The Next Morning
Ichigo's Bedroom at the Kurosaki Estate
Dawn was grave at the Kurosaki manor that next morning, the sun rising over the night's terrific storm to shine rays of righteous light that streamed into the grim room all hoped not to become darling Ichigo's deathbed. For he looked dead laying there so peacefully, lifeless, dull, and still, as if the luxuriant, glamorous, vestal white resting place were his grave. If one were not emotionally attached, the scene could be considered beautiful, Ichigo's fairness radiant even through death painting a portrait of macabre loveliness.
Grimmjow sat bedside, leaning forward so that he almost appeared to be praying, his cyan gaze sharp with anxiety. He had kept this position after he'd carried his love inside, who'd been totally unconscious at that point, and called for the other men in the house to come quick and get the doctor straight away, doing anything he could to help until there was nothing to do but wait. The three brothers were all present as well, standing at various locations throughout the room, solemn and quiet. Doctor Ishida was also there, having visited the emergency call last night, leaving and now returned. He stood at the headboard, holding Ichigo's limp wrist in one hand and a pocket watch in the other.
Not a soul knew of the sweet and frightening things the orangette dreamed of in his deep slumber, images depicting both the unholy and the divine, Heaven and Hell, consuming him as the battle for his soul raged on within. A voice he had loved for an eternity spoke to him in a tongue of the past and Ichigo was enraptured, scared to answer the call and yet aching to do so. He was torn between beckoning darkness and righteous light, an agony unlike any other.
"Incredible," the doctor muttered, lying the patient's arm beside him and shaking his head before flipping his watch closed. "To have sustained such blood loss in the matter of two nights, without any injuries or sign of internal bleeding... it is a medical phenomenon."
"And you know not how to treat or cure my brother then, good doctor," Mugetsu spoke pointedly, never looking away from said brother.
"I am afraid not."
"Then you may take your leave now. Thank you for your time." Doctor Ishida packed his bag and exited the room as dignified as a man proved incompetent could and the bedroom fell silent once again. Grimmjow bowed his head, running his fingers through his hair. He couldn't lose Ichigo, not to a man, not to a monster, not to anything.
"I think I know someone who can help." The other three men were all surprised to see it was Kon who spoke, brow furrowed in a sober expression so that he was almost an exact copy of his younger brother. "I shall cable Kisuke Urahara, a metaphysician philosopher. He was a professor of mine years ago."
"He sounds like a damn witchdoctor to me, Kon," Kaien scoffed at the suggestion.
"Urahara knows more about obscure diseases than any man in the world. He's brilliant and, as of now, our only hope," Kon snapped back, starting forward until a rough voice stopped him where he stood.
"Do it. Bring him here."
The way he silently blazed right then, a man burning alive from the inside, no one would dare question Grimmjow Jaegerjaques.
Later That Morning
A Classroom at a Medical College
The rotund lecture hall's leveled bleachers were occupied by men of all ages, their common factors their well-to-do status and interest in the medicinal sciences. Below them in the center of the hall was a long wooden table upon which amassed varied accoutrement - books, some lying open while others sat in corners, assorted medical instruments - some rather cruel looking, and a cage in which flitted a black, winged creature.
Kisuke Urahara was a blonde man, hair a bit too shaggy for proper British society and eyes a smooth gray, he spoke with a light German accent and was considered by many to be one of those eccentric geniuses that come once a generation. And as he lectured the audience, he slid along the table, wearing a long, tan overcoat and leaning close to the cage.
"The vampire bat must consume ten times its own weight in fresh blood each day or its own blood cells will die," he said, opening the tiny door and reaching inside, proferring his thumb to the tittering bat who promptly bit into its flesh. "Cute little vermin, Ja?" The audience chuckled and Urahara withdrew his thumb, and sucked the red droplet left before speaking again. "Blood and the diseases of the blood such as syphilis will concern us here. The very name 'venereal diseases', the 'diseases of Venus', imputes to them divine origin. They are involved in that sex problem about
which the ethics and ideals of Christian civilization are concerned. In fact, civilization and syphilization have advanced together."
The men above him chortled heartily at that, the professor's assistant entering the lecture hall's pit and handing him a strip of printed paper. "What is this?" Urahara asked, unfurling it to read the typed letters.
"It's from the telegraph, Professor," the assistant said.
...do not lose an hour. My dear brother near death. A disease of the blood
unknown to all medical theory. I am in desperate need. Kon Kurosaki.
"Hmm, thank you," Urahara murmured, gray eyes sparking in interest. He lifted his head to address his audience. "Gentlemen, thank you, that will be all."
The Grand Foyer at the Kurosaki Estate
"Professor Urahara, how good of you to come!" Kon Kurosaki greeted his old mentor as he entered the opulent manor, bounding towards the man and relief shining on his face as the new arrival handed a butler his traveling hat and cloak.
"I always come to my friends in need when they call me," Urahara said. "So, Kon, tell me everything about your dear brother's unusual case."
"He has all the usual anemic signs."
"Doctor Ishida said his blood analyzes normal and yet it is not. He manifests continued blood loss but no one can trace the cause," Kon said fretfully, wringing his hands as his worry increased in his tone.
"Blood loss?" the professor said. "How?"
The younger man opened his mouth to answer they hadn't the slightest clue when Ichigo's distinct scream echoed throughout the manor as he finally awoke. Both men took off running toward the boy's bedroom, bursting through the doors to find Grimmjow holding the convulsing orangette to the bed as Kaien and Mugetsu looked on with horror. None of them noticed the menacing, looming shadow that had appeared on the wall and now wrenched itself away, vanishing completely. Once it was gone, Ichigo stopped screaming and fell limp in the blunette's arms, whining pitifully.
"Mein Gott," Urahara gasped, the three men already in the bedroom snapping their eyes to him as he approached. "May I?" he asked Grimmjow, whose protective presence beside the bed emanated possessiveness and wariness. The man nodded curtly, reluctantly moving aside so the professor could examine the sick male. Urahara noted his ashen pallor and bruise-like shadows under the eyes that made his tangerine hair look even brighter. "My God, he's only a child." He cautiously reached out to move Ichigo's nightshirt collar aside, seeing two inflamed pin points on the tender flesh of his throat and causing the boy to moan out a sob as if in great pain. "Ja, my God, there's no time to be lost. There must be a transfusion at once."
"Transfusion? You mean you have perfected the procedure?" Kon questioned worriedly.
"Perfected, no. I've only experimented- animals, goats, sheeps. If hemolysis occurs in the blood or the serum, his red blood cells will explode. He will die," Urahara said, setting his bag on the nightstand and taking out various medical equipment - tubes, needles, and a glass jar. "You do know how to tie a tourniquet, correct?" The professor then grasped Ichigo's right arm, pushing the linen fabric up to the shoulder as the boy continued his soft, tortured moaning.
"What in God's name is going on?" Kaien demanded, stepping forward. "What the hell are you doing to Ichigo?"
"He's trying to save his life," Grimmjow growled from where he was sitting by the professor and the nightstand.
"Ah, you are the lover, then?" Urahara said, unable to not pick up on the desperation only a man in love could have in his voice. "Please, roll up your sleeve, this young man is very ill, he's dying. He wants blood and blood he must have." The blue-haired man immediately obeyed, folding his shirt sleeve above his elbow and tightening a piece of rubber around his upper arm using his teeth. Meanwhile the professor pushed a needle through the skin of Ichigo's arm and into his vein, the boy whimpering in his halfway comatose state.
Urahara then turned to Grimmjow and said "This may hurt a little," before doing the same, not earning the slightest reaction. As the three brothers watched silently, the blonde began pumping a strange metal syringe attached to the glass jar, blood flowing out of Grimmjow's arm through the tubing and the jar and into the other's veins. Ichigo winced as he warred with reality and his dreams of beauty and terror.
"Take it all if you must," Grimmjow said quietly. "My life is his. I would give my last drop to save him."
"Your last drop?" Urahara said, perking up from where he had moved to check Ichigo's pulse down along the bed. "Thank you, you are very welcomed here. Though I do not ask as much as that... not yet."
The narrowed pair of gold and black eyes that looked on from the darkness outside were invisible to them.
Later That Evening
The Garden at the Kurosaki Estate
Ichigo slept calmly upon the bed, the needle removed from his arm and a bit of color returned to his face, his exquisite nightmares plaguing him not for the time being. The man at his bedside stroked his hair tenderly though his expression was harsh, hateful. Meanwhile, right outside the bedroom and down the set of stone steps were the three other Kurosaki men, all of their faces marred by concern and worry and confusion, the last undeniably most of all.
"Christ, did you see how much blood that lunatic pumped out of Jaegerjaques, it must have been twice that of a single man's!" Kaien exclaimed, sitting down on the last step and threading his fingers into his jet black hair. "How is he still alive, yet alone look as well as ever?"
"Indeed," Mugetsu agreed from where he was standing, leaning against the railing three steps above. "I have a newfound respect for him. And yet, I am baffled. Ichigo's whole body couldn't hold that much blood. What took it out?"
"That is a good question, Mister Kurosaki."
Three pairs of differently hued eyes shot over to where Professor Urahara had appeared in the greenery off to the side, as if out of thin air. The blonde man had his usual small smile tilting his lips upward, though his gray eyes shone with thoughts much darker than he appeared on the surface. The three brothers hid their surprise well, and Kon took a few steps forward through the garden courtyard. "Those marks on his throat," he said, hitting the back of his hand on the other's palm. "No disease, no trituration. I am sure the blood loss occurred there."
"Oh? Where did the blood go?" Urahara questioned, walking closer with his hands clasped behind his back in a scholarly pose. "You were once a careful student, Kon. Use your brain. Where did the blood go - tell me."
"The bed clothes would be covered in blood," Kon said a bit helplessly, scouring his mind for some solution.
"Exactly," Urahara snapped. "You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear that which you cannot account for!"
"Something just went up there, sucked it out of him, and then flew away, I suppose?" Kon said, his head shaking a bit as he shrugged, flinging his hands up in the air.
"Ja. Why not?"
All was silent for a long moment as all three Kurosaki's stared at the completely serious professor, Kaien recovering first and standing from his seat on the steps and advancing on the man. "That's brilliant. That's absolutely brilliant," he said, gesturing toward Urahara in an accusatory manner, sarcasm dripping from his words. "Will one of you learned doctors or whatever you are kindly tell me what the hell is going on with Ichigo?"
Urahara ignored him, not glancing away from Kon's befuddled gaze. "Kon, you are a scientist by nature. You do not think that there are things in this universe that you cannot understand and which are true - mesmerism, hypnotism..."
"You and Tsukabishi have proved hypnotism!" the orange-haired Kurosaki declared, whipping around from his former professor in frustration.
"...telekinesis... materialization... astral bodies... " Urahara's voice trailed off, fading fainter and fainter until the three other men looked to where he should be standing to find him gone.
"Where the hell did he go?"
