangerous waters the conversation was treading. They weren't here to have a political discussion on the balance of the world.
"It's such a waste to see one of those treasures sitting free before us." Mayuri went on, and all eyes turned to me as he gestured. "Such a stupid master to throw away something worth so much money! I would have bought the Gladiator, as Rome's finest warrior, to guard my king in the afterlife had I known he was for sale."
I bristled again under their opinionated gazes, but my tongue-tied itself in knots before I could bite out a reply.
"I do concur, such a dangerous man should not be allowed to walk the streets among our women and children. I fear he will not know how to act as a free man—trained from birth in the art of savagery. " Aizen sighed, "Yet his masters decision came and went. There is nothing that can be done to chain him down again, unless he proves himself a menace."
Aizen smiled at my snarl, and I could tell he was waiting to bind me in chains again. One wrong move and I could be arrested, especially in such powerful company.
But even if I had a barb to share, my years of servitude prevented me from shooting. I couldn't have defended myself, even if I'd wanted to. Obedience had been drilled into me since the day of my birth, and even as a free man my freedoms only depended on those of my companions. There would always be someone with more freedom than me.
"Even without his gladiatorial combat skills he is a fine specimen. Profit could be hauled from his appearance alone. Such exotic hair!" Mayuri exclaimed, eyes gleaming as they ate me up.
My fist clenched on the table, a snarl curling my lips before I could say something defiant. Luckily, the noble cleared his throat and moved the conversation along.
"I am Byakuya Kuchiki, fifth head of the honorable Kuchiki house." He narrated, voice smooth like silk, yet as hard as iron. I gave him a second examination upon hearing he was the head of a noble house. I'd assumed he was a member, but the head? That was a completely different situation. Worlds apart. I'd never met the head of a noble house before, and wasn't quite sure where that put him on the political scale.
"And I'm Shinji Hirako, A common merchant with a taste for fine, exotic treasures. And I assure you I have seen a lot, but none as fine as Urahara's!" he winked across the table, laying a friendly hand on the man's shoulder as he chugged his liquor.
"Aizen Sosuke; a senator in the roman republic system. It is my humble duty to serve our glorious empire as best as I can." The brunette smiled sweetly, his face serene and courtly. It almost made me sick to watch, before I realized they were all now waiting for me.
"You have a name, Mr Panther king?" The tavern owner inquired, and it suddenly occurred to me that barely anyone knew my real name, beside my old master.
"Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez," I grunted. "Ex-gladiator."
"That's a lovely name…" The tavern owner commented, caressing his stubble and giving me a look that expected more.
"When I see something I want, there is no force that will stand against me for long. " I grunted, a small smirk turning my lips as a few of my companions became uncomfortable. "And Ichigo is something I want."
I never understood why people danced around important subjects. We were grown men. We all knew why we were here. So why all this talk of treasure and fine specimens? The boy's name was Ichigo: it was meant to be used.
They seemed put-off by my comment. I'd thrown off the merry game of vagueness they'd been playing, and those used to speaking in tone's had no retort for my bluntness. Only the blonde's found it amusing.
"So, I suppose you all want Ichigo?" Urahara laughed, clicking his fingers to summon the next course.
Juggling two trays of meals on his waist and hands, Ichigo entered on jingling feet. In the dim light his tangerine hair burned brighter than ever. All eyes were glued to those striking hips as he balanced the trays against the inclines and cut of his delicate bones.
He'd obviously calmed down since his tantrum on the stage, and now only a tight scowl revealed his displeasure. Brown eyes were dark and resigned, but beneath them I could still see the fire burning fiercely.
Ichigo had to focus all his concentration on handing out the trays. It was quite a feat, given the pressure surrounding him.
The food was delicious, of course. Scrumptious and exotic, prepared to absolute perfection. Yet the view was what really impressed.
All eyes were glued hungrily to the way the boy moved. Even going about menial tasks he was beautiful.
