Sweet Submissive Sixteen

Inked Drinks

As Ichigo was led into the grand, sparkling jubilee that was La Lavande Royale, it was obvious as to why it was considered the crown jewel of Junrinan, one of the most marvelous sights in all of Rukongai.

He'd heard of it before, of course - heard firsthand accounts of the architectural beauty and magnificence of the finest hotel outside of the capital city of Seireitei - but he'd never imagined aside from Kuchiki Manor that a mere building would so thoroughly captivate him. But the Royale, with its intricate, ornate Rococo design and sheer, twelve-story massiveness, did just that. This was the kind of urban, modern luxury the teen had never been exposed to in his secluded life in the countryside and it blew him away.

Ichigo was beginning to finally accept the reality that there was much of the world of which he knew nothing.

The marble-floored, immense grand foyer of the extravagant hotel was packed, dozens of well-to-do urbanites interspersed among the colossal columns and exotic potted plants, flanked by two parallel lines of mahogany desks overseen by uniformed employees - one to which Ichigo followed the other three vampires. It did not escape his notice that despite their party's formal camouflage they still attracted a great deal of attention, men and women alike sending them both furtive and admiring sidelong glances. He couldn't really blame them, his captors' presence was utterly overwhelming and drew the eye in a bewitching manner, all helpless to some sort of magnetic power. Ichigo himself could attest to that.

Shiro was the one to step forward and address the white and black bedecked clerk, a close-lipped smile meant to be polite but inevitably came off as sly on his pale face. Ichigo caught the clerk visibly gulp before speaking in a cordial tone with the slightest hint of trepidation.

"How may I be of service to you f-fine gentlemen this evening?" he said, adjusting his neat bow tie.

"I believe we 'ave a reservation under tha name 'Adjuchas'," Shiro said, proper as Ichigo had ever seen him yet still undeniably slinky, as if every word that left his lips possessed a hidden meaning. And as soon as the falsified surname fell upon the clerk's ears the young man immediately stiffened, eyes widening in recognition.

"Yes, of course!" he stammered, hands flipping through a thin volume of parchment whose horizontal lines were crammed with handwritten script. "Two of our finest rooms have been reserved in anticipation of your stay with us, as well as our best table in the dinner hall."

"Perfect, 'cept we'll only be needin' just tha one room fer tonigh'," Shiro said, causing a frown to instantly form on the lips of his orange-haired captive. Ichigo didn't know if he liked the sound of that, a single room as lodging for all four of them.

"Very good, sir. I shall have your luggage sent up immediately," the clerk said, sliding a brass key with a numbered card tied to the keyring onto the smooth counter that the white-haired dominant promptly snatched up and pocketed. "This was also left here for you earlier this evening." Ichigo watched two lily-white fingers tipped with ebony nails receive a small envelope - a blood red seal its only decoration. After that envelope disappeared inside Shiro's waistcoat, a gold coin then appeared to dance between his fingers and flipped up into the air, spiraling down to the clerk's waiting palm.

"Much obliged. We'll be showin' ourselves tha way ta tha' table now," Shiro dismissed the hotel employee, whirling around with a swish of his overcoat and stepping back into line with the rest of the traveling party. Flicking open the silver pocketwatch to view the clock face, his devious smile grew and almost to himself he said "Quarter 'till. Jus' in time ta play a hand."


It turned out that the 'dinner hall' wasn't really a place they served meals (not that Ichigo or any of the other fanged guests could dine on such fare, anyway.) The hall was actually a smoky, dimly lit affair dealing in the mildest forms of adult entertainment - gambling, liquor, and scantily-clad women, all of which the orangette had only ever read about for such scandalous topics were practically banned from Kuchiki Manor.

Card tables bordered the space, their atmosphere more subdued than the lively roulette and dice games being played at either end. Those not interested in chancing their luck lounged at the tables in the center of the room, nursing cigars and drinks whilst they conversed and laughed gaily.

Currently Ichigo was sitting at the 'finest table' the clerk had spoken of, a circular object smack dab in the middle and covered in a hunter green tablecloth and bare save for the rice-paper ensconced candle, the flickering flame casting light and shadows through the translucent material. To his right sat a still brooding Grimmjow, the blunette reclining in his chair with one elbow resting on the back, and to his left was Renji who was facing the other direction in order to signal one of the hourglass figures that were the waitresses, and directly across from him sat Shiro whose midnight sun eyes were luminescent in the candlelight glow and bored into him without mercy. Ichigo shifted nervously, folding his arms across his chest and pointedly looking down at his lap.

"And what may I get you four gentlemen to... quench your thirst?" A high-pitched feminine voice husked, bringing his gaze up to where she leaned over their table in between Renji and Shiro, her dress' off-the-shoulder neckline plunging far lower than decent. She was mildly attractive, her peony pink locks in a becomingly simple hairstyle contrasting against her creamy flesh, rosy cheeks, and big, dark eyes, and her shapely form was well suited to the revealing nature of her magenta-colored ensemble. Her smoldering gaze landed on Ichigo and she winked, her ensuing giggle at his fierce blush not appreciated.

"A round of your best 'thickwater'," Renji said, proferring a folded note of paper money with two fingers that she quickly plucked from his grasp and tucked into her apron pocket. It wasn't thirty seconds before she returned, her hands supporting a round tray carrying four short, square glasses - their contents a milky liquid a queer hue of grayish purple, a few ice cubes floating in each drink. Ichigo arched an eyebrow when his own glass was placed in front of him. Surely he wasn't supposed to actually drink it. How could he when the only sustenance his body allowed was a few mouthfuls of blood daily?

"There you are. Do enjoy," the waitress said, flashing a sultry smile sans sharp canines."If there's anything else I can do for any of you gentlemen, be sure to let me know."

Ichigo wrinkled his nose in distaste as she sauntered away, not even his naive ears missing the blatant double entendre. When he looked back to the other three at the table, he was surprised to see the dominants all take a sip of the questionable liquid and it must have shown on his face, expressive as it was, for Shiro grinned widely in amusement. "I take it yer lil' wet nurse never 'llowed any 'a this stuff near 'is two precious wards?"

He wanted to scoff at the pointless question, anyone who knew Byakuya, however distantly, knowing the answer to be a resounding negative. Obviously if this was a drink served to adult vampires after dark then the noble had doubtlessly forbid its consumption on the manor grounds. But Ichigo said nothing, knowing he didn't need to.

"Well, better late than never," Shiro said, gesturing with his glass. "Go on an' give it a lil' taste."

When the teenager hesitated, Renji spoke up from his left. "It's fine to drink, thickwater's specifically made for our kind. There's a few drops of blood to make it palatable," the redhead murmured before sipping from his glass again and for some reason Ichigo didn't want to dwell on he trusted what the tattooed dominant said unfailingly. Cautiously, he wrapped a hand around the base of his glass and raised it to his lips, tilting the drink to let some of the lavender liquid enter his mouth. His taste buds exploded with flavors, delicate palette picking out the subtle notes of sweet life elixir and the stronger taste of a mixture of things he couldn't place, his throat burning and eyes stinging after he swallowed.

"It's all right," he said, setting the glass down. Though he wouldn't have minded another taste, somehow Ichigo thought it better to hold off for now. He felt like his heightened instincts had detected something slightly off - probably just the alcohol. To his right, he noticed in the corner of his eye Grimmjow reach into his waistcoat and withdraw a single cigar and a small pocketknife.

