Just going to put a little note here for those concerned about the 'character death' in the warnings; keep reading until the end! Trust me on this. :)
Ichigo watched the archdeacon disappear into the shadowy recesses of the massive cathedral, frowning as the other man's ivory, scarlet, and gold-clothed back faded from sight. He mulled over what the raven-haired holy man had said to him. He highly doubted there was anyone anywhere willing to help him, even most of his gypsy kinfolk were now too frightened of Aizen to stand up to him. Who would lend a helping hand to him, a gypsy, an outcast?
He tread lightly down the cathedral's glorious hall, bare feet sliding over the smooth, marble floor as his pet goat, Zangetsu, accompanied him silently. The late afternoon sunlight streamed in through Notre Dame's towering, narrow windows and over the few souls gathered on the church's wooden pews in front of an immaculate altar. Ichigo paused, not willing to make his presence known to those dressed in expensive finery and dripping in jewelry. He leaned against the stone wall as Zangetsu sat on the floor beside him. He crossed his arms and narrowed his mocha coffee brown eyes at the kneeling nobles who were all deep in prayer, eyes closed and lips moving as they whispered to their deity.
What could they possibly be asking God for? They already had so much, everything anyone could ever hope for. Should it not be the truly unfortunate in there, pleading with the heavenly Father for something, anything, just to get by? Even Ichigo didn't consider himself worthy to ask God for a single gilder. He had bread on the table to fill his belly and friends to warm his heart; that was enough for him.
But perhaps if God were to listen to his, a gypsy's, prayer, he would ask Him to help his people, the gypsies, and every other outcast in the world.
Little did Ichigo know that from only a few yards away a pair of golden and ebony eyes belonging to one of those very outcasts, watched him, enraptured at the vision of the dying sun rays and light of the flickering candle flames dancing upon the orangette's fair skin and his bright nectarine mane, catching the earring dangling on his right ear and making the gold piece of jewelry glint enticingly. However, a nearby noble did notice and was quick to point accusingly at the white-haired figure staring longingly at the gypsy boy.
"You, bellringer! What are you doing here?" he shouted. "Don't you think you've caused enough trouble today?"
Shiro's gaze darted away from where Ichigo stood to face the one calling him out and with an angered growl, spun on his heel and fled the scene. Meanwhile, at the nobleman's words Ichigo had turned his head to survey the commotion and spotted that familiar head of porcelain locks, eyes widening as he saw it vanishing into an enclosed stairwell. He immediately broke out into a full out sprint, intent on following the albino he'd met under unfortunate circumstances earlier in the day. Zangetsu followed just behind the gypsy as Ichigo dashed up the stairs after the other man.
"Wait!" he called up the stairwell. "I wanted to talk to you!"
Shiro scowled as the orangette's words reached his ears, quickening his pace in order to get away from the gypsy boy. He scampered up the ladder leading into his bell tower loft, a cluster of three stone figurines bombarding him with questions the second he laid his foot upon the wooden slats of the large space.
"Who is that following you, Shiro?" Nel asked excitedly, her eyes gleaming.
"Is he a gypsy?" Pesche questioned.
"Oh, how exciting! I've always wanted to have my palm read," Dondochakka chimed in.
"Idiot, you don't have any lines on your hand made out of stone."
Shiro didn't even have time to respond as there was the sound of someone climbing up the ladder and the gargoyles all suddenly fell still and silent. Then that melodic baritone floated up to the open loft from below and Shiro became a statue himself, frozen to the spot when he should've been finding a good place to hide from the orange-haired gypsy boy, whose face had just appeared over the ledge.
"Here you are," Ichigo said, sighing in relief. "I was afraid I'd lost you."
"Yea', well I got stuff ta do, so ya should jus'... go away," Shiro murmured, befuddled as to why this beautiful creature was being so persistent in following him in order to speak with him, the most hideous face in all of Paris.
Ichigo frowned, letting Zangetsu out of his arms to stand on the floor above them before pushing himself up to do the same. He folded his arms over his chest, cocking a hip to the side whilst his orange brows knitted together in an expression that was a mixture of befuddlement and offense.
"Look, I only wanted to apologize for earlier. I would've never pulled you up on the stage if I'd known who you were," Ichigo said quietly. "So, I am sorry."
Shiro, who'd been looking to the side and away from the gypsy boy, held back a small gasp as his eyes grew to the size of saucers, snapping his head to pin the orangette down with an intense stare.
"Why are ya apologizin' ta... me?" he said in what was nearly a whisper.
"Because you didn't deserve what they did to you out there," Ichigo said as if it were obvious, yet his tone was reverent, his bare feet taking small steps to bring him closer to the albino, who in the warm glow of the sunset that permeated the entire room didn't really resemble an unholy demon as much as he did a vestal white angel.
A moment of pure, absolute silence in which their gazes were locked and then Shiro ripped his eyes away, heart beating far too fast in his chest.
"Ya have nothin' ta be sorry for," he said.
Shiro looked back at the gypsy's lovely face, arching a brow to show his confusion.
"Ichigo, my name is Ichigo," the latter said, smiling softly, and the albino thought the unique, musical name fit the other perfectly.
"Shiro," he said, pointing a black-nailed finger to his chest. "Ya wanna see somethin', Ichigo?"
Ichigo repressed a shiver at the way Shiro said his name in that watery, slinky voice of his and nodded once, obeying the other when he gestured for the gyspy to follow him. Zangestu by his side, Ichigo let Shiro lead him through an archway onto the cathedral of Notre Dame's highest balcony, a near inaudible gasp passing through his parted lips at the sight that met him.
The sun was just disappearing over the horizon, casting hues of rosy pink and deep blood orange over the entire city of Paris, kindling small fires of brilliant light on the thatched roofs and stone turrets alike. It was magnificent, blinding even. Ichigo grinned and placed his hands on the balcony's rail, leaning forward to feel the wind on his face and the rush that came with the realization that they were so far above the ground.
"I bet the king himself doesn't have a view like this," he said dreamily, chocolate brown eyes half-closed.
"Yer tha only one ta see it besides me, ya know," Shiro replied, sidling closer to the orangette so their shoulders were merely inches apart. Ichigo turned his head to regard the other with a disbelieving expression.
"Really? No one else has been up here?"
"Tch, a' course not. Ya don' get many visitors when yer the 'most hideous face in all Paris', remember?" Shiro said with a bitter smile, drumming his fingertips against the railing as he rested his chin on the palm of his free hand. Ichigo frowned deeply, moving his body to the side to face the other man head on.
"I don't think you're hideous."
"Ya must be blind, then."
"Or maybe I'm the only one who isn't."
Shiro stopped moving his fingers against the stone, still as a statue for a few moments following Ichigo's statement but then he shook his head, refusing to meet the gypsy's searching gaze.
"Try tellin' that to Aizen."
"Aizen?" Ichigo asked, returning to his position leaning against the stone rail next to Shiro.
"Yea', he raised me, told me all 'bout how I had to repent fer the sin tha' was my face," Shiro said, eyes cornering to see the other male scowling in a very endearing fashion and waggling his eyebrows. "I'm a monster, ya know."
Ichigo didn't say anything for a second or two, reflecting on how someone as stale and spiritless as Sosuke Aizen could have raised someone like Shiro, whose exotic features and outlandish personality made him the exact opposite, exciting and alluring. Ichigo reached out one of his hands. "Give me your hand," he demanded.
"Just give it to me," Ichigo said, pleased when Shiro didn't hesitate to place his pale hand into the other's sunkissed one. Shiro revelled in the orangette's touch, wondering if he'd ever actually held hands with another human being in his entire life, and marveled at how well his hand, calloused from his work as a bell ringer, fit into the gyspy's smooth, soft one.
"Hmm..." Ichigo hummed as he traced one fingertip over an alabaster palm, pointing to the faint line that started between the man's thumb and forefinger and curved out to end just above the wrist. "A long life line. And this one," he said, pointing out another and smirking, "means you have a bit of sadistic streak."
Shiro grinned, mentally wishing Ichigo would never let go of his hand. He didn't think he'd ever felt so... content.
"That's funny, I don't see any," the orangette whispered, bringing the bell ringer's hand so close to his face that Shiro could feel the other's breath on his palm.
"Don' see any what?"
Ichigo looked up with those big brown eyes of his glittering with something Shiro couldn't name for all the world, only knowing that he rather liked the sight of it.
"Monster lines," Ichigo said. "Not a single one."
The gypsy let go of Shiro's hand and it dropped into the albino's lap so that gold on black eyes could stare at it in both awe and revulsion before he curled it into a fist of determination.
"You helped me, now I'll help you," he said. Ichigo's eyes widened briefly, wondering what the other man meant and Shiro continued, explaining himself. "I'll get ya out 'a here."
"But there's no way out. There's soldiers at every door," Ichigo said doubtfully. Shiro smirked wickedly and pointed down to the streets below them.
"We won't use a door."
"You mean... climb down?" Ichigo asked, looking over the rail and frowning.
"Sure, you carry 'im," Shiro said, motioning toward the gyspy's goat still nearby. "I carry you."
"Okay," Ichigo said, nodding and then reaching out to his familiar with outstretched arms. "Come on, Zan."
The goat jumped into his hold and Ichigo reached into his shirt to withdraw a lavender handkerchief that he tied around Zangetsu's eyes as a makeshift blindfold. Shiro didn't hesitate before wrapping an arm under Ichigo's knees and one around the orangette's back, scooping both the boy and his goat up bridal style.
"Don' be afraid," he said, smirking.
"I'm not afraid," Ichigo said and it was only a millisecond later that Shiro leaped over the railing, removing the hand under the gypsy's knees to grab onto one of the many ledges protruding from the cathedral's exterior walls. "Okay, now I'm afraid," Ichigo said, taking in the many fathoms between them and the ground swarming with Aizen's guards.
"Tha trick is not ta look down," Shiro said even as Zangetsu's blindfold slipped off and fluttered away in the wind, the goat bleating in fright so that Ichigo tightened his hold on the scared animal. Shiro started swinging, gathering momentum.
"You've done this before?" Ichigo asked, cautious of what the answer might be.
Then they were airborne, traveling from ledge to ledge as they gradually descended down Notre Dame's exterior. Groaning at the feeling of his stomach dropping at the sensation of free-falling, Ichigo hooked one of his arms around Shiro's neck, keeping his other firmly holding onto Zangetsu. They landed heavily on the roof of one of the cathedral's towers.
"You're quite the acrobat," Ichigo said.
"Thank you," Shiro said smugly and was about to say something else when the iron bolted tile they stood on gave way, sending them careening across the slanted roof, sparks flying as the metal screeched across the numerous tiles. They slid to an immediate halt at the edge where the tile flew off without them, crashing somewhere in a nearby alley causing a dog to bark madly and all the guards surrounding the area to scurry off in order to investigate the source of the noise. With a sigh of relief, Ichigo clung to Shiro as the latter took the final leap from the edge of the roof, dropping to the base of a massive statue of a patron saint.
Shiro reluctantly lowered the gypsy to his feet, Ichigo setting his pet goat down as well. Zangetsu bleated in disoriented dismay as he hobbled around on unsteady legs.
"Hope I didn't scare ya," Shiro said.
"Not for an instant." Ichigo waved a hand dismissively, closing in on the distance between them. In the bluish tint of twilight, Shiro was a sight to behold, his porcelain skin and shadowy fire eyes radiating in the darkness. He drew Ichigo to him like a moth to a flame. Shiro stiffened, wavering in the unfamiliarity of the situation.
"Ya should get goin'," he whispered.
"Come with me," Ichigo insisted breathily, laying a hand on the other's chest and grasping the black fabric there.
"To the Court of Miracles," Ichigo explained. "Leave this place."
"Oh, nah, I couldn't do tha'..."
"All right, then I'll come to see you."
