Ichigo floated in the darkness for a long time. Glimmers of light floated with him, like lanterns drifting down a river.
Slowly, they coalesced. They weren’t— souls. Not really. Fractions of them. Facets. Glimmers of memories. They swirled together around him, buoying him along. The flitting memories that played about him danced along the lines of his outstretched fingers, settled firefly-shy on his nose, brushed smooth and glinting edges along his eyelashes.
It was… peaceful.
Although he never quite shook the feeling that he had something to do.
Eventually they gathered in a chittering cloud, and a sense of anticipation built in the star-strung cavity of his chest.
Until the gentle waters closed
The sparkling fractures of his soul followed him down, fae will ‘o wisps spiralling down through the endless water, motes of light teasing memories at his grasping fingers.
Oh, he thought without truly thinking at all, this is what’s supposed to happen.
And he let the soft, unrelenting tides pull him down.
Ichigo was born Raeliana of house McMillan. A soft woman, born into a nouveau riche family who loved her, both parents still alive (and oh how he basked in that) and a younger sister who was doted on by the three of them.
The only thorn in her side was… her fiancé. Francis Brooks, a man with no skills to speak of other than his ability to sniff out rich but weak women who would fall for his charms. In other words, Raeliana was the perfect victim for his crimes. If she hadn’t remembered everything in her past life, of course.
It didn’t really affect him, what pronouns the others around him used, and he’d been a giant murderous humanoid lizard before for Soul King’s sake, suddenly having breasts wasn’t exactly enough to faze him. So she was… content enough, she supposed to be addressed by and take on the she/her pronouns, although she knew that it bothered others much more, for reasons she could never quite name.
It pained her, the knowledge that she probably wasn’t even in her home dimension, that she likely wouldn’t ever see her Kisuke again. But she thought she might be able to handle it, if she could only shake the stubborn fool clinging to her like a weed, reminding her constantly of Kisuke. His soft smiles and cutting words, the way he would fake at modesty and cover his face with his face like a maiden. The way he would never lie to her, and would trust in her always, and back her in anything that she chose to do.
She let out a long sigh. This was, quite possibly, her last opportunity to shake the man before she would be forced to rely on less savoury means. Like blackmail.
“Duke Wynknight, may you be at peace in the hands of the goddess,” she said softly, bowing with a pleasant bend of her lips, “I am Raeliana McMillan, the daughter of Baron Johndein McMillan.”
There was a long pause, as Wynknight tilted his head in confusion and stared at her long and hard.
“… Ichigo?” he breathed, so softly she could barely hear it.
She felt her eyes go wide. “Kisuke?”
A genuine smile broke over his lips. “It is you, Ichigo.”
Damn that tosser.
She snatched up Kisuke’s hand and brought her other up to her face as if out of embarrassment.
“Marquess Brooks…. I must apologise to you. I found out that Noah and I share mutual feelings for each other.”
Her performance was a far cry from good – barely decent, even – but the soft, dopy smile that Kisuke gave her was more than enough to convince anyone in the vicinity.
She looked forward to seeing Kisuke again tomorrow.
“Duke Wynknight is waiting in the guest room,” a servant announced just outside her door.
She was nearly giddy with delight at finding Kisuke again, she fairly raced down the hall, chasing after those familiar barely-there, bloodied-water-glint-of-steel flashes of reiatsu.
“Kisuke!” she shouted, and didn’t hesitate a second to throw herself at him.
He dropped the bouquet with a laugh and caught her in a hug that smelt like sandalwood and tea.
“I’m so glad I found you again,” he whispered into her hair.
She buried her face into the crook of his neck. “Yeah,” Ichigo whispered back, “Me too.”
As soon as he got back home, Kisuke made a beeline for his study, and sat down at his desk, exhausted.
Adam followed him into the room with concern, his face unusually expressive and worried sighs dropping from his lips near-endlessly.
“It’s okay, Adam,” he told him, “Don’t worry. I’m just—I never expected to see Ichigo again.”
Awkwardly, Adam patted him on his shoulder. He couldn’t help his smile at the attempt at helping him. The poor boy was… so young. Too young.
Like Ichigo was. Is.
The helpless laughter clogged up in the back of his throat and turned into gasping, tearless sobs instead.
“Not okay,” Adam told him in that soft, quiet way of his.