Why was it so... attractive when the blue-haired vampire cut into the cigar and then narrowed his stormy azure eyes for a split second, a little spark of fire igniting the end in a controlled display of his psychic ability? Seriously, it wasn't like Grimmjow was doing anything even remotely provocative. He was actually participating in a habit Ichigo found utterly tasteless and this was the male who'd so recently molested him in an alleyway for crying out loud.

Ugh, what was wrong with him?

In an effort to place his thoughts elsewhere, the orangette was on the verge of asking if they planned to sit in the hall much longer when he was thwarted by a husky, female voice sounding somewhere above his head.

"My my, haven't you three become boring in your old age," it said, immediately calling Ichigo's attention. He looked up over his shoulder to see its origin and found something fitting of such a sensual voice it suited a high class call girl's stomping grounds more so than an upscale hotel's drawing room.

She was tall and buxom, but just ever so with hourglass curves and long, shapely legs covered but not hidden by the yards of light silvery purple satin and taffeta and gray timber wolf furs. Her hair was a cornsilk blonde fashioned into a coiffure with perfect ringlets that curled down around her elegant neck to brush against caramel flesh bare above her dress' off-the-shoulder neckline and a small ivory hairpiece of feathers, crystals, and stiffened lace in the shape of a dove had been meticulously pinned tilted atop her blond locks. Her eyes were magnificent - a marblesque spring green framed by long, thick golden lashes. The bright, white fangs displayed on the background of her rouge painted lips were almost entirely unnoticeable.

As if she was not already clearly sickeningly wealthy, her jewelry dripped with luxurious emeralds, pearls, and diamonds and the quality of the furs from which her timberwolf stole and muff were stitched were incredibly rare.

But the most surprising, and strangest, thing about this woman was that she was alone. No husband, no chaperon, no friend, not so much as a servant stood beside her. If even Ichigo was not societally allowed to wander the slightest inch without an escort, what about this vampiress rendered her an exception to this rule? And let us not forget the biggest question yet: why in blazes was she talking to them?

"So says she whose hair evidently now also serves as a portable birdhouse." Grimmjow was the first to acknowledge the woman, a puff of cigar smoke filtering through his full lips as he spoke. "And I won't bother saying anything about that dress, it speaks for itself. In all seriousness, Hali, if it hadn't been for the -ahem- ample assets I definitely wouldn't have remembered you were one of the fairer sex, hah."

Ichigo's jaw was in the middle of dropping in reaction to the blunette's utter lack of tact when an empty brandy snifter from the next table suddenly flew up into the air and shot straight over to smash itself over the crown of Grimmjow's big head. Glass shattered around tousled spikes of robin's egg blue and clattered to the surface of the dark green tablecloth within no more than two seconds, gasps from other hotel patrons preceding the scraping of their chairs on the hardwood floor as they tried to crane around and see what had caused the relatively miniscule disruption.

Not a single sound pervaded the following moment, surprise and confusion overwhelming one spectator in particular until he himself lifted the veil of silence with an uncontrollable peal of laughter. He knew it was an awful idea to broadcast his comedic pleasure at the sight of his arrogant captor whose blue locks and posh finery were sprinkled with tiny shards of glass and was frozen in position from shock, tropical blue eyes wide as the orangette had ever seen them. However, Ichigo was helpless to stop the snort of amusement that turned into an outright guffaw loud enough to carry across the entire dining hall and spur the others into similar fits of laughter.

"Bahahah! 's great ta know ya haven' los' yer touch, Tier, mah dear," Shirosaki exclaimed jubilantly, clapping his gloved hands together. "Ya know, was worried ya may 'ave gone soft on us after all these years outta tha game."

"Worry not, Shiro. Like you three and all of the others, I never once stopped playing," the blonde woman said solemnly, the most discreet of warm smiles tilting her red mouth. Her crystalline clover green orbs listed to her right so that she could look upon the disgruntled Grimmjow who was just now beginning to brush the broken pieces of glass off of his broad shoulders and run a hand through his stunning cerulean hair in order to comb any leftover shards out of the silken strands.

"Nevertheless, one may think it might be our pyrokinetic brethren who's been lavishing in the lap of luxury during our time apart; the Jaegerjaques I know would've not only dodged my projectile swiftly and surely as a civilian would a four-horse carriage then earnestly seized any of the dozen or so opportunities to return the friendly fire that've passed us by since."

She lay her left hand on Renji's shoulder, showcasing her ring finger upon which rested a gold wedding band starring a freakishly large at least five carat marquise emerald in the center whilst the rest of that half of the ring's outer circle was studded by two rows of quarter carat diamonds. There was no doubt in Ichigo's mind that this was the ring that had been given to the female vampire by her chosen suitor after she'd come into her Inheritance. If he were an admittedly shallow person, he would need to know nothing more to see why the blonde had snatched up the ring's owner for her legal husband and vampiric mate. Yet this single piece of jewelry amongst the woman's vast collection of gemstones and precious metals simply adorning her person right then and there, something Ichigo should've just noted and then moved on from, merely further piqued his interest about this vampiress.

"If I may Renji, you are without a doubt the most trustworthy of your toothsome trio of social misfits," she mused and Ichigo had to lower his gaze to his lap in order to hide his rolling eyes. To say any of his three captors were in any way trustworthy was positively absurd, but two out of the group had not befriended an innocent teenager with the devious intention of betraying his trust, kidnapping him at a most delicate stage of his life, and then dragging him aimlessly throughout the province while apparently waiting for an offer of a decent enough sum of money for his prompt delivery to wherever. "Perhaps you would be gracious enough to confirm whether or not my suspicion that the boy proves to be a great distraction is correct. There's but one reason worth that caliber of risk and it wouldn't be too surprising coming from you me."

Renji chuckled humorlessly, a half-grin crossing his face a fleeting second as he ripped off his newly acquired top hat, his curtain of Merlot red hair spilling fluidly from within its confines like a waterfall of the fresh blood of poppy flowers. Ichigo almost smirked at seeing that the redhead had refused to untie his black bandana, simply wrapping the dark piece of fabric vertically along his hairline instead of his usual horizontal style that covered the tattoos on his forehead. Contrary to the assumption an action so crass would cause an uproar that Ichigo was raised to believe, he seemed to be the only soul in the hall to notice.

"Mind games this early in the evening? I've barely even touched my drink," Renji sighed, demeanor lighthearted, and reached out to grasp his tumbler of thickwater. At his place to the dominant male's right, Ichigo wondered if he should speak up and then quickly realized it didn't matter if he should or not considering he had nothing at all to say that would make any sort of progress. He was rather hesitant to introduce himself to this blonde vampire. remembering what Shirosaki had instructed back in the carriage yet still unable to shake the feeling this woman knew more than she let on and would immediately pick out his false identity for what it was.

The glass of thickwater in Renji's gloved hand slid out of his grip and across the tabletop where it stopped right in front of Ichigo, the orange-haired submissive shrinking back into his chair in an effort to separate himself from the brusque action.

"Gentlemen, I think it would be prudent to stop pussyfooting around... " She paused, peridot orbs flitting toward the kidnapped teen's wide-eyed expression that appeared to dismiss him as unworthy when they snapped back to coldly pin the three other males to their seats. "I know you plan on staying dry as an empty well in the middle of a desert tonight. I know why you want to suddenly practice temperance tonight. I know who and what this has to do with, and I mean that in every possible way, do we understand each other?"