That particular question was answered when the blonde mane and tan overcoat of the man they were searching for appeared rounding a large stone pillar several yards away. Urahara held a smoking cigar to his lips, sucking the tobacco's essence in and blowing out the gray fumes. "See?" he said, treading the grassy grounds back to the others. "Gentlemen, we're not fighting some disease here. Those marks on your dear brother's neck were made by something unspeakable out there, dead but not dead. It stalks us for some dread purpose I do not yet comprehend. To live it feeds on Ichigo's precious blood. It is a beast, a monster."
A second later, he pointed with his cigar to the youngest Kurosaki's bedroom visible through the glass doors - the scene revealed that of a blue-haired man reverently keeping watch over his lifeless lover, gripping an inanimate hand in his.
"Just ask Mister Jaegerjaques. He knows."
The Next Morning
Ichigo's Bedroom at the Kurosaki Estate
And thus had begun the workings of the mad genius, everyone save for Grimmjow looking on with equal parts confusion and concern. Urahara had covered the room in strange apotropaics, hanging wreaths of garlic on either nightstand and placing a strand of the plant's cloves and a blessed, intricately blue and white beaded choker of gold satin around Ichigo's pierced neck. The walls were decorated in ornate crucifixes and the professor had burned sage, filling the room with its musky fragrance and murmuring holy prayers and hymns in Latin.
Currently, he sat bedside, his stethoscope placed atop the orangette's fluttering heartbeat, listening to labored, shallow breaths as blue eyes watched him warily over his shoulder.
A maid entered the room, hesitant before earning the approving nod from Mugetsu, who was sitting in the corner armchair, two fingers at his temple, a leg bent so that his foot rested on his knee. She approached cautiously, setting a silver tray laden with a porcelain tea set upon one of the nightstands whilst Urahara withdrew from his patient, removing the stethoscope from his ears. And as the maid turned away to quickly leave the vague, cloying scent of evil, she inadvertently knocked a garlic wreath to the floor.
Ichigo's reaction was instant. Dark amber eyes snapped open for the first time in almost two days, a displeased sneer curling his lip and furrowing his brow. All those in the room immediately stiffened, leaning forward in worried anticipation as Ichigo began writhing and moaning in the ivory silk sheets, wicked whispers in an ancient language only heard by him. Striking out with one hand, he flung the tea set on the night table across the room so that it shattered against the wall and started frantically yanking at the necklace of garlic tied around his throat.
"This is why I cannot breathe!" he spat viciously, wildly attempting to tear the thing off of his neck.
Urahara sprung to grasp the boy's wrists, trying to stop him from succeeding in ridding himself of the herbal jewelry. "Ichigo, Ichigo... it's medicinal," he said. "To help you sleep. It's for the bad dreams."
"It's garlic, it's nothing but garlic!" Ichigo hissed furiously, struggling with the professor that continued murmuring to him soothingly and beckoned for the one standing anxiously behind him to come closer.
"Ichigo, Ichigo, look... look, your lover is right here," Urahara said, stepping back to allow the aforementioned man to swoop into his place. "Tell one of your servants to fetch some brandy," he instructed Kon, who obeyed without question and ran through the door to do as such.
It pained Grimmjow to see his beloved like this, so pale and so ill and so unlike himself. He caught one of Ichigo's hands as he sat on the bed right beside the younger male, pressing it to his lips. "It's all right," he said softly as his words had a much greater effect than the blonde's, watching those beautiful, toffee-colored eyes change, their venomous irritation dimming to contentedly gleam sensually."It's all right, Ichi, I'm here to take care of you."
Upon his love's touch, the hypnotic voices from the darkness sang to Ichigo of ungodly pleasures, coaxing him to sense the sinful delight throbbing underneath golden skin that promised ecstasy and power. Intoxicated and hungry in lust, he lost himself entirely.
"Oh, Grimm," Ichigo hummed, brushing his captured hand along the other's cheekbone and the nape of his neck, where he twirled his fingers into the strands of light blue hair there. Grimmjow felt himself being pulled in by those dazzling, glittering ochre depths, those hooded, lushly lashed eyes the epitome of 'come hither.' He was utterly helpless when the orangette arched up off of the bed toward him and hooked a leg around his waist, the tempting siren drawing him closer. "You're such a beast, Grimm. Won't you kiss me?" The blunette bent down, entranced, and Ichigo's lips lightly swept over his, trailing across his jaw and to his neck. "Kiss me..." He felt the boy's hot, moist breath and the tip of his tongue on the sensitive flesh covering his jugular vein and shivered. "Kiss me..."
However, in the next second Urahara was roughly shoving him aside and an frustrated hiss pierced the air, its owner outraged that what he mindlessly desired had been ripped away from him when he'd been so close. Still dazed, Grimmjow had to shake his head to clear it of the strange fog clouding his mind until the sight of the professor pinning a madly thrashing Ichigo to the mattress came into focus.
"Get off of me!" Ichigo screeched, baring his teeth.
Grimmjow's first instinct was to rush to his lover's aid, snarling and grabbing Urahara's upper arm before he saw something that froze him to the spot, eyes widening in horror as icy fingers of cold dread seized his heart. He heard Kaien gasp somewhere behind him and Mugetsu rise from his chair, inhaling sharply as they beheld the same terrible sight.
"Ichigo, listen to me. Sleep, sleep now, sleep... " Urahara said gently whilst Ichigo's eyes rolled back in his head, the youth collapsing in the man's arms and panting desperately as a pair of inhuman, porcelain white, pointed fangs retracted back into his gums. "There, there... Ja..."
Later That Day
Ichigo's Bedroom at the Kurosaki Estate
The hours after that morning's strange and frightful events passed by uneventfully, though they were far from peaceful. A silence only matched by a graveyard's midnight hour had descended upon the bedroom, each of the five men lost in his own thoughts as they watched over the unnaturally ill boy as he slept like the dead. Professor Urahara was the sole occupant to take their eyes away from the grand, white bed, his lively gray orbs now focused avidly on a centuries old, leather bound book upon his lap. Its worn, textured cover bore the title in golden script that read Vampyre.
The blonde man unlatched the volume's delicate, metallic lock, opening the book and flipping through its endless, thick parchment pages decorated with bold, inked letters,and symbols. He stopped once he came upon a full page portrait of a man whose eyes that were pictured as an inverse with black sclera brought his entire being to a sudden halt, their arresting image as visceral and magnificent as if he were staring at the real pair themselves. Urahara traced the illustrated man's long, wavy locks of hair and wicked, devilish smirk, turning the page whilst his heart raced in enthusiastic anticipation. He was met by paragraphs of ancient Romanian he devoured eagerly.
Here occurs the shocking and frightening history of the wild berserker, Prince Shirosaki Dracula, how he impaled people and roasted them, boiled their heads in a kettle, how he skinned them alive and hacked them to pieces and then drank their blood.
"Ja, Dracul," Urahara whispered to himself, no other in the room hearing him. "His blood is the life..."
At that very moment, the patio doors violently flew open, crashing against the walls, and a gust of wind stronger than any within the bedroom had ever experienced blasted through the open portal. The curtains whipped fiercely in the air and papers flew in every direction, garlic wreaths and mounted crucifixes thrown across the room to land on the ground. In the next instant, Ichigo gasped desperately for air, his breath harshly rasping out from his throat, and he arched off the bed, clawing at his neck and chest.
Grimmjow was the first to rise from his seat, shielding his face with one arm from the brutal, bitter winds as he steadily made his way where the glass doors swung turbulently on their hinges. Kon and Kaien were vaulting after him to the doorway within that second, similarly protecting themselves using their arms and squinting through the blistering gales of wind, whilst Mugetsu leapt from the corner armchair so that he could tend to the orange-haired youth tangled within his ivory, silk sheets and writhing deliriously.
Reacting very differently than the others as a result of the pages snapping to a picture possessing such glorious testament, Urahara gave a burst of delighted laughter and jumped to his feet, still clutching the book in his hands. A manic smile curved his lips and he paid no attention to any of the other men, lifting the leather volume in front of him even as his tan overcoat and ash blonde hair thrashed about. Several feet away from him Grimmjow was forcing one of the glass-paned doors closed, the two brothers doing the same, an insurmountable amount of strength required in order to do so.
"It is the cause!" Urahara exclaimed gaily, laughing madly. "It is the cause - my soul. Ah hah!"
Finally there was a loud thud signaling the three men had succeeded in forcing the doors closed, Grimmjow bolting the lock, then shoving an armchair against them and drawing the heavy curtains shut, the scene of the garden at dusk disappearing from view. As soon as the winds died, a tormented, violently shaking Ichigo fell lifelessly back against his mount of pillows and his eldest brother released his hold on the boy's shoulders, sighing in relief. However, there was not even the briefest moment of peace since the four males instantly looked at Professor Urahara, shocked by the manic glee the blonde radiated.
"It is Dracula, the undead, the foe I have pursued all my life!" he cried joyfully.
Grimmjow ground his teeth together and clenched his fists, the sound of that name like a punch in the gut, slamming into him and sending his breath right out of his lungs. But Urahara's declaration made not a lick of sense to the three eldest Kurosaki brothers, Mugetsu and Kaien wondering if the man had lost all sanity while Kon frowned, troubled by the way the foreign moniker raised the hair on the back of his neck and chilled him to the bone.
"Professor, what on earth are you talking about?" the latter said.
"Hah! Ahaha!" was Urahara's response.
Staggering away from the others, Grimmjow dropped to his knees beside the bed and deep within the recesses of his mind damned himself for his unforgivable sin of bringing such evil to his lover. He grabbed a fistful of his hair and, unable to stop himself despite a completely overwhelming sense of unworthiness, enfolded Ichigo's hand in his. All this time the blue-haired man had known this was his fault but still he'd hoped somehow he was wrong.
"Will you stop laughing like some raving lunatic and tell us what in God's name is going on?" Kaien demanded, striding forward so that he stood toe to toe with the professor.
"Ahah, Mister Kurosaki, I think you mean 'in Satan's name'!" Urahara said, throwing an arm around the brunette's shoulders jovially. "Hear me out, young man. Your dear brother, Ichigo, is not a random victim attacked by mere accident, do you understand? No, he is a willing recruit, a breathless follower, a wanton follower - I dare say, a devoted disciple! He is the devil's concubine, ahahah, do you understand me?" His demented gaiety was not in the least bit affected when Kaien roughly pushed him away, rage clouding the Kurosaki's aqua-green gaze.
"You sick, perverted old man! How dare you speak about my brother in that manner!" Kaien seethed, appearing on the brink of wringing the older man's neck.
"I merely speak the truth!" Urahara cried, beaming and mirth dancing in his bright gray orbs. "Trust me when I say we must all battle a beast created from pure evil and destroy him, otherwise your precious Ichigo will become a bitch of the devil! A whore of darkness, hah!"
"Be warned, Professor," Mugetsu said, his tone eerily even-keeled and heavy with threat. "Such vile words against my brother will not be tolerated and only end badly for you."
