The Pirate Queen
Author's Note: An AU Bleach adventure/romance set on the high seas. Ichigo is Captain of the H.M.S. Vincent, a British Royal Navy sailing ship patrolling for pirates off the United States and in the Caribbean. Rukia is Captain of the pirate ship, Soul Warrior, with some unusual abilities. Who are the pirates and what secrets do they hold? Rated T for mild sexual situations and violence. IchiRuki.
Disclaimers: The story is mine, but the characters belong to and are from the incredible imagination of the manga god Kubo Tite. Arigato, Sensei.
Chapter One: The Two Captains
The waves crashed hard against the bow of the ship, sending water over the bowsprit and onto the deck. Nearby, lightening hit the ocean and the ship shook with the resulting thunder, sending the crew scrambling for cover. The ship's captain spun the wheel hard, trying to steer out of the strongest part of the storm.
"Captain, they're gaining on us," shouted one of the men in the crow's nest atop the forward mast, struggling to hang onto the ropes to avoid being thrown into the sea.
"Damn," swore the Captain, under her breath, spinning the wheel harder this time, hoping the masts would hold in the gale-force winds. They wouldn't be showing so much sail in a wind this stiff but for the ship that followed closely behind them, cannons trained in their direction.
There was a terrifyingly loud cracking sound and an equally loud crash, as the top of the mizzen fell onto the deck, narrowly missing several crewmen.
"We need to drop the topsails," she thought, still fighting the rudder with the wheel. "If we keep this up, it won't matter if we're caught, we'll sink first."
Rukia shouted to the first mate to drop the sails and the ship, which was heeling perilously far to starboard, now came back under control, and she felt the rudder's pull against the wheel ease slightly.
The First Mate, now back at her side, grabbed onto one of the deck railings as the ship turned hard to port, heading directly into the strongest part of the storm.
"Renji," yelled Rukia, over the din of another thunderclap, "tell the crew to go to their quarters. I'm going to need your help if we are going to pull her out of here."
Renji, his red hair plastered to his face by the water and the wind, nodded briefly and said, "I'll be back to help in a few minutes, Captain Kuchiki." She nodded and held tight to the wheel, nudging the ship further upwind into the eye of the storm.
Ten minutes later, Renji returned, satisfied that all the men were safely belowdecks, and that the topsails were well tied-down. "I can see them now, off our stern. A few yards closer, and we'll be within range of their cannons."
"I've never done this in such a powerful storm, Renji," said Rukia, looking at Renji with concern. "I don't know what effect it will have upon the structure of the ship itself."
"Is there another choice?" Renji asked, knowing the answer.
"No," Rukia replied, brow furrowed. "Not unless we want to risk the enemy's cannons." Renji nodded and put his hands on the wheel, next to his captain's.
"We only need to move her ten miles or so," said Rukia, gripping the wheel tightly and nudging the ship further into the blackness of the storm.
"Aye-aye, sir," Renji replied.
They closed their eyes, focusing on the wood of the wheel, feeling the deck beneath their feet. The wheel began to glow white starting at the place where their fingers touched the wood, the glow spreading over the rest of the wheel and down through their feet onto the decks, up the remaining masts, and over the sides of the ship until the entire ship glowed white in the blackness of the clouds and rain.
Ichigo looked over the bow of his ship at the pirate vessel they pursued. He blinked, hard, wondering for a moment if he was seeing things. The entire ship appeared to glow bright white against the black storm clouds.
"Hisagi!" he shouted to his first officer, over the din of the storm. "Take a look at this."
"Yes, sir!" barked the dark-haired man, who still wore his uniform jacket despite the driving wind and rain.
"What do you see?" asked Ichigo, frowning slightly.
"The pirate vessel…," said Hisagi Shuuhei, doing his best to maintain his composure in the presence of his commanding officer. "It's glowing, like the embers of a hot fire. Do you think our cannons hit it?"
"No," replied Ichigo, pulling a small telescope out of his pocket and setting it upon the enemy ship. Through the glass, he could see no crew on deck. Nobody, in fact, save two dim figures, whose hands appeared to be on the wheel of the ship, guiding it.
