When Grimmjow left Orihime, it was to hunt the presumptuous Adjuchas that she had stopped him from killing.
While he vaguely appreciated her attempt to sway the masses to his cause, she simply did not understand the more basic of laws of this land. Hueco Mundo was a Wild West, a dog-eat-dog, eat or be eaten sort of world. The Hollows may have marveled at her extraordinary powers, but it was still the simple, brutal assertion of strength that would cement their loyalty in the end, Grimmjow knew.
He ignored the chaotic sounds of madness all around him as his slaughter upended the Adjuchas’ pack hierarchy. As his bare hands ripped through flesh and incinerated with Ceros fired in short bursts, he bared his teeth in a wild grin, his eyes alight with bloodlust. He was clearly the new Alpha here, and these now-leaderless fools would come crawling to him and the girl in a few days at maximum.
They'd be the first. The rest would follow.
He later reflected on these thoughts as he cleaned his bloodstained sword, high up in the rafters above the unaware human girl's head. He studied the woman out of the corner of his eye, always curious. Always watching.
She had discovered the remains of some old aqueducts that ran through the ruined palace. While little more than a trough, the water was cold and clean, and far more than she'd seen since they'd left Las Noches.
Orihime had removed the short jacket covering the upper part of her dress, baring her slender shoulders to the chilly air. It was the most she'd take off here; she still didn't know what would come leaping out of the shadows at any minute. If her own ally was so unpredictable, then who was telling what else could surprise her.
Grimmjow watched as she gathered her plentiful hair over one shoulder and down her front, the elegant curve of her neck bared for his greedy eyes. She collected some of the sparkling water in her cupped hands and splashed her face, washing away some of the grime from the desert and freshening herself for the first time in days. Her relief was palpable, although she had no idea she had an audience.
When she was done, she shook out her jacket and folded it neatly, laying it next to her small satchel of random objects. Pulling out a crust of hard bread, she munched on it absently as she slowly took in her surroundings with tired eyes.
There was that look again, Grimmjow noted to himself.
Her graphite gaze took in the high-ceilinged room with an ancient weight that had the Espada itching to learn more. He recognized some time ago that she was far more intelligent than he’d given her credit for at the outset. Her personality was an extraordinary curiosity, and her quirks sometimes overshadowed what he was quickly realizing was a shrewd mind. She was beautiful, he easily admitted to himself as he slowly sheathed Pantera, but this look of hers also spoke of a deeply ingrained wisdom that he rarely witnessed from her, wont as she was to shove rainbows and kittens down his throat. He shuddered.
Orihime reacted with a start when Grimmjow landed next to her from out of nowhere. His stare was aloof, and she actually recognized the look that always preceded questioning from him. He liked to pretend to be less interested than he really was, she thought with cautious amusement. Cautious, because the girl still hadn't forgotten his earlier trespass against her person. She waited patiently for the inquiry to begin, eyes warm and waiting.
"What's your story, chick?"
The girl tilted her head to the side curiously. "My… story? What story?"
She watched as he lay his bloodthirsty Zanpakutou – safely sheathed in its scabbard – on the floor before taking a seat on the bare stones himself. He sat with his legs spread in front of him, knees slightly bent and forearms resting atop them.
Orihime shifted uncomfortably under the weight of his new stare, suddenly the focus of his undivided attention. His eye color was so intense, and she always found it difficult to maintain contact. "Urk..."
"How exactly did you come about your powers? Were you born with fairies flying out of your ass, or did you grow into that habit?" He asked the question loudly, asserting a rather nonchalant mood while still making it evident that she held sole ownership of his curiosity. Orihime was cautiously optimistic that this conversation would not end with her having to readjust her wardrobe.
"The fairies don't fly out of... My butt," she corrected with a tinge of annoyance, "they fly out of my hairpins."
"Oh, yeah, that's way more badass," he said, rolling his eyes for emphasis and waving a hand in dismissal.
Orihime pouted. "They mean a lot to me. They were a gift from..." She trailed off, realizing she was about to reveal a great deal about herself to this man. Did she trust him enough to divulge such intimate details of her past? Had he earned any right to know?
"From...?" he prompted.
Her face was schooled in an uncharacteristic mask of expressionlessness. Even her lips felt numb, and he noted that she wasn’t nibbling on them with her teeth the way she usually did when she was thinking.
"My brother," she said quietly. Then, after a pause, "He died."
