Summary: Shiro is Le Diable Blanc, forcibly kept inside the stone walls of Notre Dame by his caretaker, Aizen. Ichigo is the mischievous gypsy with a kind heart, Grimmjow the gallant, headstrong captain. Based on the Disney movie, GrimmIchiShiro
Warnings: AU, yaoi, polyamorous, sexual content (threesome), violence, language, out-of-characterness (but that's to be expected in an AU, yes?), character death, unbeta'ed.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. This fic is based heavily on the Disney rendition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, rather than the original novel, and contains almost all of the same scenes and some of the film's dialogue as well. The plot belongs to both Disney and Victor Hugo, respectively.
If you haven't seen the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I highly suggest you at least watch this clip from the movie. Frankly, I think it's the best part. Just put youtubedotcom in front of it. :D
Le Diable Blanc de Notre Dame
The night was a cruel one, the least of the reasons why being the bitter winter weather. But even with the cold carried on harrowing winds and the skies only recently ceasing in their pastime of raining sheets of freezing ice and powdery snowy upon the building and inhabitants, the city of Paris was a welcome sight for two figures huddled in a small boat used to navigate the city's canals. They were a young couple, recently married, and with a newborn babe, who the woman cradled in her arms. They were also gypsies and this simple, single fact damned them.
A wailing cry pierced the night air, causing the male gypsy to turn to his wife with a slightly panicked expression while a hooded man steering the small boat whipped his head around to glare at his passengers. If they were to be found, it would mean at the very least decades in the hellhole they called the Palace of Justice or the more likely consequence: death.
"Keep him quiet!" the husband whispered severely. The woman nodded, laying a finger over her infant's lips, shushing him softly and rocking him in her arms in an effort to comfort him.
"Hush, little one," she said under her breath, trying to convey the desperate circumstances to her child and despite that he should not be able to comprehend her urgency, the baby boy quieted, falling silent in her arms.
The boat rocked against the minute waves of the Seine, bumping against the stone barriers of the canal to come to a stop at crossing of two waterways deep in the city. It was eerily silent and still around the meager party and tension was palpable in the winter air, but they dared not to stop and scan the area around them.
"Four gilders for safe passage into Paris," the hooded man said after they'd docked the boat and had stepped onto the snow covered cobblestone, holding out a gnarled hand to the male passenger. But just as the man reached into his satchel for said payment the sound of horse hooves and armor clinking threateningly fell upon he and his wife's ears. They both gasped, subconsciously drawing nearer to each other as their frightened eyes darted around them to see several soldiers surround them, swords drawn, and their hearts plummeted as they laid eyes upon an imposing figure riding up to them on an evil-looking jet black stallion.
"Judge Sosuke Aizen!" the man cried out, tightening his hold upon his wife who still held their newborn son tightly to her breast.
The person to which he referred was the figure on the horse, a man dressed in the all black outfit of the highest of city officials, a judge, and who, despite his relatively attractive features, possessed the coldest pair of eyes in the whole of Paris. And with them he looked down on the couple with detached distaste.
"Bring these gypsy vermin to the Palace of Justice," he ordered the soldiers, who were quick to follow his orders, seizing the man easily to chain his wrists together. However, the woman dodged their outstretched hands, clutching her precious bundle to her for dear life.
"You there! What are you hiding?" one of them called out to her.
"Stolen goods, no doubt," Aizen said. "Take them from her."
Through the alleyway and up narrow steps she went, desperation propelling her forward faster than she'd ever run in her entire life as her bare feet adorned with customary gypsy gold ankle bracelets blazed a track through the freshly fallen snow. But she was all too aware of the fiend hot on her heels, giving chase on his fearsome steed, and the woman almost cried with relief as she suddenly caught sight of the towering stone walls of the beautiful cathedral, Notre Dame.
The gypsy woman rushed up the steps to the cathedral's heavy wooden doors and pounded with one fist on their surface as she held fast to her infant son with her other arm.
"Sanctuary!" she cried out to anyone inside kind enough to take mercy upon a poor gypsy woman and her child. "Please, give us sanctuary!"
Help did not arrive soon enough, for Aizen was right behind her, a devilish shadow that darkened everything around the woman, and when she turned around, terror clear in every bit of her being, the judge snatched the cloth wrapped around the bundle in her arms. The woman refused to let go and Aizen lifted his booted foot and ruthlessly kicked her, sending her body careening down the cathedral steps. A terrible crack ran through the air as her head impacted against the stone and then she was still.
Sniffing derisively at the motionless form below him, Aizen was startled to hear the unmistakable caterwauling of a babe coming from the bundle he now held.
"A baby?" he asked aloud, using a gloved hand to push some of the cloth away to reveal an innocent face as white as the snow covering the city and eyes like suns in a midnight sky. Aizen gasped, for never had he seen such a thing and, of course, to be abnormal was to be condemned. "A monster!" he declared.
And then that lifeless pair of brown eyes swiveled over to an above ground well a few yards away, the solution coming to him with disturbing ease. With a jerk of his reins, Aizen guided his mount to stand right next to it and he held the now motherless infant over the gaping maw of that deep, dark well, just about to drop the helpless child into the abyss below when a monotonous, quiet voice distracted him.
"Put the child down, Judge Aizen," it said and the city official turned his head to see Notre Dame's raven-haired archdeacon descending the steps.
"This is an unholy demon," Aizen said mildly, still holding the babe over the well. "I'm sending it back to hell, where it belongs."
The archdeacon's expression did not change, even as he knelt beside the fallen gypsy woman, arms automatically encircling her inanimate body. Though he seemed to have no emotion, the holy man's emerald gaze pierced through Aizen's conscience like the sharpest sword as he looked up at the other, accusation clear in those verdant depths.
"This is innocent blood you have spilled on the sacred steps of Notre Dame," the archdeacon said, his voice so quiet it was almost a whisper but in no way soft or gentle.
"I am guiltless - she ran, I pursued," Aizen defended nonchalantly.
"Now you would add this child's blood to your guilt?"
"My conscience is clear!" Aizen snapped as for the first time in a very long while his composure shattered.
"You can lie to yourself and your minions, but you can never run from or hide what you've done from the eyes of Notre Dame," the archdeacon stated levelly, eyes boring into the judge from his position on the steps.