He laughed a couple times. “You’re right,” he told him, patting his arm, “I’m not okay. I just—give me a couple minutes and I’ll be decent again.”
Adam nodded, and stood guard against the door to give him some privacy.
Kisuke had a very small, very fast breakdown. He let his breath stutter out of control, allowed his heartbeat to race unchecked, gripped his hair in a painful grip, and ground knuckles against his skull. Then he gathered the tattered remnants of his control together again and consciously laxed his grip, breathed deeply, fully, slowly. He smoothed the hair on his head and straightened his coat until he presentable again.
“I’m fine now, Adam,” he told the Alsasa.
Adam smiled at him, small and tentative but beautiful in his expressiveness.
He began to crunch the information he had. There was… so much to do.
“We’ll… need to prepare. Let’s go talk to Gidion, shall we?”
Adam’s face suddenly turned flat and sour.
Kisuke laughed. “I know, he’s very proud and long-winded, but we need to make preparations for Ichigo to come stay with us, don’t we? We’ll need to go talk to him about hiring tutors for marriage lessons anyways. Although with Ichigo’s smarts, I don’t think we’ll need them for long,” he said fondly.
Adam tilted his head.
He shook his head. “Never mind me rambling, you’ll see.”
Ichigo flopped down on the bed, exhausted. “Kisuke,” he whined, “Don’t tell me this bed is valuable as well.”
Laughter, then the chink of porcelain. “Don’t worry, it’s not.”
“Well that’s good then.” He paused, rolled over to face Kisuke. “Would you prefer it if I called you Noah?”
“Well, obviously you’d need to in public, but in private I don’t mind either way. What about pronouns for you? Would you prefer that I call you ‘he’ like in our previous life? Or the ‘she’ of your current body? Or—neither?”
He smiled softly at Kisuke’s babbling. “It’s fine, Kisuke. I don’t mind any of those. Although I think some days, I’ll lean more to one side than the others.”
Kisuke sighed. “Just let me know what I can do, okay?”
“Of course. Although… maybe some sword training to give me an excuse to wear pants? And bring my skills back up to par. And also so I won’t have to explain away Tensa and Zangetsu,” he blushed at the way he’d just blurted it all out one after the other, “And also… I’d like lighter dresses. Less restrictive ones. Ones I can fight or move in. The ones I have aren’t—bad, necessarily. And they’re really gorgeous. I love them but— I’m just— not used to them.”
“Only that?” Kisuke asked, smile ringing clear in his voice, “That’s easy, Ichigo. I’ll arrange for sword training to happen during the afternoon and move the etiquette and such lessons to the mornings. We won’t be able to blaze through them as fast, but I think you’ll be able to grade out of them quickly enough anyways.”
“Will you be teaching me?” As always, hovered in the air between them.
“No,” Kisuke bit out, “I would like to, but unfortunately this kind of thing isn’t exactly taught to us princes. Not to mention if my dear Benihime had any kind of hand in any of this you’d come out half-dead and knowing only Japanese etiquette and how to kill a man with fifty different types of undetectable poisons and a strand of hair.”
“That’s hardly a bad thing.”
Kisuke huffed out a little laugh. “One thing at a time, Ichigo.”
“Oh alright, I suppose,” he teased.
“You’ll be the death of me one of these days,” Kisuke said fondly, teacup raised to his lips to hide his hopelessly fond smile.
Did you hear? hissed the rumours Miss Raeliana, the one Duke Wynknight fell in love with? She’s taking swordsmanship lessons; can you believe that?
Oh I know, he must really love her to let her ruin herself like that and still can stand to kiss those filthy callused hands.
Well I heard that he lets her run around in pants like a man. How disgusting… how he can stand her I don’t know. If I had a fiancée like that I think I might kill her myself instead.
“My name is Nick Maddocks~~” the large man – or perhaps woman? Ichigo didn’t want to presume wrong – introduced themself, “Please call me Nick.”
“How should I address you, Nick?” she asked without batting an eye.
“Monsieur Nick,” Nick said with a gleeful smile, “I’ll turn you into the belle of the ball!”
“I’ll be in your care then, Monsieur Nick,” she said with a curtsey.