"But tha soldiers, and Aizen and-"
Shiro's words died a glorious death on the tip of his tongue as the next second impossibly brought the gypsy's lips on his, effectively silencing his protests. But just as fast as they'd been there, they were gone, Shiro blinking dazedly in shock for a moment or two before a roguish grin twisted his lips upwards.
"Have it yer way, then," he said to Ichigo, whose eyes sparkled up at him like chocolate diamonds. The orangette reached into his shirt, pulling out a leather cord on which was fastened a palm-sized pendant woven from thread. He placed it into Shiro's hand, closing the other's fingers around it.
"If you should ever need sanctuary, this will show you the way," Ichigo said.
"How?" Shiro asked, staring down at the strange little artifact in his hand.
"Just remember: when you wear this woven band you hold the city in your hand."
Their moment was ruined by the cacophony of guards running past the alley, heavy boots stomping on the cobblestone. Shiro's gaze flickered back to Ichigo.
"Hurry, ya should get out 'a here," he said, wishing that what he spoke wasn't the truth, and with a parting, sorrowful smile, Ichigo jumped down from the base of the statue, Zangetsu following hot on his heels. They disappeared into Notre Dame's looming shadows and for the first time in a very, very long while Shiro sent a prayer up to the heavens, pleading for the other's safety.
He took his time climbing back up Notre Dame's stone walls, entering the cathedral through a lower level window that looked out from one of the side staircases. However, Shiro didn't immediately head up the stairs to the bell tower. Instead he lingered for a moment, leaning against the wall to stare out of the window at the sky tinted with the indigo and violet of dusk. His ghostly white fingers tipped with black nails brushed over his lips still tingling from the sensation of Ichigo's mouth pressed against his.
In his lovestruck daze, Shiro didn't notice someone ascending the stairs, their phosphorescent blue eyes glowing felinely in the dimly lit space, until he felt hot breath breezing through the cloud white strands of hair on his shoulder blades, sending a shiver through him as it caressed the nape of his neck.
"Hey there," a sinful, husky voice whispered into the bell ringer's ear.
Shiro whirled around to face the one who dared get so close, black and gold orbs glittering dangerously, and found himself staring into the face of a stranger, a beautiful one with shimmering azure eyes and a head full of unruly, turquoise hair. He forgot whatever words he'd been about to speak, wondering if the tall, broad-shouldered beatific vision dressed in golden armor was a hallucination, or even an apparition (not unlikely considering they currently stood in a church.)
"I'm looking for the gypsy boy," the blue-haired stranger said, grinning in a way so wicked it was stunning and sent lustful pulses throughout Shiro's entire body. "Have you seen him?"
But as soon as the phrase 'gypsy boy' left the man's lips, Shiro snapped out of his trance, his pale features twisting into a ferocious, menacing glare. His eyes darted down to see the sword strapped to the other's hip, as if the extravagant armor hadn't been enough of a clue already. Shiro's teeth ground against each other audibly and his fists clenched by his sides, aching to make violent contact with the man's flesh.
This man was a soldier.
This man was looking for Ichigo.
This man wanted to hurt Ichigo.
Over Shiro's dead body.
"Get. Out," the albino snarled through gritted teeth, watching as the blunette soldier's lips fell from their grin to press together in a straight line, one blue brow arching, and it was very obvious that Shiro's sudden murderous rage didn't intimidate him for a second. That only served to further ignite the anger boiling in the bell ringer's chest and Shiro reached out to grab the soldier's collar, jerking him forward. "I said get out."
The other man's eager, almost maniacal smile surprised Shiro, to say the least.
Shiro growled and with his impressive brute strength developed from years spent ringing Notre Dame's bells he shoved the soldier against the wall, his hand letting go of the other's collar to wrap around a corded, bronze neck. But when he tightened his grip, threatening the blue-haired man's airway, the latter only gave a short, barking laugh. Then, before he could comprehend what was happening, Shiro was the one against the wall, his hands pinned over his head and the soldier's alluring face inches away from his. All thoughts of fighting back inexplicably disappeared from Shiro's mind.
"I don't mean him any harm," the soldier said, his sapphire depths boring into midnight suns. "I only wanted to speak with him."
"Ya expect me ta believe tha'?" Shiro spat with less venom than he would have liked.
"Not really, but perhaps you could give him a message for me."
"An' what would tha' be?" Shiro cautiously looked into those unbelievably blue eyes for any trace of deceitfulness, awestruck when he found none.
"Tell him that I didn't mean to trap him here but it was the only way I could save his life."
Shiro's eyes widened minutely for a fraction of a second but then they narrowed into slits and he began to struggle in the soldier's hold, dismayed when the blue-haired dream of a man managed to keep him exactly as he was.
"I'll tell 'im, now can ya let go 'a me?" Shiro said, upper lip curling back in a silent snarl. However, the soldier made no move to release the lovely male trapped in his grasp, closing in on the distance between them even more so that Shiro could feel the other's enticing body heat through that golden armor.
"Mmm, Ichigo sure is lucky," the blunette said in a voice that could melt the very stone walls around them.
"Why d'ya say tha'?" Shiro found himself asking in a whisper.
"I mean he's very lucky to have a friend like you."
Shiro's breath hitched as those suggestive words reached his ears, his face suddenly feeling quite warm as the lightest shade of blush pink appeared on his cheekbones, very visible on his lily white skin. His exotic eyes instinctively fluttered closed when he felt silken lips covering his own.
The kiss wasn't sweet and fleeting like the one he'd shared with Ichigo, it was rough and ardent and... hot, the stranger's lips seizing his as if the former wanted to suck up Shiro's very soul through his mouth. It took everything from Shiro and left him breathless, mind spinning, when the other pulled away.
"Look after him, yes?"
And then Shiro's arms were falling limply to his sides, no longer held up by large hands, and the albino was watching the soldier's retreating form. He wanted to call out for the man to stop, to demand to know why he thought he could just kiss anyone he pleased and if they would ever see each other again, but he was frozen to the spot.
Minutes or perhaps hours later, Shiro languidly traipsed up the stairs to the bell tower, fingertips dancing over his now twice-kissed lips, the ones kissed by the most beautiful creatures he'd ever laid eyes upon. There was a peculiar sort of bliss coursing through his veins, a happiness unfamiliar to one locked away their entire life in solitary confinement for their demonic appearance. It was serene, tranquil like the calmest of dreams.
An excited squeal pierced through the air and his newfound peace. Shiro frowned, looking over to where the cherubic Nel was jumping up and down in place in between Pesche and Dondochakka who were both grinning like fools.
"Oh, Shiro, we saw, we saw! We saw everything!" Nel cried, flinging herself onto Shiro's leg and hugging it tightly.
"Wha' are ya talkin' about?" Shiro asked casually, hoping the bothersome gargoyles and cherub hadn't been spying on him. His hopes were crushed to a fine powder when Pesche hopped over and began nudging the bell ringer's ribs with his elbow.
"Oh come on now, Loverboy! We saw you kiss those two charming young fellows," the gargoyle said. "Or, rather, we saw them kiss you."
The trio all juvenilely giggled behind their hands and Shiro rolled his eyes, pushing Nel off of his leg with a gentle hand and striding across the tower loft to the balcony on which he'd shown Ichigo the magnificent view of the sunset. He took the same place as before, leaning on the rail and taking in the sight of Paris after dark. It seemed lackluster now that there was no one to share it with.
"Yea', too bad I'll never see 'em again," he said bitterly.
"Don't say that!" Nel protested, flapping her stone angel wings to fly over to where Shiro stood, landing on the rail next to him. "They really like you. They'll come back.."
The bell ringer scoffed, wondering what a child could know about matters of the heart, but internally he felt a burst of hope spark in the bottom of his stomach. It shot up through him and made his lips twitch with the urge to smile wistfully, something he had never done- there hadn't ever been a reason for it and now...
Now there were two reasons.
But whilst one man revelled blithely in his romantic notions, another was agonizing over his.
Across the city of Paris, in the cruelest and darkest of places - the Palace of Justice - Sosuke Aizen was alone in his private chambers, a tall, narrow room made of thick stone that held at one end a massive fireplace burning with fiendish, fearsome flames taller than the man who stood before them.
Aizen was staring into the fiery abyss, hands clasped in front of him and face utterly expressionless. It was a false facade of repose for whilst his outward appearance spoke of stillness, inside the man was burning alive, his blood replaced with molten, boiling lava, his very soul scorched from the monstrous heat coming from within. His being was ablaze with fear and misplaced wrath and, above all, a devastating desire.
He couldn't understand why this was happening to him. He was a righteous, pure, virtuous, God-fearing man, so much more deserving of heavenly grace than the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowds. He was the sole voice of justice in a place infested with gypsies and other heathen, lawless undesirables. He was nearly God himself in this damnable, abominable city.
Then why were his thoughts consumed by lustful, sinful visions of a pair of seductive, heated cocoa brown eyes under tousled locks of hair the color of the sunset and sweet honey and tangerines mixed together? Why did he wonder how sunkissed, heated flesh would feel under his hands and how that temptingly lithe, perfect body would look under him, those beautiful orange strands splayed over the silk of his pillows? Why was he, Judge Sosuke Aizen, burning with unadulterated want for a mere boy, a... gypsy, the very thing he despised more than anything?
He had spent the past hour near desperately asking God these questions, praying to the Mother Mary and every saint and archangel he knew of to protect him from the gypsy boy's bewitching, unholy spell. He'd been sure that the deity and the divine beings would answer his prayers and save him from the torturous ache in his entire being to hold the gypsy boy in his arms, to make the boy his. However, it was now apparent as he gazed into the tempestuous flames, seeing in their depths the gypsy boy's unearthly beautiful form beckoning to him, that the heavens would not have mercy upon him.
He had to take matters into his own hands, then.
Aizen reached into his robes, withdrawing a piece of fabric colored a deep aubergine and embroidered with golden suns - the sash the gypsy boy had thrown directly into his lap. He brought the pretty thing up to his cheek, an erotic thrill running through him as he felt the soft sash against his skin, knowing that it belonged to the object of his desire, that he touched the very same fabric once flush with the tawny, flawless body tormenting his every thought. He closed his eyes, picturing the fabric to be the gypsy's supple, succulent flesh. Inhaling deeply, he remembered the delicious scent he'd breathed with his nose buried in tangerine hair, a heady yet sweet musk of ginger and vanilla.
The judge's euphoria was suddenly interrupted as the narrow room was filled with the crude sounds of someone pounding on the door, the one doing so not waiting for a response before swinging the towering doors open. Aizen's dull brown eyes narrowed the slightest bit at the interruption but he said nothing as he regarded the soldier standing in the doorway.
"Minister Aizen, the gypsy boy has escaped."
"What!" the judge snapped, his composure cracking at the news, his mouth twisting into an enraged snarl. Shocked, the soldier took a step backwards, palms raised in surrender.
"He's nowhere in the cathedral. He's gone."
"But, how... " Aizen trailed off, straightening up and running a hand through his hair, reigning his features into their usual blankness eerily fast. "Never mind. Get out."
The soldier wasted no time heeding his master's order, whirling around to flee from the room, the massive doors shutting closed behind him. Aizen turned back to the roaring fire, seeing again to his delight and his horror the gypsy boy's smoldering eyes and alluring form, beckoning to him with a crooked finger.
"I'll find him," Aizen said aloud. "I'll find him if I have to burn down all of Paris."
He clutched the sash in his hands until his knuckles turned white. Eyes flitting down at the wretched, lovely thing, the fire in his soul swelled to new heights, swallowing him whole. It was unbearable, completely excruciating, like the very flames of Hell stormed inside of him. On the brink of madness, he flung the sash away from him and into the fireplace, where it landed on the ashen wood and was devoured in seconds by the searing fire.
A barely visible smile tilted Aizen's lips, the name he'd overheard spoken in a melodic baritone flitting into his mind as he imagined reading it off of a warrant for the gypsy boy's arrest. He would watch the fear and terror swirl in those beautiful eyes before he then declared the sentence: death.