Unnerved, Aizen's gaze flickered up to the countless carved statues of saints and other holy figures positioned on the massive cathedral's outside walls. Their knowing eyes sent shudders throughout his frame and for the first time in his life, Aizen felt fear for his immortal soul.
"What must I do?" he asked the archdeacon, who'd begun to rise, carrying the gypsy's corpse in his arms as he turned to return inside.
"Care for the child, raise it as your own."
Aizen nearly dismissed the very notion that he would ever care for such a hideous thing as the infant in his grasp but he thought twice about it, several reasons why doing so would not be a bad idea flitting through his mind, all self-serving.
"Very well," he said. "Let him live with you, in your church."
"Live here?" the archdeacon questioned. "But where?"
"Anywhere, just so he's kept locked away where no one else can see," Aizen said, gaze scanning the enormous facade of the cathedral until he got to the very top where through the columns the shadowy figures of church bells could be seen. "The bell tower, perhaps."
Then, under his breath so the archdeacon couldn't hear, Aizen spoke to the babe in his hold.
"Who knows, our Lord works in mysterious ways. Even this foul creature may yet prove to be of use to me."
And Aizen gracelessly named the child for his porcelain skin and locks of ivory, a name that simply meant 'white.' Shiro.
As he lived alone high above the city of Paris, ringing the cathedral's bells, Shiro ascended into adolescence and then adulthood under Aizen's watchful eye and the people of the city developed a cruel name for the bellringer they occasionally briefly glimpsed up in the bell tower: Le Diable Blanc.
Such irony, they said, for someone named the White Devil to live in a church.
Despite this, things were relatively peaceful for Shiro until the day came when the white-haired, strange-eyed male began to question who was really the monster and who was the man...
Twenty Years Later
Paris was bustling that day, color blooming across the city's neutral landscape like fresh, springtime flowers as tents were raised and scaffolds bedecked with multi-hued ribbons were constructed. And hundreds of feet above it all perched a stunningly ivory figure in all black on one of Notre Dame's gargoyle statuettes, watching everything with gold and ebony eyes.
"Isn't it pretty?" the voice of a young child called out to the man balancing on one knee on the inanimate gargoyle's winged back. A head full of silken ivory strands whipped around to view the speaker, inverted eyes falling upon the diminutive form of a cherub carved from stone, her placidly content expression so childlike it unnerved him as it was wont to do at times. He'd certainly never looked liked that, not with his 'demonic' appearance.
"I guess," Shiro said gruffly, turning back to continue watching the hustle and bustle going on down below, his vision pinning down a thin man in a purple and gold outfit with a matching hat over his chin-length blonde hair. The man's entire aura screamed gypsy, of which there were hordes down in the city square laying in front of the cathedral.
"Are you sad, Shiro?" the animate cherub statue asked innocently, eyes wide and full of chastity though the white-haired man didn't even bother to spare a glance in her direction. He near always treated Nelliel, a cherub statue relegated to the bell tower due to a crack on her haloed head, as if she were a giant pest, but if he were honest with himself he would be rather lonely if it weren't for her eternally youthful company.
"Nah," he answered simply, resting his chin on the forearm nestled on top of his one raised knee covered in black hose. "Jus' thinking tha-"
"Shiro! Nel!" a deep male voice cut the albino off suddenly and Shiro screwed his eyes shut in vexation, pale brows furrowing together at the grating sound of the real pests in his tower approaching with heavy footsteps, spilling out onto one of Notre Dame's many balconies. "Has the festival started yet?"
Pesche and Dondochakka were real gargoyles and complete opposites of each other, the former being incredibly slender with a pointed snout while the latter was wide and round, the mason who'd made him realizing afterwards the statue's girth exceeded what the foundation of the cathedral was capable of holding.
"No, they're still setting up for it!" Nelliel chirped happily, pointing down to where the throng of people were gathered to prepare for the day's events. "See?"
"Oh, look there's going to be a fortune teller booth!" Dondochakka exclaimed, leaning over the balcony's railing to get a better view of the aubergine tent decorated with golden suns being erected across the city square.
"Ah, the Feast of Fools," Pesche sighed, cradling his chin in his palm before training his attention on the young man with milky white skin a few feet away. "Shiro, do you think maybe this year you'll go down there and-"
"No," Shiro snarled, interrupting the gargoyle. "I 'ave no wish ta be stared a' like some freak."
The three gargoyles were silent though they looked at the bellringer with pitying gazes, understanding Shiro's reluctance to leave the bell tower and live amongst the citizens of Paris for even just an hour or two. Most people were bigoted and small-minded; they didn't understand anything that was even slightly different from themselves. They'd proven they didn't accept Shiro when they'd named him Le Diable Blanc though they had only seen fleeting glimpses of the male.
"Shiro," Nelliel started hesitantly, hopping closer to where he was perched. "You can't stay here forever."
"Tch, jus' watch me," Shiro sneered, never taking his eyes away from what lay below him. No one said anything for a few moments, until Pesche decided to speak his mind.
"Take it from a lifelong spectator, Shiro, life's not a spectator sport," he said softly, showing his rarely seen wise side. But hey, it's hard to be a centuries old gargoyle without picking up some kind of wisdom in your lifetime.
The albino blinked but made no acknowledgment of the statement otherwise. Truth was, he was dying to leave the bell tower, or at least have the option of doing so, to be free, but he was trapped, wholly and undeniably. He couldn't survive out there, where people hated him just for how he looked, just because his skin and hair was paper white and his eyes were gold on black, just because he was different.
There was no more conversation to be had as there appeared on the balcony a brown-haired, brown-eyes man dressed in official robes, his face void of any emotional expression. Shiro felt the man's presence before anything else and he immediately turned his head to see his long-time caretaker, Judge Sosuke Aizen, standing on the balcony, the statues he'd been talking to having fallen still and silent.
"Good morning, Shiro."
"Mornin'," the albino muttered, not happy to see the man who'd taken him in. Their visits were never pleasant.
"My dear boy, may I ask whom you were speaking with just now?" the judge asked mildly with a slight tilt of his head.
"My friends," Shiro answered easily, rising from his spot on the back of the gargoyle and leaping to land on his feet in front of Aizen with practiced ease.
"I see, and what are your friends made out of?" Aizen said, leaning over the lifeless of Dondochakka and rapping the gargoyle on the head lightly.
"Stone," Shiro deadpanned.
"And can stone talk?"