"Ah, you still do not believe me?" Urahara chuckled, unfazed and rather amused by the reception to his revelations. "Then perhaps your eyes should look upon the image that shall prove far beyond the reality of my 'vile words.' No, it shall answer the most important of all man's questions!"
Grimmjow glanced over his shoulder, intrigue piercing through his dense aura that emanated despair and ferocity, and saw Urahara turn his antiquated text around, enabling every other man to behold the illustration, an unearthly vision in all senses of the word. It was almost impossible to believe what, or rather who, was pictured along an entire page yellowed and frayed with age yet remained clear as the day of its painting.
The portrait's upper right side depicted a man horribly familiar, hair and skin china white, paler than a callalily's delicate petals. His strange handsomeness seemed to glow from the page due to the contrast of his ebony, monstrous armor and he was seated upon the curve of a perfect, crescent moon. Eyes bizarrely colored gold and black stared down adoringly from his perch, an emotion so pure and good uncanny on a visage that screamed otherworldly malice.
But the object of his adoration was really what cast stunned horror like great swells of waves crashing over its witnesses.
Directly opposite its lunar counterpart, a round sun flared rays of light as the background for a radiant figure crowned by a halo of vibrant, honeyed tangerine blossom hair. This man embodied everything the other was not, his flesh golden and archaic, diaphanous clothing a dazzling ivory. And that perfect face looking back rapturously was a knife through Grimmjow's heart, true pain actually stabbing his chest like white-hot pokers. That face was imprinted onto his very soul and to behold its beauty illuminated by affection meant for another tortured him.
He remembered the way Dracula had looked at Ichigo's picture and how it had sent a chill down his spine, as if he had a part to play in a story that was not known to him.
"Christ, is that... ?" Kaien said, a hand covering his mouth after he at last broke their dread-induced silence.
"It can't be," Kon said quietly, his attempted denial weakened due to the grim acceptance hovering like looming shadows above them all that would overtake them any second now. "Professor, please tell us this is some kind of awful trick."
"It must be, there is not a sliver of possibility this supposedly centuries old text would hold something so... absurd," Mugetsu protested, not even his lifetime spent practicing logic and always speaking to never betray his feelings able to keep the doubt out of his words. "This entire, ridiculous tale you have concocted, Professor, is an offense upon our intellects."
"Oh?" Urahara said, quirking an eyebrow. "Then surely you shall be able to dismiss that these past days' strange events resulted from earthly causes, able to look at your dear, dying brother and still say no unholy demons are killing him and his human soul right before your very eyes!"
The silence that then consumed the bedroom thundered, ringing fearsome truth like triumphant melodies and it could no longer be denied. Fear quickly followed its acceptance once those converted believers realized they faced the unknown - man's one true enemy.
"If we battle the dreaded beast determined to marry him in the ungodly matrimony of the living dead, we may yet still save Ichigo's precious soul," Urahara said, swiftly closing his book as his serious facade brightened into manic glee once again. "His salvation from an eternal hunger for the taste of living blood shall test our courage and our faith. Therefore, I pose to you the question: are you willing to risk everything you are, your soul itself, to save him?"
Not a single one of them spoke their answer, an ominous air promising they would indeed put their very souls on the line without a second thought if that's what it took.
"Good, you men will need that fearlessness with you this night."
"Do you mean we seek to find and destroy this monster the coming hours 'till dawn?" Mugetsu asked, resolute and unwavering and so clearly up for the challenge.
"Seek, yes. Find and destroy, I am not so certain," Urahara said, slate orbs turning contemplative. "He could be lurking anywhere in the city and should we discover his whereabouts he still may travel any distance fast as the wind."
A few seconds passed and no man said a word, until the rough velvet voice of he whose hatred burned the hottest conquered the silence despite its sound almost inaudibly. Eyes like sapphire jewels blazed ferociously as they focused on his lap and then snapped forward, their hurricane blue color nearly blinding those to whom he spoke. "I know where the bastard sleeps, he cannot hide from me," Grimmjow said, his words dripping a solemn, grave intensity.
"Well then it would appear good fortune graces us early this night, Mister Jaegerjaques," Urahara declared, euphoric anticipation glinting within his stone gray orbs and a licentious grin eating his face. "For once we find Dracula's resting place we shall have a much needed advantage and one step closer to the devil's demise. We leave an hour before sunset so that we may save dearest Ichigo a fate serving his dark master's every indecent, erotic desire. But not on an empty stomach, ahaha!"
"You really are out of your mind, you know that?" Kaien muttered harshly, shaking his head.
"Hah! That may be for tonight we hunt a bloodthirsty devil and give the forces beyond all human experience an enormous power. Gentlemen, do not fail out there tonight or else Ichigo will be lost forever, hah!" the blonde raved emphatically as if he were an actor and they all characters in some theatrical production. "Now, I starve, feed me!"
Kon ushered his former professor out of the bedroom, preceded by the two eldest Kurosaki men who both scowled at the back of Urahara's head, irritated that he continued his mad barks of laughter.
After the door closed behind them Grimmjow and his comatose lover were completely alone after days spent consistently accompanied by at least one sibling and most recently Professor Urahara. Ichigo still slumbered lifelessly though the blunette knew the boy's mind was nowhere near at peace whilst he fought the encroaching blackness that hungered to take his life and devour his soul. Brushing the back of his hand along a pale cheek, a thought came to the older man and quickly he moved his hands upwards until they were both at the nape of his neck.
Locating its little end clasp, Grimmjow unhooked the chain once his mother's most treasured piece of jewelry where it lay under his shirt collar. As soon as it separated into two strands, he lifted it off of his neck so that at its center the religiously symbolic pendant dangled freely. Not able but feel that the sleeping orangette may break under his touch he moved with gentleness he thought beyond his harsh nature, he placed the chain around Ichigo's throat alongside the choker and garlic cloves, making certain to fasten its clasp before letting it fall into place.
Metallic gold shimmered faintly against skin covered by a chalky pallor and the palm-sized, papally blessed crucifix rested right in the hollow of the youth's throat. Grimmjow prayed the protective charm would at least be strong enough to ward off the nightmares but, realizing his presence among the other hunters of the devil was needed, reluctantly rose to his feet. He reminded himself he must leave Ichigo here, safe and where they faced the demonic entity stalking them far, far away.
The instant the man stepped toward the doorway, a breathless voice calling his name almost too soft to be heard turned him to stone. "Grimmjow," it called again a moment later and then he could move again, the spell broken. He practically flew back around, falling onto his knees so he was bedside once more. Starbright, dark amber eyes instantly locked his in an electric gaze from which there was no escape and to bliss he lost himself upon recognizing his Ichigo staring back at him, not even a trace of the day's earlier warped, hostile version.
"Hey there, sweetheart. I was really starting to miss you," Grimmjow said, trying to sound lighthearted which was rather all for naught, their senses overwhelmed by the presence of evil. "Your brothers and that madman are not exactly the best of company."
Ichigo smiled a slight bit, sickness clouded, toffee brown orbs lighting up a little. He hadn't a clue as to how many hours, or days, he had been unconscious this time yet he too felt they had been apart for what seemed like forever and his chest tightened, a great relief at being reunited the cause. "Are you expecting an apology?" he said, breathing too difficult to allow him say much else.
"Yes," Grimmjow said intensely, his casual facade vanishing entirely. "I know you don't remember, but there were times I thought... hell, I just wanted to kill something."
"Don't say things like that," Ichigo insisted, breath catching in his throat and choking him for a few seconds. "I can't bear it."
It was the truth, he could swear on his life if there was possibly anything more agonizing than witnessing pain swirling within those storm blue eyes he did not know it. Grimmjow was supposed to be untouchable, never showing weakness, and the only thing Ichigo could hold onto and feel safe from all harm, know no force on this earth could tear him away. He turned onto his side, clasping the hand he held in his own over his heart.
"Please help me, I don't know what's happening to me. I'm changing, I can feel it," he confessed desperately. "I can hear everything, the servants on the other side of the house whispering. I hear mice in the attic stomping like elephants. But I'm having horrible nightmares and... sometimes they're not nightmares at all, they're sweet dreams of beautiful mountains and flowers and someone's calling me. They keep saying my name, but I don't want to go, I don't, and then I see those eyes..." Ichigo trailed off, closing his eyes and memories of his dreams made him cringe, his own deep desire that he go to the one that called his name terrifying and confusing him. "No, I don't want to go, please don't let him take me away..."
"Ichigo, look at me," Grimmjow said, pulling the orangette's hands to him. Seeing his lover plead helpless, eyes full of terror, was heartbreaking when the youth had always been incredibly strong and brash and fearless. After a second, Ichigo obeyed and cautiously opened his eyes. "That will never happen, not as long as live, I swear it. I won't rest until I hunt that monster down and rid you of him for good, do you understand?"
"No, you can't! I won't let you," Ichigo protested weakly. "If you died, I... please just don't leave me alone. He'll come for me and eventually I won't be able to resist his voice, he's called to me my whole life..."
His heart plummeting through his stomach, Grimmjow remembered his lover's portrait within those worn pages of the professor's book. Yet he refused to believe it proved awful things about which he could barely think. Ichigo was his, no matter what, and he would make damn certain it stayed that way. If that white devil thought his demonic powers were enough to defeat him, he was sorely mistaken. Resolve strengthened, the blunette rose beside the bed, slid onto its covers of soft satin, and bent over the one lying beneath him.
"I don't care. I don't care about anything that thing's ever done, you hear me?" Grimmjow snarled, slipping a knee in between the other's legs as he neared closer to bringing them flush against each other. "You are mine. You will always be mine."
A thrilled shudder running through his body at the possessive words, Ichigo looked up from under lowered lashes. He hummed in pleasure upon the incredible sensation of the older man's body heat through the layers of fabric between them, warming every inch of his chilled flesh, and he freed his wrists from Grimmjow's hold, longing to feel broad shoulders and a strong back he admired. The blue-haired man's solid build comforted as much as it excited him, forever firm and unyielding. When he held Grimmjow in his arms no one could take him away.
His anemic frailty frustrated him, rendering him too weak to really crush the man to him, and he settled instead for wrapping his legs around the other's waist and drawing him nearer down to him that way. Grimmjow, never one to refuse him, lowered his body close as possible without resting any of his weight on the orangette and seized those lips begging to be kissed. Ichigo moaned into the other man's mouth as it parted invitingly, clutching a handful of sky blue hair and starting at a toned pectoral slid a palm beneath them all the way down to right between cut Adonis lines.
Grimmjow moved his lips to the side, trailing butterfly kisses descending along Ichigo's throat and collarbone, continuing lower still until he had kissed a path straight down the linen-covered torso. Underneath his ministrations the boy arched his back and tilted his hips up toward him. Growling in approval, he squeezed his hands around Ichigo's thighs and swept back upwards, stopping at the elegant curve of that lovely neck bedecked in protective, sacred ornaments. He attached his open mouth to where they bared an enticing spanse of skin, abiding primal instincts and biting gently down on the tender flesh whilst they urged him to leave a mark of his own upon Ichigo's throat.