Sinking further down in his chair, Ichigo hastily grabbed his until now abandoned glass of thickwater and brought it to his lips. This time he completely ignored the fragrant flavors of the drink as he downed the entire beverage in one gargantuan gulp. He had to confess he did this purely for his limited knowledge of the effects of 'adult beverages' on humans and hoping this was the immortal equivalent because he was desperate to relax somewhat for even just a little while.

"Now, the one factor I cannot fit into the equation is why the location where this is supposed to take place somehow happens to be my hotel," Halibel whispered, leaning forward so both of her hands rested on the table's surface. Not appearing the slightest bit angered or hateful and still incredibly terrifying, she was an enigma - just like the other ninety-nine percent of Ichigo's life. All he had was a pile of puzzle pieces he'd barely begun to fit together into a full picture that revealed the truth of what was going on around him.

"You're a clever broad, I'll assent to that, Halibel," Grimmjow said, shaking his head and evidently unaffected by the blonde's intimidating aura. "But regretfully that's all I can say on the matter."

Ichigo vaguely pondered how long it should take for him to feel the thickwater's intoxicating effects because he was beginning to burn up under his layers of clothing, like he was out under the blazing sun of a distant country to the south and heat, instead of seeping in gradually as the cold did, was heavy and sticky and descended on one without mercy so they slowly suffocated.

The orangette exhaled heavily, fiddling with the knot of his cravat and after a few unsuccessful attempts untied the neckpiece. He yanked the length of silk off around his throat, but it wasn't enough. He could literally feel as his skin flushed red, darker and darker, the heat rising with the passing of seconds.

"'Broad,'" the woman named Halibel said distastefully, though her tone remained steady. Yet if one listened carefully, there was an undercurrent to her speech icy as the northern winds. "Would it really have been too much to ask for the compliment on my cleverness to remain just that- was the 'term of endearment' neccessary? Are you implying I am clever simply under female standards? As you so kindly reminded us earlier; yes, I do possess anatomy that differs from a male's and still you had trouble remembering which gender I belonged to. Character defines us, my brother; you know this more than most."

"Yes! Oh my god, t-that's... that's what I want to tell you guys all the time... " Ichigo piped up for the first time in the conversation, Halibel's words ringing true in his ears and emotionally moving him just so much.

That was exactly how he thought about gender politics, his new submissive status, and the whole archaic mating procession in the vampire world. Ichigo grabbed the tumbler formerly belonging to Renji and raised it in a toast to the ideals he and his new best friend Halibel shared, unaware of the raised eyebrows he earned when he knocked back his second drink.

"Ichi, maybe ya shoul' slow down," Shirosaki said, clearly trying to sound as gentle and inoffensive as possible while swiping the two empty glasses from the table and the orangette's hand. Ichigo made a grab for them but the albino was moving at the speed of light, or at least close to that.

"Damn it, exactly what we needed," he heard Renji swear under his breath and his tangerine brows furrowed intensely in a furious scowl, narrowed eyes landing on the redhead in question.

"Oh, excuse me," Ichigo said, practically abandoning English for sarcasm's very own, very bitter language. "Excuse me for inconveniencing you! You! You were the one w-who had the nerve to save my Zan from... and then you-... Whoa..." He trailed off once the surrounding area went from out of focus to moderately blurred and finally to spinning like a carousel.

"What the fuck? Not even this kid can be that much of a lightweight," Grimmjow muttered and the blobby blue shape on the right disappeared for a moment, reappearing closer to Ichigo's chair as an outline and only his most distinctive features were visible. Like his hair, and his teeth, and his bronze skin, and his eyes... Oh, his eyes. "Hali, the hell does your barkeep put in this goddamn stuff?"

"Absolutely not what's causing this kind of reaction, " the blonde insisted, her bleary lavender shape approaching the chair in which Ichigo was slumped over bonelessly. "Do not give me that look, Renji Abarai, I would trust Zaraki with my life."

There was no response that Ichigo could decipher. His toffee-brown eyes were half-lidded, hazy, and not really looking at any one thing in particular, his stare rolling around until his orbs stilled to peer into the distance blankly. This did not go unnoticed by those nearby, several uninformed patrons (whom also did not possess a medical degree) shouted aloud a variety of nonsense - that the boy was having a conniption or a seizure or was being possessed by the Holy Ghost and therefore speaking tongues. About half of the dining hall fled while the remaining half gathered around as closely as they could in order to get a better look.

Unable to see or think properly, Ichigo started to become alarmed by what was happening. He believed himself to be hallucinating the thickening crowd encircling him and the four other vampires, which was to doubt his own sanity and to cross that line spells absolutely mental and emotional pandemonium.

His head swimming, or drowning most terribly in an ocean whirlpool in the eye of a hurricane rather, and all of his senses compromised save his hearing, his frantic, disconnected thoughts swiftly turned morbid and soon he had concluded he definitely was dying. He could have been poisoned! Or maybe these were the symptoms of a sudden onset fatal illness. Or perhaps this was some sort of divine intervention wreaking judgement upon him now of all times.

"Shit, he's panickin'. Bad," an ethereal voice cut through the muddled daze and there was a cool, smooth hand on the side of his face, two fingers at his temple. Ichigo found relief at the mere touch, the wintry skin of whomever's hand it was combatting the scorching fever wracking his body and chilling the burn.

"Ichi, can ya 'ear me? 's yer buddy, Shiro, an' ya... Hey, 's all gonna be okay, ya understan'?... Yer fine... Ah, fuck this - he ain't listenin'. Grimm, prop 'em up an' if this works righ', get ready ta catch 'im."

To the sixteen year-old barely clinging onto consciousness, it was as if he was underwater when he caught traces of what was being said by those clustered around him. Hot ardence was boiling higher and higher in his gut ever since that cooling touch had left him and the bizarre thing was that it didn't really bother him anymore. The sensations were turning into something less strange and confusing, something that was soaring through him similar to the gales of blustering winter wind as he stood at the edge of the Kuchiki Estate's Manor roof. Four stories above the ground and untouchable, invincible, immortal - alive - that was what he was experiencing and how funny it would be at a time when he'd believed it lost to him forever.

God, what had been in that stuff?

Burly arms wrapped themselves around his waist and thighs, shifting his body so that he was sitting up properly in the dining chair. Ichigo blinked rapidly, unsure as to why he adored being held so closely to a solid, warm body when he usually abhorred such situations yet loving it all the same. Surprising himself a little when they went to pull away he closed his eyes blindly clutched onto a firm bicep emanating that addictively torrid splendor and held it to his chest.

He really was steadily feeling better, much better. Better than he could ever remember...


Shiro's intonation of his name startled the orangette awake as if the white-haired vampire had thrown a bucket of cold water over him. Ichigo's eyes snapped open yet his hazy delirium turned to fear yet again because when they did he couldn't see a thing. Everything was black.

"N-nothing's here," he whispered, aghast. Had he gone blind, or was this some sort of trick? The muscular arm was still trapped in his unforgiving vice and when Ichigo tightened his grip on the only solid thing he knew was almost crushed into dust with how desperately he clung onto it. "What was in that drink?" he demanded.

"Ichi, am righ' 'ere," Shirosaki's voice drifted through the emptiness, sounding only a few feet away but nowhere in the black void the other saw. "Listen ta mah voice. Let it guide ya through yer subconscious to tha worl' 'round ya. Ya are calm an' safe an' relaxed. Yer confident tha' everythin's gonna be jus' fine. Now come back ta us. Jus' take a step forward an' ya'll be back, trus' me."