"I don' know, can it?"
The only sign that Aizen gave that the flippant reply bothered him was a very minute furrowing of his brow, practically invisible and Shiro would've never been able to catch it had it not been for his having spent near twenty years with the man. It pleased him that he was one of the rare few in the whole of Paris that could get under Sosuke Aizen's skin.
"No, it cannot," Aizen said after a few long seconds and it was then that Shiro noticed the wicker basket the man held in the crook of his arm. "Shall we have lunch?"
Shiro nodded, moving past Aizen to retreat into the inner loft of the bell tower where pigeons cooed up in the rafters and above their heads hung the enormous church bells the albino had rung ever since he'd reached adolescence. There was a simple table in the center of everything, around which were placed two chairs. With automated motions, Shiro took a faded tablecloth off of a nearby shelf and threw it over the table to cover its surface perfectly, then snatching two plates and matching goblets off of the shelf as well, one set finely honed from iron and the other wooden. He set the dinnerware on the table and lowered himself to sit across from where Aizen had taken his usual seat, the wooden plate and goblet in front of the albino while the iron one laid in front of the brunette.
"While I'm here, let us go over your alphabet," Aizen said, lifting a stem of grapes from his basket to place on Shiro's plate. The white-haired male surreptitiously rolled his eyes but shrugged his shoulder anyway before popping a deep purple grape into his mouth. "Very well. A?"
"Eternal damnation," Shiro answered with a wide smirk.
"Good," Aizen said, a lukewarm, small smile on his face. "F?"
"Festival," Shiro said unthinkingly, only realizing what he'd said afterwards when the smile vanished from the judge's lips faster than a gilder falling from Notre Dame's highest turret.
"The correct answer is 'forgiveness,'" Aizen said, using one ringed hand on the table's edge to push himself to his feet. "I certainly hope you are not thinking of attending the festival today."
"An' so what if I was?" Shiro retorted, not rising from his seated position.
The judge sighed heavily as if the other exasperated to no end just as a child would, reaching out to lay a hand on Shiro's shoulder in a mockery of an affectionate gesture and the younger man had to fight the urge to pull away.
"You poor child, you still do not understand why I have kept you safe in this tower all these years," Aizen said softly, as if what he said pained and saddened him. "The world is cruel and wicked and its inhabitants have no compassion in their hearts for deformed creatures such as yourself. The Festival of Fools would only serve as a platform for their jeers and cruelty."
Shiro didn't even flinch at the use of the word 'deformed', he was far too used to it.
"You go every year, don' you?" he accused roughly.
"I am a public official, I must go," Aizen said as if it were obvious. "But I don't enjoy a moment. Thieves and hustlers and the dregs of humankind all mixed together in a shallow, drunken stupor."
When Shiro didn't say anything, Aizen continued on.
"Shiro, can't you understand? When your heartless mother abandoned you as a child, anyone else would have drowned you. And this is my thanks for taking you in and raising you as my son."
Shiro's upper lip curled at the mention of his mother, the one person who was supposed to love him no matter what and had disowned him immediately upon seeing his eerie and monstrous features, and yet he still said nothing, looking off into the distance as Aizen spoke.
"Well, no matter. You are forgiven," Aizen said as he patted Shiro's shoulder with false fondness and then turned to descend the stairs back down to the rest of the world before pausing to look over his shoulder at the bellringer. "But remember, Shiro. This is your sanctuary."
He was gone within a second, the door shutting closed behind him.
"Sanctuary," Shiro repeated, the word dissolving in the stale air of the bell tower.
Meanwhile, a few streets over a frustrated Captain Grimmjow Jaegerjaques stood with his white mare, Pantera, and an outdated map in his gloved hands that he kept turning over and over to try and make sense of it.
"Hn, leave fer a few years and they change everything," he said aloud, the horse beside him whinnying in agreement and empathy. Irritated, Grimmjow crumpled the map in his hands before tossing it over his shoulder. In the next second his bright blue eyes caught sight of two guards walking by.
"Hey, you two," he called out to them. "I'm lookin' fer the Palace of Justice..." Grimmjow trailed off as the guards passed by, completely ignoring him. Growling under his breath a black oath, he nearly drew his sword from underneath the navy blue cloak he wore over his fine armor and rendered the bastards' heads from their shoulders but the faint sound of music distracted him. Snapping his azure gaze to the origin of the enchanting melody he saw a group of gypsies gathered on the street, in a corner between two structures. All of them held instruments of some kind as they played a folksy tune together.
In one of his rare compassionate moments, Grimmjow reached into the small satchel under his cloak to retrieve a handful of gold coins that he tossed into a hat on the ground in front of the group but just as he was about to move on and try to find that damn Palace of Justice, a patch of sunset orange caught his eye.
Leaning against the stone wall was the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen, a pan flute held up to plush pink lips. The gypsy boy looked fresh to adulthood and had a head of shaggy tangerine hair that brushed over his exposed neck. He had the perfect shade of sunkissed skin and wore a white collared shirt that hung off his shoulders and royal purple loose fitting pants with ragged ends, a matching sash embroidered with golden thread and hemmed with sun coins around his hips. In his honey blossom hair was an aubergine scarf, tied at the nape of his neck and Grimmjow's eyes caught a glint of gold that was a hoop earring in the gypsy's right ear.
Next to him was a goat with dark brown fur prancing away merrily and an earring in its right ear to mimic his owner. A few feet away, a child tugged on her mother's hold, trying to get closer to the band of gypsies, but the woman stopped the little girl short, dragging her away.
"Stay away, child. They're gypsies, they'll steal us blind."
Grimmjow frowned deeply. He'd never approved of 'proper society's' viewpoint on the nomadic people who lived freely as everyone wished they could. However, his brooding thoughts were soon completely forgotten when the orange-haired gypsy looked up to make direct eye contact with the most alluring pair of molten caramel orbs, a small smirk forming around where his mouth was wrapped around the pan flute's mouthpiece. Grimmjow's lips spread into a feral smile and he took a step forward only to have his advances thwarted by a sharp whistle.
His gaze rose to see a young gypsy girl with cropped dark hair high up on a stone wall who then gestured frantically for her compatriots to follow her and get out of there. The music cut off suddenly, the group of gypsies gathering their things hurriedly before making a break for it, trouble clearly on its way. The brown goat took it upon itself to grab the hat full of coins in his mouth but it didn't get very far as the gold spilled out over the brim and onto the cobblestone street.