It was only when Grimmjow heard the rasping pants sounding like death itself that he regained his senses and immediately tore himself away. Pitching backwards fast as he could, his stomach tightened into knots once he caught sight of Ichigo, flushed and gasping for breath. He couldn't believe he had been so careless, letting his baser desires completely overwhelm him and mentally cursing himself for it.
Yet even as he struggled to catch his breath and willed the imposing unconsciousness to stay at bay, Ichigo craved for more. Grimmjow defended him against the hungry darkness he felt hovering predatorily all around them with just his mere presence. He attempted to protest when the blunette's arms encircled his torso and lifted him higher on the bed, propping his head up using its mount of pillows which allowed his breath to come easier, but he only managed a soft, petulant whine.
"Come... back," he said, wheezing raspily.
"Shh, hush. When you open your eyes, I swear I'll be right here," Grimmjow said, utilizing his talent for soothing the boy. Though he longed and fought to stay awake, Ichigo's body betrayed him, relaxing and shutting down before his eyes closed and he slipped under completely.
Several minutes passed and Grimmjow watched his sleeping lover's chest rise and fall in shallow, laboured breaths, morbid thoughts bringing a deep frown to his face. His ruminations were interrupted when the door burst open and Urahara shouted he hurry as they were waiting upon him.
The hunt had begun.
Later That Day
Dracula's resting place struck almost as much fear into one's heart as he himself did - a boneyard littered with crumbling ruins, a medieval tower's decayed remains, and overgrown weeds. As night fell and sunlight faded away, a dreary fog blanketed the ominous den of the immortal beast and hung in the air thick with death's musty, rotten scent. And into this sinister, ungodly place entered five men and their torches flickering flares, accompanied by two trained hounds straining at their leashes a blue-haired man held.
Treading warily along a crooked path around broken, uneven stone walls and rubble in step with the rest of the hunting party, Grimmjow searched the area with narrowed eyes, looking for even the slightest movement within the shadows. His acute faculties not picking up anything, he released the hounds and the animals padded ahead, sniffing out any trace of the immortal game they pursued.
A few yards further the men came upon a vast array of bound crates large enough any of them could fit inside comfortably - they had reached the chamber that was the heart of the lair. The boxes made from wooden boards bearing crests depicting crimson dragons and sealed shut by knotted ropes were all too familiar to Grimmjow's eyes, a hateful sneer curling his lip at the reminder he had played a part in their journey across Europe from that cursed land where the devil and his children still walk with earthly feet.
None of them sensed the menacing presence high above, a pair of midnight sun orbs' deadly stare invisible to mortal sight as the pale demon for which they searched hung upside down from the ceiling in darkness.
Urahara swung around to face Grimmjow and the three brothers, his torch's flames quivering. "Destroy every box. Sterilize the earth inside. Leave him no refuge." he instructed in earnest. "Let the exorcism begin." Setting their torches aside so light illuminated the chamber, every man grasped the axes they carried and swung the blades over their heads, splintering wood as they smashed the dirt-filled crates to pieces.
While the four of them demolished their enemy's obscene cradles, a destructive clamor sounded throughout Carfax Abbey and Urahara began placing lit candles, bottles of holy water, and oversized crucifixes in the revealed mounds of earth. Reading holy prayers in Latin written on the pages of a sacred text and throwing holy water in the sign of the cross, his steady chanting rose above the demolition's raucous noise and the crackles of the bonfire burning all the wood.
Silently snarling at seeing his sanctuary defaced and wrecked beyond repair, the ghostly white being perched overhead cursed them all to the pits of hell. But then he realized not what he truly cared for was lost, his real prized possession at last awaiting him all alone. Laughing evilly, he called upon his godless powers and willed his corporeal body dissipate into a fine, phosphorus white mist.
In this form he flew away from the abbey and hunting party, soaring through the night sky and over London faster than the wind. He crossed the city within seconds, descending upon a sprawling estate and heading toward the gardens. Flitting along the greenery maze pathways, he slowed once he arrived at a set of steps leading up to a patio and then paned glass, double doors, swiftly floating the distance to them. However, he paused right before the transparent portal, looking to the scene that lay beyond and spurred warring emotions within himself - the beautiful, adored vision lying upon the bed encompassed by mystical wards that repelled him the source of both aching ecstasy and venomous rage.
"Your impotent men with their foolish spells cannot protect you from my power," his disembodied voice vowed. "Our bond cannot be broken, we... are destined."
Inside the room, Ichigo moaned and started twisting within his sheets of ivory satin as a seductive call pulled him from sleep. A sudden sensation of heady arousal washed over him, the orangette grasping at his nightshirt's linen fabric and running his hands up and down his body, trying to satisfy his burgeoning lust. At that moment, he rivaled the most enticing siren and wantonly tempted the presence slipping underneath his bedroom doors.
The snowy mist creeped close to the edge of the bed, slithering under the sheets and caressing its way up Ichigo's entire, tantalizing frame. The boy felt a satisfying weight that gradually settled against him and he somehow knew that touch belonged to his dearest prince. "Yes, my love, you found me," he murmured contentedly, finally opening his eyes so that he may look upon the radiant, purest white countenance he had cherished for centuries.
"My most precious life... Ichigo," Shirosaki uttered lovingly, cradling a lighter than usual cheek in a black-nailed hand and aching with adoration when Ichigo lay a hand over his.
"I've wanted this to happen, I know that now," the orange-haired youth said, reverently staring deep into his prince's shadowy, golden gaze - the only mortal on the face of the earth unafraid to do so. "I want to be with you always."
"You cannot know what you are saying," Shirosaki whispered fervently, pain wracking his entire being as it constantly did when faced with the gravity of what he was doing to his love so he would never lose Ichigo again.
"Yes, I do," the other insisted breathlessly, reaching up to tangle his fingers in the vampire's long locks the color of moonlight. "I feared I would never see you again. I thought you were dead." Ichigo arched into the one above him, curving against a familiar flawlessly designed physique and gasping at the myriad of memories it brought to him. He was delirious with the flood of emotions that followed, vaguely aware of the cool lips touching his own ever so lightly.
Shiro bestowed the orangette with a few, feather-like kisses and, desire surging from deep within, slid down Ichigo's body in order to taste every inch of silken skin. Once his mouth glided along a lithe torso and felt the lines of the other's hipbones, the white-haired divinity straightened up, grasping Ichigo's hand drawing him near so that they were seated wrapped in each other's arms. Shirosaki then took that hand and pressed it over his heart, letting his forehead bend forward and rest against his love's.
"There is... no life in this body," he confessed.
Ichigo's blood ran cold when there was no living heartbeat under his palm, eyes widening and horror coursing through him like electric shocks. "But you live! You live..." he exclaimed in disbelief, fleeing backwards to the headboard and shaking his head. "What are you? I must know, you must tell me!"
"I am nothing... lifeless, soulless... hated and feared," Shiro said, turning away as he detested himself for revealing those wicked truths to the one he desperately wished stay innocent to such things. He certainly did not deserve it when Ichigo reached out and caressed his shoulder comfortingly. Baring his teeth, Shirosaki curled in on himself and continued on viciously, his hatred for everything save his reincarnated love seeping into his voice. "I am dead to all the world... hear me! I am the monster the breathing men would kill. I... am... Dracula."
Ichigo gasped and covered his mouth with his hands, shock rapidly giving way to fury. He flung himself forward and weakly slammed his fists against Shirosaki's back pitifully.
"No! You-... you are the one who has been doing this to me!" Ichigo cried and though angry at finding out the demon drinking his blood and his dear prince were one and the same, his vision blurred as tears gathered in his eyes. Catching his wrists, Shiro spun back around and held the orangette flush with his chest. Ichigo struggled to get away, whining in frustration and beating the vampire's chest, but Shirosaki did not let go, willingly taking the blows. Screaming through gritted teeth, the mortal of the two collapsed in those strong arms and heaved with sobs, staring helplessly into his prince's face. "Why do I love you? Oh, God forgive me, I do," he said. "I-... I wantto be what you are, see what you see, love what you love."
"Ichigo, to walk with me, you must die to your breathing life and be reborn to mine," Shiro said, gripping both the other's hands in his. This was it, the moment he would at last put an end to his wretched lifetimes of loneliness longing to be with his beloved once more.
"You are my love and my life, always. Your life is my own."
"Then I give you life eternal, everlasting love, the power over the storm and the beasts of the earth," Shirosaki said as if his words were his wedding vows, binding them together until the death that would never come. "Walk with me as my angelic prince once again, my greatest treasure, forever."
"I will, yes, yes." Bliss sang through Ichigo's veins, feeling as if he had waited for this his entire life. His soul had walked alone endlessly, torn apart from its other half for hundreds of years and now finally whole once again. He let his head fall back at Shiro's touch at the nape of his neck, exposing his throat submissively. His prince brought his other hand up and ripped all of the ornaments adorning Ichigo's neck, tearing the strand of garlic and beaded choker. Entangled within his fingers, the golden crucifix snapped in two and he suppressed a snarl before flinging it across the room.
Pointed fangs then fiercely pierced soft flesh, sinking earnestly into Ichigo's skin and causing him to yelp hoarsely at the sharp agony of being bitten. Shirosaki drank from the orangette hungrily, his blood sweet and beguiling as the nectar of the gods. He was forced to summon all of his willpower to wrest himself away. Red elixir stained and dripped from his pale lips, the animalistic delight sent his lust soaring to great heights and he bent over Ichigo, lowering them both to the bed.
His ebony nails clawed and shredded the linen nightshirt, leaving the boy in tattered strips of fabric that revealed an indecent amount.
Hitching the youth's thighs around his waist, Shiro ran his hands over every last bit of that perfect figure. His actions were frenzied, beastly passion greater than mere man's swelling uncontrollably in his gut. Ichigo was barely able to keep up with the other male, his head spinning and vision fading in and out. However, this did not stop him from enjoying Shirosaki's ministrations, faint, appreciative moans slipping past his lips as he was kissed and fondled from head to toe.
A throbbing heat blossomed in between his thighs that made him desperate for friction and buck his hips up against the other, hooking his ankles behind Shiro's back and cinching his legs tighter so there wasn't an inch between them. The snow white divinity rocked his still clothed lower body teasingly, simultaneously satiating and worsening Ichigo's burning want, and once the youth felt the other's hot hardness grind into he threw his head back and cried wantonly.
Inverted eyes glittering vividly, Shirosaki rose to his knees and ripped his black tunic open, exposing his porcelain chest, smooth and perfectly muscled. As the orangette watched, enraptured, he sliced a thin slit through flawless alabaster skin right where his heart should be. Blood pooled to the surface, spilling over and trickling down in vivid, red rivulets. "Drink, Ichigo, and join me in eternal life," he husked, exalted when Ichigo swept upwards and attached his mouth to the bleeding wound.
