"If the World Should Break in Two"
Orihime was nervous.
Her throat was dry, her mouth felt like it was filled with cotton balls, and there was a churning in her upper stomach like heartburn, but weaker.
She'd had enough. She would finally draw the line and demand her answers. The young woman planted her feet in the white sand and refused to go any further.
"G-Grimmjow." She mentally cursed the stutter.
The tall Espada was only a few strides ahead of her, hands in his pockets and posture slumped and relaxed as he led the way. Even he, though, recognized her resolution for what it was, and he stopped. The Sexta did not turn around.
"Where are we going?" Her tone was plaintive, bordering on desperate but without the whine. It was killing her, he could tell. A moment passed as the tension whooshed between them, like the breeze across the dunes they'd just crossed.
He sighed, then kept walking.
Orihime could not help the tiny keen that began to escape from her throat as she started after him, certain that she'd again missed an opportunity to gain insight into this severe man's head. She cut off the noise immediately, however, when he suddenly spoke.
"They're called the Negal Ruins."
The young woman sucked in a surprised breath then scrambled on her feet to catch up to him. Once she was alongside the tall Arrancar, she looked up into his face, eyes wide with unbridled, childlike curiosity. He was more used to her skirting his intense gaze, and the imploring openness in her expression and her undivided attention made him somewhat uncomfortable. They walked on, step-in-step.
She clearly expected him to say more. He magnanimously decided not to disappoint.
"It's the original seat of power here in Hueco Mundo. Barragan held his court there, like every Hollow king before him." His voice lowered dangerously. "Everyone before Aizen."
He cast his human companion a glance and let his lips quirk in amusement at her silent, engrossed look. He was almost glad he'd dragged the mystery out for so long; her eyes were practically glittery in their wonder. It was so comical, it bordered on creepy, so he didn't maintain eye contact for too long. She was waiting for more, and Grimmjow was suddenly pleased to deliver.
"Legend says that there's a 'gate' hidden there, somewhere in the ruins of the palace. It's a gate that would allow the King to travel anywhere in this world in an instant, just by walking through." He gave the girl a pointed look, wondering if she had caught on yet. "The King could rule to the far corners of Hueco Mundo, all from this throne, because no place was hidden from his reach." He watched as the cogs turned behind her curious eyes. His instincts insisted that this girl was much smarter than she let on, and he felt a minor victory when she proved him right in the next moment.
"We could use it to get back into Las Noches, and Aizen would be none-the-wiser," she said slowly, hesitantly. He enjoyed the way her brows furrowed daintily as he observed the idea light up her face like a struck match. "We could… We could destroy the Hougyoku, all while he thinks we're somewhere in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles away. Couldn't we?" He complimented her skills of deduction.
"Well, looks like you're not all tits, after all. Good job, Princess." He grinned at the way the blush flared on her face as the crude compliment twisted it into a grimace. Fighting down her own reaction, she continued.
"Sooo… how far is this place?" she asked, quite reasonably. Orihime cringed when the Arrancar popped his neck before responding.
"Let's just say we're going to be walking for a while." She felt slightly queasy at the prospect, then brightened.
"It'll be like a road trip!" she exclaimed, straightening up and clasping her hands behind her back. Her eyes squinted as she smiled up at him bravely. One of Grimmjow's brows arched at her audacity, wondering both how she could catapult from one emotion to another so freely – and why she was trying to feign normalcy with him at all.
"Sure," he responded with disinterest.
Orihime adjusted the strap of her rucksack on her shoulder and plodded along next to him.
As much as he hated useless banter, he found there was something unnatural about silence when she was around. He was almost relieved, then, when she spoke up again, initiating the most one-sided, pointless conversation he'd ever been a part of.
She made mention of anything and everything, from the unusual, barren scenery around them to the perpetual nighttime, to the doom-and-gloom of her former Espada captor, Ulquiorra, to her favorite subject in school. He found his own amusement in sometimes trying to figure out how she jumped from one topic to the next, rarely finding anything in common between her seemingly random thoughts.
Then she brought up Kurosaki.
His effortless amusement turned into a stormy glower almost immediately, his aggravation practically instantaneous at the mere mention of the teenaged boy's name. He'd almost forgotten about that brat, what with everything else going on. Orihime continued on in oblivion.
"You know, his family runs a clinic. I've thought once or twice about asking for a part-time position there, what with all the healing and stuff I can do. I mean, I know my passion lies in all things food – heh – but it would be a waste not to help people with the gifts I have, right? That, and I could spend time with Kurosaki-kun after school and it wouldn't be weird at all!" she ended the thought with a warm smile and rosy cheeks. Clearly the idea pleased her a great deal.
"Why the fuck would you want to spend more time than necessary with that worthless crotch stain?" Grimmjow snarled. Drawn out of her comfortable fantasy, Orihime looked up at her companion in shock. Wisely treading cautiously around his dramatic change in disposition, she asked a tentative question as she eyeballed him uneasily.
"W-well… Kurosaki-kun is my friend." Then, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, but because she needed the clarification, she risked a question. "Do you… not like Kurosaki-kun, Grimmjow?"
Just the sound of the boy's name put a foul taste in the Espada's mouth, but as he looked down at the girl fidgeting uncomfortably beside him, he realized how impossible it would be for her to understand. Theirs was a warrior's rivalry, cultivated by little more than the knowledge that there was someone out there who was so similar and yet so different, and that the outcome of their battles was never determined by physical strength or tactical prowess or even the strength of their resolve, but instead by random, infuriating interferences every. Single. Time. He hated the arrogance with which this boy fought, safe in his knowledge that his cause was righteous and that his friends were forever supportive and under the impression that these were the reasons he had survived his encounters with the Sexta Espada. Grimmjow, in contrast, was certain it was really nothing more than sheer dumb luck.
Nothing pissed the blue-haired Arrancar off more than weaker opponents deluded into believing that they could ever best him. The fantasy didn't work out too well for Luppi, after all.
Grimmjow ran two fingers lightly over the massive scar that peeked out from the top of his jacket and over the left side of his collarbone. "Let's just say he owes me a rematch. And I owe him a good, decent ass-kicking."
Orihime's eyes traced his fingers' movements silently and observantly, never acknowledging his own glare. The gaze was almost sad, he found as she continued her quiet stare, and he was unnerved by how her large gray eyes stayed on his scar. He did not really know what he expected her to say, but he realized he felt almost… nervous under her examination.
So used to her vapid, flighty, air-headedness as he'd become, he was suddenly on the receiving end of the most insightful look he'd been given since meeting Aizen for the first time, and it made the hair on his arms stand on end. He felt stripped bare by this little girl's sad, soulful, ancient eyes, and he realized just then by this look alone how worthy she truly may be of her godlike power.
His hand dropped to his side, and the two continued walking in silence. Orihime's gaze returned to the sand before them, the quiet between the pair finally natural as she was overcome by thoughts that Grimmjow was not privy to.
It seemed this young human that he'd allied himself to carried more demons than the ones Las Noches had burdened her with. He made a vague sound of interest under his breath, heard only by himself.
Perhaps, one day, he'd ask her about them.
They walked on into the night.