The orange-haired gypsy skidded to a halt and rushed back to kneel on the ground to scoop the coins back into the hat as the goat bleated in apology. It turned out to be a foolish move as in the next moment, two guards were upon him, one tall and thin with long black hair and an eye patch, the other built like an ox with dark red hair with a receding hairline. The latter made a grab for the gypsy, securing his arms in a too tight grasp.
"All right gypsy, where'd ya get the money?" the one with the eye patch questioned condescendingly.
"For your information, I earned it," the orange-haired male answered in a melodic baritone that sent an arrow straight into Grimmjow's heart.
"Gypsies don't earn money."
"You steal it?" the guard holding the gypsy's arms accused, the other snatching one end of the coin filled hat though the orangette held fast, refusing to let go.
"You'd know a lot about stealing," he snarled.
"Yeah, maybe a day in the stocks would cool ya down," the dark-haired guard said, laughing, and causing the goat to bray angrily and headbutt the man straight in the stomach with his sharp horns. The guard let out an 'oof' and bent over, clutching his stomach, which presented the perfect opportunity for the gypsy to use the guard holding him as support to lean back and kick the one bent over in the face. He crumpled to the ground and the orange-haired boy then elbowed the one behind him in the gut viciously, making an impact even through the thick, metal armor so that the hands gripping his arms let go of their hold. He then took off running, sprinting away from the guards and past Grimmjow as fast as his bare feet would carry him.
The two guards recovered quickly and thundered down the street in their booted feet, drawing their swords to chase after the orange-haired gypsy. Grimmjow scowled and pulled Pantera by her reins so that she stood directly in their path. Only one of them managed to dodge the horse obstacle, the heavier guard colliding into the white mare with a thud. Afterwards he fell to the ground on his face in a puddle beside the horse and a wicked grin crossed Grimmjow's handsome face.
"Pantera, sit," he said to his mount, who immediately obeyed, letting her rear end drop heavily right on top of the guard, the man groaning in agony as the great weight nearly crushed him there and then. Grimmjow roared with laughter at the unfortunate soul, clasping a hand to his stomach.
"Get this thing off me!" the slowly suffocating guard cried out.
"I'll teach ya a lesson, peasant." The guard with the eye patch growled, brandishing his short sword in front of him threateningly. Grimmjow scoffed, reaching under his cloak to unsheathe a sharp longsword that glinted dangerously in the sunlight.
"You were saying, lieutenant?"
The guard's one eye widened in shock and he hastily straightened up, saluting the blue-haired man with one hand.
"Captain, I had no idea," he stammered. "We are at your service, sir."
"Heh, ya think you two idiots could show me to the Palace of Justice?" Grimmjow said.
"Of course, sir!"
The captain smirked, gesturing for Pantera to rise up off the fallen guard. The two moronic soldiers then began to clear a path through the city's inhabitants who'd gathered around to watch the show, shouting for them to make way for the captain. However, after a moment Grimmjow paused, bending down to pick up a few lost coins off of the cobblestone.
And as they passed what looked to be an old beggar man in a hooded cloak, he threw the coins into a familiar looking hat placed in front of him. Afterwards, he was all too aware of both a goat's face and that of a lovely orange-haired male emerging from under the hood to stare at his retreating form in disbelief.
The Palace of Justice was a looming icon over the city of Paris, nearly as tall as Notre Dame herself, and full of wicked turrets with spiked roofs and ornate, Gothic architecture. Grimmjow was led past the front entrance and into an adjacent hallway of complete stone by the two guards, who both stopped in front of a heavy wooden door and gestured for the newly appointed captain of the guard to step through the portal. Brow furrowed in concentration, Grimmjow pushed the door open with one hand, revealing a corridor lit with torches on the walls and a figure dressed in the black robes of a city official. The sounds of repetitive lashes and the agonized screams of a man filled the small space, but they didn't faze the blunette and he strode purposefully to that figure: Judge Sosuke Aizen himself.
"Stop," Aizen said and a man in a dark hooded outfit appeared through the doorway the judge stood in front of, holding a cat o' nine tails over his shoulder. "Ease up. Wait between lashes. Otherwise the older sting will dull him to the new."
"Yes, sir," the other man replied with a cruel smirk before spinning around and returning eagerly to the room off of the corridor. It was then that Aizen noticed the new arrival and he turned on his heel to smile mildly at the blue-haired man opposite him.
"Ah, so this is the gallant Captain Grimmjow Jaegerjaques, home from the wars," Aizen said, bringing his ringed fingers together in front of him.
Grimmjow's eyebrow twitched in slight irritation. He hated upper crust people who spoke in the manner Sosuke Aizen did, all false niceties and forced smiles. However, he'd had years and years of practice with the type and smoothed his brow easily, clasping his hands behind his back and standing straight as an arrow.
"Reporting for duty, as ordered," he said before adding the expected "Sir" as an afterthought.
"Your service record precedes you, Grimmjow," Aizen said, circling the other as if to size him up. "I expect nothing but the best from a war hero of your caliber."
"And you shall have it, sir," Grimmjow said, a minute grin pulling at his lips as he looked down on the other man. "I guarantee it."
"Yes..." Aizen trailed off, eyes cornering to the side to gaze back at the doorway leading to where the man currently being whipped as punishment for something or another was still. "You know, my last Captain of the Guard was a bit of a disappointment to me."
A whip's brutal swoosh rang throughout the corridor, along with the pained cry of the poor soul Grimmjow couldn't see, and Aizen's usually flat brown eyes sparkled just slightest bit with a hint of sadistic glee.
"Well, no matter," Aizen said casually. "I'm sure you'll... whip my men into shape, hmm?"
"Thank you, sir," Grimmjow replied, not at all fazed. "It's a tremendous honor, sir."
The judge's lukewarm smile returned and he started to make his way down the corridor, Grimmjow taking the hint and following him out onto one of the Palace's enclosed balconies, the view a pleasing one of the city streets below.
"You come to Paris in her darkest hour, Captain. It will take a firm hand to save the weak-minded from being so easily misled."
Aizen nimbly pointed to the bustling street in the Palace's shadow, where there was a very familiar band of gypsies again playing their alluring melodies.
"Look, Captain - gypsies," the judge said. "The gypsies live outside the normal order. Their heathen ways inflame the peoples' lowest instincts, and they must be stopped."