As his love drank his immortal blood, heavenly euphoria wracked and shook him to the core, his body shuddering madly. Yet somehow uneasy thoughts forming in the back of his mind broke through his enchantment, compelling him to push Ichigo away and whip his head to the side, tormented by an inner battle between equal forces. "No... I cannot let this be," he said with great effort.
"Please," Ichigo breathed, holding onto either side of the vampire's collar, lips and tongue dyed a bold crimson that dripped from his mouth down his chin and neck. "I don't care, make me yours."
Shirosaki cast his tortured gaze over the boy's face, unsettled by the blood smeared across his pallid complexion. "You'll be cursed as I am and walk through the shadow of death for all eternity," he said, cupping Ichigo's face in his hands tenderly. "I love you too much to condemn you."
"Then take me away from all this death," the youth begged, and Shiro could never refuse him anything, guiding that precious mouth back to his chest. This wave of jubilant bliss was even stronger than the first and he had to grab the headboard as he swayed from its intensity, higher than the heavens. He exhaled brokenly as he sensed their souls bind together, an eternal, unbreakable bond.
Entranced with a feverish delirium Ichigo knew nothing else aside from the warm, ambrosial liquid on his tongue, tasting of the strength he gathered with every swallow. He was so out of this world, dreamily intoxicated, that he continued lapping at the fount of sweet elixir until he heard a deafening thud as the bedroom doors burst open and slammed against the wall, suddenly realizing Shirosaki was gone.
He turned wide, troubled eyes to the five men storming through the doorway who were alarmed by his frightful appearance, looking like a victim of a wild animal attack, his tattered nightshirt clawed to pieces and fresh, smeared blood trailing from his lips to his collarbone. He knew it'd been Grimmjow, who stood at the front beside Professor Urahara, that had called his name and now rushed toward him.
That was, until a gust of wind and a monstrous figure descended upon the bed before him. Horrified, Ichigo muffled his distressed sobs using both hands and felt himself tremble uncontrollably. No longer in his room was his handsome prince and he unwillingly realized this... creature is what he had become.
Seven feet tall, Shirosaki's ghostly white form was now cloaked with equally colorless robes collared in ebony fur and though his long, snowy hair remained, that was all. Surging from his back were massive, leathery, bat-like wings and there was now a jet black mask created from shadows and bearing big, curled horns, jagged white markings on either side, and a set of exposed, bestial teeth.
Fearless in the presence of evil, Urahara brandished a large crucifix toward the demon and started chanting in Latin. However, the holy forces he channeled were no match for his powerful foe, who sliced his hand through the air and flames engulfed the crucifix, the blonde man immediately dropping the fiery object.
"You think you can destroy me with your idols, I who served the cross, I who commanded nations hundreds of years before you were born," the transformed Dracula spat in a distorted, watery voice.
"Your armies were defeated. You tortured and impaled thousands of people!" Urahara shouted above the bales of wind whirling around the room.
"I was betrayed," the vampire hissed, extending his wings and lifting his arms to his sides. "Look at what your God has done to me!"
"No, your war with God is over. You must pay for your crimes!" Whipping a spray of holy water across the demon's face, Urahara again began steadily reciting the sacred rites of exorcism. "The power of Christ compels you!" he declared, throwing more holy water upon ashen flesh that sizzled the places the droplets landed, steam rising from the burned skin. Dracula recoiled, shielding himself with his veined wings and flying backwards to the opposite end of the room.
Seizing the opening left of a clear path to the bed, Grimmjow dashed to where Ichigo was curled in on himself, huddled against the headboard and staring down at his blood-stained hands. As soon as he felt the man's arm wrap around his shoulders, he whimpered pitifully and allowed himself to be carried off the bed, harnessed tightly against the blunette's side.
Shirosaki's gaze instantly snapped to where the shaken orangette, hardly able to breathe, trembled in the arms of that damned man and his eyes narrowed into slits even as a smirk contorted his rows of teeth. Spreading his wings out to their full extent once again, he looked straight into those furious blue eyes.
"He... is now... MINE."
"No!" Grimmjow roared, raising the barrel of his pistol and aiming it for the white devil, he cocked the gun and pulled the trigger.
"No, don't!" Ichigo cried at the last moment, grabbing the man's arm just as the gun went off, bullet shooting astray from its mark. It struck Dracula in the shoulder, the impact making that side of his body jerk backwards and his enraged screech hurt their human ears. The three brothers also raised their weapons and fired, emptying round after round into alabaster skin. Enclosing himself within those leathery wings that repelled the hail of bullets, the vampire receded into the shadows.
"Lights, all lights!" Urahara ordered, the three brothers illuminating the corner into which the beast had retreated with their torches, but the only thing they saw were a disembodied pair of gold and ebony orbs that within the next second vanished. "Search the grounds, he must be found!"
"Unclean... unclean," a quivering voice whispered. Grimmjow glanced down and bristled seeing Ichigo near hysterics, shaking like a leaf as crimson streaked hands hovered in front of his blood-coated mouth. The others bounded past him through the doors and leaving them alone, but he didn't take his gaze away from large, whiskey brown eyes that finally looked up at him shimmering with nightmares and tears. "Grimm... help me."
Later That Night
Carfax Abbey Burns
The Parlour at the Kurosaki Estate
It was the early hours of morning, the darkest time of day, and none of them had yet slept. Currently Grimmjow and the three eldest Kurosaki men patrolled the grounds outside in the pitch black silence, guarding their youngest from Dracula's return, the image of the orange-haired youth ravished and traumatized at the monster's hands permanently seared into their memory. They would die first rather than allow the pale demon cause such harm ever again.
Meanwhile, Professor Urahara sat beside Ichigo in the parlour, he perched on the edge of a glass coffee table whilst the orangette reclined on a chaise longue underneath a woolen blanket. After they had scoured the estate and found no trace of Dracula, the professor had helped Grimmjow clean the blood off of Ichigo's face and neck and stripped him of his ruined nightshirt, redressing him in a white collared shirt and black waistcoat and trousers.
At that point the boy had remained unresponsive and on the verge of hysteria, so Urahara had injected him with a syringe of morphine to dull the agony and dementia plaguing him. The opiate serum flowing through his veins, Ichigo was sedated within minutes. Though mildly intoxicated under the narcotic's spell, he was now somewhat aware of his surroundings and looked up at the professor through lowered lashes. Strangely, he appeared livelier than before his undead suitor's profane seduction earlier that night, a hint of color returned to his cheeks.
"We have learned something much, Draculea fears us," Urahara said, striking a match aflame and holding it to the wick of a small, slender wax candle on a silver handle. "He fears time for, if not, why does he hurry so?"
"He is calm," Ichigo said softly, inhaling deeply.
"How do you know?"
"He speaks to me..." the orangette murmured dreamily and it was true, receptive in his relaxed state to the comforting presence haunting the deep recesses of his mind. It was almost as if he could sense his prince leaning over him and stroking his hair.
"He has an immense mind connection to you. His heart was strong enough to survive the grave," Urahara mused reverently, circling his thumb and pointer finger around his chin.
"You admire him," Ichigo said, lips tilting in a small, knowing smile.
"Ja. He was in life a most remarkable man. His mind was great and powerful, but greater is the necessity to stamp him out and destroy him utterly," the blonde man stated gravely, drawing no reaction to his harsh words.
"Doctor?" the boy whispered, turning his head to face the other completely.
" I know that I am becoming like him." Despite speaking of something so terrible, Ichigo appeared content, as if he had already accepted his fate. This was no effect of the morphine, either. No drug was potent enough to warp one's natural understanding of good and evil. Love, however...
"Your salvation is his destruction. That is why I want to hypnotize you," Urahara began speaking in a soothing, rhythmic tone and bent closer to his patient, bringing the candle flame to the other's eye level. "I want you to help me find him, Ichigo. Before it is too late, please help me find him. Please. Look into this light, the light of all light, into this flame. Your eyes are heavy. You want to sleep. Sleep now. Sleep..."
Ichigo gazed into the fire, his vision dimming until all he saw was the flickering flame. Then he heard the voice saying his name clear as day, sounding as if that who beckoned to him were really there.
"He calls to me," Ichigo professed, silvery words caressing his face and hair before whispering into his ear. The flame he stared into blurred, splitting into two swirling orbs floating in the shadows and becoming those spellbinding eyes unlike all others. They pierced straight into his soul and lured it outside Ichigo's body and beyond the world he knew.
"What do you hear?" Urahara urged gently, enticing the answer from the orangette's lip. "What do you hear, child? What do you hear?"
Ichigo could not respond at first, overwhelmed by images foreign and yet familiar to him flickering past - roiling, dark blue foamy waves, barrels, crates, and burlap sacks of a ship's cargo swaying with the sea, wooden boards decorated with scarlet red crests of a fire-breathing dragon, and finally a shadowy space filled with fresh earth above which rested the sleeping, ivory face and frosted locks of hair he adored.
"My prince is calling me," he said. "He is traveling across icy seas to his beloved home. There he will grow strong again. I am coming to him to partake of his strength."
"The darkness is not the Light, my child," Urahara warned, hoping he could break the spell the teen was under. "And there are Lights. You are one of the Lights, dear Ichigo, the Light of all Light. Do not let love again be your damnation.
Suddenly the illusions wrenched themselves away, Ichigo's heart breaking as he was abandoned in an ocean of blackness until a few moments later his earthly sight returned to him and illuminated his view of candle and the professor and the rest of the parlour. He immediately shut his eyes, wishing for the lucid visions to come back. From somewhere behind him heavy footsteps on the marble floor announced the others' arrival, those four men walking steadily nearer and then finally rounding either side of the chaise longue.
"No sign of him, Professor," Kon announced, collapsing upon the loveseat opposite them.
"Yes, wherever the bastard is he's probably long gone by now," Kaien sighed and took the seat beside his younger brother, propping his feet up on the coffee table.
"I am afraid it would appear so," came the somber, deep voice of the eldest Kurosaki as he appeared, shrugging off his heavy overcoat. "He has most likely fled in search of a resting place."
"Indeed he has," Urahara said, cupping a hand on the other side of the candle and blowing out the flame. "Dracula travels to his homeland as we speak, to Transylvania, and in order to defeat him and save Ichigo's soul we must be there to stop him from entering. For I fear should Dracula reach his infernal domain before we do all will be lost."
"But you said he has already left," Kaien pointed out, brows knitting together. "How can we possibly beat him to this godforsaken place?"
"Ah, because due to his unholy nature we gain an advantage. You see, Dracula cannot cross running water," the blonde professor explained, smiling. "He may only travel by sea, whereas we have other methods for journeying there, and let us not forget we have among us a man who ventured to that godless land and lived to tell the tale. Isn't that right, Mister Jaegerjaques?"
The four men engaged in the conversation all glanced to the blue-haired man standing on the other side of the chaise longue, his cerulean orbs not looking away from the resting orangette lying there, eyes closed and oblivious to their discussion yet not quite asleep.