There was a flash of what looked liked lightening in the glass, and Ichigo was momentarily blinded, so bright was the light through the telescope. He dropped the glass onto the deck and the lens shattered on impact.
"Sir," said Shuuhei, "are you alright?"
"I'm fine," grumbled Ichigo, blinking his eyes to try to clear his vision. "The ship…tell me – where is it now?"
"You're not going to believe this, sir," said Shuuhei, a slight tremor in his voice, "but it's vanished. Disappeared."
"Sunk, you mean?" asked Ichigo, now able to make out a few shadows, but nothing more.
"I…I don't know, sir," replied the other man, confused. "It just…vanished. I didn't see it sink."
"Renji," shouted Rukia, running across the deck. "Where are you?"
"I'm over here, sir," replied the redhead, who was sitting on the foredeck rubbing his head, and bleeding from a gash on his forehead. "I'm fine."
She pulled out a small handkerchief and pressed it against Renji's head. "It doesn't look too deep, but I want you to have Doc take a look at it. You may need a few stitches."
"Did it work?" asked Renji, standing up slowly and looking around. The wind had died down significantly, and the seas were calmer. The rain had stopped.
"Yes," she replied, smiling. "Thank you for your help. I don't think I could have done that on my own."
Renji grinned. "Happy to be of assistance, Captain Kuchiki, sir. I'll go get the men from below."
"I'm going to my quarters to figure out where we are," she answered. "I'll expect you there once you have given the men their instructions. We'll need to put in for repairs before long – we're too slow without the mizzen."
"Aye, sir," replied Renji.
Captain Kuchiki turned and walked towards the aft stairs and the captain's quarters, glancing with a frown at the mizzen mast, which lay in pieces, like a huge downed tree, on the foredeck. Several of the men were walking up the same stairs, and they nodded respectfully at their captain, who nodded in return. There would be no saluting on this ship – Captain's orders. Saluting, Rukia said, was for the military ships which were intent on destroying them. No, the Captain of the Soul Warrior had no need for military conduct, save the loyalty of the ship's crew.
Pushing the doors open, Rukia walked into the sparsely-appointed quarters and over to the large set of windows which looked out from the stern of the ship. She pulled off the soaked fabric which she wore as a scarf in place of a hat, and tossed it onto the wooden floor. Shoulder-length black hair fell freely about, released from its confinement. She righted a few items that had fallen to the floor in the high waves, and then sat, with a sigh, in an overstuffed chair by the window.
"Sir!" said Renji, walking into the quarters a few minutes later.
"Thank you, Renji," Rukia replied. "How is everyone?"
"Noguchi has a broken arm. Doc's mending it as we speak. Otherwise, everyone's fine."
"That's a relief," she said, standing up and walking over to a large table covered with maps and charts. She grabbed the corner of the table, and Renji grabbed her arm to keep her from falling.
"Thanks," she said, "I'm alright."
"You're exhausted, sir," said Renji, now looking less like the tough first mate, and more like a mother hen. "You need to rest. You did far more of the work moving the ship tonight than I did."
"I am the captain around here, Renji. I give the orders."
"Then I'm officially off duty, sir," Renji replied with a grin.
"Respectfully, sir, you need to rest. I'll plot our course."
"Alright, alright," she laughed.
Renji lifted several of the maps and charts off the table and rolled them up, stuffing them into his belt. He turned to walk out of the quarters. "I'll have the cook bring in some food for you, sir," he said.
"Thank you, Renji," she said.
"Sleep well, Rukia – I mean, Captain," he said, with a smirk.
"Don't push your luck, Renji," she laughed, her violet eyes sparkling in the candlelight.
Ichigo stood at attention before the Captain-Commander. The dark, wood-paneled room made the older man look all the more intimidating, and Ichigo knew that what he had to say would not go over well. He took a deep breath, preparing himself.
"Report," said Yamamoto, tersely, as he stood up in front of his desk.
"We lost the pirate ship, sir," he said.
"Lost it? How?"
"It disappeared sir," Ichigo replied, knowing how ridiculous he sounded.