"You summoned me from the wars to capture fortune tellers and palm readers?" Grimmjow asked, frowning.
"Oh the real war, Captain, is what you see before you," Aizen said, his left hand falling to the short wall in front of them upon which there were three ants scurrying about. The man proceeded to squish the defenseless insects with his fingertips, one after the other. "For twenty years, I have been taking care of the gypsies one by one."
Aizen grasped the large stone brick and lifted it up to reveal underneath scores of ants crawling around.
"And yet, for all of my success, they have thrived. I believe they have a safe haven, within the walls of this very city. A nest, if you will. They call it 'the Court of Miracles'."
"What are we going to do about it, sir?" Grimmjow said, his frown deepening as a disturbed ire grew within the depths of his azure orbs.
Aizen's smile grew the tiniest bit before he slammed the slab of stone back down, crushing the colony of ants with ease.
"You make your point quite vividly, sir."
"You know, I like you, Captain," the judge said, laying a hand on Grimmjow's shoulder. "Shall we?"
Before the blunette could answer, there were loud cheers coming from the throng of people below them.
"Oh, duty calls. Have you ever attended a peasant festival, Captain?"
"Not recently, sir."
"Then this should be quite an education for you. Come along."
"I can' believe I'm doin' this."
Shiro dropped from his position atop one of Notre Dame's larger, lower statues of a patron saint, landing at the figurine's feet on one knee. A tattered, black cloak covered most of his upper body and the hood completely obscured his face from view in its shadowy depths. It would only be those who came within inches of the bellringer that would see those eerily bright golden eyes in the darkness of the hood.
If it wasn't apparent already, Shiro had changed his mind since his caretaker Aizen had come for a visit. He knew the judge had a point, that there was not a chance in the world that any of the city's inhabitants would accept him, would never look at him without fear or disgust in their eyes. But inside of Shiro's chest, right in the very center, there was an ache for freedom and it burned like unholy fires.
Just one day among the people, one day to be free, and then he would return to the bell tower for the rest of his existence.
Shiro then took the final leap from the stone pedestal on which he knelt, settling gracefully smack dab in the middle of the animated crowd of peasant festival attendees. It was a bit unnerving, being around so many other people when he'd spent the whole of his life lonelier than the solitary remaining flower at the end of summer. Nevertheless, Shiro was no milksop and so he straightened up, making his way through the horde of people.
There was so much to see; everywhere he looked there was something new and exciting and color was everywhere, bold bursts of deep purple and gold and crimson and all of the other shades in the rainbow. Paper confetti seemed to drift down from the sky, little hued strips raining over the entire city square, and there were so many tents, all holding something different from the next. There was a gypsy fortune teller bent over her crystal ball and, intrigued, Shiro began to push through the crowd to get a closer look.
However, when the albino was a few yards away from the tent he felt the prickling on the back of his neck that was the telltale sign that someone was watching him.
Whipping his head around, Shiro caught sight of a pair of sly eyes behind a violet mask trained on his cloaked form. Scowling, he saw the man watching him closely was dressed in an outfit typical of a gypsy jester, bedecked in purple and golden yellow, but the chin-length blonde hair gave away his true identity. He was the gypsy king, and Shiro really didn't like how he was looking at him.
The gypsy king suddenly darted forward, dodging drunken people in costume, and Shiro's inverted eyes widened. Spinning around, the bell ringer began to flee, agilely weaving in and out of the dense crowd. He didn't know why the gypsy king, the master of ceremonies there at the Feast of Fools, was following him, and he didn't want to find out. However, Shiro made a grave mistake by glancing over his shoulder to see if the gypsy king was still giving chase.
In the next second he collided rather violently with the canvas of a scarlet, enclosed tent, tripping into the previously pinned entrance and falling heavily onto his hands and knees.
"Hey!" a shocked voice cried, definitely male from its smooth baritone. Shiro looked in startled alarm over to where it had come from to see a man his own age hastily pulling a shirt over his bare chest, the albino's mouth falling open for surely what met his eye then was the most stunning sight he'd ever seen. The vision before him left the view of the sunset from Notre Dame's highest turret in the dust.
The boy, clearly a gypsy from the hoop earring in his right ear, had hair of bright honey nectarine and almond-shaped cocoa brown eyes, his skin sunkissed with just the faintest trace of freckles over the bridge of his nose and cheekbones. And when his surprised expression faded into one of concern, Shiro was left breathless.
"You're not hurt, are you? Here, let's see," the gypsy boy said, reaching out to the white-haired man on the ground.
"No, 'm fine!" Shiro protested, trying to back away from the orangette who rolled his eyes and grasped the ends of the other's hood anyway, tossing it back to reveal the albino's porcelain white features and gold on black eyes that would have any average Parisian screaming in terror. Shiro braced himself for the inevitable reaction.
"There. See, no harm done. Just try to be a little more careful."
The gypsy boy then pulled the other to his feet, giving a diminutive, kind smile to the gaping Shiro.
"Yeah, sure," the bell ringer exhaled, nodding. Then, realizing what a fool he must have looked right then, he spun around, making for the exit, but the gypsy's voice called out to him again.
"By the way, great mask."
Shiro watched dumbly as the tent's entry flap fluttered closed and the orange-haired boy disappeared behind it. It wasn't until a small commotion a little bit away that caught his attention that he looked away from the gypsy's tent.
The sound turned out to be the mixed cheers and grumblings of the peasants seeing the infamous Sosuke Aizen ascend to his official tent decorated in red and black. Sitting in his chair that rivaled the king's throne, the brown-haired man gave a careless wave to the people below, his guard surrounding the tent on their mounts. Shiro's previously glazed over gaze sharpened into a vexed glare but he made sure to melt into the crowd, not even wanting to think about the consequences should his caretaker see that he'd disobeyed the man's orders and attended the festival anyway.
Beginning at the front of Aizen's tent was a long, narrow stage upon which the blonde gypsy king leapt onto, holding his arms up in the air.
"Come one, come all!" he exclaimed. "Come and see the finest gymnast in all of France!"
Curious, Shiro crept closer to the stage until he was the very edge, looking directly up at the gypsy king, who raised a clenched fist up in the air, throwing it down so that a large aubergine cloud of smoke burst from his feet and completely obscured his figure. When the smoke cleared, in his place stood the very same orange-haired gypsy whose tent Shiro had fallen into just minutes before. Only now he was dressed in an outfit of scarlet and violet, with a sash of deep wine embroidered with suns around his hips.
