Love Letters

Baron Grimmjow was happy. He'd found the woman he'd decided to marry, the love of his life, his Baroness. Being of nobility, even of the lowest class, that meant he had a fair selection of ladies, and he'd found the one he wished to take for his wife at a gala this spring. The Season was drawing to a close, and the young ladies were beginning to realize that marriageable noble men were starting to become scarcer and scarcer within the ton as they either courted the lady of their choice or returned to business, deciding to find a wife next year. The Baron himself had been readying to return to his modest estate, which was slowly growing larger through his careful management, when he had attended the gala. The hostess had boasted that the gala was collecting funds for a charity to help children who had been orphaned by war, which was the only reason he had attended one of the odious social functions in the first place, having been an orphan himself until his father's manservant, Shawlong, had finally found him wandering the streets after his father's death. He'd not been particularly pleased to be forced into the role of one of the bags he robbed regularly, especially upon finding out what sort of poor shape the estate and coffers were in thanks to his father's drinking and gambling habits, but ten years later his horseflesh business was thriving, the estate in good condition, and he was a man who knew how to survive even if things suddenly turned foul. But, back to the business of his Baroness-to-be; he had seen her at the gala, danced with her twice, and fallen into her spell. Unfortunately, his manner of speech was not exactly one meant for declarations of love, or even one that any lady other than a tavern wench should hear at all. He'd learned nearly all his best and most common vocabulary growing up on the streets as a filthy beggar thief, and his speech was coarse and direct at best, foul as a sailors and violent as a murder's at worst. He knew this well- that's why he required a little help.

Scribe's Alley was, as always, an ebb and surge of people. Mostly men, but the occasional woman sat upon benches and stools at booth-like tables, sheaves of parchment and inkpots kept in neat, precise rows on specially designed shelves so that the parchment was not prone to be dirtied from falling on the cobbled street and the inkwells not inclined to tip over. Many Scribes had numerous types of quills for different manners of writing- delicate swan feathers for letters from women to men, dark, sturdy hawk quills for men writing to women, and ostentatious eagle or peacock feathers for those doing good enough business so the client could boast they wrote to their rival or sweetheart with such an extravagant quill that their words must be true. This was where those gifted with ways with the written word plied their trade, as letter-writers, copyists, and stenographers. When one was lucky enough, they would get a steadier job as a scrivener or somesuch, but those who could not came back, day after day, dawn to dusk, to the Scribe's Alley. Ichigo was one of those unlucky scribes. Though born on English soil, his mother had been a Japanese woman brought to England by his sea-captain father, and their son had inherited his mother's distinct and foreign features. He had been blessed with her thick orange hair, her slightly narrowed and tilted eyes, and her lilting voice (though his was a more masculine baritone rather than her soothing soprano). From his father he had taken his large, broad frame, his heavy-handed fighting ability, and not much else. When he was eight, his mother had been murdered here in London as they walked home from the market, and his father had spent as little time as possible at home ever since, only sending money back to support Ichigo and his two sisters, Karin and Yuzu. Since three years ago, the small weekly stipend was not enough, and Ichigo had left his family home to earn his own living and give his sisters that many more pounds to live on per week.

"Oi, ya free? Ya with the chink eyes." Grimmjow saw the sunset-haired young man, perhaps a year younger than he, twitch violently at the slur. Shit. If he offended him too bad he might not do the job, or might do it poorly, but the Baron couldn't help it- he didn't know the correct term for a chink. According to the other people in the alley this guy was the best for marriage proposals- if the guy ever got refused, the woman usually had a damn good reason. Nevertheless, the man did something Grimmjow still remembered well- he swallowed down the anger and the pride and simply straightened in his seat. "Yes, I am free. What can I do for you, sir?" The blue-haired man acted embarrassed. "Y'see, I wanna ask this Lady, by th'name Rukia, ta marry me, but I uh… well, I can't read'r write. I only got mah title recently an' never had time ta learn." It was a lie, of course, that had been one of the first things he'd been forced to learn, but it was a lie that would allow him a fair chance to learn just how good or bad this guy really was. It was common enough for lower-ranked nobles to be unable to afford to educate themselves in those two skills. "Whaddya charge fer a proposal letter?" The man indicated his many supplies. "That depends on how much you're willing to pay," he rumbled, pointed to the neat stacks of parchment, which Grimmjow couldn't tell the difference between. "Since you are writing to a Lady, you may feel inclined to use high-quality parchment, in which case it will cost two pence more than the common, coarser parchment. If you wish a particular ink, the price of that will also be more or less expense depending on color and the difficulty in acquiring that color. Indigo ink is the most expensive, while plain black costs the least. It also will depend on how long you wish the letter to be."