But Aizen was not an evil man- he would offer an alternative to the poor boy.
"Be mine, Ichigo Kurosaki, or you will burn."
The next morning was a dreary one, gray and overcast. A black carriage rolled over the cobblestone street, next to which was a line of drowsy guards that ended with a blue-haired man clad in golden armor, his eyes the only sharp and alert pair among the bunch.
Grimmjow was not particularly pleased about being awakened in the early hours of dawn to hear that Judge Sosuke Aizen demanded his presence in the city square within the hour. It may come as some surprise that he was much more vexed about having to obey the commands of the city official rather than rousing before the sun had risen. Then again, it may not.
The carriage lurched to a halt directly in front of him and two guards rushed to open the door, Grimmjow spurring Pantera forward to follow them. When the heavy, metal door swung open the captain's brows rose the slightest bit upon seeing Judge Aizen, obviously fatigued if the dark circles under his eyes were anything to go by. Though Grimmjow had only just met the city official the day before, he'd already surmised that to see Sosuke Aizen anything other than a picture of composed apathy was a rare sight indeed. And, of course, the blunette couldn't resist a jibe at the other's expense.
"Rough night, sir?" he asked, disguising his mirth with an even, conversational tone. Aizen's placid brown eyes met cerulean orbs, a minute smile pulling at his thin lips.
"I had a little trouble with the fireplace," he answered simply.
"I see," Grimmjow said, falling back into his role as Captain of the Guard and catching sight of a soldier guiding Aizen's infamous jet black stallion over to its owner. "Your orders, sir?"
"Find the gypsy boy," was all Aizen said, agilely mounting his horse. He didn't bother to await his captain's reply before taking hold of the reins and urging the stallion into a gallop across the square, the troop of soldiers immediately following suit.
Grimmjow felt his grip on Pantera's reins tighten, jaw clenching as his azure gaze stormed with hatred and anger. Thoughts of abandoning his company to search the entire city for a certain orangette ran through his mind but he quickly dismissed them. Though their time together had been brief at best, Grimmjow knew that the gypsy boy Aizen was now obsessing over wouldn't be found so easily.
But if he were to be found...
That particular notion decided it for Grimmjow and he clicked his tongue between his teeth, Pantera automatically breaking out into a gallop to catch up with his subordinates and the twisted individual they blindly followed.
However, as the day and the search for the orange-haired gypsy boy went on, Grimmjow found it harder and harder to restrain his fury toward Judge Aizen, a man he now knew for sure was without a sound mind, heart, or soul.
They'd started out small, interrogating gypsies they spotted dancing or playing music on the street; they'd all claimed they knew nothing of the one for whom they searched. But then it had progressed, Aizen ordering the soldiers to push an occupied caravan into the Seine, Grimmjow watching in silent outrage as the family of gypsies surfaced in the murky water, children no older than ten among them. The gypsies made it to the shore only to be shackled in chains (the young ones again not spared) and lined up to face Aizen.
"Ten pieces of silver for the gypsy Ichigo Kurosaki," the judge said, holding out a hand full of said silver. There was a dead silence, the gypsies all staring at the ground, lips sealed shut. Aizen closed his outstretched hand into a fist and steered his horse away from the captured innocents. "Lock them up," he said easily to the guards.
Grimmjow knew it would do no good to interfere and this fact weighed heavily upon him whilst their company rampaged through the streets of Paris, leaving a wake of fear and devastation in their path. They discovered a group of gypsies hiding under a blacksmith's floorboards and Aizen again made them an offer.
"Twenty pieces of silver for the gypsy Ichigo Kurosaki."
"Take them away."
Grimmjow's hands shook with the effort to stay mute, Pantera neighing as he inadvertently pulled her reins too tight. Murmuring an apology to the white mare, he watched the guiltless gypsies being shackled and hauled away to the Palace of Justice. He mentally thanked them for not taking the greed-driven offer to tell Aizen of Ichigo's whereabouts and cursed himself for his uselessness in helping them. Grimmjow wasn't known for his cautiousness in his military career, instead renowned for impulsive acts of bravery, but he was sharp enough to know that should he defy Aizen and attempt to free the wrongly imprisoned gypsies right then it would only end badly.
However, every man has his breaking point.
Aizen led the men across a bridge to the outskirts of the city, where there was a small farm, a windmill right next to the family house that boasted a roof made of straw. He gestured for Grimmjow to accompany him, the latter dismounting to follow Aizen into the modest house, already dreading whatever the other man had in mind. A family of four greeted them, a husband and wife with their two children, a boy that was still a toddler and a newborn infant. The adults' eyes were full of poorly concealed fear.
Aizen withdrew from the sleeve of his robe a golden trinket on a leather cord, holding it out in front of him so that it swung in the air.
"This gypsy talisman was found on your property," he said. "Have you been harbouring gypsies?"
"Our home is always open to the weary traveler," the husband rushed to explain, falling to his knees before the judge. "Have mercy, my lord," he pleaded.
"I am placing you and your family under house arrest until I get to the bottom of this," Aizen said casually, stowing the talisman back away in his sleeve. "If what you say is true, you are innocent and have nothing to fear."
"But we are innocent, I assure you! We know nothing of these gypsies!"
Aizen turned and walked out of the house without another word, Grimmjow reluctantly mimicking his actions. As soon as they had stepped over the threshold, Aizen grabbed a spear from a guard standing nearby, placing it horizontally over the door so those inside could not leave their home. Grimmjow realized absentmindedly that since they'd entered a crowd had gathered at the edge of the property. However, he failed to notice the familiar figure of a hunched over beggar man in a navy blue cloak and so he was unaware of a pair of chocolate orbs watching the spectacle avidly.
Aizen looked over to the blue-haired captain, expression as tepid as ever.
"What?" Grimmjow spat in distaste. Surely he couldn't have heard that right.
"Until it smolders. These people are traitors and must be made examples of." Aizen then took one of the guards' torches, profferring it to the other.
"With all due respect, sir, I was not trained to murder the innocent," Grimmjow said, an animalistic snarl easily heard in his words. True to form, Aizen didn't betray any surprise or anger if he felt any.
"But you were trained to follow orders," he said, again extending the torch and with that Grimmjow's control snapped like a dry twig, his hand reaching out to snatch the torch out of the judge's hand and glaring venomously into cold brown eyes he plunged it into a barrel full of water, steam bursting forth as the fire was extinguished.
"Insolent coward," Aizen said, shaking his head before he mounted his ebony steed. He took another torch from a different guard and wasted no time in lifting it to the windmill's lowest sail. The bone dry, thin material went up in flames within mere moments, spreading to the house so quickly that fire engulfed the structure right before Grimmjow's eyes. Terrified screams pierced the air, spurring him into action.
That pair of chocolate orbs watched, distraught, as Grimmjow broke through a glass window and disappeared into the fiery vortex, their owner growing more worried as second after second passed, beginning to fear the worst when suddenly the door splintered and fell to the ground, revealing the captain holding a little boy in one arm and a bundle that undoubtedly was an infant in the other, a man and woman right behind him. Under the hood of the navy cloak came a sigh of relief.
Grimmjow returned the children to their parents' arms but he could not enjoy even a second of solace for Aizen was thoroughly displeased with his actions. Two guards snuck up on the blunette, one hitting him on the head with the blunt hilt of a sword, Grimmjow stumbling forward to his knees and his helmet falling off to tumble to the ground as a result of the cheap shot. The other guard seized his left wrist, twisting behind his back as the first raised his sword high, aimed for his former captain's exposed neck.
"The sentence for insubordination is death," Aizen said from atop his mount. "Such a pity - you threw away a promising career."
"Consider it my highest honor, sir," Grimmjow said, looking up at the judge from his prostrate position. The sword-wielding guard tensed in preparation to swing down but there was someone nearby who wasn't just about to sit and watch the impromptu execution of one of the two men to which he'd recently become very attached.
Tanned, young hands shot out from within the folds of the beggar man's cloak, one holding a lavender handkerchief and the other grabbing a decently sized rock off of the ground. The rock was then placed into the fabric, forming a makeshift slingshot that span in the air to gain momentum for a few moments until the rock was released to fly through the air. The stallion on which Aizen was astride reared in the air as that rock cracked the flesh on his haunches, the force enough to buck the judge off the saddle and onto the ground.
The distraction was enough for Grimmjow to jerk out of the guard's grasp, rising to his full height to backfist both of the guards in the face, hard enough for them to collapse to the ground like felled trees. A spot of black caught Grimmjow's eye and he whirled around to see Aizen's horse galloping right towards him. Seizing the opportunity, Grimmjow leaped onto the stallion's saddle.
Having risen from his unsophisticated position on the ground, Aizen motioned for the guards to aim their bows at the fleeing man. Grimmjow had reached the middle of the bridge when he was assailed by a curtain of arrows and though he lowered himself and spurred the horse to run faster, one of those arrows made its mark, piercing through his armor and deep into his flesh. A choked yell left his lips, the pain unlike anything he'd ever felt, and the last thing he saw was the dusky sky before his eyes rolled up into his head and he lost consciousness.
There was a stricken gasp under the beggar man's navy cloak as the injured captain fell from the saddle and plummeted over the side of the bridge to plunge into the shadowy water, arrows following his descent as the guards and Aizen had pursued the blunette. Bare feet tread the grass covered ground next to the bridge, the figure hidden by that cloak pressing up against the side of the bridge so those looking over to where Grimmjow had fallen wouln'nt see him.
"Don't waste your arrows, let the traitor rot in his watery grave," Aizen proclaimed, the archers immediately ceasing their efforts and turning to their superior for further orders. "Find the boy. If you have to burn the city to the ground, so be it."
They all dispersed hastily, eager to please the judge and after a prolonged stare at the still water, Aizen took hold of his horse's reins, leaving as well on the stallion's back.
A hand reached out from the cloak, throwing it to the ground to show that the very thing Aizen was scouring all of Paris for was standing right there.
Zangetsu jumped down from his perch on Ichigo's back and the orangette waited a moment to ensure that everyone was gone. Once he was sure, he raced down the hill alongside the bridge and dove straight into the water.
Once fully submerged, Ichigo peered through the dark water and spotted a large form, blurry and unknown until a ray of moonlight glinted upon a plate of golden armor. The gypsy swam over to where Grimmjow's unconscious body was gradually sinking into the black depths, hooking his arms under the other's only to find that the weight was too much for him to carry to the surface. Acting quickly, Ichigo began to rid the captain of his armor, leaving the man in a linen undershirt and brown trousers. The armor drifted down below them and Ichigo summoned all of his strength to pull both Grimmjow and himself to the shore.
He gasped for air as he reached the water's surface, one arm wrapped around Grimmjow's torso while the other paddled them to where Zangetsu was waiting. Ichigo heaved the other's body onto the grass and mustered up the last of his energy to push himself out of the water. He turned Grimmjow onto his back, looking for any signs, good or bad. The orangette could've sworn his very soul sighed in blissful relief when the man suddenly began coughing, water passing through his lips. Bleary blue eyes opened halfway to stare up at Ichigo's face that was hovering inches away.
"Ichi...go..." Grimmjow said, his voice hoarse and faint, sapphire eyelashes fluttering as he struggled to keep his eyes open. Ichigo smiled softly and laid a hand on the man's face, brushing his thumb over a perfectly defined cheekbone.
"Don't worry, I know somewhere we'll be safe."
High up in Notre Dame's bell tower, three gargoyles were looking out over the city, trepidation and worry coiling within them as they witnessed the sight of Paris slowly burning to a crisp. The wicked glow of flames and thick columns of charcoal smoke covered the city like a threatening storm cloud.
"Oh, this isn't good," Nel said, stone hands nervously clasped up by her chest.