This was very different from Ichigo's other encounters with Shiro's empathic ability. During those two times the vampire had controlled the younger's emotions as easily as snapping his alabaster white fingers, calming and reassuring him after both the false news of Zangetsu's death and that terrible nightmare what seemed an eternity ago but in reality had actually been just the night before. It had been a somewhat unpleasant feeling, having all the energy emotion created zapped right out of you and leaving you a husk of a being until you regained that sensibility.

Nevertheless, the third time was not the charm.

Instead of following in his previous experiences' footsteps, this exercise of Shiro's empathy went horribly wrong. Ichigo didn't feel the slightest bit calmer or better in any sort of way yet for some reason beyond his comprehension at that point he truly did trust that damn vampire and so he hesitantly took one step forward.

He was late.

He was late.

Late, late, late!

Oh, he was so late! So late! Though no one else heard save for the man thinking it over and over in his frazzled mind, the phrase kept banging clamorously like a gong throughout the busy streets of a fairly wealthy, clean city. He was walking as quickly as possible through the cobblestone avenues as sprinting was a young man's game, weaving and bobbing in between the crowd and their accoutrement to travel the distance to his destination all the faster.

Timeliness was clearly rather important to this man, an unfamiliar, nondescript, tall man (human, not vampire) on the wrong side of fifty sporting a full mustache, a mid-range priced cane, and his one saving grace that was his head full of thick, black hair with not a silver strand in sight. And yet there two oddities about this man, one more apparent than the other. The first and less impressive was his accessory of a golden pocket watch whose engraved dial hung freely from the chain attached to his over coat's lapel. If it was real, and somehow there was no doubt that it was, then the timepiece could definitely be worth a small fortune. Who would carry something that valuable on their person so casually?

The second was the fact that this man was missing his right eye, as in it was completely and totally gone. However, again his peculiar fashion taste prevailed and instead of wearing a simple eyepatch, there was a leather strap secured diagonally across his face and around his head. Some passersby, mostly children, stared at the strange prosthetic device and he paid no attention to a single one, for he was so very late.

A block down south, he finally slowed his pace as his destination came into view and he breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing something reassuring, which surprisingly enough was a patch of amaranth pink that stood out brighter than the sun in the dreary city streets. He was drawn to it like a beacon of light, his feet moving of their own accord until he stood not two feet away from the bright spot of color.

"Miss Kusajishi," he greeted and the young woman whose hair was as shockingly pink as it gets glanced over her shoulder from where she was surveying a cart of boxed sweetmeats. Dressed in a lower middle class girl's plain black bustle dress and bonnet, the pink-haired girl's face broke out in a blinding smile the instant she recognized the man addressing her. Her cheeks were overly painted with rouge and she had rather ordinary features but her big, russet brown eyes that radiated enthusiasm and smile that never faltered the tiniest bit enhanced her beauty.

"Mister Kutsuzawa, you're early!" she chirped, turning around to face the older man. "And how many times must I tell you to call me Yachiru? We've known each other for at least a fortnight by now, since we met at the rally wh-"

"Miss Kusajishi, we must be careful what we say in the presence of those on the outside," the man, Kutsuzawa, hushed her hastily. "I also do believe I would meet you here at half past four this afternoon, did I not?"

"Of course, that's why we're here, silly old man," Yachiru said, waving him off dismissively and distracting herself as she caught sight of parchment bags filled with exotic chocolates from Hueco Mundo, her mouth watering within an instant.

"Yes, but it is now four thirty-three and so again I apologize for my tardiness," Kutsuzawa said hurriedly, spotting that gleam in the young woman's eye that only sweets could bring. "I think it best if we exchange our packages and be on our way lest we be seen by prying eyes."

"Oh yes, yes, the 'packages'," the pink-haired girl whispered excitedly, reminiscent of a young pupil sharing a piece of gossip hot off the presses in the schoolyard. She stuck out her hand at chest level, palm facing upwards in an evident gesture of expectation. "I'll be wanting the incentive first, if you know what I mean, old man."

"I expected as much, Miss Kusajishi," Kutsuzawa sighed, giving a minute shake of his head and slipping a hand inside his coat, withdrawing two velvet drawstring bags of the same size and weight - one black, one red. "I can only hope you do realize it is you and your father's status and sheer dumb luck of being at the right place at the right time that provided you with the opportunity to extort an exorbitant amount of money from my master." Though as he spoke these words with sheer distaste, he let the red bag drop into the girl's waiting hand.

Yachiru eagerly loosened the drawstring, peering inside to ensure what she had been promised was all there and beaming searingly upon the assurance she wasn't wasting time chasing a pipe dream when she was needed at the textile factory during the day and the hall after hours. "I trust that it's all here?" she asked, thinking this was what a professional would say in this situation.

Kutsuzawa then thrust the black bag into her same hand, covering the much friendlier contents with their... catch.

"As long as you are a woman of your word, Yachiru Kusajishi, my master will be a man of his."

Night had fallen and it was a few hours later that night, the oil burning in the lamps lining the mostly empty city streets and the curtained windows of townhouses and, further into the metropolis, the grandest buildings it had to offer, their shining star none other than La Lavande Royal.

Behind the immaculate entrance of the hotel was where all of its dirty work took place far from the sensitive palates the guests, trash, wooden crates, and rotten food littering the gutter nearby. There were two sets of doors that led into the kitchen and bar area, the former one propped open to air out some of the smoke a small grease fire had caused. Fifteen feet down, the bar and dining hall set of doors were atop a two-step stoop where a group of waitresses were huddled close together, chatting and giggling about their inane lives.

Without warning the doors behind them flew open and a deep grunt was their single sign of caution before a box of overripe fruit propelled out through the portal and crashed into the stinking pile of similiarly contaminated garbage. A few moldy grapes escaped their crash landing early however and fell into some unfortunate brunette's intricate coiffure, which led to an indignant shriek of disgust and a low chuckle.

"Hey!" a bass voice boomed at the breaking waitresses, their immediate reaction to shut up and pay due respect to the hotel's menacing head bartender who didn't need to be humongous and wear his hair in spikes to be frightening. "Any of you girls see where the brat went off to?"

The young waitresses all shook their heads, their ignorance truthful yet even if they did know where his daughter was they'd be petrified speechless anyway. "Huh, wherever the kid is she left a spot open on the hall floor. You, get in there!" the head bartender ordered the brunette with the soiled hair, pointing at her and then jerking a thumb behind him inside. He waited for the girl to pass him before giving the street a last cursory look for a spot of pink that may be his daughter and seeing nothing but refuse and rats, slammed the doors shut.

"She gets into any more trouble and I'll kick 'er out on the streets, ungrateful wench," he grumbled to himself, clueless to what kind of trouble was brewing not only with said wench but also two men a city block to the west, near the stables.

It was almost like the unraveling of a cliche murder mystery novel - the totally abandoned city streets, the flickering lamp post, the way Kutsuzawa was lying in wait pressed up against the end of an alley wall, the unsuspecting victim nonchalantly walking right into his murderous clutches. Yet that was where the similarities ended, the victim not exactly the hapless, helpless innocent that always suffers a gruesome death at the beginning of the novel in order to introduce the character of the merciless killer.

In the split second preceding Kutsuzawa's lily-livered sneak attack, his intended kill's face was illuminated by the faint glow of the fluttering flame of the lamp post. A handsome, young dominant male vampire with shaggy black hair, charcoal eyes, and tattoos in the shape of a gray band over his cheekbone and bridge of his nose and the number sixty-nine underneath, Ichigo and the others' 'carriage driver' Shuuhei was instantly recognizable.