Grimmjow scratched the back of his neck, watching the man's brown eyes. They showed no deception, nor any desire to portray the cost as more than it was, but there was a slight gleam that said he could be haggled with. Grimmjow, now that money was flowing into his coffers instead of out, had no need to haggle him down, and it was obvious this…Scribe?...needed the money more than he did. "Alrigh', how 'bout two pages, in real neat calligraphy, on th'best parchment an' with indigo ink- indigo's blue, right?" The man nodded. "Yeah, indigo, addressed to Lady Rukia Kuchiki an' from Baron Grimmjow." The scribe was scribbling that down on a small bit of scrap parchment in black ink, the words and letters in a strange, flowing style of lines, dots, and curves that he'd never seen before, but it was beautiful. "Are there any particular things you would like me to include in your proposal? Declarations of love, or perhaps information about your estate or family lineage for her father or brother to review?" Grimmjow blinked- he hadn't thought of what her brother would want to know. "Just that I love 'er an' wanna marry 'er. 'Er brother already knows me from business an' my assets, so we don' need ta address 'im." The other man nodded. "Would you rather wait while I write it and mail it yourself or have me mail it for you?" Grimmjow shrugged and sat on a stool just to the side of the scribe's boxlike desk. "Ain't got nuthin better ta do, may's well mail it m'self. How much'll it be?" The man figured for a moment or two, then answered quietly, Two shillings, eight pence." It would be much more reasonable to buy the materials and write the damn thing himself, but…well, he wasn't here because he was eloquent, now was he? "If I make't three shillings can I 'ave ya put on a wax seal?"

"If you have the seal, I have the wax," Ichigo replied, carefully selecting two pages of his best parchment and uncapping the indigo inkwell with reverence. That indigo ink had to have the plants that made it shipped overseas all the way from Africa- to a scribe, their supply of indigo ink was worth the price of gold. Beginning with "To the Honorable, Charming, and Lovely Lady Rukia of the Most Noble House of Kuchiki," the young Scribe got to work. He didn't know much about the Lady other than what she looked like (it was his job to praise her attributes for his customer, so, like with all society men and women, he made it his job to know exactly what they looked like from up close) but if the man paying him was smitten, he would let smitten words flow from his pen, a delicate feather that had a thin quill shaft allowing him to make neat, precise strokes. He had no idea what bird it came from, it could've been a gull for all he knew, but after spending a day and a half cutting it into a usable quill with tiny, precise knife cuts, it was the best one he owned. When a client was persistent about using a 'higher quality' quill than the usual sturdy goose feather, he would simply claim this was from the tail of a swan, thus why it was so short and pure white except for the long, small shaft. Two pages of sappy, romantic drivel later, he signed it with a flourished "Baron Grimmjow" and sprinkled sand over both pages to ensure that they were completely dry before gently blowing them clean and handing both pages to the Baron for perusal before remembering the man could not read. "Would you like me to read it aloud, sir?" The blue-haired noble blushed slightly, handing the pages back. "Please." Ichigo read them, including the emotion the reader was supposed to hear once the words reached her heart for the man's approval.

Thank god Grimmjow still remembered how to blush on cue, otherwise the jig would've been up. The glance he'd gotten before handing them back seemed to prove that the man was as good as rumored, and when he read the letter out loud to him Grimmjow could've sworn that the man before him was passionately proposing to marry him. What a strange thought! But the words did move him nonetheless, and he was quite sure they would move the good Lady just as much (because, though he really didn't want to admit it, if he hadn't abruptly remembered this was a letter addressed to Rukia when the scribe read his own name back to him, he probably would've said yes out loud and embarrassed himself). "Perfect," he pronounced the letter, grinning and showing all his sharp teeth, "now all we gotta do is seal it." He watched the chink (he really needed to find out the proper term) fold the pages carefully, artfully angling them so not one single word would be broken by a crease, and then bring out a candle, light it, and take out a small, half-used square block of blue wax. "Your seal," he requested quietly, and Grimmjow slipped the Baron ring that was the only possession his father had managed not to gamble away off his middle finger and handed it to him. Resting it atop the letter to hold the topmost portion down, the scribe carefully melted a coin-sized bit of wax onto the center of the paper, let it cool slightly, and pressed in the seal in such a way that resulted in precise, clear-cut lines Grimmjow had yet to master- possibly because the ring was usually still on his finger when he pressed it into the wax and he only had steady hands when he was concentrating on them. The rest of the time he was twitchy from time on the streets.

Handing over both ring and letter, Ichigo carefully capped the ink and stored it away, cleared his little desk of sand grains, and was putting his quill away when he heard something thunk to the wood with the rattle of silver. His head popped up to see the three shillings of payment, and…was that a pound sterling? He hadn't seen an entire pound since he left home- "The price, Baron, was three shillings. Did you set down this pound by accident?" Grimmjow snorted, raking a hand through his hair inelegantly. "Naw, I know my money. I jus' think ya did such a damned good job ya deserve th'extra pound." And then he strode away with the letter to mail it, waving over his shoulder and leaving behind a wide-eyed scribe to gather up the money and hide it away before anyone else noticed the pound. He would eat well for a month with this! Silently, he wished the blessings of Amateratsu onto that Baron.