"It's hopeless, absolutely hopeless!" Dondochakka cried despondently, slumping over the rail of the balcony and if he had been human there surely would've been tears streaming down his face. "Oh, that poor gypsy boy! I'm beginning to fear the worst."
"I know," Pesche sighed, chin resting on his hand. "But now don't you say anything to Shiro, he's worried enough as it is."
"Shh! Here he comes," Nel whispered urgently and sure enough there was the sound of footsteps behind them.
Shiro walked up to the balcony rail, placing his hands on it as he scanned the fiery landscape, the only sign of any emotional reaction being the worried glimmer in his sun irises.
"Any sign 'a him?" he asked the gargoyles so lowly that his words were almost carried away by the wind. As soon as Shiro had begun to speak Dondochakka's mouth began to quiver, the statue's minute supply of self-control swiftly running out.
"Oh, it's a lost cause!" he blurted out, reverting into a blubbering mess. "He could be anywhere! In the stocks, in the dungeons, on the rack!"
Nel tentatively reached out a hand to half-heartedly pat Dondochakka's shoulder but it wasn't lost on her nor Pesche the effect the gargoyle's outburst had on Shiro. The white-haired man's entire body had tensed and his hands had clenched, his ebony nails scraping across the stone rail.
"There's nothing to worry about, Shiro," Pesche said, trying to keep the mood light. "No doubt Ichigo's three steps ahead of Aizen and well out of harm's way."
Shiro gave no response to the gargoyle's attempt at cheering him up, seeming as if he hadn't even heard the other at all. He had, of course, and though he wanted so much to believe that Ichigo was safe, he knew the gypsy was in very real danger. Shiro had been 'raised' by Aizen and the man was the epitome of cunning and for some devious reason, he was hellbent on capturing Ichigo.
It was tearing him up inside, not knowing where Ichigo was, if he was safe, if he would ever see him again...
A heavy thud reached Shiro's ears, startling him enough for him to whirl around on the spot. That sound had definitely been unfamiliar and the reasonable conclusion that someone had made it set him on edge. No one came up to the bell tower except for him and Aizen, whom he automatically ruled out as the source since the judge was far too poised to knock something onto the floor.
Shiro warily stalked back into the tower loft, nearly jumping when there was another thud, and another and three more after that. Now vexed by the strange noise, Shiro followed the sound to where it was coming from, the door leading to the staircase he kept locked at all times so no one could accidentally, or purposefully, enter without him knowing; save for Aizen who possessed a copy of the key.
It was now obvious that someone was knocking on the door, seeking entry. Shiro considered ignoring whoever it was but reconsidered when he thought of the possibility it could be Ichigo, or that blue-haired soldier...
Well, when he unlocked the door and flung it open to confront the one knocking he never expected it to be both - plus a goat.
Ichigo was standing slightly hunched over (though still looking as lovely as ever), an arm slung over his shoulders to support the seemingly delirious soldier, now only dressed in underclothes. Shiro instinctively moved to stand on the other side of the blunette, placing the man's right arm over his own shoulders and looking over to Ichigo to stare into that warm ochre gaze. An immense wave of euphoria crashed over him to see the gypsy unharmed and free from Aizen's clutches, even glad to see Ichigo's animal familiar alive and well beside him. Nevertheless, that sensation was almost instantly smothered by a swell of concern for the soldier's well-being.
"I'm sorry, Shiro, but I didn't know where else to go," Ichigo hastened to explain.
"Shush with tha'," Shiro cut the orangette off, jerking his head toward the doorway. "Let's jus' get 'im inside."
Ichigo nodded, he and Zangetsu following the bell ringer's lead into the tower loft and across the space to where a makeshift curtain made out of crimson fabric sectioned off a corner. Shiro used his free hand to sweep the curtain aside to reveal what had to be where the man slept, a straw mat on the floor covered by a woolen blanket and a misshapen pillow. There was also a lit candle by the pillow and when Shiro stepped directly into the light his porcelain skin was illuminated like sunlight on fresh snow.
The sight only served to heighten Ichigo's inner conflict; he was blithe to see Shiro again and yet deeply troubled, mostly due to Grimmjow's near brush with death. They laid the barely conscious man down onto the mat, resting his head on the pillow and knelt on either side, Zangetsu lingering a few yards away.
Grimmjow's sapphire irises were visible through his scarcely open eyes and they were senselessly flickering between the two men. Shiro glanced over at Ichigo, who was retrieving a small satchel from underneath his cloak.
"So ya wanna tell me wha's goin' on?" the albino said, tone soft rather than accusatory.
"This is Grimmjow," Ichigo said, not looking up from where he was pulling several different items out of his satchel. "He is, or was rather, the Captain of the Guard. He saved a family from their house that Aizen set on fire, who didn't much like that. He got pierced by an arrow trying to escape."
Shiro let his gaze wander down to the injured man's face, his hatred of Aizen doubling as he took in the blunette's unfocused stare and the droplets of blood staining his linen undershirt.
At least now he knew the name of the one who'd kissed him so thoroughly the day before. Grimmjow. It suited him, Shiro decided, his thoughts dissipating when he felt a warm hand on his cheek. A little taken aback, the bell ringer stared at the orange-haired gypsy whose beautiful brown eyes were boring into him.
"You've already done so much for me, helping me get past the guards, but I must ask you one more thing-"
Ichigo arched one orange eyebrow, a bemused smirk pulling at his full lips.
"Don't you want to know what it is first?" he questioned.
"Doesn' really matter," Shiro said simply, shrugging his shoulders. He was beyond pleased to see a blush forming on the gypsy's face, highlighting the light dusting of freckles over the bridge of his nose.
"So you'll hide him, then?" Ichigo murmured, retracting his hand to return to the miscellany he'd drawn out of his satchel and when he raised his head again he was met with the unexpected sight of Shiro gazing down at Grimmjow's face, the same spark in those exotic eyes present when he looked at Ichigo.
"A' course I will," Shiro said almost wistfully.
Ichigo suppressed a grin, happy to know that Grimmjow's divinely good looks affected others as well. The pleasant atmosphere didn't last for long as he picked up a needle, passing a thread through the minuscule opening.
"Help me turn him onto his side," he said, Shiro nodding once and grasping Grimmjow's upper arm and thigh to gently roll the man over so that his back was to Ichigo. The blunette gave a small groan and then was silent once more. Ichigo set the needle and thread down to pick up the miniature dagger he always kept on his person, smoothly slicing through the back of Grimmjow's undershirt, the two pieces of fabric falling away so that Ichigo could plainly see the man's muscled, broad back covered with bronzed skin flawless up to the left shoulder where the wound the arrow had made was an inflamed tinted red. The blood had mostly coagulated but the wound was too deep to leave untreated.
Shiro watched the orangette trade the dagger for a jug, Ichigo pulling out the cork with his teeth before turning the jug on its side so that deep red liquid, wine, poured down onto the injury. Apparently the feeling of alcohol on a gaping wound wasn't particularly pleasant because the second it touched Grimmjow's skin, his eyes shot wide open, a hissed curse spilling from his lips.
"Thought that might wake you up a bit," Ichigo said, grinning softly and placing the jug back on the floor.
"Unh, feels like a 1470 burgundy," Grimmjow said, groaning. "Not a good year."
Shaking off the remnants of disorientation from being unconscious, Grimmjow's vision cleared, almost like rain clouds disappearing so one could see the brilliant rays of sunlight, except the sun paled in comparison to the vision sitting a hand's breadth away. Eyes like midnight suns gleamed down at him in their porcelain setting and unable to resist Grimmjow put on his infamous winning smile.
"Well, hello ag- AH!" Grimmjow's smooth line was ruined by his strangled yell, turning his head to glare over his shoulder at Ichigo, who'd just stuck the point of the needle into the man's flesh. "That hurts!"
"Stop being such a baby," Ichigo said, rolling his eyes. "You're lucky that arrow didn't pierce your heart."
Not missing a beat, Grimmjow replied "I'm not so sure it didn't, sweetheart."
Ichigo's response was to push the needle through the other end of the wound, the blunette snarling through gritted teeth.
"Shiro, can you distract him while I stitch him up?" the gypsy asked, never looking away from the task at hand. The bell ringer's brow furrowed at the request.
"How?" Shiro said, genuinely at a loss for what he could possibly provide as a distraction.
"I know a few ways we could distract ourselves," Grimmjow answered suggestively in Ichigo's stead, as if he hadn't just suffered a grave injury hours earlier. Nevertheless, Shiro frowned deeply at the blunette, wondering if the comfortable ease with which the former soldier flirted was proof that the kiss they'd shared hadn't meant anything to him.
"Ya seem ta think I'd wanna indulge in those distractions wit' tha likes of ya," Shiro scoffed.
"I didn't hear you complaining yesterday," Grimmjow said with a smug grin.
Ichigo's hands froze in their task, hesitantly looking up at Shiro who was scowling fiercely at the man lying between them.
"You two know each other?" he asked in nearly a whisper. Both the other men's eyes trained on him.
"We... met briefly las' nigh'," Shiro said. "He wanted ta talk ta ya but ya'd already left."
"You came looking for me?" Ichigo met Grimmjow's azure stare, his own softening like hot butter.
"Forgive me for not placing high hopes in the hands of a soldier," the gypsy said, rolling his eyes and returning to the important task of stitching Grimmjow's skin back together.
"So you wanted to see me again," Grimmjow stated, pleased when his only response was Ichigo's blush coming back full force, the orangette endearingly ducking his head in an effort to hide it. The blue-haired man grit his teeth together as he felt the thin needle pierce his flesh once more, letting his head fall back to the pillow. He could relive every war injury he'd ever had and it still wouldn't rival the sharp. pricking pain he was currently experiencing.
Shiro noted the other man's discomfort and impulsively enacted the best way to distract the other he could think of.
"So, - Grimmjow is it - , d'ya normally run 'round kissin' strangers or was las' night jus' special?" he said, regretting his query the instant it left his lips. He might as well have told the former soldier outright their kiss had been one of the two highlights of his entire life, the other of course being when he'd so fleetingly tasted Ichigo's lip merely minutes beforehand. Nevertheless, Shiro maintained his composure even whilst Grimmjow grinned in an almost viciously pleased way, neither of them picking up on a certain orangette's sudden stillness.
"Hmm, let's say when I see something I like..." Grimmjow said, his rumbling, deep voice nearly sounding as if he were purring. "I go after it."
"Is tha' so?" Shiro said, casually quirking a snowy eyebrow though internally he was shouting from the rooftops in triumph.
"It is." Grimmjow craned his neck to look back at Ichigo, who was acting like the others' conversation hadn't affected him the slightest bit. "But sometimes when I catch up with that certain something they don't bother to hear me out and sick their pet goat on me."
Ichigo's lips quivered as he stifled his laughter, lifting the needle up and away from his handiwork and pulling the stitching taught, biting through and severing the excess thread. "There, all done," he proclaimed.
Grimmjow blinked in disbelief, wondering how the gypsy managed to treat his wound in such little time. He made to roll over onto his back only to be promptly stopped by Ichigo's warm, soft hand on his exposed shoulder blade.
"Idiot, you can't lay on your back that I finished stitching back together two seconds ago," the orangette said, sounding utterly exasperated. Shiro chortled under his breath at Grimmjow's obtuseness and how Ichigo just then so reminded him of a mother chastising her unruly child. It ran through the bell ringer's mind that he wouldn't mind, or in fact would enjoy watching the two interact on a regular basis, everyday even.
Grimmjow wasn't fazed by Ichigo's scolding, shooting a dazzling smile up at the other man.
"What would I do without you, Ichi?" he said.
"Ichi?" the gypsy repeated, his lips pursing and tangerine brows knitting together in distaste.
"I like it," Shiro said, subconsciously leaning forward.