He was tossing the end of a gray scarf over his shoulder when the older man pounced, the cane he'd been carrying earlier pressing against Shuuhei's throat and making him choke on his gasp. Now, most sane people would consider this fight - a young vampire versus an old man - and probably laugh if asked who they thought would win. Yes, Shuuhei had advantages in strength, speed, sense, overall power, and the fact that it has been recorded that eleven vampires in all of history have been killed by humans. But Kutsuzawa had some moves.

Shuuhei gripped the cane cutting off his air supply, bending forward and using the momentum to flip the man off of him and onto his back on the pavement. The mortal should've been winded and perhaps defeated then and there but Kutsuzawa leapt onto his feet in one fluid motion, twisting the black enamel shaft of his cane and separating it into two pieces that each bore wide, ten-inch steel blades.

It was plain as day that Shuuhei was utterly lost as to who this man was and why he'd attacked him, a curious gleam shining in his dark gray eyes whilst they stared each other down. "Who are you?" he asked neutrally, shifted to the side into a defensive stance though he refrained from any sort of counterattack. Knowledge is always the most important weapon, after all.

"Why should I waste my breath telling you, immortal fiend? You will soon be dead," the elder of the two sneered, his dignified aura waning as anger rose to the surface. Then he twirled his right blade a few times in his hand, raising it above his head and chopping his arm through the air. The blade span perfectly and his aim was true but it hadn't traveled even halfway when Shuuhei unfurled his front fist and faced the oncoming blade with his open palm.

There was the awful screeching noise of metal bending, a nails on chalkboard kind of sound, and Kutsuzawa eyes widened to the size of his beloved pocket watch as they beheld the steel blade crumple into a palm-sized ball as if it had been no more than a piece of parchment. He had believed their intelligence that there was only one surviving vampire capable of full telekinesis.

"I won't ask again; who are you? What is it that you want with me?" Shuuhei demanded of the other male, probably wanting to hold off on using physical force unless it was absolutely neccessary. Kutsuzawa had other ideas, however, and spun his remaining blade one full rotation before angling his body away from his opponent and chucking the weapon in an arching motion. It flew far above either of them in a circle, exactly as a boomerang would.

The bladed weapon skid over the tips of the iron cast street lamps and sent six consecutive small flares of orange and yellow sparks. He caught the cane piece once it returned to its original trajectory, his expression unreadable and therefore making it even harder for the vampire male to understand what this stranger's motives were.

"I'd been under the impression that except for a former officer there were no other... living vampires with the unnatural ability of telekinesis," the man said casually, his tone almost that of someone making everyday conversation, appearing to be a normal elderly man. Or, almost. "I have prepared for the days to come all my life, served one master nearly as long, and yet for all my work and dedication this is my end..."

It seemed that this speech was nothing but nonsense to Shuuhei, whose stern frown deepened and he sighed the tiniest bit as he made his decision. Waving his back arm in a downward curve that swept up parallel in position to the other, then curled his fingers into his palms. The trashed, discarded blade ascended into the air and shattered into a thousand little pieces that hung there like thick mist. Revolving his palms outwards, he pointed at the shimmering steel with two fingers on either hand which conjured the metal to swirl and loop around until they formed regulation grade handcuffs perfectly cinched around Kusutzuwa's wrists. He didn't so much as blink at being restrained, falling to his knees on the cobblestone pavement and looking up to the sky dramatically.

"Look, you can get off of the ground; I was never going to kill you," Shuuhei said, exhaling exasperatedly under his breath and beginning to walk toward the man who was clearly senile a decade or two early. "I'm taking you down to the station and they'll decide what to do-... with you..." the brunette vampire trailed off, sniffing the air cautiously and then there was a soft breeze that brought with it the horrid scent of the foulest stench.

It was the smell of disease and rot and decay and everything awful in this world - the smell of death. That was the only possible way to put it, no words strong enough to fully describe its repugnance.

"What-!" Shuuhei cut himself off, gagging on the putrid air and covering his nose and mouth with his scarf and hand. "What in God's name is that smell?" His cry was muffled by the wool of his scarf but Kutsuzawa chuckled heartily and as the vampire stepped closer to the man the stench grew stronger, its intensity immeasurable. Then it was obvious that whatever the scent was it was coming from the steel blades themselves.

"That, you filthy bloodsucking devil, is progress!"

A gunshot rang out just as Kusutzuwa's spoke his last word, his very last.

Dark crimson blossomed underneath the white linen of the man's shirt in the dead center of his chest, his kneeling body dropping forward heavier than a stone, his face turned on its side so that his rounded eyes swimming with terror and madness were still visible.

Swearing blackly, Shuuhei whipped around to the source of the shot and inhaled sharply upon laying eyes on the cloaked figure of the murderer. He'd know those pair of eyes that were currently staring him down anywhere. And that was when he realized that Kutsuzawa hadn't been attempting an attack on him when the man had used his blade to skim the posts and send flares of sparks all along the street.

He'd been signaling somebody.



It's totally understandable for one to believe that should someone wake from a vision anything close to the previous they'd gasp wildly whilst their eyes flew open, then they'd immediately go about telling everyone and rushing to the rescue. In fact, that would've been precisely what Ichigo's plan of action would be under normal circumstances but things were a little different this time around - mostly because he was still high as a damned cloud.

After hearing that second gunshot, Ichigo sensed as if he drifted back into his body that sluggishly came back to life. He was still overheated and flushed with the good, better kind of warmth that was more of a humid June evening and less of a scorching hot pit of molten lava, which was somewhat of a relief. Actually, overall he was feeling relatively dazed, like a lazy, sleepy overweight dog, and he would've been quite comfortable continuing to lounge lackadaisically in his chair had it not been for two voices growling viciously at each other. They were amazingly disruptive to his rest.

"What in the seven hells did you do to him, you pale-assed bastard? He looks even worse than before!"

"I tried ta help 'im, ya brainless arsehole! And I didn' see ya do nothin' useful this whole blasted time!"

"How could I when I had to make sure you didn't accidentally kill him with your creepy hypnosis trick? I guess we're fortunate he was only unconscious for an hour and a half and had convulsions for about five minutes straight," Grimmjow barked back, the thunderous rumbling of his voice making Ichigo wince. "And who knows what kinda permanent damage you did to him! If anything's wrong with the brat I'll-"

The thought hadn't even fully registered in his mind when Ichigo leapt from his seat, knocking his hipbone into the corner of another table and therefore in too much pain to care about the glassware and cutlery rolling onto the floor. "Ow, that hurts," he muttered lowly, clasping a hand to the wounded area and glaring at the offending piece of furniture which was now empty. Well, the whole dinner hall was empty now except for Grimmjow, Shiro, himself, and a silent Halibel. "See, this is the reason why all of this senseless yelling has to stop, because-... Hey, where did Renji go? And everybody else, too."

"Ren took 'em outside fer a bit 'a fresh air," Shiro answered smoothly, the first to recover from the orangette's surprising behavior, and sauntered a few steps closer toward the younger. Ichigo couldn't help but shoot the blindingly beautiful being a coy smile. At least, he hoped it was coy since he'd never exactly practiced one. It must have been somewhat enticing, he figured, because the dominant came closer 'till they were mere inches apart and those magnetic unearthly eyes were melting into his, a connection that spurred Ichigo into daringly reaching out for the other's hand.