"We can get to the Count's castle before him, if we take the next train out," Grimmjow said, no one doubting him for an instant. Sidestepping the chaise, he slipped his gloved hand under his coat lapel and withdrew a folded piece of yellowed canvas encompassed by inked script and undulating lines. He stopped in front of the coffee table, Urahara rising to his feet and Kaien removing his to clear the space for Grimmjow to spread out a map of Europe, railroad tracks symbols printed along where the real ones lay. The group all leaned in close to hear the man's strategy for hunting down the beast they all wanted dead.
"We leave London and ride the express south to the coast where we'll sail across the English Channel," he informed the other men, tracing his finger along the route they would take. "From Paris, we travel through the Alps to Budapest and at the Black Sea port at Varna we will meet Dracula's ship, burn it into the sea, and send him back to Hell."
"Sounds perfect to me, Jaegerjaques," Kaien said, smirking humorlessly. "I eagerly look forward to it."
"I believe we all do," Mugetsu agreed, bending down so he could point to the southernmost tip of Spain. "The Count will have to sail around the rock of Gibraltar, I have a clerk located nearby that we may post as a lookout. He can tell us when and if the monster's ship passes by." Only earning a nod in response from Grimmjow, they fell silent for a few long moments.
"Come, we must prepare to leave at dawn and hurry for that is mere hours away," Urahara declared, clapping his hands together sharply. "Go and make haste, there is not a second to be lost when chasing the devil!" The professor waved the Kurosaki men away, the three of them quickly heading back into the main part of the manor, and then turned to Grimmjow who glared down at the map with a lethal intent he knew was for the fiend attempting an escape to his origins. "As I'm sure you are aware, it is bitterly cold in the Carpathians this time of year. Anemic as he is, Ichigo will need a great deal more warm attire than the rest of us. I know I can entrust you to gather a suitable wardrobe for him, Ja?"
The blunette glanced at him and over his shoulder at the figure of his motionless lover and then back to him. He swept the map off the glass coffee table and folded the parchment back up, tucking it inside his coat. "I'll take care of it," Grimmjow muttered, his gaze still fearsome as he brushed past the blonde man.
Urahara sighed, praising God he'd never cared for anything other than science and free from the baleful perils of love. Grabbing the handle of his doctor's briefcase, the professor Urahara hurried to catch up with Grimmjow on the stairs, clasping the man's shoulder with his free hand as they continued over the parlour threshold. "I say, my good man, do you know how to whittle a wooden stake?"
Several Days Later
On a Train
They had left London just as the first light of dawn appeared on the horizon, departing at the station closest to the southeastern harbor where they boarded the ship that sailed their party across the English Channel. Their supposed brief trip sailing to the French coast took a bad turn when a terrible storm ravaged the channel, its merciless waves, torrential rains, and incredible winds delaying their arrival by several hours. They knew it was Dracula who'd conjured the storm, for he commanded those forces of nature.
Yet they still held the advantage, since by train they traveled from Paris through the Swiss alps and then to the station in Budapest within three days. By sea it would take the Count at least a week, and once his ship docked at the port at Varna they would see through to the end of their plan and set his vessel ablaze in the Black Sea with the flames that would cast him back into Hell.
At present, the vampire hunters were still aboard their private passenger car on the train, now stopped at the last station before Galatz, the end of the line. One man was absent, however, as Mugetsu had gone inside the station building expecting that the telegraph from his clerk at Gilbrador had been transmitted.
Meanwhile, the car was relatively silent, the air seeming to crackle and buzz with anticipation as tensions ran high - the calm before the storm. At their dining table Kaien squinted with one eye at the open chamber of his pistol, reloading the gun by sliding individual bullets into its slots. Directly across from him, Kon was also seated at the table, leaning on his elbow while reading from one of his former professor's antiquated texts detailing everything bizarre and supernatural. Amassed between the two brothers atop their map was an assortment of the weaponry they would need in the days ahead - revolvers, bandoliers packed with bullets, gun holsters, and a collection of daggers and other blades.
Further down, in the corner, was Grimmjow, bending over the twelve inch shaft of wood he carved between his legs with a bowie knife into a dangerously sharp spike. It was the only sound within the space, a slow scratch as the knife's edge smoothed over the rough wood repetitively. He never so much as glanced anywhere else, fiercely fixated on his task.
In the opposite corner, Urahara sat cross legged on a plush, velvet wingback chair big enough to seat two men, looking back and forth between outside the window to the majestic landscape's snow-capped, forested mountains and the slumbering orangette swaddled in furs in the seat across from his. He was baffled by the boy, who seemed to ebb in and out of consciousness, sometimes himself again and other times the more recent delirious, possessed version. By all means, he should've lost the last of his humanity and transformed completely by now, yet somehow he still managed to defend his soul against the vampiric curse.
Right on cue, Ichigo's shallow breath hitched audibly and instantly every pair of eyes were on him. His lips parted, drawing in rapid gasps of air that caused wheezing painful just to listen to and then he was coughing pathetically. Head tossing side to side, he winced whilst his eyelids quivered as if they would open. Urahara scooted forward on his chair, leaning close to the sick teen, and gently moved his lips aside. Shaking his head, the blonde discovered two porcelain points emerging from the gums above the eyeteeth.
Having watched since the very first noise his love had made, Grimmjow bolted across the train car to the liquor cabinet and snatched Professor Urahara's briefcase, shoving his hand inside and grabbing the glass jar, tubing, and needles for a transfusion. However, Urahara turned to him and held up a hand, signaling he stop.
"The vampire has baptized her with his own blood," he said difficulty. "His blood is dying, my friend. It's no use."
Frustrated, Grimmjow's upper lip curled back, a feral glare overwhelming his handsome face. He thrust the items back inside the briefcase and that was when Ichigo decided to wake, inhaling sharply and eyes flying open as if startled. Immediately, he searched the car frantically, relieved when he found a shock of electric blue amongst the browns and reds of the train's decor and straightened up, intending to stand.
Though they had spent almost their journey's every waking moment in each other's company, Ichigo missed that man like they'd been apart an eternity and wanted to hold him close, to feel safe and warm and alive.
Yet, not even an inch off the seat, hands belonging to the professor and the blue-haired man hurriedly guided him back down. Ichigo did not protest for his vision blurred a few seconds and surely would've made him dizzy upon standing. As his sight cleared, a broad, heated palm cradled his face - the only part of his body not swathed under a thick layer of material.
The four other men visibly relaxed upon recognizing they had been graced by the real Ichigo, knowing they hadn't entirely lost him yet. Nevertheless, the two Kurosaki's and Urahara witnessed the intimate stare their youngest gave his lover and understood they needed some semblance of privacy, the professor ambling over to the dining table and offering to show Kaien a better way of packing gunpowder.
"We're in Romania now, in the mountains," Grimmjow said, considering the younger man hadn't been fully conscious since somewhere in the Alps.
"I know," Ichigo said, smiling sadly. "I can feel it - we are close." He had almost forgotten how much he adored the sound of Grimmjow's voice, that deep, rumbling baritone. That rough velvet speak soothed him like nothing else and while sleep trapped him in a wild fantasy he could not hear it.
"Yes, we are close. Close to the end," the blunette murmured, sitting beside the other's legs facing him and letting his hand drop to his own lap. "And then you and I can finally move to the countryside to a place just for us, remember?"
"Just us..." Ichigo trailed off, his dreams of living in peace with his man seeming as if from another lifetime. His gaze traveled to the window, the scenery much different than the light green springtime fields of the English countryside. "After all I have done to you? Awful, bad, evil things - "
"No! You've done nothing wrong," Grimmjow commanded, grasping the orangette's chin and forcing him to look him in the eye. "No, this is my fault. I have done this to both of us."
Ichigo opened his mouth to protest but a powerful voice filled his head, so thunderous he clamped both hands over his ears and screwed his eyes shut. He heard Grimmjow said his name, then again louder, and there was the sound of shuffling footsteps approaching him. This was the most intense experience with the voice to date and he felt as if he'd dived into a freezing, rushing river, the unforgiving waters pulling him under. He shook his head, beginning to shiver bitterly under his thick furs.
Despite that everyone had gathered around the boy, Grimmjow was the first and only to action, gathering Ichigo in his arms and prying the hands off his ears. "He's coming closer," Ichigo uttered senselessly. "He's calling me to him."
"Ichigo!" Grimmjow shouted, shaking the trembling youth until his eyes opened, brighter than ever. "Ichigo, stay with me. Please."
"I'm... s-so... c-c-cold."
The boy's lashes fluttered rapidly until shutting closed permanently and he slumped in the blunette's embrace, head falling back and neck fully extended. "Let him sleep, for now," Urahara said quietly and Grimmjow nodded, expression stormy as he lay Ichigo down on the chair in a comfortable position. He ran his fingers through silken tangerine hair once and then was gone, returning to his task at hand.
Once he walked a few steps away, the professor again took his place opposite the ill child and bowed forward, placing two fingertips at the base of Ichigo's throat to check for the slow, faint beating of his dying heart. Afterwards, he reclined in his chair and started to stroke his lightly stubbled chin, appearing to carefully study the orange-haired youth like a puzzle he seeked to solve.
"Something troubling you, Professor?" Kon asked, coming to stand at the blonde man's side and resting an arm on the back of his chair.
"I am simply pondering the unusual case of our dear Ichigo..." Urahara mused mildly and even though he spoke casually, a certain blue-haired man hung on his every word. "To find the love of a lifetime is a blessing... but to be the one soul on this earth to possess two different loves of two different lifetimes, that... that is a curse."
To those within the train car time stopped, none of them making the slightest movements or noise or anything aside from trying to comprehend the professor's words. Of course, time still ticked on by and within the minute a blast of cold air announced the arrival of their absent companion, setting everything back into motion.
Attention entirely on him, Mugetsu entered the passenger car in full winter garb, removing his fur hat and holding out a piece of paper that Kaien quickly took, seeing it was a message from the lookout posted at Gilbradar. "The Count's ship sailed past us in the night fog to the northern port of Galatz," he read aloud, whipping the paper down to his lap. "Damn it, how did he know to reroute his path?"
"Is it possible he expected we planned to meet him at the port at Varna?" Kon wondered, brows knitted together as he thought hard of reasonable explanations, when there was nothing ever 'reasonable' about the Count's and his dark powers.
"Yes. I believe he not only expected those were our plans but knew it for a fact," Urahara said, lighting a cigar dangling from his mouth, inhaling deeply. Situating the cigar between two fingers, he blew out swirls of smoke and pointed it at the boy in front of him, whimpering in his sleep. "The black devil is reading Ichigo's mind."
"I feared the cause had supernatural origins" Mugetsu sighed, brushing some of his long, black hair over his shoulder and walking to the cluttered dining table. "How will we catch him now?"
Grimmjow promptly rose to his feet, leaving bowie knife and wood behind, and strode across the car, circling around the table so he stood in front of the three Kurosaki's. Clearing the map's surface with a sweep of his arm, he bent down a little and tapped the location of the harbor Dracula's ship would make port. "Varna... Galatz, it's about 200 miles," he told the men avidly listening, huddled close to the center. "With the horses we can cut him off, reach him before he reaches the castle."