"Disappeared? Captain, I'm not in the mood for jest." Yamamoto looked even more imposing than Ichigo remembered. Still, he held his ground.
"Yes, sir. The ship vanished."
"The ship sank, then," said Yamamoto, his eyes narrowed.
"No, sir," Ichigo replied, unflinchingly. "It glowed white hot, then disappeared into thin air."
"Kurosaki," said Yamamoto, stonily, "I've read your report. Clearly, the ship was hit by lightening and sank."
"No, sir," repeated Ichigo, stubbornly. "I know what I saw. My first officer saw it, as well. The pirate ship was there one minute and gone the next."
Yamamoto sat down at his desk with a sigh, looking down at Ichigo's report. Then, without speaking, he proceeded to tear it in half and throw it into the wastebasket at the side of his desk.
"Sir?" said Ichigo, taken aback.
"I'm putting you on shore leave for the next month, Kurosaki," said the older man, his face immutable. "You and your crew. I'll have repairs made to your ship during that time."
"But sir," said Ichigo, a muscle in his cheek twitching as his anger grew, "that report is accurate. I know what…"
"We will not speak of this again, Kurosaki," interrupted the Captain-Commander, and Ichigo could tell that he, too, was at the limit of his patience. "Understood?"
Ichigo said nothing, but continued to stand at attention.
"Understood, Captain?" Yamamoto repeated, the threat of more discipline hanging in the air.
"Yes, sir," replied Ichigo. He knew he would get no further with this, at least not with what little evidence he had to support his claims. He would need more proof.
"Dismissed," said Yamamoto, looking back down at his desk.
Ichigo saluted, then turned and walked out of the room. Shuuhei was waiting outside. He saluted Ichigo and walked in step with his captain out of the building.
"How did it go, sir?" Shuuhei asked.
"As well as could be expected. We've been given a month of shore leave, and I've been told not to bring it up again." Ichigo was still livid.
"They think we've lost our minds, Hisagi," Ichigo said.
"I don't understand, sir," Shuuhei replied.
"Drop the 'sir', Shuuhei," said Ichigo, scowling. "You're off duty. Besides, I know you've had your eye on my ship for some time now. You can drop the act, too."
Shuuhei raised an eyebrow at Ichigo, then laughed. "It's your own fault, Kurosaki. You were the one that told me I should have my own command."
"I did, didn't I?" mused Ichigo, shaking his head. "Well, all's forgiven if you buy the first round of drinks."
"Now? It's only two o'clock," laughed Shuuhei.
"What difference does it make? We're off duty for the next month. Might as well get started now, rather than later," said Ichigo, with a grin, unbuttoning his uniform jacket and stuffing it inside his rucksack.
A half hour later, they were sitting at a small pub on the waterfront, drinking Irish whiskey and watching the ships pull into port. The pub was quite respectable, unlike most of the others in the area. But the regular bars were closed at this time of the day, and they had booked rooms above the pub to spend the next few days, so it seemed a good enough place to unwind.
Off duty, the two men were quite close, sharing alcohol and sometimes even women, when it was expedient to do so. It had been this way since they had attended the maritime academy together, years before. When Ichigo had been promoted to the rank of captain two years ago, he had specifically requested that Shuuhei serve with him as first officer. Ichigo had never regretted the choice and, in fact, owed his life at least several times over to his first officer's quick thinking and cool head. Ichigo knew that it was only a matter of time before Shuuhei would get the promotion he had so hoped for, but for now, Ichigo was thankful that no ships were available for the taking and that Shuuhei was stuck on the H.M.S. Vincent.
The pub was empty of customers, save the two of them and a red-headed man with startling tattoos, who sat at the bar drinking scotch whiskey – also a mariner, by the looks of him, and most likely from one of the ships that ran passengers and supplies to the United States. Slightly tipsy now, Ichigo sauntered over to the bar and sat down beside the man, over Shuuhei's protestations – he knew only too well his captain's propensity for causing trouble when off-duty.
"May I join you?" Ichigo asked, sitting down on the stool next to the redhead without waiting for the answer.
The redhead ignored him, instead swishing the scotch around in his heavy glass.