"Well then it can be your name," Ichigo said, his words losing their bite when an amused grin appeared on those dollish lips of his, two men devastated when it disappeared as fast it has come. The orangette sprang to his feet, his mind reminding him of something urgent. "I should be going now, it's almost time for the guards to make their rounds-"
"No!" Two voices cut Ichigo's goodbye short, the gypsy's eyes widening at the collective outburst.
Grimmjow and Shiro's thoughts on the matter of Ichigo leaving the cathedral alone to travel the streets filled with soldiers all eager to get their grubby hands on him were one and the same: they would not allow it.
"Have you lost your everloving mind, Ichigo? Have you seen what that lunatic has done to the entire city looking for you?" Grimmjow growled, pushing himself to a sitting position.
"I'm not going to let some megalomaniac bastard determine every move I make," Ichigo said bitterly, crossing his arms over his chest. "I have to get back to the Court of Miracles. I'll be safe there, I promise."
Shiro rose from the floor to his full height, walking the distance between him and the orangette. With human instinct most believed him to lack, he reached out to tenderly cradle Ichigo's face in his hands.
"We know ya can take care 'a yerself but I know Aizen, and wha' he's capable of," Shiro said. "Jus' stay 'ere till morning, then it'll be safer fer ya ."
Under the ivory-haired man's touch, Ichigo could barely hold himself upright as his knees threatened to buckle, let alone remember why he wanted to leave in the first place. When the gypsy took a few seconds too long to respond, Shiro spoke again, a word he'd never before used sincerely.
"Y-yeah, I'll stay" Ichigo said dreamily. A dismayed bleat from a few feet away alerted everyone that Zangetsu did not approve of this decision and when his companion didn't even acknowledge him, the goat stalked off, head high in the air.
Shiro's hands dropped back to his sides, a satisfied, somewhat arrogant grin materializing on the man's pale features.
"Knew ya'd see it our way," the bell ringer said, spinning on his heel and striding toward the door. He simply called out an "I'll be back" before he vanished through the portal into the stairwell on the other side. Ichigo briefly wondered where Shiro was headed but readily dismissed the matter for he had not a clue.
Ichigo turned back to where Grimmjow rested, hands splayed behind him and long legs sprawling the length of the straw mat. The gypsy instantly noticed that when the man had sat up the two halves of his shirt had slid off of his torso, leaving Grimmjow's entire upper body bare for Ichigo's viewing pleasure.
Acting as if the blunette's marvelously chiseled abdomen and rippling pectorals were things he saw everyday, Ichigo lowered himself to kneel beside Grimmjow and averting his eyes away from the magnificent display so temptingly close. There passed a few moments where neither of them said anything, Grimmjow finally breaking the silence.
"You know, I'm in your debt now," he said, glittering sapphire orbs traveling from Ichigo's head of lustrous, sunset strands to the gold hoop earring dangling above an elegant neck and lithe shoulders, stopping at the hem of the gypsy's loose-fitting shirt.
"What do you mean?" Ichigo asked, suspicion clear in his tone.
"You saved my life," Grimmjow said. "Now I am indebted to you."
"Hmm... so you're saying I can now ask anything of you..." Ichigo leaned forward, resting his weight one hand while he tapped a finger to his lips with the other, his bolder side taking total control. "And you must do whatever it is that I choose?"
Grimmjow's eyes darkened to a molten cobalt, his right eyebrow arching suggestively. "Should I be worried?"
"Perhaps," Ichigo said, shrugging his shoulders. "Do you think I would ask you to do something... indecent?"
"I can only hope."
During their back and forth, the two men had gradually moved closer together, now barely separated by an inch they ached to cross. They could feel the other's breath on their skin, eyes smoldering and hooded as they both revelled in the thrill of anticipation.
"Kiss me," Ichigo whispered, euphoric when Grimmjow eagerly obeyed, sealing their lips together fervently. Their lips parted a moment later in perfect unison, Grimmjow snatching the succulent flesh other's lower lip with his teeth, biting down just hard enough to make Ichigo moan into the blunette's mouth. Grimmjow then grasped a handful of tangerine hair, marveling at how the other man tasted even sweeter than he'd imagined.
Somehow even in the midst of their torrid liplock they both heard the door swing open and subsequently close. In the typical knee-jerk reaction Grimmjow and Ichigo broke the kiss, albeit reluctantly, the former backing away so that he was a respectable distance from the other man.
Shiro flung the crimson curtain aside and stepped into his 'bedroom', carrying over one arm a straw mat identical to the one already there. Upon entry, however, his keen eyes caught a few things amiss with one of the two men awaiting him. Ichigo's hair was tousled, spiking wildly more so than usual in one spot, his face was flushed, and his lower lip was significantly redder than before. Grimmjow bore no noticeable changes. save for his lack of a proper shirt.
It was clear as day what they'd been doing in his absence and though it would've made sense for Shiro to be angry or jealous he only found himself wishing he could've been witness to it.
"Glad ta see tha two 'a ya kept yerselves busy," he said, giving a genuine grin when Ichigo's flush rapidly darkened several shades, the endearing sight also garnering a bark of laughter from Grimmjow, who immediately regretted it when the action pulled at his stitches. "I brought this for ya." Shiro shook out the straw mat with a flourish, placing it in front of Ichigo.
"But then where will you sleep?" Ichigo asked, realizing that the small space had only enough room for two mats.
"Don' worry 'bout me. I need ta stay up an' and make sure we don' get any... surprise visits," Shiro said. It wasn't uncommon for Aizen to drop in on him unexpectedly and considering the mystery of how the gypsy managed to escape the cathedral unnoticed, the judge surely suspected his ward had something to do with it.
Neither Ichigo nor Grimmjow had the chance to respond before Shiro disappeared once more through the curtain. The albino strode across his loft, deciding that the best place to sit and keep watch would be the balcony as he could then easily spot anyone entering the cathedral. He stopped in the archway, leaning on his right side against the stone and crossing his arms over his chest. Only a few moments had passed when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Startled, Shiro whipped around to see Ichigo standing there, looking a bit hesitant whilst he worried his lower lip with his teeth.
"Somethin' wrong?" Shiro asked, the orangette quickly shaking his head in the negative.
"No, no, I only wanted to tell you..." Ichigo trailed off, his hand sliding down the other's arm to grasp a cool, alabaster hand in his tawny, warm one. "I wanted to tell you that I care about you, a lot, because I didn't want you to think that because I also care about Grimmjow means I feel any less for you and-"
Sensing the perfect opportunity to give Ichigo a taste of his own medicine, Shiro used his free hand to grip the gypsy's chin and roughly pulled those pretty moving lips to his. Ichigo gasped at the sudden sensation, his eyes closing as he wrapped one arm around the other's neck. Shiro hummed in approval at the feel of Ichigo's body pressed against his, their hands still linked together by their sides, and instinctively he parted his mouth, the tip of his tongue darting forward and tasting lips that had to be made of sugar and honey. He was pleasantly surprised when Ichigo let his tongue past and he could then feel the orangette's wet muscle brush against his.
"Damn, don't tell me you two are getting started without me."
Ichigo tore himself away from the bell ringer, their heads swiveling to the side. Grimmjow was a few feet away, standing a bit lopsided since he had one hand on a table to support himself. Despite his accusation he was grinning, azure eyes swirling darkly with lust.
"Wha' d'ya think yer doin'?" Shiro said, frowning and stepping away from Ichigo and towards Grimmjow. "Go back an' lie down."
"So you two can have all the fun out here without me?" Grimmjow said. "Now that's just cruel."
"Hmm..." Shiro smirked and sauntered a few steps forward until he was nearly flush with the blunette's bare chest. "Then why don' we lay down with ya?"
If it was possible, Grimmjow's grin widened even more, an eager, almost manic gleam appearing in his cerulean irises. "I'd like that. What about you, Ichi?" he purred, looking over Shiro's shoulder to where Ichigo stood, watching them with smoldering eyes that proved the idea appealed to him just as much. The orangette smiled softly, tilting his head.
"Sounds nice," he said.
They couldn't get back behind the curtain fast enough, falling on the straw mats in a tangle of limbs, Grimmjow landing to sit propped up against the wall with Shiro and Ichigo on either side of him. Though they'd only known each other for such a short amount of time, the three men were nearly bursting with an overwhelming desire for the other two and they pressed their mouths and hands to heated flesh effortlessly.
Grimmjow groaned when he felt two pairs of lips on his throat, Ichigo then suckling on his skin whilst Shiro bit down on his pulse point. Impatient, the blunette slid a hand under each of their shirts, his palms skimming over smooth, toned abdomens, and both Shiro and Ichigo caught on quickly. They lifted the offending pieces of fabric over their heads, tossing them to the side.
Upon seeing that portion of the gypsy's lithe form revealed to him, Shiro reached over and pulled Ichigo to him by his waist, their forms meeting over Grimmjow's lap. Shiro bypassed the orangette's mouth in favor of trailing open-mouthed kisses from the collarbone to a pert nipple, running his tongue over the sensitive bud. Ichigo shivered, eyes cornering over to where Grimmjow was watching them, licking his lips kept eye contact even when Shiro's lips descended further, grazing over Ichigo's hipbone to the fine line of tangerine hair just above a gradually growing bulge in his pants.
Shiro hooked his fingers into those pants, feeling his groin pulse with heat as he prepared to pull them down, but Ichigo's hands stopped him, gripping his wrists.
"Wait, let me get something first," Ichigo said breathlessly. The albino quirked an eyebrow in question but the other ignored him, pulling away to crawl over to his satchel still lying right next to the pillow. Ichigo rifled around in the thing for a bit before withdrawing a jar that fit neatly in his palm. Shiro frowned, wondering what it could be, and heard Grimmjow give a low chuckle.
"Glad to see you came prepared," the blunette said but was taken aback when Ichigo smirked in response and leaned forward, cupping his free hand over Grimmjow's fabric-covered erection. The orangette was pleased to feel it pulse under his touch, Grimmjow momentarily rendered speechless.
"Wha' is it?" Shiro said, causing the other two to stare at him in disbelief. Grimmjow and Ichigo couldn't believe that the albino had not a clue what the jar's contents were, but they both swiftly reached the conclusion that of course Shiro didn't know, because he'd never had even a single friend - let alone a lover. Grimmjow gripped Shiro by his wrist, tugging the other man closer to he and Ichigo.
"You've never done this before," the blue-haired man said, stating it outright rather than asking. A little put out, Shiro scowled back at the two lovely faces staring at him.
"A' course not, ya don' get many offers when tha whole city thinks yer a monster," he said, a hint of bitterness in his voice. He made to back away once again but Grimmjow tightened his grip on his wrist.
"Hey, there's no need to get upset, now," the former captain said soothingly, the rumbling of his deep voice sending a calming wave over Shiro. "I find it rather exhilarating."
"Is tha' so?" Shiro said, trailing an ebony tipped finger down the line of Grimmjow's ripped abdomen, earning a pleased growling purr in response, and then Shiro was mimicking the sound when Ichigo sidled over, sliding between them and underneath the bell ringer. The orangette tilted his head to the side and smiled softly.
"Don't worry, we'll take care of you," Ichigo whispered, leaning up to wrap an arm around Shiro's neck and meld their lips together in a torrid, fervent kiss. Shiro felt Grimmjow move behind him and then kisses were being placed along the back of his neck, warm fingers slipping into his hose and sliding it down. Breaking his and Shiro's kiss, Ichigo watched the blue-haired man strip the other above him and shivered, chocolate brown eyes melting like butter as he saw Shiro's prominent erection revealed. Tentatively, he reached down and covered the pale, satiny soft skin with his hand.
Shiro nearly howled at the sensation of Ichigo's gentle, cautious touch on his manhood, seizing the orangette's lips with his own and nibbling on the other's lips with his sharp teeth. Then Ichigo began to stroke tortuously slowly up and down and Shiro's restraint snapped and the hesitance he'd felt due to this experience being his first vanished without a trace. He slid his hands over Ichigo's torso, the gypsy shuddering as those work roughened hands brushed over his nipples and the sensitive skin of his hips. Over a pale shoulder, Grimmjow caught sight of Ichigo's flushed face and felt his own erection pulsate maddeningly.