The festival-goers all gasped in delight, watching enraptured as the gypsy spared not a second before twisting his lithe body into a series of back flips. But there were three pairs of eyes in the crowd that looked on with much more, a set of gold and black, one of bright cyan, and the last a usually empty brown that now glittered with barely restrained desire.
"Look at that disgusting display," he said in feigned distaste to the blue-haired captain who sat on his white mare just beside the tent.
Grimmjow raised the visor on his golden helmet, enthralled with the vision of loveliness now doing a one-handed handstand on the stage, using his free hand to pull that pretty sash off of his hips.
"Yes, sir," the blunette said with a wicked grin, sharp canines visible as his cobalt eyes drank in the lustful sight before him, the gypsy boy flinging the sash away to land directly in Judge Aizen's lap. The city official for the first time in a long, long while let his normally severe composure crack to reveal his shock upon seeing the piece of cloth in his lap, hands bedecked with expensive rings clutching the thing in a tight grasp.
Shiro, meanwhile, was spellbound by the gypsy's incredible display of acrobatics, the orangette cartwheeling gracefully before falling into a perfect split. A few audience members whistled and several clapped and the gypsy boy stood, bowing as apparently his performance had reached its inevitable end. It rained shining coins on the stage, a certain captain's gilder amongst them, and the blonde gypsy king from before appeared on the stage once more.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, the piece de resistance! The moment you all have been waiting for!" he declared. "Now's the time to crown our king of fools!"
The crowd cheered loudly, applause ringing throughout the air like thunder and a handful of masked men began to climb onto the stage. Shiro was just about to back away, having no wish to see the upcoming display, when the beautiful gypsy boy appeared above him on the stage, a hand outstretched towards him. As if in a trance, Shiro made no effort to get away as the other pulled him up on the stage.
"All right men, make a face that's horrible and frightening, for the face that's the most monstrous will be the king of fools!" the gypsy king proclaimed now that the contestants were now all lined up in a row on the stage, Shiro at the opposite edge. The white-haired man saw a dark brown goat prance up to the orangette's side, quirking a brow upon seeing it had its right ear pierced to match the boy.
The two gypsies went up to the first in the line, the orange-haired one pulling the mask off the man's mask to expose an average male making a silly face. Boos and jeers sounded in the audience and the goat didn't hesitate to charge the contestant from behind and head butt him right off the stage and onto the hard cobblestone ground. This continued down the line until the gypsies reached Shiro, who started to back away from the orange-haired boy's outstretched hands but found his ability to move suddenly gone when those smooth fingertips brushed over the skin of his jawline.
However, when the gypsy tried to remove what he thought was a mask and realized that the milky white skin wouldn't budge, his eyes widened, mouth falling open a little in a silent gasp. Shiro felt his heart drop into his stomach as shocked cries went through the crowd around the stage in waves.
"That's no mask!"
"It's his face!"
"It's the bellringer from Notre Dame! Le Diable Blanc!"
Shiro watched as those faces gazing up at him transformed from shocked to terrified and he chanced a glance over to where Sosuke Aizen was glowering at him, or what his version was of a glower anyway, and a chill ran over his porcelain skin, a shudder making his shoulders shake. He didn't catch the orbs of brilliant blue slightly over to the right staring at him, utterly bewitched, for Captain Grimmjow Jaegerjaques had never thought it possible for him to see beauty of such caliber not once but twice in one day.
"Ladies and gentlemen, do not panic," the gypsy king suddenly called out to the crowd from beside Shiro, who belatedly noticed the orange-haired gymnast and the goat were now gone. "We asked for the most monstrous face in all of Paris, and here it is: The White Devil of Notre Dame!"
The peasants' expressions twisted into confusion and befuddlement for a few moments as they worked out what the master of ceremonies meant before delighted smiles broke out everywhere around and they all burst into applause. Laughing gaily, the gypsy king procured the crown made for the King of Fools, a hybrid of an actual one and a jester's hat, that he promptly set on top of Shiro's head of pure white hair. Having no desire to be crowned the King of Fools, Shiro reached up to rip the crown off his head but he was stopped short as several pairs of hands seized him and lifted him up into the air, those now holding cheering merrily for their new king.
"'ey, put me down!" he demanded but they paid him no mind, transporting him to another, smaller stage close by. They nearly threw him onto the platform, the king of gypsies not far behind, casting a carmine stole over the albino's shoulders and thrusting a scepter into Shiro's grip.
"Three cheers for the new King of Fools!"
As the audience clapped and whistled, Shiro's patience ran out and this time he actually did rip the ridiculous crown off of his head, sneering at the shocked looks he received for doing so.
"He's gone mad!"an armored soldier said, pointing to the albino.
"Here," another one said, swinging a lasso made of thick rope in the air. "Quick, before he kills everyone in sight!"
The lasso whirled through the air, Shiro not managing to see it until the very second and then it was too late, the circle of rope passing over his head to enclose around his alabaster neck. Jerking on the rope's taut line, the guard felled the bellringer, Shiro crashing to the wooden platform, both of his hands going up to try and loosen the rope's hold around his throat. However, other soldiers had caught onto the idea of subduing the 'dangerous' bell ringer, and another lassoed rope trapped Shiro's left wrist in its cruel grip.
Snarling, Shiro used the strength he'd gained from almost a decade of ringing the colossal bells of Notre Dame and pulled back on the ropes, the soldiers holding them skidding forward on the cobblestone under the tremendous force before more ropes flew out to snare the white-haired man, pinning him to the platform whilst everyone save for the soldiers and a certain judge looked on in horror.
This was outright cruelty and though Grimmjow normally couldn't have cared less if someone he didn't even know was being mistreated, the sight of his inferior soldiers tormenting that man with remarkably alluring eyes like golden coins in the depths of the Seine at midnight ignited an outraged flame in his gut. He'd barely given any thought to the action before he was spurring Pantera forward, hellbent on stopping those soldiers, preferably by stomping their ugly mugs into the ground.
"Hold on just a moment, Captain," Aizen's moderate voice said from behind him. "A lesson needs to be learned here."