Her face was batted and dabbed and turned this way and that until she thought she would go dizzy. But when she was finally given a mirror to look into, it was all worth it. She was… beautiful. Achingly so in a way that she’d never been before in her previous life. It felt so much like a weight on her very soul she had never noticed before had been lifted. Like she’d never noticed a constant low-grade headache until it had disappeared.
She felt tears start to well up in her eyes and tried to blink them away. Nick fussed at her with a handkerchief and dabbed at her cheeks.
“Shh, shh, don’t cry too much, you’ll make your makeup run.”
She grabbed Nick’s spare hand. “Monsieur Nick,” she choked out, “Thank you so much. I feel—I feel so pretty like this.”
“Hey, hey, hey, darling, it’s okay,” Nick assured her gently, “Tomorrow, I’ll come over and teach you to use everything, how about that?”
Ichigo nodded through her tight throat. “Yeah. That’s—that’s good. Thank you, Nick.”
“Do you want to try on dresses now?” Nick asked her, still in that gentle voice.
She found she couldn’t pry her eyes from the mirror despite the teasing rustling of cloth behind her.
“It’s okay, take a minute. Breathe. We have enough time.”
She obeyed, breathing deep and repeating to herself the mantra that the woman in the mirror was her. That she was that gorgeous and beautiful and radiant.
“I’m ready now,” she told Nick, controlled and powerful and deadly hidden under beauty.
He smiled at her, like he could hear her thoughts. “I have just the dress for you.”
It was gold on black, the skirt opaque and covered in gold embroidery trailing around the skirt from the waist to the hem. The bodice was a thick black lace almost entirely covering the dark gold underneath and embroidered with more gold curling around her shoulders down to her wrists.
Nick her let pose and swish in view of the full-length mirror as he did up her hair with infinite patience. Her hair was so long, she almost told him to leave it out, to let it flow down her back and swish in her wake, but she trusted Nick to do the best for her. He understood.
His thick fingers brushed through her hair, sectioning it off then twisting the strands together, the heavy weight of her hair gathered at the back of her head and a ribbon twisted through.
“I’m beautiful,” she breathed.
“The most beautiful woman of the ball,” Nick assured her, and she felt tears threatening to break out again. He called her a woman, a lady, beautiful.
He wasn’t Kisuke, but it felt so good, to be acknowledged like that.
She tucked the sheathed folding sword into her thigh harness and the flare of her skirts hid the tell-tale protrusion wonderfully.
“What do you think, Sir Adam? How do I look?” Ichigo asked the guard as soon as she exited the room, high on euphoria.
He looked so stunned, and she allowed herself to giggle as she swept down the halls towards Kisuke’s office.
He glanced over and promptly dropped all the papers in his hands.
“I’m so pretty, aren’t I?”
He snatched up her hand and danced her around the office. “You’re gorgeous, my darling.”
She beamed at him. He was the best.
They made three rounds of the dancefloor and two of the political circles before Kisuke hesitated, a hand on her elbow and another fidgeting as if for his fan.
“Ichigo,” he said quietly, “can I ask of you a favour?”
She smiled at him. “Of course you can.”
“That woman over there, Pryse Eriteal, can you go talk to her? She’s the young wife of that old man, Marquess Eriteal. There’s a social circle amongst the wives of the old nobles, and I need in.”
“Only that?” she mimicked him, from a few days ago.
He snorted, but the smile made it one of amusement. “That’s right, you’re Ichigo Kurosaki and you have enough charisma to make anyone your friend, what was I thinking?”
“A fit of temporary insanity, surely.”
“Oh whatever shall I do? Married to a man going senile so early.”
His mock-offended look broke the both of them, and she fell into his chest giggling helplessly and felt him shake against her similarly.
She snagged two wine glasses off a passing waiter and raised them to him challengingly.
“Just watch me, Kisuke.”
Ichigo bared her teeth at Vivian Shamal. “My Lady Vivian, surely you must have purchased the most recent skincare products? I can’t help but notice that you may have… wilted lately. Has His Majesty not been taking care of you recently?”
Gleefully she took note of the throbbing vein on Shamal’s forehead. “Oh, Lady Vivian, you’re looking a little under the weather, are you sure you don’t need a room?”
“I will be quite fine, thank you for your concern, Miss McMillan,” Shamal ground out through gritted teeth, then sighed, all put-upon disappointment, “I’ve heard so much praise about you, but it seems you lack manners as well as station and elegance. Allow me to teach you properly as your senior.”