Shiro grabbed the hem of the gypsy's pants and didn't hesitate to yank them down, licking his lips as he saw Ichigo's member, pink and throbbing, and, as he pushed those delightfully long, lean legs apart the pretty, puckered entrance twitching up at him. Fortunately, Ichigo used the last bit of sense he had to push the jar into Shiro's hand.
"Just start with one," Grimmjow said into the albino's ear. Shiro shuddered involuntarily, unable to believe how thrilling it was to be doing this with the blunette directing him, and nodded once. He opened the jar to see it was filled with some kind of scented oil and it clicked in his mind what it was for, a wicked grin twisting his lips.
Dipping three fingers into the slick substance, he then reached out with his free hand to grasp Ichigo's shaft, glistening with pearls of moisture beading at the top, and was rewarded with a breathy moan from the orangette, those cocoa orbs darkening in lust. Running his thumb over the slit, Shiro pressed the tip of the ring finger of his other end at the man's entrance, watching enraptured as he slid it in up to his knuckle. Ichigo felt unbelievable around his finger, tight and hot and softer than velvet, and the gypsy gasped slightly at the erotic intrusion, looking up over Shiro's shoulder to see those cobalt eyes watching him.
After Shiro had spent some time moving the one finger in and out of that small hole, Grimmjow discreetly wet his own fingers with the oil as well and then he was spreading the man in front of him's pale cheeks, pressing a digit to that virgin entrance as well. Shiro's breath hitched and his gold on black eyes flitted back to stare questioningly back at the blunette, who smirked and laid a kiss on the other's temple. "Follow my lead," he said.
Shiro nodded again and found that as Grimmjow's finger entered him it wasn't an entirely unpleasant sensation. It was a bit uncomfortable but it was also incredibly sensual, knowing that the man's digit was inside of him. And Grimmjow continued, pressing in another finger and Shiro did the same to Ichigo, who was hard pressed not to reach down and touch himself as the torturous foreplay continued. When Grimmjow began to scissor his fingers inside the albino, Shiro bit his lip at the slight stretch but made no other sign of discomfort, mimicking the action to Ichigo, who winced but also gasped in pleasure.
Eventually both Grimmjow and Shiro were moving three fingers in and out of tight heat, somehow finding two sweet spots at the exact same moment. Ichigo threw his head back and Shiro thrust back onto Grimmjow's hand, the two men both moaning. Grimmjow grinned and withdrew his digits from the albino's passageway, causing a set of inverted eyes to blink confusedly up at him. The blunette moistened his hand once again in the oil, but the time he reached around and wrapped a hand around Shiro's member, slicking it with the substance before doing the same to his own.
They pressed the slippery tips to those twitching entrances at the same time, Grimmjow muttering a "Nice and slow," directive into Shiro's creamy neck. It was with unbearable slowness that they slid into those hot channels, the velvet walls constricting around their manhoods, and for Shiro it nearly undid him right then and there, feeling both Grimmjow inside of him and Ichigo around him was just too much, and it seemed like that moment was drawn out forever but finally they were both all the way in. Grimmjow was first to pull out and thrust back in, nailing that spot inside of Shiro that made the man's exotic eyes roll back in his head, and he continued to rock back in and out of the other for a minute or two until Shiro was ready and then they were moving together, Shiro thrusting into Ichigo and Grimmjow into him.
Ichigo was the first to reach his climax when Grimmjow reached a hand around Shiro and grasped his weeping member into his hand, stroking slowly in juxtaposition to Shiro's fast pace. He cried out as his seed shot out from the tip in pearly strands. Shiro wasn't long to follow, releasing deep inside of Ichigo, the sight driving Grimmjow over the edge as well.
They all collapsed to the straw mats, breathing heavily, Ichigo between the other two as the euphoria of afterglow washed over them. However, it didn't last for long when the orangette saw a pair of brown eyes in the corner, looking over to see Zangestu peeking his head in through the curtain.
"Zan, you naughty goat!" he chastised, the goat merely bleating dismissively before trotting off, Grimmjow and Shiro's laughter filling the bell tower afterwards.
Ichigo left in the early light of dawn, both Grimmjow and Shiro kissing him thoroughly in parting. After watching the gypsy and his goat vanish into the stairwell, the day passed by quickly. Grimmjow slept for most of it, in need of recuperation after exerting all that energy the night before when he'd nearly died hours earlier. Shiro kept watch on his balcony, occasionally engaging in conversation with the gargoyles and checking in on the other man. It wasn't until right after the sun set that the bell ringer spied a black carriage rolling up to Notre Dame's entrance.
Cursing under his breath, Shiro raced from the balcony to the deep red curtain hid the blue-haired former captain from view. Throwing the fabric aside, he saw that Grimmjow was still asleep and knowing he was pressed for time, Shiro let the curtain fall back into place, praying the man wouldn't wake anytime soon.
The albino sat in his chair by the table just in time to watch the door swing open, revealing the unwelcome sight of Judge Aizen holding his customary basket. Shiro feigned surprise, widening his eyes and standing from his seat on the chair.
"Good evening, Shiro," Aizen greeted, strolling further into the room as his ward grabbed the tablecloth and their sets of two plates and goblets, setting them on the table. Once he was a foot away, the judge set his basket on the table and lowered himself to his usual seat. Shiro followed suit, finding his incredible hatred for the man across from him and worry over the man hidden behind the crimson curtain difficult to suppress. And despite his efforts, it must have shown somehow.
"Is there something troubling you, Shiro?" Aizen said, reaching a ringed hand into his basket and pulling out a stem of purple grapes.
"Nope," Shiro answered easily, shrugging his shoulders. Aizen plucked one of the grapes off the stem, looking at it as if was the most interesting thing in the world.
"Oh, but there is, I know there is," the judge said, not moving his eyes away from where they stared down at the grape. "I think... you're hiding something," he said, popping the grape into his mouth and Shiro fought with all his might not to look over to the curtain that was the only thing keeping Aizen from discovering his former Captain of the Guard.
"I ain' got anythin' ta hide," Shiro said, a little bewildered that Aizen was jumping into an interrogation of sorts so quickly.
"You're not eating, boy," Aizen said, eyes raising from his stem of grapes and though they outwardly appeared flat and placid, Shiro knew the cogs in the city official's mind were turning and ticking deviously and the albino snatched his own bundle of grapes from the basket, shoving a handful into his mouth.
"Delicious," he said with his mouth full.
"I'm glad you enjoy them," Aizen said, placing his grape stem on the table so he could press the tips of his fingers together in a steeple-like fashion, tilting his head to the side just the slightest bit. "You deserve a treat, after all, with all you do around here: ringing the bells for mass, cleaning the cloisters... helping the gypsy boy escape."
Shiro nearly choked on the grapes as he heard those words leave Aizen's mouth, swallowing them down forcefully even whilst he maintained a composure every bit as calm and collected as his caretaker's, not a single trace of his inner turmoil visible. He didn't say anything, merely leaning back in his seat to stare directly back into those cold brown eyes.
"And now all of Paris is burning because of you," Aizen said. "I wonder what was it that gypsy witch did to charm you so... I can only hope you do not believe he has any real feelings toward you - gypsies are not capable of real love, just think of your mother. "
Shiro's hands clenched the arms of his chair, his knuckles turning even whiter than they already were. He wanted to wrap those hands around Aizen's throat, especially as he saw the judge's lips twitch into the smallest of self-satisfied smiles.
"But what chance could a poor, deformed child like you have against his heathen treachery?" Aizen sighed, rising to his feet. "Well, never you mind, Shiro. He will be out of our lives soon enough. I will free you from his evil spell, he will torment you no longer."
Aizen turned and began to stride toward the door, catching the sound of Shiro's low snarl. He opened the door and looked over at his shoulder at his ward whose gold on black eyes were swirling tempestously with barely concealed rage.
"I know where his hideout is, and tomorrow, at dawn, I will attack with a thousand men."
The door swung shut with a resounding thud and Shiro slammed a closed fist down on the table, the plates and goblets falling to the floor. Across the bell tower, the crimson curtain flew to the side, unveiling a blue-haired man whose anger was so evident in every bit of his person that it seemed to sweep across the space like bitterly cold wind. It was obvious Grimmjow had heard Aizen's every word and he seemed to have completely recovered as he stormed over to Shiro.
"We have to find the Court of Miracles," he said in a low, dangerous tone. "Before daybreak. If Aizen gets there first..."
"He won't," Shiro cut that train of thought off immediately, pushing himself to his feet and gripping the other's upper arms firmly. Grimmjow frowned deeply, bringing his hands up to encircle those snowy white wrists, and he didn't have to say a word for Shiro to understand his concern. "We'll ge' there firs' because we 'ave this," he said, freeing one of his hands from Grimmjow's grip and reaching into his tunic to draw out a leather cord on which hung a large woven pendant.
"What is it?" Grimmjow said, arching a brow.
"I... don' know, Ichigo gave it ta me," Shiro admitted. "He said this will help us find 'im."
"Hmm, must be some sort of code," Grimmjow said, taking the artifact to hold up to his face to get a closer look. "Maybe it's Arabic... or Ancient Greek..."
Shiro stared at the woven band, noting its pattern formed an oval around a cross and to the right side there was a black dot embroidered with a smaller white cross. He tried to remember what it was Ichigo had said when he'd given it to him.
When you wear this woven band, you hold the city in your hand.
"It's a map."
"Come again?" Grimmjow said gruffly, causing the bell ringer to roll his eyes and seize the woven band back, pointing to it with a black-nailed finger.
"It's a map," he repeated. "See, here's the cathedral, an' the river, an' this little-"
"I've never seen a map that-..." Grimmjow said, interrupting Shiro but upon hearing the other growl lowly, he trailed off, raising his palms before him. "All right, all right, you say it's a map, it's a map."
"Damn straight 's a map," Shiro muttered, pulling the other man over to a shelf and throwing one of his spare tunics over his shoulder before snatching his cloak off the shelf. After Grimmjow had donned the piece of clothing they wasted no time, descending the stairs rapidly and rushing through one of the cathedral's side doors and into the dark street.
It took hours to traverse the avenues filled with guards and it was only due to their stealthy speed that they managed to make it to the point designated on the map as the location of the Court of Miracles - a cemetery. Grimmjow took one of the lit torches at the entrance and forced his way through the iron gates, Shiro following right behind. They walked through the rows of tombstones until the blunette stopped, aiming the torch so that it illuminated a large headstone engraved with a cross.
"This looks like the symbol on the map," he said, stepping closer. "I can make out an inscription but it's going to take a few minute to translate it." Grimmjow suddenly hear the sound of stone scraping against stone and turned to see that Shiro had pushed the lid of the headstone off to reveal a set of steps leading down seemingly endlessly, their end somewhere far below in the darkness. "Or we could just go down these stairs."
Shiro snickered softly and shook his head, lifting his legs over the side of the tomb and proceeding down the stairs, Grimmjow hot on his heels to light the way with the torch's flame. What could've been minutes or hours later they finally reached the base of the steps and could make out in the dim lighting a passageway flooded with about six inches of rancid water and lined with walls covered in bones and skulls. Considering the urgency of their quest, the two weren't fazed and proceeded forward.
"This is the Court 'a Miracles?" Shiro said doubtfully, hearing Grimmjow chuckle before he felt the other man's broad hand capture his own.
"Offhand, I'd say it's the Court of Ankle Deep Sewage," the blunette said. "Must be the old catacombs."
Shiro nodded absentmindedly until he caught a blur of movement in the corner of his eye, his head whipping over his shoulder to fixate a searching stare at the place he thought he saw something. However, he only saw more bones and skulls lying completely still on the wall. "Let's jus' find Ichi an' get 'im outta 'ere before he gets himself into anymore trouble."