And yet his fingertips met nothing but empty air, Shirosaki spinning on his heel to address the two other vampires. "He's got pinprick pupils: telltale tha' somebody def'nitely slipped 'im somethin' like poppy serum. Am sure 'a it."

Ichigo furrowed his brow and opened his mouth to say something for his mind to give him not a damn thing to say. Well, none that were as witty as he would've liked. Plus, he could swear he could hear music, a piano concerto light and sweet and faint as if its incognito composer played the black and whites somewhere high above, perhaps the attic. Oh, he should love to wander up there and listen to the harmonic melodies. He could bring Shiro, and Renji, and Grimmjow. Yes, and they could lay down some plush furs on the floor and stretch out beside each other... Halibel could stay here, though. It would be a kidnappers and kidnappees exclusive soirée after all so she would just feel left out of the fun.

"Ichigo!" Grimmjow again barged into his thoughts, or rather kicked down the door, stomped across them, seized the teen in his arms and dragged Ichigo out of them. "Pay attention, this is important, got it? You need to tell us how you felt after that first drink. Do you remember anything right afterwards? What about now?"

"Tasted kinda weird buttt... I never had it before so... " Ichigo shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes nonchalantly. "It got really hot though, I remember that, and when I say 'hot' I mean all I wanted was to take everything off. I only managed to get rid of my neck thing, which I hate wearing anyway. Then there was so much noise and too many people, I thought I had lost it completely."

Walking through his cloudy trail of memories that seemed more like dreams than reality was taking Ichigo down a road he automatically didn't like for some reason, his gut clenching and temples throbbing more and more painfully. "It was starting to get a little better," he whispered, cringing as his head pounded and his thoughts became even more difficult to keep organized. "Then Shirosaki tried to calm me down with his empathy and I was in a black hole and there was nothing but I stepped forward anyway and... a-and someone was late. He needed to talk to this girl, she-...oh God, I think I'm going to be sick."

Ichigo's eyes were screwed shut as someone guided him back down into his chair, nausea swiftly rising within him as flashes of his three visions roiled around in his head like a masted ship on stormy seas. He peeked out the corner of his eye to confirm it was Halibel whose gentle hands were on his shoulders and he suddenly felt the shameful pressure behind his eyes, warning of coming tears. The submissive knew it had to do something with whatever substance had been slipped in his thickwater that then made him think he would do anything for a simple hug right at that moment - any kind of affectionate gesture would do, really.

But he didn't have time to be embarrassed or throw himself a pity party, because if he truly had Seen the ending of his third vision and it wasn't a side-effect of whatever was coursing through his system then there wasn't a moment to spare.

"The man that was late and talking to this girl, I saw him again earlier tonight - I don't know what time exactly, maybe an hour ago. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Ichigo said breathlessly, using every ounce of his willpower to overcome this unknown drug's intoxication that was steadily heightening. "I saw him attack your friend Shuuhei. He lost, of course, but then there was this smell of death all around and somebody shot the man from a rooftop. He died instantly. Shuuhei turned around to see who the shooter was and the last thing I heard was the boom of a gunshot. I understand it seems stupid and crazy and I don't know what's what but that sound, it was... It was so final."

Vampires cannot die from a gunshot, nor a hundred of them. This is myth, legend, history, science, fact.

"I'm so sorry, I know he was your friend," was what Ichigo said to rid them of the oppressive silence. "Zangetsu liked him, too. He tends to favor people with facial tattoos for some reason..."

The orange-haired vampire glanced up at the others, finding them all standing in a row before him and their gazes lowered to the floor and unfocused and even still no less bone-chilling and frighteningly bright. Ichigo's eyelids drooped of their own accord, quickly succumbing to the sedative properties of whatever witch's brew he'd consumed as he'd used up all of his strength of will to deliver the dreadful news with some of the dignity the fallen immortal deserved.

The lighter side to being drugged under the orders of someone who you couldn't pick out of a catalogue of one is all those confusing questions like 'why' and 'how' and 'is somebody trying to kill me' that happen to pop up like weeds afterward are delayed for a little while. For example, Ichigo was becoming very concerned about finding a nice, soft bed to face plant onto, callous as it may seem.

His chin had just started to descend to meet his chest when leather soled boots stomping toward them like a herd of Hueco Mundonian elephants roused him back somewhat to consciousness. Craning his neck up to peer around the chair, Ichigo hummed quietly at the sight of his favorite buff redhead making his way through the abandoned dining hall as if he the proverbial bull to its china shop. There was no mistaking he was absolutely livid.

And with the canvas of his rage what an electrifying portrait he painted, his vivid scarlet locks hanging loose over his chiseled features and strong shoulders, sweat clinging to his exotically tattooed brow and the off white undershirt outlining his rippling muscles and Adonis lines (Ichigo didn't care why he was missing half his outfit, simply grateful for the view.)

His physical beauty was blasphemously overshadowed by the fury and pain radiating from within, his energy and appearance wild as unexplored, dangerous lands. Ichigo's heart twisted wretchedly, knowing how having something precious taken from you could very well break a weaker man.

"How did you find him?" Halibel asked in that severe manner of hers, the male she was speaking to wearily trudging the rest of the distance.

"I heard the shots being fired. One. Two. Just like that," Renji told them, not once glancing at any of others and pointing his finger and thumb in the shape of a pistol, pretending to fire the two bullets that had stolen a life each that night. "You wanna know how far away I was when that second shot rang out? Five fucking blocks. Five... Hah, how's that not the most ironic bullshit you've ever heard?"

His bitter question was blatantly rhetorical and guit began gnawing away at the orangette; he wasn't worthy of the bestowal of his Seeing abilities, not in the least. Did it really have to come to this level of tragedy and ingestion of narcotics for him to tap into comprehensible visions?

Again, the narcotics in question wiped the slate of his mind clean and he was left staring hopelessly at Renji, disoriented and unable to remember why his head and heart hurt so badly.

"Where'd you put him?" Grimmjow said, his left hand noticeably stroking the holster at his hip. A brief thought passed through Ichigo's conscience that maybe if he was better at controlling his power and able to identify Shuuhei's killer if then the beautiful blunette would look at him with anything besides contempt.

"Right outside the city limits at the bottom of a hill in the woods; made a marker out of two branches I found on the ground," the redhead said, threading dirty fingers through his glittering gemstone garnet locks. Then he gave half of a smile, a ghost of laughter flitting over his visage. "It's premier real estate - right in the center of the view from their gate posts. Definitely worth the extra time I spent unearthing those roots, in my opinion."

"Hahah, he would'a loved that', Red," Shiro cackled amiably. "An' I'm gonna love gettin' tha yellow spineless sack 'a shit writhin' in agony under tha heel 'a mah boot. Say Ichi, our deares' - an' loveliest - Seer, ya wouldn' mind takin' a look in tha near future fer tha' particular scene, woul' ya?"

"Che, you know I'm no Seer. You know, you saw me fail miserably at it twenty-five minutes ago!" Ichigo shouted, jumping to his feet and pointing an accusatory finger at the startled albino. "You know 'm worse than useless, can't do anythin' right, and now yer gonna rub it in mah face, you stupid... snowman jackass! Yeah, I may not have an awesome ability like your fancy feeling powers but at least I have a normal amount of melanin in my skin cells!"