"So you mean to propose all six of us ride there?" Kaien asked, his dislike of that idea clearly implied.
Cerulean orbs cornering just for a second to the side where Ichigo rested, looking incredibly fragile, pale and wrapped in that mass of thick furs, Grimmjow knew there was no other way. "We'll dispatch Urahara straight to Borgo Pass with the carriage... and Ichigo," he instructed, his will not to be questioned by anyone. He met Urahara's gaze unfalteringly, exchanging a look that confirmed more than words ever could. "If we fail in our task, you will have to finish him."
The Next Day
Somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains
Thankfully, when the hunting party reached the station marked as the place the professor and the youngest Kurosaki would deboard from the train and separate from the others, Ichigo again broke free of his unnatural slumber, waking abruptly as he realized someone was carrying him. His instincts dulled by the vampiric illness, he was still while peering through flurries of snow and recognized Grimmjow's face even though everything was covered by his winter apparel except his eyes.
But he would always know those eyes, those eerily phosphorescent, royal blue eyes.
"Where are we?" was the first thing Ichigo thought to ask, causing those eyes to swoop down to his face, startled. Grimmjow stopped walking, his arms tightening around the orangette and then dropping one so his legs fell underneath him and he could stand on his own. The older man lifted his black leather gloved hand, lowering the wool scarf protecting his face from under the eyes below and tucking it under his chin.
"The station at Borgo Pass," he answered, lips quirking in what passed for his smile these days. Then without a second's hesitation pressed those lips to Ichigo's, who was fortunate the man held him so tightly as his knees buckled from the intensity of the kiss, and when Grimmjow broke away he was seeing stars. Chuckling deeply, the blue-haired man smirked and Ichigo could've easily pictured this moment happening at a time long before all of this. "Sorry, but I had to steal just one more."
Ichigo blinked, his familiar scowl appearing on his face in his confusion. "I don't understand," he said, a hint of desperation in his voice, and gripped onto the lapels of Grimmjow's black cojurn coat.
"You and the professor will be traveling through the Pass by carriage," the older man informed, succeeding at keeping his composure calm and steady, the fear he wished to hide not for himself but for the one before him. "Your brothers and I are continuing on towards Galatz. We want to intercept Dracula before he reaches land."
Still not fully comprehending what their plans entailed, Ichigo stepped back and surveyed the wintry mountainscape surrounding them, spinning around cautiously and catching sight of his brothers helping the professor reign two jet black horses to an open carriage. Shoulders slumping a little as he understood, a spike of fear pierced through the sorrow enveloping him and he practically threw himself back around into Grimmjow's solid form.
"I suppose this is our last time together until... after this is over," Ichigo said, words muffled against the blunette's neck. He drew a few inches away, locking his gaze to endless depths of vivid, true blue. "Kiss me again," he said huskily, the instant the demand left his tongue his breath stolen by another kiss, excruciating and perfect .
He could feel Grimmjow pouring every last bit of his devotion into him and sent his in return. Snow floated in the air around them, sprinkling white powder on their faces and in their air. And then it was over. Once those full lips tore away from him, Ichigo gasped and clutched the man's coat even tighter, knowing this was it.
Grimmjow knew, as well, and captured Ichigo's hand in both of his, flattening the palm on his chest, right above his heart. Biting his lip hard as a steady, strong rhythm beat under his touch, the orangette relished sensing something so vital and so alive. "Feel that?" Grimmjow whispered, earning a nod from his lover. "That's all for you, sweetheart. It'll always be all for you."
Ichigo couldn't resist kissing the man just one last time, this one sweet and fleeting. "I really do love you, I swear," he breathed against Grimmjow's lips. "I shall see you at the end."
And then the train blew its deafening whistle, which meant it was time to be going. Ichigo bid each of his brothers farewell until they were reunited that following evening, their embraces especially long, afraid this may be the last time they see their youngest brother alive or human. They boarded the train altogether, leaving Grimmjow to watch the dense Transylvanian forest swallow the horse drawn carriage. He stood there in the snow, clothes covering everything save his eyes rippling in the wind.
He feared for Ichigo. He was now their decoy.
Later That Evening
The Borgo Pass
Nightfall came early that evening, the winter sun disappearing quickly to the west and bringing the bluish, dusky atmosphere of twilight. The powdery snow had ceased falling from the gray clouds carpeting the sky and temperatures were plummeting, the night air colder than ever.
During that day's travel it was much colder than expected and chilled Ichigo to the bone, the professor insisting they stop and find him something else to wear. Fortunately, it seemed Grimmjow had stowed within their supplies the warmest piece of clothing Ichigo owned and he'd pulled it on as fast as possible, his icy skin quickly thawing. To elaborate, it was a great, pure white traveling cloak, lined with wool and ermine and there was an oversized hood he used to shield his face from the wind.
Urahara was relatively silent the length of the carriage ride along the tree-ensconced pathway passing through the Carpathian mountains, so there was little conversation between them. Ichigo didn't really care, or even notice, he was far too interested in the wild, untamed place they trespassed. There was a raw, primal sense about it, a terrible beauty that struck a chord deep within him, as if he had longed to walk the ground where nature reigned, merciless and all-powerful.
"I know this place," he said, hearing his name on the wind and suddenly burning with the urge to make his way further into this hallowed land.
"The end of the world," Urahara declared evenly, seated to the other's right where he'd driven the horses since morning.
"We must go on," Ichigo insisted, his want to do so now physical, his very skin hurting. They had to keep going, they had to.
"It is late, child. We must rest here now."
"No, we must go!" he protested furiously, grabbing the reins in the professor's hands and yanking them toward him. Yet Urahara held on, surprised by the boy's seemingly unprovoked anxiety and pulling the reins away from him.
"Ichigo!" he shouted, attempting to snap him out of whatever trance the vampire had entrapped him.
"He needs me. We must go!" Ichigo screamed viciously, struggling even harder with Urahara for possession of the reins and even trying to kick the man. His body was frail from anemia, however, and within moments he could fight no longer, releasing the reins and crying in frustration. "Damn you," he swore through gritted teeth, having backed far as possible into the opposite corner and glaring his hatred.
Urahara ignored the teenager's murderous looks as they continued on, their pair of black horses galloping through the forest and higher atop the mountains, careening around the ledges carved into their precipices as the pathway delved deeper into Transylvania. Scanning the nearby area, he sought out a place they could make camp for the night, but before long spied something else among the rocky terrain - little specks hastily moving further along the mountainside road the way they had come.
Jerking on the reins to stop the horses, he tossed them to a bewildered Ichigo and thrust his hand inside his briefcase seated between them, wrenching a pair of binoculars out of the bag. Lifting them up to his eyes and rotating the lens, he focused in on the specks and after a few seconds sighed heavily. "What is it, Professor?" Ichigo asked, a little panicked by the man's sudden actions.
"Gypsies," Urahara said, identifying them by their customary, entirely fur ensembles and the fact they rode bareback without a saddle. He lowered the binoculars and stuffed them back in his briefcase, holding out his hand for the reins Ichigo returned to him. "Ja, they serve Dracula. They hurry back down the Borgo Pass on his commands - what those may be, I do not know. Hold on tightly; we must go to the castle as quickly as possible."
Urahara snapped the reins, spurring the horses into a fast gallop that made the carriage bounce violently over the road and Ichigo did have to cling to his seat in order to not be thrown to the ground. Eventually, the snowy, magnificent scenery blurred and he began feeling light-headed. Just when he opened his mouth to speak to the professor, the world blackened and he collapsed in the carriage seat.
The dreams came as they always did, yet this one was markedly different. He could see everything clearly in glorious daylight and it was magnificent. A bright smile lit his face and his chest tightened with emotion because now he could swear on his life that he knew this place. The stone towers, the emerald mountains, the rushing river, the lush vineyards, the vibrant flowers... it was the place from his memories but could not remember. It was their place.
A light breeze ruffled through his hair and clothes, carrying that voice he could never forget, the voice he had heard all his life. "Together forever..." it said to him. Ichigo wanted to say yes, forever and ever, he would have sworn it on his life, but the shadows descended upon him, shrouding him in their cloying despair. He fought them like a wild animal until their shadowy clutches abruptly dropped him and he plummeted through pitch black.
Jolting awake, his eyes flew open and he lay a hand over his racing heart, trying to catch his breath. "Ah, you are awake, Ja? Good," Urahara said somewhere close to where he realized he was laying on a plush pelt on the ground. Cautiously, he pushed himself to a sitting position and took in everything around him, gasping silently.
Ancient, crumbling towers loomed directly over them, situated on a wide cliff encircled by incredible mountains and dense, foreboding forest and stories above a frightening, icy river, all piled high with freshly fallen snow. It was the same place from his dreams - decrepit, frozen, and dead, but the same. "Are we...?"
"Ja, we are at Castle Dracula."
He must've been unconscious a few hours at least, for the other man had finished setting up camp inside battered stone walls four to five feet high and circling out from the main part of the castle. Four torches flared at each corner and a fire burned in the center, emitting warmth and heating whatever was in the metal pan Urahara simmered above the flames. A wolf howled in the distance and Ichigo drew his white cloak tightly around him, almost impossible since the garment was so large he was practically swimming in it.
His head ached, temples pounding brutally, so he shut his eyes and willed it go away. It only grew worse, the throbbing ache spreading to his chest and mouth, and shivers ran down his spine. There was an ominous presence pressing down on him, making it even harder to breathe, and clouded his mind, leaving broken thoughts. He sensed Urahara approach him at his side, proffering a plate of something smelling awful, disgusting. "Here, you must eat," the blonde man said.
"I am not hungry!" Ichigo spat savagely, knocking the plate of food from the professor's hands. Voices of the darkness coiled around him, inhuman, snake-like hisses and hypnotic, melodic singing, calling his name, beckoning to him. He turned on Urahara, who backed away as the orangette prowled on all fours like a predator toward him.
Unholy, raspy chanting flew around Ichigo's body and rose to his knees, breathing heavily and whining while running his hands up and down his figure, clawing at his neck and chest. That was when Urahara heard them too, the seductive voices bewitching his mind with a sinful lullaby and therefore he did not notice Ichigo beginning to thrash uncontrollably, screaming hoarsely and tearing his collar away from his throat. The blonde man tilted his head back, eyes closed and swaying dreamily as the voices from the otherside lulled him into a hazy trance. Across the fire, Ichigo convulsed frenziedly and shrieked like a banshee under the sinister spell, falling to the ground seizing uncontrollably.
And then the boy stopped, rising to his feet, and slowly faced the older man. Unclasping the top four buttons on his cloak, he lowered his lashes and bit his lip. "You've been so good to me, Professor," he said breathily, half bare chest heaving, and started sauntering toward Urahara, slinking sensually around the fire. "You know, I've always harboured secret desires for you," Ichigo professed, sidling up flush with the man's body, the latter utterly blinded by lust. "And I know what men desire..."