The waspish retort Grimmjow had prepared for the judge, in which he would tell Sosuke Aizen he could go to hell if he planned on trying to stop him, died on the tip of his tongue when there was a collective gasp from the mass of people around them. Snapping his head back in the direction of the albino, a brief tingle of dread washing over him, Grimmjow's sky blue brows rose into his hairline upon seeing what had caused everyone to fall still and silent.
Ascending the stairs to the platform, the orange-haired gypsy from the day's earlier performance was a beatific picture to behold, now dressed in the clothes he'd been wearing when Grimmjow had seen him that morning. The sunlight glittered in the bright tangerine of his hair to make it appear as if he wore a halo like the saints and angels decorating the facade of Notre Dame. He gazed down at the trapped Shiro with pity clouding his caramel cocoa eyes, the latter looking like a caged animal, his inverted eyes wild and his breath coming in pained pants.
Shiro growled at the other when he knelt down beside the bell ringer.
"I'm not going to hurt you," the orangette said softly. "I'm sorry, I never meant for this to happen."
Shiro's face fell into a confused frown as the other man withdrew a short, sharp dagger and even as Shiro's gaze glanced over to the weapon, he felt no fear.
"You, gypsy boy! Get down at once," Aizen said, his quiet voice still managing to travel over to the platform several yards away. Said gypsy boy looked over to the judge speaking to him, his rich brown eyes hardening as they narrowed at the sight of the man so cruel to his people and the poor creature in front of him. "I forbid you from freeing the albino."
In a daring, perhaps stupidly so, act of defiance, the gypsy boy ran his dagger through the ropes binding Shiro, grabbing the white-haired male by his forearm to bring him to his feet as all those around let their jaws drop at the orangette's boldness.
"Mark my words, gypsy, you will pay for this insolence," Aizen proclaimed, pointing a ringed finger at the platform. The gypsy, however, wasn't impressed, a mischievous grin pulling at his lips.
"Then it appears we've crowned the wrong fool," he said, scooping the fallen crown off of the wooden slats before chucking it in the judge's direction, the comical thing landing at Aizen's feet. "The only fool I see here is you."
"Guards, arrest him."
A group of ten soldiers swarmed the platform and Shiro made to step in front of the other, ready to defend the one who'd done the same for him, only to nearly jump in surprise when the orangette smirked and, mimicking what the gypsy king had done earlier, disappeared in puff of violet smoke. The guards were all dumbfounded while the crowd laughed at the spectacle and their incompetence, though one of them was able to somewhat redeem himself as he gestured over to a stand bearing fruit, a head of tangerine hair and that of a goat's visible overhead.
"He's over there!" he shouted and the soldiers rushed to where the gypsy boy was now standing with his pet goat. It seemed their discovery had been expected, for the orangette then took off running, his goat following hot on his heels. He dashed over the stand and onto the stage where he jumped off and into the waiting hands of the crowd, who held him and the goat up in the air, transporting him away from the stage. Two guards attempted to do the same, leaping off of the stage, but it wasn't meant to be and the horde of people parted to make room for the both of them to crash to the ground painfully.
The rest of the soldiers were smarter about the situation and circled around the crowd to meet the gypsy as he and his goat were gently placed onto the cobblestone. Placing his hands on his hips, the orange-haired male waited for three guards to rush him and chuckled in pleasure when his goat charged them, knocking all three onto their backsides. He then plucked one of the soldiers' circular helmet off of the man's head, using it like a discus to fling it in the direction of three guards approaching him on horseback. The flying helmet knocked them off their mounts, unconscious, before it flew right over the ducked head of Grimmjow, who looked back up after it had safely embedded itself in a wooden beam behind him. An amused smile broke out on his handsome face, azure eyes sparking in bemusement.
"Impressive," Grimmjow said to himself.
Meanwhile, the gypsy boy and his pet goat were still fleeing from the remaining soldiers pursuing them, catapulting off of the stage to land on top of Aizen's tent as if he did this kind of thing everyday. He bowed to the applauding crowd before scooping the goat up in his arms and wrapping himself in a cloak of aubergine, disappearing into the folds so that it fell to the roof of the tent completely empty.
"Witchcraft," Aizen whispered, the corners of his thin lips twitching down into the smallest of frowns.
Across the mass of people, Shiro was still on the platform, his dazzled daze after watching the escapade fading away to remind him of where he was and the eyes on him still. He immediately pulled his hood back over his head and jumped off of the platform, people moving aside in fright to make a pathway down the middle of the crowd that he barreled through, escaping to the familiar haven of the stone cathedral.
"Find that boy, Captain. I want him alive," Aizen said to the blue-haired man in gold armor by his side. Grimmjow frowned but made no vocal protest of the judge's orders, turning to the battered soldiers that had gathered by the official tent.
"Seal off the area. Find the gypsy boy. Do not harm him," he said, watching his subordinates all nod before they scurried off to do as they were told. Grimmjow guided Pantera to trot over to the entrance of the cathedral, his sapphire orbs spotting a hunched over beggar man in a navy cloak toddling through the open doors.
"Hmm..." he mused, stroking his cleanly shaven chin with a gloved hand. That beggar man looked awfully familiar...
Inside of Notre Dame, the beggar man straightened up, throwing the cloak off of him. Instead of an elderly, wizened figure stood a young man with radiant tangerine hair and a goat with a dark brown pelt, the latter jumping off the other's back. The gypsy boy had only just begin to take in the magnificence of the cathedral's interior when he felt a looming presence behind him.
He waited until whomever was stalking him was nearly breathing down his neck and then reached back to feel the hilt of a sword, grasping it and pulling it free of its sheathe before using the momentum to throw its owner to the floor in front of him. The turquoise locks of hair and cyan eyes were unmistakable.
"You!" he snarled in indignation, closing in on the prostrate form of the Captain of the Guard with the sharp, pointed tip of the sword.
"Easy now, I just shaved this morning," Grimmjow said in his deep, gravelly voice, backing away.
"Really? You missed a spot."
"All right, all right, calm down," the captain said and the gypsy boy paused in his advances. "Just give me a chance to apologize."
"For what?" the orangette asked, arching an eyebrow. A second later and Grimmjow took advantage of the slight distraction, grabbing the duller base of his sword and sweeping his foot under the other's knees so that the gypsy fell to the ground and was forced to let go of the weapon.
"That, for example," Grimmjow said, chuckling darkly.
