"Holding on to When"
She didn't realize the desert would be so cold.
That was stupid of her, she thought in hindsight. Orihime's uniform, despite being long-sleeved, did not defend her very well against the chill.
"So what's it like out there in the big bad World?" Her head spun around at the unprompted question, and she turned to face her companion. She was trying to rub feeling back into her arms with her hands. They'd been trudging the coarse white sand together in silence for hours now, and she had not expected that to change on account of anyone's contribution but her own. He'd been studiously avoiding her questioning all this time after all.
Her tall Espada kept his gaze firmly locked on the dark horizon as his strides remained wide and measured. Orihime noticed with some surprise that his sleeves were rolled down and his jacket was partially zipped. She never suspected that the dead could get cold.
"What, you mean the world of the living?" She took his silence as confirmation. "Uhm… the same, I guess?" She had no idea how to answer the unusual question and hoped for some guidance.
Grimmjow snorted. His deep voice was dry with sarcasm as he responded. "Uh-huh. Because all those tall, blocky buildings really reminded me of the deserts here back home." He flashed her a sidelong glance, and she was grateful that his icy eyes remained on her for only a moment. "Your imagination practically shits rainbows and unicorns; I'm pretty sure you can give me a slightly more colorful description than that," he said sardonically.
Her cheeks puffed up in insult, but she rose to the challenge. Let him try to shut her up now. "Well, I mean Karakura's kind of suburbia, but it's sort of neat how you can't tell where it ends and the big city starts. They just sort of bleed into one another," she began, using his reference to the local architecture as a starting point. He had her motor running, and she was in her element. "Really, it's not until you start seeing the super-nice cars that you realize you're in the city at all! Although we've also got a really cute park where-…"
He cut her off with a question. "What's a 'car'?"
She stared wide-eyed at his departing back as he kept walking away, he unaware that Orihime had stopped in her tracks, jaw hanging. The Espada only turned around when he noted her silence, then he narrowed his eyes at how far back she had fallen. "Now what?" he asked, annoyed.
"It's a… it's this way we get around, and… it's metal, and…" She couldn't help the slightly shrill note her voice took at her next question. "Exactly how long have you been dead, Grimmjow?"
He raised his chin haughtily as he examined her through calculating eyes, judging whether there was any insult meant by her inquiry. Ultimately finding her question to be relatively harmless, he gave a languid blink and turned his head to the side lazily, shrugging his shoulders all in one movement. "I don't know… few hundred years?"
Her brain felt like someone was gently melting a slice of cheese onto it, oozing into the nooks and crannies and slowing down her faculties with this particular new bit of fascinating information. She had no idea why, but this intriguing new fact made her suddenly and inexplicably happy.
Thinking back on it, she was sure that some of her Shinigami friends must have been just as old. She was now disappointed in herself for never asking them such a question. She would rectify that error with the new friend before her.
"Didn't you see cars every time you were in the real world to hunt and haunt and just… generally wreak havoc?" she asked him. "They've been around for… well, over a hundred years, depending on the part of the world."
He made a clicking noise between his cheek and molars, then answered. "Tch, I haven't been back there regularly in a century. Menos-class Hollows can't survive long just feeding over there; there's not enough reiki to make it worth our while." As if in demonstration, he snapped off a crystal branch from one of the skeletal sapling trees scattered throughout the desert, holding it in his left hand and staring at it. Orihime watched as it simply dissolved under his heavy glare, the sparkling particles melting into his large hand. "The very air here is saturated with spiritual energy. Hueco Mundo is much more suited to support us than your shitty home."
"...Wow. I didn't know any of that," she told him honestly. There was so much about this world that she had yet to learn. She was still curious, though. "So... What era were you alive for?"
For the first time, she watched as he gave her somewhat of a deer-in-the-headlights look. It lasted a solid moment, until he raised his eyebrows and shrugged, the downturn of the corners of his lips exaggerated.
"Dunno, I guess."
Orihime was supremely dissatisfied with his answer.
"'Dunno,' as in you don't remember? Or 'Dunno,' as in none of my business?" she asked in a rare moment of shrewdness. He gave her a look, and she tried to defend herself. "I mean, ghosts become Hollows because of regrets and sins and all that stuff from life, right? Doesn't that... Doesn't that by default mean that you guys remember?"
The cold glower on his face had her hesitating by the end of her observation, but the dogs were loose, and there was no stopping her runaway mouth. That was so rude of me, she thought to herself. She wished she could take it back and shrunk at his dangerous look.
"So you're saying I should go out of my way to try to remember something as miserable as what got me here in the first place," he said slowly, condescendingly. "I'm pretty sure that after hundreds of years, I really don't give a shit." He didn't bother to hide the scathing patronization in his tone.
Properly chastised, Orihime ducked her head in embarrassment. "I'm sorry," she said in a small voice. "I guess it doesn't really matter after that long, does it?" She couldn't imagine he'd want to remember. His amnesia was probably a blessing.
The silence between the two reigned heavy and awkward for many minutes after that. She would occasionally steal glances at her companion, her spirits sinking and her stomach churning at the intense frown marring his features, clearly distracted by his own thoughts as they proceeded across the white desert. She felt awful.
What if she'd just inadvertently made him relive some centuries-buried unspeakable horror? She'd never forgive herself if that was the case.
The pressure was building as her guilt came to a rolling boil. She was ready to burst with an apology of some sort, gibberish though it may have become by the time it left her mouth. Before she could say anything, though, she was stymied by his next unexpected statement.
"So you never really answered my question."
Cut-off moments before her outburst, she raised her eyebrows in question and with mouth agape.
He looked at her with an annoyance that she was becoming accustomed to before he clarified.
"What's a car?"
And after a pause, Orihime couldn't stop the incredulous giggle from escaping her throat.
Monsters were all she'd seen since being brought here to Hueco Mundo, whether they were feeding her, beating her senseless, or threatening her psyche. But this monster before her was changing her perspective, little by little.
It was because of this unprompted fascination with the automobile that she realized, dead or not, Grimmjow really was indeed once a human…
…and once a human man.