Eagerly wrapping his arms around the teen's waist, Urahara fervently kissed those full, soft lips, devouring a delicious, warm mouth. Then he sank down to his knees, feverishly kissing that lithe, alluring torso, and never saw the wicked smirk appear on Ichigo's sadistically amused expression. He knew nothing but the erotic longing hot in his loins. That was, until Ichigo grabbed his ash blonde hair and yanked his head backwards.
"When you're finished with me, will you drive a stake through my heart and send me to Hell, you worthless bastard," Ichigo seethed venomously. He bared his teeth ferally, sharp fangs fully extended, and forced the older man's head to the side. Hissing cruelly, he swept down, fangs aimed directly for the jugular and just inches away when Urahara flew back, skidding a few feet away. Now coming to his senses, the professor watched Ichigo snarl bestially and lunge after him.
"Not while I live! I have sworn to protect you!" Urahara shouted, keeping out of the changed youth's reach and searching his pocket for a small, round object he then brandished in front of him - a piece of sacramental bread he spouted frantic Latin to bless it as the Holy Eucharist and touched it to Ichigo's forehead. The orangette screamed in pain as the Eucharist burned his skin and Urahara removed it, relieved upon seeing Ichigo shudder as his fangs receded completely into his gums and then curl into himself, shivering terribly.
"No!" Urahara commanded the demonic voices filling the air, snatching a torch and walking around he and Ichigo lighting a ring of fire on the ground . "We're safe within the circle. I will not lose you to him. Disciples of Satan, this is holy ground! Leave this place now! Leave this ground. I command you, in the name of Christ!"
Cackling malevolently, the voices faded from their presence and he lowered himself to kneel beside the prostrate Ichigo. Clasping the boy's shoulders, Urahara lifted him from the snow and glanced at the bright red mark left on his forehead. "Fear not, Ichigo, for we have not lost you yet. Sleep now, sleep... sleep," he said, moving his torch back and forth in front of dark amber orbs that rapidly dimmed as Ichigo fell fast asleep, slumping lifelessly in the professor's hold.
Later that night, yet another voice passed over them, this one not heard by the older man's ears because it was meant for the one curled on his side in his immense white cloak.
"My love... my Ichigo... forever..."
The Next Day
Dracula had outsmarted them yet again, as they had learned last evening that his gypsies had taken charge of the vampire's box at Galatz and were now on the Borgo Pass road. Four of the demon's servants rode on either side of the covered wagon barrelling across the mountainside, two more driving the reined horses pulling it through the snow. Within the massive crate strapped securely with ropes under the wagon's cover was the mound of Romanian earth burying a ghostly white being up to his neck, his pale lips parting in a husky whisper.
"Ichigo... You and me..."
"My love," came the answer uttered in the castle's shadow, Ichigo rushing to the edge of his and the professor's camp site. Urahara quickly joined him, peer through his binoculars and spotting where the gypsies and their wagon sped along the road, four horsemen furiously chasing close behind. He allowed the anxious orangette to also look through them, frowning deeply.
"They're racing against the sunset," the man said. "It may be too late."
However, those four he spoke of were only spurred on faster as they were bathed in the dying sunlight, charging like fury itself across the mountain's ledge more determined than ever. Gaining in on the band of gypsies, Grimmjow led their storming rampage astride a jet black beast snorting visible puffs of air out its flaring nostrils. His lips curled in a permanent snarl, almost crazed azure orbs glowing savagely, and bloodthirsty aura struck terror into the hearts of those gypsies who looked back at him and realized their master was not the only one to be feared here.
Fast as lightning, the blue-haired hunter reached for and withdrew his revolver from its holster under his arm. Cocking it with a flick of his thumb, he pulled the trigger and barely paid attention to the gypsy who clutched his chest and was flung from his horse. At his left flank, Mugetsu, dark hair flying behind him, drew his own gun and sent a bullet tearing through another gypsy's neck in instant death.
Howling madly in battle lust, Kaien surged to the lead and twirled his pistol in his hand before picking off another fur-shrouded form. The castle now a minute away, Grimmjow bounded straight for the wagon alongside the brunette, Kon and Mugetsu staying back to continue shooting at their remaining enemies. They collided with two mounted gypsies each, the fiends attacking with curved scythes. Dodging the blade aimed at his throat, Grimmjow darted forward and slammed an elbow into his assailant's face, hearing a satisfying crunch upon impact. The gypsy's hands flying to his bloodied face, the blunette was free to grab the collar of a fur cloak and fling its owner over the mountain's edge, an uneven yell swiftly quieting to nothing.
Listening to the commotion outside, the white-haired immortal lying in his sacred earth was not concerned for he could sense his love growing closer every passing second.
At the castle's western side, Professor Urahara watched completely bewildered as Ichigo hurried across the campsite and climbed onto a ledge ten feet above the ground. He was certain it was Dracula who guided the youth in his actions, especially when Ichigo extended his right arm straight in front of him, palm facing outward, and started shouting in ancient Romanian. His exultant voice grew so loud his incantations echoed throughout the castle walls and pulsating rings of blue fire materialized soaring up into the sky. They disappeared within the clouds that immediately darkened and thickened menacingly, converging over the setting sun.
Even as this happened the now coverless wagon with its remaining gypsies and the four hunters streaked through the castle gates and burst into the courtyard. Two hidden gypsy men armed with shotguns leaping down after the hunting party. Kon sensed them approaching and instinctually shot over his shoulder, hitting one in the thigh so that he dropped to the snow, clutching his leg spraying blood at the wound. The iron barred gate then plunged to the ground, slamming shut.
Kaien unsheathed a long, thin blade out of his cane, fending off the incoming scythe a gypsy wielded below him on foot. The two other hunters decided to dismount, Mugetsu procuring a similarly designed sword he handled in his left hand while he used his pistol in his right and with a gypsy clashed blades.
To the west of the battle in the courtyard, Professor Urahara sprinted after a senselessly running orangette whose feet carried him as if he glided above the stone ruins and snowy ground, ivory cloak flying back in the air like wings. His heart aching due to his love calling him, that voice itself a force of nature, Ichigo felt like he was dying every moment they were apart. He raced around the castle as fast he could all the way to the courtyard entrance.
With a sob of frustration he threw himself against the iron bars of the gate barring him from entering, spying where his love rested safely inside the crate in the very center of the space, but for how long, he didn't know. There were still minutes before the sun finally set. As he tried desperately to think of another way inside, he somehow sensed a malicious presence at his back and whirled around.
Ichigo relished the pure shock in the gypsy's eyes when instead of cowering fearfully upon staring directly into the barrel of a shotgun, he wrested the weapon out of the other's hands and brutally swung it upside his head, knocking him out cold. Flipping it around so he held it properly, he almost ran into the professor who beckoned for Ichigo to quickly follow him.
Grimmjow advanced on where the crate was still roped to the wagon's platform several feet in the air in the exact center, armed with just a bowie knife he stalked ever closer. A wailing battle cry speeding towards him he cut short, slashing his lethal blade horizontally once it was right by his ear, slitting the gypsy's throat clear across, and then kicking him aside. However, not five seconds later he heard an agonized groan he instantly recognized, whipping his head to the left.
Astride his horse, Kon yelled wordlessly in rage and emptied an entire round of bullets into the gypsy whose dagger was embedded in Mugetsu's lower abdomen, the eldest brother hunched over and gripping the hilt pressed to his flesh. Finishing off his opponent with a slash of his cane sword, Kaien rushed to his two siblings and leapt off his horse as did Kon to tend to the wounded.
Knowing he didn't have any more precious time to waste, Grimmjow faced front again and charged toward the platform bearing the dragon imprinted crate. He vaulted up onto the surface, immediately hacking through the crate's bindings of thick, knotted ropes, shoving the separate pieces aside. From the left corner of the courtyard emerged Urahara and then a wild-eyed Ichigo, clutching the shotgun to his chest.
The sun set.
Shattering pieces of wood and earth explosively, Dracula rose like a dying star's final moment when they shine brighter than ever, gloriously dressed in shimmering ebony robes, frighteningly beautiful, and then it was over, the wooden stake plunged into his heart by Grimmjow's hand.
Ichigo's scream rang throughout the courtyard, the sound of truest pain, as Shirosaki roared monstrously, violently sending the blue-haired man sailing through the air so he landed on his back in the snow. Reddest blood flowing forth from his chest, the vampire staggered off of the platform, Ichigo not hesitating to rush to him. Grimmjow hurriedly got to his feet and started toward them but Urahara appeared before him, halting his trek by holding out a palm and he looked past the man.
Ichigo stood defensively in front of the wounded creature, shotgun raised at shoulder-level and aimed right at him. "When my time comes, will you do the same to me?" he demanded, voice quavering with great emotion though his expression was carved from stone. "Will you?"
Grimmjow didn't answer, just stared into those beloved eyes with everything he had and they only broke away when a thud sounded as Dracula slumped against the set of doors to the left, falling inside as they opened. Ichigo walked backwards the entire way to where the vampire waited for him, never lowering the barrel even as the door swung shut. Kaien and Kon moved to follow after their younger brother and Grimmjow held out an arm, stopping them. "Let them go. Our work is finished here," he ordered. "Ichigo's has just begun."
Past those doors, Shirosaki managed to stumble his way down an aisle before collapsing upon the steps leading up to an altar and Ichigo, hastening to his prince's side, realized bitterly they were in the chapel. He dropped to his knees to the left of Shirosaki, abandoning the shotgun and leaning over his love. Tears welled in his eyes and spilled over, streaking down his face.
"Where is my God? He has forsaken me," Shirosaki rasped and Ichigo grasped the wooden stake, trying to pull it free until an ivory, black-nailed hand lay over his. "It is... finished."
"No! No, my love..." he cried brokenly, bending down to press kisses on his prince's lips.
Divine, golden brilliance illuminated the chapel, lighting the candles, and the gash in the center of the ancient stone cross upon the altar healed itself, sealing over anew. "Our love is stronger than death," Shirosaki whispered, cradling the other's face. "Give me peace..."
His love strong enough to give him the strength he needed in that moment, Ichigo thrust the stake all the way down, piercing the heart straight through. He sobbed harshly as his prince's beautiful eyes rolled heavenward, angelic light beaming upon his precious face, and Ichigo's heart swelled with love as Shiro finally Ascended into paradise. Kissing him one last time, the orangette felt the burn on his forehead vanish and he realized that there, in the presence of God, their love had saved them all from the powers of darkness.
A breeze swept through the chapel, trailing over Shiro's lifeless body and turning it into glittering dust that swirled around Ichigo then up to the ceiling, causing him to look above and smile through his tears. The mural painted there was the one from the book, two lovers amongst the sun and the moon, together forever in the heavens, and it was then Ichigo knew love was not damnation.
Love was redemption.
Love was salvation.
Love was the life.
A/N: I have absolutely no idea what to say...