Three days later, Ichigo was scowling deeply as Lady Rukia instructed him that he was to write a cool, polite refusal to Grimmjow's offer of marriage, as she had already accepted the hand of a Marquis. With the security of the pound sterling hidden in shillings between four cobblestone hollows underneath his stall, which was also where he slept, he told her in his roughest dock-worker-brogue that if she wanted a letter with all the heart cut out of it, she could write it her own goddamn self and not insult him by suggesting he waste his precious paper and expensive ink. The female looked terribly take aback, and he continued, "If ye think we down on th'streets kin be ordered aroun' like yer fuckin' household servants, tol' what ta do an' jumpin' ta yer commands like dogs a'heel, ya don' know a damn thing abou' wha' a man'll do when e's been driven ta starve. Ya kin take tha' haughty attitude o' yers an' shove it, an' take yer aristocratic condensation an' yer business elsewhere." He did, however, eventually have to take the job, because she cried and begged and proclaimed he was the only scribe in the alley who could make the refusal without irreparably breaking the Baron's fragile pride and delicate heart. He charged her triple what he usually did and after the great insult she had given to him she didn't say a word, if she even noticed. He even managed to make the polite refusal sound a miniscule bit repentant without the insufferable woman's notice. When she and the cursed thing were gone, he dropped his head into his hand and rubbed at it vigorously.

When Grimmjow had seen the Kuchiki seal, he'd been happy, excited, especially when he recognized that handwriting as the romance scribe he'd gone to for his own letter. Upon reading the contents, however, he had to shut his eyes and try to contain his rage. She had passed him over for higher nobility. As the lowest class of noble, he couldn't compete- a Marquis was second only to a Duke, and she was already marrying a station below her own. Since her brother was a Duke, she was likely hard pressed to get him to accept that offer. It wasn't her fault; it was her brother's decision, and the Duke had very obviously chosen Renji. Fuckin' Renji, whose ass he'd kicked numerous times after the man tried to steal his horses to try and revive his own steadily failing stables. It sickened him how the highness off title always seemed to override actual character and the feelings of the people involved. Deciding that finding a wife just wasn't in the agenda for this Season, he burnt the letter and then made his way toward the Scribe's Alley. The Scribe he'd hired was right where he'd left him, a scowl now in place that somehow fit the man. "Oi! Mr. Romance!" His head of bright orange hair jerked up, his narrow eyes wide and round. "Baron Grimmjow?" He grinned. "Yeah. Never did get yer name." The scribe looked slightly surprised, but answered hesitantly, "Ichigo." Grimmjow rolled that around on his tongue, and found it a pleasantly exotic taste. "I wanted ta thank ya."

The Scribe's scowl disappeared right off his face in surprise, his shoulders slumping. "Thank me? Whatever for?" Grimmjow stroked his hair slightly. He wasn't sure why he wanted to, but he wanted to pet the younger man like a cat, so he was. "Fer writin' me such a damned nice rejection letta. Ya coulda made it a helluva lot meaner an' instead ya made it pretty. Hey, how good're ya with horseflesh?" Ichigo blinked. "Horseflesh? I've always been able to select prime racers and breeders at market if a man would pay me sixpence for the service. Why?" He didn't protest the hand petting his hair; in fact, he didn't even seem to notice it. Grimmjow couldn't seem to make himself stop, so that was probably a good thing. "I'm in the horseflesh business and I'm startin' ta do well. Real, real fuckin' well. I could prob'ly use somebody t'go buy new racers an' studs while I oversee trainin' and races, and somebody t'see ta breedin' when I'm off atta race. You lookin' fer a job, even if't ain't in writin'?" Ichigo's eyes went so round he looked English for a moment, and even his hair seemed to bristle up in surprise. "With a steady salary an' everythin'?" Grimmjow nodded, already striding towards his horse, a retired racer named Pantera. "I'll send Shawlong by with a carriage t'collect ya an' all yer equipment- since it's s'expensive, ya wouln't wanna leave't be'ind, yeah? Blue livery an' m'crest on the carriage, in 'bout an hour. Be ready, Ichigo." He knew from the reaction that he wouldn't be refused; and really, he wanted to see where this strange, misplaced affection would go. It was an odd thing that his mind transferred his like for Lady Rukia into an attachment to the man who'd written the letter that was her rejection, but it had, and he was curious. Hell, maybe (if Ichigo was up for it) a man was better than a woman.

What say you, my readers? Shall I continue, or should I leave it a cute one-shot?