"You're from one of the ships put in here, aren't you?" Ichigo asked.
"It's none of your business," the redhead replied, coolly.
"Got something to hide, then?" prodded Ichigo, taking a swig from the bottle he had brought along to the bar.
"I just don't like navy brats," said the redhead, as he drank the rest of the scotch in his glass.
"Why? You afraid of us?" asked Ichigo, still angry from his run-in with Yamamoto and itching for a fight.
"Hardly," replied the man, putting down his glass and turning to glare at Ichigo. "I could beat the shit out of you before you even knew what hit you."
Ichigo stood up, grinning now. The redhead stood up, as well, and the two men stood, face to face, eyes wide with anticipation.
"Ichigo," said Shuuhei, with a sigh. "It's a little early to destroy the place. Why don't you take it outside."
"Fine," laughed Ichigo, walking towards the door that led to the docks. "Care to join me for some fresh air?" The redhead smiled and followed Ichigo to the door.
"Renji." A tiny woman, wearing a dress and traveling cloak, stepped in between the two men.
"I was just going to have a little fun with this navy brat," said Renji, a disappointed look on his face.
"You are supposed to be my escort," said the woman, curtly. "Save the fights for when I am not around, alright?"
Renji shrugged his shoulders and looked at Ichigo. "Sorry, pal," he said. "Another time, maybe."
The woman turned and looked at Ichigo. "Do I know you?" she asked, trying to remember where she had seen him before.
"I don't think so," he said, although he immediately regretted his words. She was quite attractive, this small, dark-haired women with violet eyes. Still, Ichigo told himself, she was certainly far more trouble than she was worth – he preferred women who were a bit more malleable, weaker. This one was strong, he knew it by the way she held herself, and in the way she spoke to him. "Too much trouble," he thought.
"I am Kuchiki Rukia," she said, holding out her hand to him. He was not sure if she expected him to kiss it or shake it, but took a chance on the more formal and less enjoyable of the two. She gripped his hand firmly. "This is my associate, Abarai Renji."
"Kurosaki Ichigo," he replied, bowing slightly. "My friend and colleague, Hisagi Shuuhei," he added, gesturing to the table where Hisagi sat, watching with interest. Hisagi stood up and walked over to Rukia, taking her hand and bringing it to his lips. She smiled at Shuuhei, and Ichigo silently kicked himself for not having done the same.
"What brings you to London?" Shuuhei asked, charm oozing from every pore of his body.
"My brother and I own a shipping company based in London," answered Rukia, clearly taken with Shuuhei. "I just returned from Boston a few days ago."
"Would you care to join us for dinner?" asked Shuuhei, only now releasing Rukia's hand.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but I've already promised my brother I would join him for dinner tonight. But perhaps you and your friend" – she indicated Ichigo – "would like to join us at our home, near Piccadilly Circus."
"We would love to," replied Shuuhei, not waiting for Ichigo's answer.
She gave Shuuhei a calling card that bore the name 'Kuchiki Enterprises' on its face. "We dine at seven o'clock sharp, Hisagi Shuuhei. I look forward to seeing you both tonight."
And with that, she turned and walked out of the pub. Renji threw a few coins onto the bar, and followed quickly behind. Once outside on the docks, they said nothing until they were several blocks away from the pub.
"You think that's a good idea, Rukia, asking them to dinner? You know who they are, don't you?" Renji said, finally.
"Royal Navy," she replied. "Yes, I know."
"And you're not concerned?" asked Renji, incredulously.
"Not in the least," she replied, as she walked down the docks towards the Kuchiki offices. "In fact, I'm even more intrigued to know them better because of it."
Renji shook his head. "You've met plenty of navy men before," he said. "Are they that much more attractive than the others?"
"No," she replied. "But have you never been curious about the ships that chase us, Renji?"
"I guess so," he replied, shrugging his shoulders.
"Well, I am curious," she said, smiling mischievously. "You see, First Mate Abarai Renji, we have just met Captain Kurosaki and First Officer Hisagi of the H.M.S. Vincent - the ship that nearly sunk us, three months ago."