Once everyone had tasted the meal out of politeness and put their forks down again, the conversation continued. Our appetite's were set on something else…
Ichigo knelt at his master's heel so Urahara could pet his bright hair, as the man seemed so fond of doing.
"So, had you attained my dearest Ichigo, what use would he be to you? What is your interest in him?" The slave-owner suddenly grew serious, leveling his gaze across his buyers.
Many could not immediately answer such a bunt question that pried into their private affairs too much. The Egyptian was the first to answer.
"Of course, he would make a worthy offering to my King I am also interested in studying him for personal gain." Mayuri Kurotsuji stated his business bluntly, and some grimaced at the words.
"I would give him a mantle he is truly worthy of." Shinji Hirako exclaimed. "He would be the crown of my treasures."
"I am interested in his unique… talents…" Byakuya Kuchiki muttered reluctantly.
"The boy is a treasure I would not like to see wasted. As a benefactor of Rome, It is my duty to see he is put to good, worthwhile use. The stresses of holding office and supporting this heavy nation weigh down on me at night, It would benefit our Empire as a whole, could I attain such an entertaining outlet…" Aizen explained, always playing the saint.
Of course it would be the Empire's gain if he could have some nice flesh to stick his prick in.
I almost snorted, before again, attention was on me.
It wasn't that I was unused to attention; I had been a world famous gladiator only yesterday, entertaining crowds of thousands. But I wasn't used to being expected to speak.
What was I suppose to say to that, anyway? 'Personal satisfaction?' Was that really all I wanted from Ichigo? What the hell was I even here for?
"He caught my eye." My blasé answer received some disbelief from the nobles, who'd gone to pains to give elaborate, flattering answers. But I was no politician, and I wasn't about to play into their silly game. If I spoke it would be on my own terms, and I would tell it like I saw it. "I don't give a fuck about treasures, or the Roman Empire." I shrugged, a grin beginning to form on my face as Ichigo lifted his head; those coffee eyes meeting mine.
I met them head on, staring him down as he glared like a savage beast. "I don't care what his talents are, or how much he's worth to you. I just like the look in his eyes. Those are not the eyes of a slave, and I would prefer not to see them loose their edge."
I was grinning at him full on now, and I could see that he understood. No body else did, they stared at me like I was insane.
You see, there are two kinds of slaves in this word, Those who are so beaten down and suppressed that they have given up, or those who's anger rises with every unjust act of their tormentors.
The latter were rare. It was difficult to stand against the tide of fate- the chain of being. God gave you your station in life; who could deny that? But Ichigo definitely leaned towards it. The youth was difficult to categorize, but that fire in his eyes… All I knew was that I wanted to be the bellows for that fire.
I wanted to feel my palms burn as I tried to grasp him.
That fire was burning again now. He was considering me, brown eyes skeptical and harsh, glimmering like golden tiger's eye.
And lord did it make me hot under the collar.
"That's… Interesting." Urahara was rubbing his stubbly chin between his fingers again, also considering me, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from Ichigo. "How much gold do you have on you?" He suddenly asked, and I blinked.
Hesitantly, I pulled out the bag of gold and dumped it on the table, following quickly with the other. I slid them to him without breaking eye contact with Ichigo
Urahara counted every piece- stacking it up, smelling it. Hell, I was surprised he didn't start eating the stuff. But when he was done he leant back and sighed, content.
"What are you going to do now? " He asked me, and I told him I didn't know. I was beginning to realize I hated answering questions.
Suddenly, he broke into crazy grinning, leaning forward on the table as he swept up the gold. "Okay mister Jaegerjaquez, we have a deal" He laughed, as everyone else at the table sat wide-eyed and stunned into silence. Even Aizen seemed perturbed for a second
"Wait a second here-" Shinji chorused, ringed fingers clenching on the table as he snarled. Byakuya was frowning, Mayuri was glowering, and Aizen…
Aizen took another sip of his wine.