Christ above, what in the holy hell did I just say? Ichigo thought in a panic after his outburst. That's it, I am never drinking again. And I'll hire a taste tester to take the first sip of everything I drink from this day forward so this never happens again. I don't understand how people can honestly enjoy this. I know what I want or meant to say in my head and then it all flies out the window as soon as I open my mouth. Ugh, why must my life be an eternal struggle with my own frustration?

"Damn, did you ever figure out what exactly he's got in his his system?" Renji questioned the three older vamps, utterly ignoring the belligerent orangette even while he tred over to the side of the table to the left of Ichigo's. A big hand grasped the cup that had originally been served to the teenager, raising it for a quick sniff that wrinkled his nose.

"'e's got pinpricks, so he 'ad ta 'ave some poppy juice in there," Shiro said, gold on black eyes targeting Ichigo's flushed face and turning it even a deeper red. "Ya spy anythin' ya may've studied during' yer travels abroad?"

"Yeah, I do," Renji confirmed soberly, smoothing a fingertip along the bottom of the tumbler and withdrawing it to reveal a minute dusting of crushed green... grass? Herbs? They were the remnants of something of the earth for sure. "This is a refined form of the leaves of a plant they just started importing across seas; Latin name cannabis. The plant itself actually has a lot of practical use but packing it into paper and smoking it like tobacco is what's really growing in popularity, the effects mild and pretty much harmless - lethargy, cravings, slowed reaction time, stuff along those lines."

"Then why bother? Seems to be as potent as old tea leaves," Grimmjow scoffed, standing behind the redhead's right shoulder so he could look on.

"Somewhat true, but get a whiff of that," Renji elaborated, lifting the glass up for the blunette to get a decent waft of whatever else had contaminated the boy's beverage. He'd barely gotten six inches when realization sparked in cerulean orbs, the corner of Grimmjow's mouth twitching irritably.

"Fuckers, this new hybrid narcotic** or whatever you want to call it is nothing save an aphrodisiac for pathetic despoilers," he condemned gruffly, sparing the empty glass a look of disgust before striding away like its mere presence offended him. Ichigo hadn't been truthfully following the conversation, though not for lack of trying. That was up until Grimmjow's last sentence and the sickening tingling of shame prickled along the nape of his neck and he rubbed the goosebump-covered flesh using both hands.

Further under this nefarious substance's influence as time passed ever so slowly, his aura grew increasingly more tainted by how vulnerable, cheap, and dirty the knowledge that all that trouble had gone into ensuring an availability between his legs. He had hated most of the treatment he'd received following his Inheritance but this was different. This was proof that there was someone lurking out there in the shadows - watching, stalking, and waiting - and they wanted to hurt him.

"Have over'eard tha bes' cure fer these... 'love drugs' is ta jus' try ta relax an' sleep it off," Shiro's lilting voice drifted over to where he was seated and somehow Ichigo knew it was entirely for his benefit, his toffee brown orbs looking up at the enigmatic, infuriating, and admittedly amazing vampire from under the shade of his thick, dark lashes.

"An' we do jus' happen ta 'ave a room reserved on tha top floor, far 'way from tha drunkards an' gamblin' fools down 'ere. By tha way, Tier, ya picture 'a radiance wit' tha' golden hair 'a yer's that reminds me 'a dawn's early ligh', I'll be thinkin' we'll be requirin' tha' generous hospitality 'a those suites jus' a few measly more days, given tanight's events. In fact, let's set our younges' 'ere wit' a room 'a his own - wit' a balcony view 'a tha main avenue."

"And you're going to let me go alone and be so bold as to breathe without permission from one of the Neanderthals keeping me as their personal... pet or prized artifact you can parade through the whole bloody province like a show horse for the time being while you wait on an offer worth a small fortune that you'll never get because here's tomorrow's headliner: I'm not that great! All those bitchy nobles will expose mesoon enough when they find out my Seeing ability is a load of crap! Hahahah, oh my sweet Shiro, you do so know how to make me laugh!"

"Here we go again," Renji huffed, still scanning the now infamous tumbler glass.

"I still can't wrap my head around why we actually decided to take this ignorant, spoiled brat and his bright ass hair on the several week long trip to Junrinan. He attracts trouble like a bitch in heat," Grimmjow mused in a manner decent people reserved for when the topic of discussion is at least not in the same room. "I say we cut our losses and leave him on the side of the road so he can become some other poor bastard's problem."

"I would love to see you try."

That was the moment Ichigo was graciously presented with his first sighting of Grimmjow truly smiling, its rarity not lost on the orangette. In that brief frame of time he could akin himself to a wildlife explorer discovering a new species never known to man before then. That lush mouth the keeper of two unreally perfect rows of pearly white teeth sharpened like a predator's, his fantastically long, pointed fangs the most impressive he'd seen in all his sixteen plus years. Encountering a warm, fuzzy contentment he'd missed since early childhood, Ichigo had no defense against their dazzling enchantment.

"Do mine ears deceive me, Ichigo? Is that a challenge I hear as your proposal?" Grimmjow practically purred, showcasing a playfulness to his personality the younger vampire had yet to anything but glimpses of in the time they'd known each other. "Don't toy with me now, kid, if you know you cannot compete with the big boys, or dare not to even try, speak up now. I do not take kindly to disappointment."

"Is that so, Jaegerjaques? I would've believed laying in bed alone every night and having to resort to taking care of things yourself you would have grown used to it."

Ichigo didn't know where he'd gotten the nerve to say that, either. Well, it was probably the euphoric energy buzzing inside him that he knew wasn't exactly a natural sensation. Nevertheless, it was pumping confidence, enthusiasm, and bliss throughout his bloodstream and his frazzled nerves clinging onto the potential danger they were in were finally simmering down from a crackling bonfire to a pile of ashes.

"Ah, so then you've been watching me pleasure myself when time is too precious to waste on the hunt for a suitable nighttime companion?" Grimmjow quipped, not missing a beat, and the fiendish tease in him was making quite the grand entrance. He'd moved fluidly to the opposite edge of the table and bent down closer to the teen's seated form than was decent, his large, calloused hands splayed on the green tablecloth on either side of the other. "If you enjoy playing the voyeur that much, I'll be sure to amplify my performance next time. Then you'll be able to mentally re imagine me in your old, fat husband's place and fake your passion properly. It'll be our little secret. If anyone outside this room knew how kind hearted I truly am my reputation as a heartless outlaw would be ruined."

Ichigo let his lips tilt in a small smile, loving his fleeting freedom from his crippling bashfulness and intending to take full advantage. Certainly the rest of the world would consider putting their head in a lion's mouth to be less of a risk than what he was the very first to both attempt and accomplish. Gripping the lower half of Grimmjow's gorgeous face in one hand and tightening his grasp so the elder's lips and cheeks mushed together, Ichigo cooed whilst wearing the perfect expression of condescending adoration.

"It is so adorably cute how you try so hard, Grimmy," the submissive said fondly, letting go of the other male's face and pinching the edge of his straight nose in a gesture a doting grandparent would use with their young grandchild. "Oh, bless your heart you dear, dear boy. You'll find someone that was made special just for you, even if that takes years - decades perhaps since no one can tell the future, you know. But, I suppose because you're just so sweet if you want to pretend that I'm there watching you when you touch yourself at night well, that's okay with me. It'll be our little secret."

The flawless look of 'what the fuck' plastered on Grimmjow's face was one of those precious memories Ichigo knew he'd never forget as long as he lived. Those big blue eyes that appeared on the verge of bulging right out their sockets, that slack jaw, those parted lips ready to speak but incapable of doing do, the red mark Ichigo had led on the dominant's nose... Oh, it was a priceless masterpiece like the Mona Lisa or Starry Night.