“Oh surely not Lady Vivian, after all I’m sure you have so many other… things, to be… doing. And I have wonderful tutors, that I’m sure will be able to educate me properly in topics that Lady Vivian might not be as learned in.”
She felt Pryse huddle closer to her, and decided it was long past time to end this. “Lady Vivian, if you will excuse Lady Pryse and myself, we both need to clean up. Unless you would like to repay our ruined dresses…?”
Shamal looked like she was one wrong word away from flaming up entirely, but the threat held her in check. How awful would it look for Vivian Shamal who so ardently chased after Duke Wynknight to pay reparations to his new fiancée less than a day into their engagement, after all?
Ichigo privately admitted she thought it would be rather delicious, and then moved on.
“Lady Pryse, shall we go clean up?”
“Yes,” she agreed quietly with a nod.
Kisuke calmed his nerves and let the conversation flow over him. The minister was unimportant, but easy to keep in a good relationship with, he just needed to nod and smile at the right places and pretend he cared about his policies. Ichigo had been gone from the room unusually long, but she was probably just lagging behind on her way back and making friends with Pryse, he assured himself. Ichigo was more than capable of looking after herself.
The Ansley came charging into the room and he was all but dragged to the side and Ichigo was gone. He knew his eyes turned flat and cold, and the familiar bloodlust had settled around his shoulders like an old friend, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“Ansley,” he said without any inflection, “We’ll talk about this later.”
He was racing for the door in the next moment, Adam at his shoulder. Horses were waiting for them at the stables and he reigned in the urge to step into shunpo.
Ichigo’s reiatsu, familiar as the night sky, flared wide and open and teethed in Hollow jaws. He all but threw himself onto the nearest horse and charged for the direction he had felt her from, following her spirit ribbon, pulsing between his fingers.
She woke up hazily. Her mind was fuzzy and her limbs heavy. A kidnapping, no doubt by that utter fool, Brooks.
She shifted her leg slightly. He’d even left her with her sword. How stupid.
She didn’t bother pretending to be asleep, just lay prone on the floor of the wooden hut, sword pressing reassuringly against her thigh.
“Hullo, miss,” a man crouched over her. “Don’t even try screaming, no one will hear you.”
She snorted. “I know how this thing goes. Can I at least get up?”
He shrugged. “Sure, I suppose. You need a hand?”
She braced herself against the floor, then swept one foot around, spinning to her feet as she knocked him down. In another fluid motion, she pulled out her sword and held it at his throat and delicately positioned the heel of her stilettos over his crotch.
“Sorry, but I’m less lady than you expected,” she told him with a smile she had learned at the knee of Unohana. She tilted her head. “Or maybe more lady than you expected. Unohana and Benihime would have me believe that to be a lady is to be deadly in femininity.”
She relished in his terrified expression and flared her reiatsu explosively.
Outside, bird screeched and the thunderous cacophony of a thousand wings beating in frantic retreat drowned out racing footsteps.
Brook burst into the hut and flung himself at her.
Ichigo didn’t move her sword from the other man’s throat, just stretched her other hand out and manifested Zangetsu as a knife large enough to be a sword. Brook’s own momentum carried him straight into the blade, where it lodged in his stomach. She dropped Zangetsu, and with him, Brooks onto the ground.
“Now, now,” she said softly, “We wouldn’t want anyone to interrupt us while we wait for Kisuke would we?”
Kisuke burst into the hut half an hour later, Benihime in hand and a murderous expression on his face.
“Hey, Kisuke,” she greeted chirpily, still riding the high of drawing blood.
He laughed into his sigh. “Hey yourself, Ichigo.”
She moved her sword away from the man and leaned into Kisuke’s hug. “Brooks was going to marry me or kill me or both. Poor baby decided to mess with the wrong people.”
“Ichigo,” Kisuke warned, “You’re leaning into Zangetsu.”
She blinked, and the horn growing over her forehead that she hadn’t even noticed crumbled. “Oh,” she said in a hollow voice, “Did I do that?”
Kisuke sighed. “I’m afraid so, my dear.”
“Will he live?”
“He’s already bled out, my dear.”
“Will you let me handle this?”
“Can we just go home?”
“Let’s go home, Ichigo.”