"Speaking of trouble," Grimmjow said, stopping short. "We should have run into some by now."
"What d'ya mean?" Shiro asked though he had a pretty good idea what the other meant.
"You know, a guard, a booby trap-"
The flame of the torch suddenly blew out, leaving them in total darkness.
"Or an ambush."
Light flared from above them, brightening the entire space so that Grimmjow and Shiro's eyes both snapped up to behold a group of a dozen or so skeletons holding torches above their heads, or what looked like skeletons, rather, as it was soon apparent that the beings were very much alive when they jumped down from their perch and surrounded the two men.
Grimmjow threw his extinguished torch to the ground, using his hold on Shiro's hand to jerk the other closer and bracing himself. The skeletons charged at them from all sides and even though both men fought their assailants fiercely, the latter outnumbered them considerably and it was over in a few seconds. The bell ringer and former captain were wrestled onto their knees, hands tied with rope behind their backs, and as they still struggled, a tall, thin figure dressed in an outfit of violet and deep yellow, a matching hat over his blonde hair, emerged from the shadows to face them.
"Well, well, well," he said. "What do we have here?"
A few of the skeletons' heads were torn off to show that those in the costumes were a group of gypsies. Some of them cried out "Trespassers!" and "Spies!" in response to their king's inquiry and when Grimmjow and Shiro opened their mouths to protest the false accusations, they were gagged with colored handkerchiefs.
"You're very clever to found our hideaway," the gypsy king said, smiling with abnormally large teeth. "Unfortunately, you won't live to tell the tale."
The horde of gypsies seized the two captured men and forcibly hauled them through the catacomb behind the gypsy king. Within a matter of seconds, they came up to a massive archway, light spilling forth from it. As they crossed it, Grimmjow and Shiro were able to finally lay eyes upon the infamous Court of Miracles, a cavernous hall decorated with brightly hued banners and tents and teeming with gypsies. Not that they were able to enjoy the moment much when they spotted a platform bearing two nooses hanging from a beam overhead.
"Gather around, everybody! There's good noose tonight," the gypsy king proclaimed, leaping onto the platform and a crowd of gypsies quickly forming around him, laughing loudly at his pun. Grimmjow and Shiro were pushed onto the platform, a noose tightened around their necks rendering them unable to move.
"It's a double header, a couple of Aizen's spies!" The crowd booed enthusiastically, their loathsome feelings towards the city official automatically transferred to the two 'spies'. "And not just any spies, but his Captain of the Guard and his terrifying, bell-ringing henchmen."
Meanwhile, at the very front of the crowd, a brown goat started at the sight of the two men and rushed around and through the throng of gypsies.
"Any last words?" the gypsy king asked the captured men, whose answers were muffled and rendered unintelligible by their gags. "That's what they all say," the gypsy king said, wrapping his hands around the lever controlling the platform's trapdoor. He'd only pulled it back barely an inch when a loud cry made him pause.
"Stop!" a voice called out, the front line of the crowd parting to make way for its owner, an orange-haired gypsy and that same brown goat by his side.
"Ichigo!" both Grimmjow and Shiro yelled behind their gags, gold and black and sapphire eyes gleaming with relief as their lover jumped onto the stage.
"These men aren't spies, they're our friends," Ichigo said to the gypsy king, who looked nonplussed as the orangette moved to untie the two men.
"Why didn't they say so?' he questioned, unfazed when Shiro and Grimmjow both gave him menacing glares.
"This is the soldier who saved the miller's family," Ichigo said, loosening the last knot from Grimmjow's wrists and then moving on to free the other man. "And Shiro helped me escape from the cathedral."
"We came to warn you," Grimmjow said, his voice carrying out over the crowd though he spoke in an even tone. "Aizen's coming. He says he knows where you're hiding and he's attacking at dawn with a thousand men."
A collection of gasp rang throughout the crowd and then the gypsies were all dashing in different directions, manically beginning to pack up their things to try and leave as soon as they possibly could. Ichigo led Grimmjow and Shiro off of the platform, turning to face them with a sad smile.
"You two took a terrible risk coming here," he said. "It might not exactly show but we're grateful."
"Don't thank me," Grimmjow said, wrapping an arm around Shiro's shoulders. "Thank Shiro, he was the one who figured out your map. Without him I would've never found my way here."
Grinning, Shiro was just about to press his lips to Grimmjow's when a horrifyingly familiar, ever so mild voice pierced the air.
"Nor would I."
The three men all whirled around, eyes widening in horrified shock for standing in the archway was Aizen himself, a small army of guards by his sides rushing forward. Screams erupted from all around, soldiers surrounding them and seizing gypsies left and right to take into custody. A swarm of at least two dozen soldiers encircled the trio, closing in on them rapidly with outreached hands. Two of them grabbed Ichigo first by his upper arms and both Shiro and Grimmjow instantly went to fend them off, only to be stopped as four soldiers ensnared them. All three men struggled violently but the guards managed to hold onto them.
"After twenty years of searching, the Court of Miracles is mine at last," Aizen said, strolling over to them, training his cold gaze on his ward. "Dear Shiro, I always knew you would be of use to me."
"What are you talking about?" Ichigo spat, causing the judge to redirect his attention to the gypsy.
"Why he led me right to you, my dear."
"You're a liar!"
Shiro was suddenly overcome with lividity, understanding then that Aizen had played him. The man hadn't ever known where the Court of Miracles was, not until he'd followed Shiro and Grimmjow to it.
"And look what else I've caught in my net - Captain Grimmjow Jaegerjaques, back from the dead," Aizen said, moving to stand in front the blunette whose rage was so strong he couldn't even form words and was reduced to snarling like an animal through gritted teeth, battling against the soldiers holding him to get to the other. "Another miracle, no doubt. I shall remedy that."
Aizen took a step back, not having to raise his voice as he addressed everyone in the room who were listening raptly. "There will be a little bonfire and you're all invited to attend," he said before turning to his guards. "Lock them up."
Shiro fought harder to get free of the soldiers' hold on him as they started to drag the still struggling Ichigo and Grimmjow away in opposite directions. He watched the two men he loved vanish into the sea of soldiers in devastated ire, not even noticing Aizen had approached him until the man was inches away.
"Take him back to the bell tower," Aizen said. "And make sure he stays there."
As Shiro was carted away, he slumped in the soldiers' grip, completely listless.
Ichigo and Grimmjow were going to die.
And it was all his fault.
The square in front of Notre Dame had become a living nightmare, the sky above full of thick, shadowy clouds fueled by the smoky fumes of the fires beneath. A massive crowd has formed, near to rioting as they were held back by soldiers, and there were scores of people encaged in several iron barred structures, all shouting and yelling. And in the center of everything was a raised wooden platform, holding an upright wooden stake, bundles of hay being thrown around it, and two men, one of these being Judge Aizen, who could barely restrain his manic glee upon seeing the one who tormented his every thought with debauched desires finally at his mercy.
Ichigo had been stripped of his clothes in exchange for a rough, woolen tunic and then dragged onto the platform where he'd immediately been tied to the stake, rope wrapped around his middle and binding his hands together behind his back securing his inability to escape. Though fear made his entire body tremble, he maintained a calm composure, unwilling to give Aizen the satisfaction.
Yards away, Grimmjow was locked in one of the iron cages, his cyan orbs blazing whilst he furiously slammed his fists on his metal prison, desperately shoving his shoulder against it. It only served to make the parts of his body that made contact ache, the iron only bending under his force, but he'd be damned if he stopped trying. He wasn't about to sit by and watch Ichigo die right before his eyes. A drum roll sounded from a line of soldiers carrying the instrument, the sudden ceasing of the beats the customary signal for the executioner to read the guilt party's crime and sentence.
Aizen unfurled a piece of parchment, not looking at what was written as he spoke but rather directly into that pair of mocha brown eyes glaring defiantly back at him.
"The prisoner Ichigo Kurosaki has been found guilty of the crime of witchcraft. The sentence: death," he said and the crowd roared, most in outrage and protesting the gypsy's innocence. Aizen paid no attention to their cries, instead leaning forward so that his face was inches away from Ichigo's. "The time has come, gypsy. You stand upon the brink of the abyss, yet even now it is not too late. I can save you from the flames of this world and the next. Choose me or the fire."
Ichigo's face twisted in disgust and as his answer he reared his head back and spit directly into Aizen's face. The judge's eyes widened and for a second unadulterated rage was clearly visible in their depths but then as suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone and Aizen simply straightened up, wiping his face with his hand before addressing the crowd.
"The gypsy Ichigo Kurosaki has refused to recant. This evil witch has put the soul of every citizen of Paris in mortal danger..." As Aizen continued on, high up above in Notre Dame's bell tower someone tried avidly to block him out.
Shiro had been shackled to the tower's columns with numerous chains wrapped around his torso and arms, keeping him upright even as he slumped forward, head bowed in defeat. His three gargoyle companions all had a firm grip on a chain strand, attempting to break or at least loosen them.
"Come on, Shiro, snap out of it," Nel pleaded. "Ichigo and Grimmjow are down there."
"Yea' and 's all my fault," Shiro said listlessly, not even bothering to lift his head.
"You can't let Aizen win," Dondochakka said, pulling harder on the chains. "You gotta break these chains!"
"I can't. I already tried."
"So you're giving up, that's it?" Pesche threw the strand in his hands to the ground. "These chains aren't what's holding you back, Shiro."
"Leave me alone," Shiro hissed, finally raising his head to glare at the gargoyles, who obediently started to back away.
"Okay, we'll leave you alone," Nel said as the three of them shuffled over to the edge of the balcony. "After all we're only made out of stone."
"We just thought maybe you were made of something stronger," Pesche whispered before the three gargoyles fell still and silent, turning to stone. Shiro's gaze flickered over them to the fiery glow far below the bell tower, warily treading the distance to the balcony edge, the chains allowing him enough slack so that he could clearly see the city square.
He inhaled sharply at the sight of Ichigo bound to a wooden stake, Aizen holding a lit torch at arm's length, and off to the side he saw Grimmjow struggling like a wild animal to break out of an iron cage. Shiro hadn't even given a moment's thought to it before he yanked forcefully down on his chains, Aizen's voice again drifting up to him.
"... for justice, for Paris, and for his own salvation, it is my duty to send this unholy demon back where he belongs," the judge said, lowering the torch to the mass of dry kindle by Ichigo's feet, the hay catching fire rapidly. Flames shot up all around the gypsy and Ichigo instinctively pressed back against the stake, eyes wide.
Something deep within Shiro snapped upon seeing that horrific vision and then he was wresting with the chains surrounding his form, exerting such tremendous force that the metal snared tighter around the stone pillars and cracks spiderwebbed down the towering pillars. He could faintly hear the toning of the bells above him, shaking just as the very foundation of the tower did, but he paid it no mind as he couldn't tear his eyes away from where Ichigo was slowly being consumed by the thick smoke of the fire around him, coughing as he inhaled the suffocating fumes. And when Shiro witnessed Ichigo slumping forward, it sent him over the edge.
The pillars crumbled, chains breaking into pieces and sliding off of Shiro's body and onto the ground. Breathing heavily, he grabbed a rope off to the side and quickly made a lasso, looping it around a protruding ledge and then fearlessly leaping off the bell tower balcony. He plummeted toward the crowd gathered below, using his momentum to rappel off the side of the cathedral. Shiro swung on the rope over the crowd, who gasped as he passed over their heads and landed directly onto the platform. Those gasps then turned to cheers, Shiro jumping through the fire to untie the ropes binding Ichigo to the stake.
Slinging the unconscious orangette over his shoulder, Shiro dodged the guards swarming the platform and caught sight of Aizen's enraged face before he let the rope he still held affixed to the balcony ledge pull him and Ichigo back to the cathedral. Abandoning that rope, he scaled Notre Dame with his bare hands, carrying Ichigo all the way up to the bell tower.