It was evident the snickering Shiro and softly chucking Renji were not on the same page of admiration yet Ichigo didn't

"You are much different than I expected of you, Ichigo Kurosaki," Halibel spoke up from her position ten feet to his right. "I don't know of many teenaged nobles that act and think as you do, especially submissives recently come into their Inheritance when they're constantly primped and polished and fawned over like goddesses themselves. And yes, I do realize I was once one of them myself but we are all allowed a grace period of simple mindedness at that age."

"Oh good, then the terrible threesome can cease and desist convincing me I'm a total idiot about once every hour," the orange-haired teenager mused mildly, eyes flickering up to the woman's hairpiece."This isn't at all related, but why do you wear a fake bird in your hair? Do you really... like that thing?"

"I realize that if your head was clear you're far too considerate of others' feelings to comment on it. Kindness is something humans and our kind alike never fail to blatantly ignore if they're able to do so without much backlash. We are also experts in a shared denial of how important it is to all of us," Halibel glided over the floor gracefully, seating herself in a chair she slid it against Ichigo's in order to whisper to him in a private conversation.

"In my life I have learned one absolute truth, Ichigo, and it is that it is not government or war or power that shapes the world and the people within it. No, it is those single acts of simple kindness. They are everything, the beginning and the end. They have molded all our lives, traced our destinies, and connected us to those we live these lifetimes for." Spring green eyes locked onto Ichigo's, conveying a message he wasn't sure he fought through the drugged daze to bring deep within himself or whether the expanded state of mi he was experiencing allowed him the mental capacity to connect the fragments of knowledge together using just one string. "My husband bought this hairpiece for me on an afternoon walk when he saw it in a window display and knew he was supposed to bring it back to me."

"He sounds like a wonderful husband. Where is he if you two own this place together?" Ichigo asked, curious as to what he would make of the man that merely had to be mentioned and an affectionate glimmer would appear in Halibel's guarded gaze.

"He is away on an extended trip to Hueco Mundo, his presence needed to oversee some new construction projects around Rukongai's ports. It's been a very lonely six months, I'll admit," the woman confessed gently, unfastening the left wrist button on the sleeve of her exquisite lavender dress. She then pushed the satin material up to get elbow, exposing her inner forearm to the orangette. And it was far from bare.

"Tattoos have always been an important part of the lifestyle we lived in the time before we settled down here in Junrinan. Almost every member of my husband and my family has marked somewhere on their body with permanent ink, it is a part of our incredibly small but tightly knit... club might be a good word for it as we are not blood-related, per se." The incredible bond the vampiress shared with her mate and the other members of her family as her lace gloved fingers followed the lines of the inked design ranging from her wrist to the inside of her elbow, her flawless caramel skin the background for an impressively intricate portrait depicting a pack of wild Artic wolves running down her arm like they were headed straight for freedom. "His spirit is in the image of the alpha wolf, a strong, silent leader who still knows how to howl at the moon when I do something very right if that's not too bold of me to say."

"Wow, it's beautiful," Ichigo breathed, drinking in the lifelike imagery of the tattoo. "This something that can make a man howl like a wolf, do you promise to share the trade secret if I ever find a mate?"

"Of course, Ichigo. However, now I think I'll retire for the evening and I think tomorrow will be a long day," Halibel said, rising from the chair and steadily marching the length of the nearly silent hall. "Please do make sure they behave themselves at least until sunrise. I think if you put your foot down and hold your ground they'll listen to you. Breakfast is served at eight thirty in the formal parlour. Oh and remember what I said," she paused at the shut doors leading into the hallway. "All it takes are those single acts of simple kindness."

Then he was by himself with the three dominant vampires, who'd spread out in different directions in the hall and their presences pulled Ichigo toward all of them. Conflicted, he bit into his bottom lip using his fangs and mentally buckled down in order to choose what would be his first move. It shouldn't have been as unbearably difficult to sort out his plan of action as it was and yet the second he thought he'd picked his first target, his heart would grow heavy.

This wasn't even including the whole debacle of what these kind acts would be specifically. All he knew was they had to be 'simple.' Simple as in buying a present for the one you love just because, simple as in stepping in to stop the abuse of an innocent creature, simple as in offering a unique brand of comfort during times of distress, simple as in overcoming a monstrous ego to apologize for a single mistake, simple as in opening the door when three orphaned boys are standing on your front porch as their only option to shield themselves from the pouring rain and inviting them inside for chocolate chip cookies.

"I'm pretty sure everytime I look over to wherever you are, you're always so clearly thinking way too hard about something. Not everything has to have a definite answer, you know." It was Renji who'd addressed him, the redheaded dominant vampire leaning back on his elbows against the bar where the orangette had subconsciously noted him searching the area for some kind of clue as to who was behind Ichigo's current intoxication. There was a rag slung over his shoulder that had once upon a time been white before he'd used it to wipe the dirt and mud from his hands and forearms, the earthy coating of grime gathered from earlier that night when he dug a proper grave for his fallen friend with his bare hands as he'd been a vampire and therefore could not be buried on the hallowed ground within the city nor have an official religious grave marker so Renji had fashioned a cross from two branches.

Again, Ichigo would never know which part of him made the conscious decision to ignore all of the dreadful happenings directly surrounding their little traveling party, at least just for the night. He could think about it tomorrow.

Smiling easily due to his lowered inhibitions, Ichigo realized he'd made his decision and began walking his way toward his act of kindness, unknowingly following in the footsteps of someone who'd also been taken from his far too early in his life.

A/N: An update at last! I couldn't be happier right now. I actually wanted to keep writing more but it's already 12k+ and I need to work on some of my other stuff.

I know, you all are waiting for that breathtaking three-way romance Ichigo's lucky enough to have in this story, but don't worry it's coming soon I promise. He has just begun to reach out to them as people instead of his captors and the plot has to come first for their epic romance to fall into place and details will be muy, muy importante, mis amigas! I apologize for offing Shuuhei since I know he tends to be a fan favorite but someone had to go...

Also, to pacify some of you out there who fear this, I won't be doing the oh so very formulaic storyline where a baby is born at the end and then it's happily ever after. Yes, there will be mpreg but life is not picture perfect for the rest of your life because you had some bundle of joy. Oh no, there will be some serious sassy momma!Ichigo up in here later on and he will kick major ass. He's gonna be like a redheaded Sacagawea, only with more of a temper. Mmhmm girlfriend.

I'm giving you lovelies all this information because this fic will be long and I know the wait in between chapters isn't cool sometimes. By the way, I LOVE reading your guesses and theories on what's going on and might happen. Some of them are even better than mine... What will Ichigo's acts of kindness be? Who was the shooter? When will one of them finally kiss him? Can anyone take a shot at what the tattoos have to do with the storyline?

**So yeah, Ichigo ended up ingesting a small dose of opium, marijuana, and a tiny overdose of blood (which is like the equivalent of six red bulls or some such energy drink.) Basically, for the majority of this chapter he was high on a combination similar to E, or ecstasy, which can induce all of the symptoms he experienced and is sometimes known as a 'love drug' since it enhances pleasurable sensations. And yes, you do get so overheated you will pour water bottles over your head and take off every stitch of clothing you have on. Then again, everyone's experiences are different, so just go with this for my sake. They had not invented Ecstasy at the set time period so I had to improvise. However, they would sell cocaine for toothaches in drug stores for 10 cents...