"You sneaky son of a-"
"Ah, ah, ah," the captain interrupted the orange-haired gypsy's curse, rising from the floor. "Yer in a church."
The orangette only glared in response before leaping to his feet and seizing hold of a nearby standing candelabra, not wasting a second before attacking with the newfound weapon made of heavy iron where it clashed loudly with Grimmjow's broadsword. In an effort to push the gypsy back, the captain exerted a great deal of strength behind his sword only to be surprised when the other didn't budge an inch, which for some reason delighted him to no end.
"You fight almost as well as a trained soldier," he said.
"Funny, I was going to say the same thing about you."
"That's hittin' a bit below the belt, don't ya think?"
"No, this is," the gypsy said, spinning the candelabra sideways and attempting to lance Grimmjow's crotch, the captain managing to block the assault with his sword but just as he sighed in relief the end of the makeshift weapon knocked him upside the jaw. After he shook his head at the harsh blow, Grimmjow's wickedly pleased grin was back full force. He always did enjoy opponents who weren't afraid to take a cheap shot.
"Touche," he said, regretting his mistake of forgetting about the gypsy's pet goat, whose signature move was put to use as it charged the captain, ramming the man in the abdomen with its short horns. Grimmjow grunted, clutching his stomach, but still wrested from his lips a faint smirk. "I didn't know you had a kid."
"Yeah, well he doesn't take too kindly to soldiers," the gypsy boy said.
"I noticed that," Grimmjow muttered, sheathing his sword. "Permit me, I'm Grimmjow Jaegerjaques."
When the orangette only gave him a nonplussed expression, the blunette continued.
"And you are...?"
"Is this an interrogation?"
"It's called an introduction," Grimmjow said, frowning as he saw the other's eyebrows raise in slight surprise.
"You're not arresting me?"
"Not as long as you're in here, I can't." Grimmjow gestured around them casually, referring to the sanction of 'sanctuary.' The gypsy gave him a furtive look but lowered the candelabra, setting it back on the floor.
"You're not at all like the other soldiers," he said. "But if you're not going to arrest me, then what do you want?"
"I'd settle for yer name," Grimmjow said, flashing a charming smile. Caramel orbs softened in that moment even as the goat by the gypsy's side looked to his owner in disbelief.
"Ichigo Kurosaki," he said.
"Hn, it suits you."
Grimmjow took a step closer to the now named orange-haired gypsy but he froze when the cathedral doors were thrown open, a brown-haired man in all black robes standing there between several soldiers.
"Good work, Captain," Aizen said in his disturbingly even-keeled way. "Now arrest him."
Grimmjow whipped his head back around to face Ichigo with a keen, urgent expression.
"Claim sanctuary," he hissed under his breath so Aizen couldn't hear. "Say it!"
Tangerine eyebrows furrowed heavily as the gypsy scowled back at the blue-haired captain.
"You tricked me," he growled.
"I'm waiting, Captain," Aizen said as if the entire ordeal was boring him to tears. Grimmjow glared at the male who refused to heed his well-intended orders and turned on his heel to regard the judge now walking towards them.
"Sorry, sir, he claimed sanctuary," Grimmjow said. "There's nothin' I can do."
"Then drag him outside and-"
"You will not touch him," a monotonous, nihilistic voice cut Aizen off and the three men glanced behind them to see the raven-haired, green-eyed archdeacon nearing them, laying a hand on Ichigo's bare shoulder. "Don't worry, Sosuke Aizen learned years ago to respect the sanctity of the church."
Aizen gave a lukewarm smile dripping with hidden menace before pivoting around and ushering his guards back out the door. What everyone failed to notice was the judge surreptitously slipping behind a stone pillar, listening and watching as Grimmjow stalked away from the still incensed Ichigo and the archdeacon left the boy alone with his goat. Aizen let a cruel smirk cross his face for a fraction of a second, gliding out from where he hid to pin one of Ichigo's arms behind his back and gripping the upper part of the other with his ringed hand. The orangette inhaled sharply and struggled in the other's tight grasp.
"You think you've outwitted me, but I am a patient man," Aizen said, his lips pressed to locks of nectarine. "And gypsies don't do well inside stone walls."
He breathed in the alluring, spiced scent of the orange-haired boy and suppressed a shudder at the shock of desire that pulsed through him.
"What are you doing?" Ichigo said gruffly, his skin crawling at the judge's cold touch, especially when Aizen's hand traveled from his upper arm to caress Ichigo's throat almost as a lover would.
"I was just imagining a rope around that beautiful neck."
Ichigo roughly jerked out of the other's hold, whirling around to scowl at Aizen, his eyes like burning embers.
"I know what you were imagining," he said, sneering in disgust. Aizen gave no sign that the gypsy boy's words had any effect on him, merely pressing his hands together in a steeple fashion.
"Such a clever witch. So typical of your kind, to twist the truth to cloud the mind with unholy thoughts," Aizen said, beginning to walk down the cathedral hall and away from Ichigo. "Well, no matter. You've chosen a magnificent prison, but it is a prison nonetheless. Set one foot outside, and you're mine."
Alarmed, Ichigo ran over to a side door, throwing it open and revealing a guard on horseback dictating orders to another on foot.
"Aizen's orders! Post a guard at every door."
Ichigo didn't wait to hear the rest, slamming the door closed and sliding down against it to the floor. The dark brown goat traipsed up to him, eyes pitying as his hooves clicking on the tiled floor. Ichigo set his chin on top of his arms folded over his bent knees.
"Don't worry, Zan, if Aizen think he can keep us here, he's wrong," he said to the goat, reaching out to stroke the goat's head.
"Don't act rashly, child," the archdeacon said, appearing out of nowhere to light votive candles near Ichigo. He seemed to have a penchant for doing that. "You created quite a stir at the festival. It would be unwise to arouse Aizen's anger further."
"You saw what he did out there," Ichigo said, feeling the need to defend his actions. "I thought if just one person could stand up to him then..." he trailed off, sighing. "What do they have against people who are different, anyway?"
"You can't right all the wrongs in this world by yourself."
"No one out there's going to help, that's for sure."
"Perhaps there's someone in here who can."
How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said.
~ Victor Hugo
A/N: I've been working on this for four days straight. I'm dead. But much more to come. :)
Also, I didn't get a chance to write their names in, but the archdeacon is Ulquiorra and the gypsy king is Shinji.