"That's my baby," Grimmjow said, grinning viciously in delight as he watched through his cage's iron bars the two disappear into the cathedral tower.
Aizen turned to the guards clustered around the platform, raising an arm to point to the monument, an uncharacteristic angered sneer on his face. "Seize the cathedral," he ordered the guards grouped around the platform, who answered with a chorus of "Yes, sir,"and scurried away like ants to do the man's bidding.
Meanwhile up in the bell tower, Shiro burst through the door of a side room and laid Ichigo down on a wooden bench, brushing the fingertips of one hand over the unconscious man's face.
"Don' worry, Ichi, ya'll be safe 'ere" he whispered. "I'm gonna go back an' get Grimm now."
Shiro reluctantly turned away from the gypsy's prone form and dashed back out to the edge of the balcony. Growling, he spotted a horde of guards storming the cathedral doors and thinking quickly, he hefted a beam of wood lying beside him over the rail. The guards all scuttled out of the way of the object hurtling towards them, the beam landing heavily on the ground.
"Come back, you cowards!" Aizen said, leaping off of the platform and wresting a sword from a nearby soldier, facing the guards around the numerous caged prisoners. "You men, pick up that beam and break down the door!"
As the guards hurried away from his cage, Grimmjow's grin widened and in a lightning fast motion his hand struck out from between the bars, capturing an unlucky one around the throat and jerking him back unmercifully against the metal. Grimmjow brought his other fist down on the soldier's head, knocking him out, and before the limp body slid to the ground, Grimmjow seized the ring of keys fastened on the other's belt.
Shiro smiled almost wickedly in pride as he watched from the bell tower as Grimmjow freed himself from the cage and immediately went to throw the newly appointed Captain of the Guard from his position astride a familiar white mare, kicking the soldier aside after relieving the other of his sword. The other prisoners roared with cheers, growing even louder when Grimmjow broke the locks on their cages. They spilled forth from their cages, joining the incensed mob and then all chaos broke loose, the tensions between Aizen's soldiers and the city's citizens finally boiling over as they attacked.
"I think the cavalry's here!" a booming voice suddenly cheered and Shiro looked to his side to see his three gargoyle companions animate once more, Dondochakka the one having spoken. However, Shiro's glee soon faded upon hearing the dull thud of guards attempting to break the cathedral's doors down with the wooden beam he'd thrown. Even when the rioters dragged them away, the rest of the soldiers were spurred on by Aizen's orders to place ladders to the cathedral's exterior. Nevertheless, they didn't get very far as the gargoyles took it upon themselves to heave spare beams and mortar bricks over the ledge of the balcony, even the diminutive Nel doing her part.
It didn't take long for the soldiers to take the hint and, thoroughly battered and defeated, they all ran off with their tails between their legs. No one noticed the sole man left at what was left of the cathedral doors, brown eyes blazing with anger.
Aizen forced his way through the remnants of the doors, stashing the sword he'd stolen from the guard under his robes, and storming towards the nearest stairwell. He'd only gotten a few steps before a figure blocked his path, jade green eyes boring into his.
"Aizen, have you gone mad?" the archdeacon said. "I will not tolerate this assault on the house of God."
"Silence, you fool!" Aizen hissed, gripping the holy man by the front of his robes and throwing him down the steps. "That monster and I have unfinished business to attend to and this time you will not interfere."
Several stories above the raging mad man, Shiro burst into the side room.
"Ichi, ya've gotta come see this!" he said with an eager grin that quickly fell when there was no response from the man still lying exactly where he'd left him. Shiro dropped to his knees beside Ichigo, reaching out to hold one of the other's limp hands in his. "Ichigo, wake up, yer safe now. Grimm's gonna be here any minute."
The bell ringer's eyes swept over the orangette's face, eyes closed, mouth slightly parted - lifeless. He pressed the back of free hand to Ichigo's face, chest tightening unbearably.
"Ichi?" he tried one more time, hating how small and weak his voice sounded, and again he was met with silence. "No..."
Shiro let his head fall onto the other's torso, feeling his throat constrict as the reality crushed him, weighing down on him so heavily he was surprised he didn't fall through the floor. He felt like his soul was being ripped into pieces. It was all his fault. Grimmjow would hate him. And Ichigo...
Shiro's gaze snapped up at the slightest sound of a footstep behind him, seeing a shadow cast on the wall before him. He didn't have to look around to know who it was.
"You killed him," he hissed.
"It was my duty, horrible as it was," Aizen sighed. "But now the time has come to end your suffering... forever."
Shiro saw the shadow shift into a figure holding a dagger right above him and he whirled around, rising to his feet and seizing the man's wrists, stopping the pointed edge of that dagger inches away from his own faze. He and Aizen struggled, but the judge's strength was no match for his and Shiro wrenched the dagger away and threw the other to the floor, advancing on Aizen with his eyes glittering dangerously.
"Now, now, listen to me, Shiro," Aizen said from his vulnerable position on the floor, raising his hands in front of him in an attempt to appeal to the other's sense of mercy.
"No, you listen," Shiro snarled, throwing the dagger to the side and shot forward to snare the other man around the throat with his bare hands. "All my life I've had ta listen to ya go on 'bout how tha world is a cruel, dark place, 'bout how I was a monster. Now I know who tha real monster is and I'm goin' ta kill ya."
Shiro's hands had only just begun to tighten around the man's neck when a small voice made him stop.
The albino dropped Aizen to the floor, spinning around and seeing with a burst of euphoria the orangette he'd thought gone forever pushing himself to a sitting position and looking up at him with bleary chocolate orbs.
"Ichi!" he said, rushing to Ichigo, unable to resist throwing his arms around the gypsy and drawing him close. Behind them, Aizen sneered in outrage upon seeing the one he'd believe he'd succeeded in killing alive as ever and he drew the sword from under his robes, slowly rising to his feet.
"No!" Shiro growled, scooping Ichigo up into his arms and bolting past Aizen through the door and out to the balcony. Aizen firmly gripped the long sword in both hands and followed, bounding through the archway, only to find that both the white and orange-haired men were nowhere to be seen. Frowning in frustration, Aizen stalked the balcony, leaping around a corner in hopes of finding his prey and again finding nothing. But then, he had an idea and an evil smile twisted his lips. Making his way over to the balcony's rail, Aizen looked over to see Shiro holding onto the ledge with one hand and holding Ichigo in the other.
"Leaving so soon?" he asked mockingly, swinging his sword down. Shiro veered to the right, the blade just narrowly missing Ichigo's face, it's cruel edge reflected in those brown eyes.
"Look up there!" someone cried from the crowd below, pointing up to the bell tower. Turquoise orbs flashed up to the appointed balcony, a snarl erupting from Grimmjow's mouth as he saw his two lovers dangling precariously from the ledge, Aizen raising his sword above them to strike. The former captain elbowed his last remaining opponent in the temple, sending the soldier to the ground like a sack of bricks, and then he took off, heading for the cathedral doors.
Shiro vaulted from ledge to ledge, keeping a tight grip on Ichigo and dodging every attack from Aizen's blade, which hacked off large pieces of stone in their wake. Finally they were a safe enough distance away from the mad man that Shiro was able to clamber back up onto the balcony rail. However, Aizen was quicker than he anticipated and he only barely had time to push Ichigo over to the floor and out of the way before Aizen swung his sword between them, Shiro standing just on the edge of the railing.
"I should have known you'd risk your life to save that gypsy witch," Aizen said, advancing. "Just as your own mother died trying to save you."
The shock that came with the revelation was enough for Aizen to close in on Shiro, making to plunge his sword into the man's torso but he underestimated his ward once again, and for the last time. Snarling, Shiro swiftly maneuvered out of the way and Aizen's momentum sent the man careening over the rail, but not before he'd seized a handful of Shiro's tunic. Both men fell over the balcony, only the bell ringer managing to grab hold of the ledge with one hand, Aizen's descent stopped by his grasp on the other, his sword falling the several fathoms between them and the ground.
Eerily calm, Shiro used his free hand to grab the other man's collar, lifting him up and away so that Aizen's usually tepid, lifeless brown eyes now full of fear looked straight into his. Out of the corner of his gold on black eye, he saw Ichigo's face appear over the rail and his resolve was strengthened tenfold.
Without preamble, Shiro loosened his grip and Aizen was no more than a blurry figure plummeting towards the ground. There were no screams to be heard for even in his final moments the man was as mild and bland as ever.
But there was no time to enjoy his newly found freedom for the ledge Shiro was holding onto gave way, the stone crumbling. He fell for only a second before two warm hands caught his own and he looked up into Ichigo's fearful face.
"Hold on, Shiro," the orangette said but even as the words left his mouth he was slowly losing his grip on the albino's pale hand and a moment later it slipped completely from his hold. "Shiro! No!"
Shiro felt his stomach drop as he freefell from the bell tower and he screwed his eyes shut, not wanting to anticipate the exact moment when he would hit the ground. But it never came, instead far sooner than he expected, his fall was suddenly halted by what felt like two steel bands around his waist. Midnight sun eyes fluttering open, he was met with a kaleidoscopic abyss of blue.
The name tumbled past his lips reverently and the blue-haired man whose arms were wrapped around him grinned broadly, pulling him over the lower level balcony he'd caught him from. And then it was Grimmjow's turn to be surprised as Shiro pressed their lips together fervently, stealing his breath away.
They only parted when they heard footsteps to their left, turning to see Ichigo running towards them, the man not stopping until he'd thrown himself at the others. Grimmjow and Shiro both grunted as they caught the gypsy's weight, encircling an arm each around Ichigo's waist. A few seconds of peace and then Ichigo pulled back to deliver a proper slap across Shiro's face.
"Ow! Wha' tha hell was tha' for?"
"Don't you ever do that to me again!"
Grimmjow's barking laughter soon brought forth chuckles from his two lovers and then they were all laughing almost hysterically with relief, their chests nearly bursting as they heaved with raucous peals of laughter because finally, for the first time since they'd all met, they knew they were going to be okay, that they were going to be together.
"Come on, Shiro, there's nothing to be afraid of."
"I ain't afraid!"
"Then come on already."
Currently the three lovers were all in the remnants of Notre Dame's doorway, on the precipice between the cathedral's shadowy recesses and the bright morning light of the city square. Ichigo was holding Shiro's hand, nearly dragging the man outside, whilst Grimmjow stood at the bell ringer's back, ushering him forward.
"I don' think this is a good idea... " Shiro trailed off, uncharacteristically nervous about facing the people all gathered outside.
"It's all right, we're right beside you," Grimmjow purred soothingly by his ear and with a look at Ichigo's lovely, pleading face, Shiro nodded once and stepped out into the light.
The crowd was deathly silent as the man they knew as Le Diable Blanc came into view. They'd always feared him, called him a monster, a demon, a devil, and yet they had all witnessed him rescue the innocent gypsy and rid the city of its cruelest occupant. So, how they should react? The answer was obvious.
"Three cheers for Shiro, Le Diable Blanc!"
Shiro's exotic, ebony and gold eyes widened immeasurably as applause rang out through the entire throng of people and they darted from Ichigo to Grimmjow and back as if he was trying to make sense of what was going on. His two lovers only smiled adoringly at him, Ichigo bringing his white hand to soft lips and pressing a kiss to the palm and Grimmjow leaning in close to whisper in his ear.
"I don't about you, but after all that I sure could use some... stress relief."
Shiro grinned wickedly.
"Now tha's a good idea."
A/N: Well, that was quite dramatic, wasn't it? I'm not ashamed to admit that I cry like a baby at the end of this movie every time and did so again whilst writing the ending to this. I hope it wasn't too cheesy. Heh heh, what the heck, it's Valentine's Day. I'm allowed just this once, I think.