The Arrancar was silent, letting her decide whether she wanted to say more.
"Then he turned into a Hollow and tried to kill me," she told him bluntly. Grimmjow's brow spiked at the quick admission.
"Eh?” he said, dragging out the vowel. “Seriously?" The young woman merely nodded.
"Then he remembered me, and released himself from his curse. He stabbed himself with Kurosaki-kun's Zanpakutou and freed his soul."
For once, Grimmjow did not linger on the mention of his rival's name. His eyes were wide as he listened intently. Well. Seems like the princess isn't all sugar and spice after all.
He leaned back, threading his fingers behind his head, pretending to withdraw some of his attention else she believed him to actually be interested. "Bet Mommy and Daddy shit bricks when that happened." The girl merely blinked at him.
"I don't remember my mom and dad. Oniichan got us out of there when he turned eighteen and I was three; they weren't very good people," she explained as calmly as if she was updating Grimmjow on the weather forecast.
You're kidding. This was getting ridiculous. "So who the hell do you live with? Some wicked stepmother or something?" He wasn't actually expecting a sob story when he'd thought to ask. He figured perhaps the most tragedy she'd experienced in her life was a dying goldfish or something. This was much, even for him.
"I live by myself, of course," she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I have a distant aunt that sends me stipends, but that's really only as long as I keep my grades up. She's not very nice, either, to tell the truth." Grimmjow merely gaped at the girl.
"How are you living alone? Aren't you, like, twelve?" That was weak, the Hollow scolded himself. She definitely wasn't twelve, he thought as he eyed her chest straining against the white fabric of her dress' tube top. No child could have assets like that. He turned innocently toward the ceiling before Orihime could catch him staring.
"I am not twelve, thank-you-very-much," she confirmed, somewhat insulted. She stuck her nose in the air and crossed her arms defiantly across her front, missing the way his eyes darted back down to track the motion. "I'm sixteen years old."
“Huh. Noted.” His voice deepened with those two words, and Orihime felt her cheeks tingle. She ignored the feeling though, certain that any implications were merely being fabricated by her own imagination.
Grimmjow knew he could no longer dismiss the experiences in her short life. He wondered if his own forgotten lifetime contained even half as much tragedy, certain as he was that he had died older than her current age. And now, here they were, forcing the horrors of the afterlife into the mix. Poor girl… He'd feel sorry for her, if only the emotion resonated with him at all.
How in the world did she maintain such a positive outlook? She was certainly entitled to wallow in her misery, but instead she always tried to own her circumstances with sunshine and magic healing powers and… Hold on.
"Waitaminnute, you still haven't answered my question, you know. How the hell did you get your powers?" he reminded her, his voice animated.
Orihime liked the conversational nature of his tone and ventured to risk annoying him with a question of her own. "Nuh-uh, you got some backstory. Now it's my turn," she demanded, her voice soft but playful. Grimmjow tensed.
"What about you?" she asked curiously. The former Sexta Espada tensed and frowned warningly at her. Here she went again, trying to pry dangerously into his past. Didn't she ever learn? His lighthearted attitude was teetering precariously on the precipice of another mood swing.
"How do you keep your teeth so white? Even the ones on your mask are clean!"
Silence followed her question.
Grimmjow was not often at a loss for words. He was for once, though, left with his mouth slightly ajar as his jaw hung somewhat loosely.
Well... That wasn't what he had been expecting at all. He gave the girl a shred more credit. It seemed she could be a better student of his reactions than he'd suspected.
He regained his composure immediately. Keeping the conversation light, he continued what had become his unspoken apology. He was still conflicted over his earlier manhandling of the girl.
With a predatory glint in his eye, he answered her. "I chew on the bones of my prey. The habit just happens to maintain my dental hygiene," he growled, his graphic wording softened by the almost seductive way he said it.
Orihime felt ill at his admission, despite the way his voice made her want to curl her toes with an unfamiliar sensation. That was… gross, but gosh, did he make it sound good. A rosy pink dusted her cheeks as she raised her eyes to meet his own.
He was teasing her, she realized by the look he was giving her. Her own lips quirked up in amusement as her blush washed away. "You're such a liar," she accused with a laugh. As his grin spread across his face, she reached over and playfully swatted at his leg nearest hers.
The action had been natural, she thought with some fright after it had happened, and it was too late to take it back. Her heart stilled in her chest and her mouth suddenly went dry as she looked back up into his face, eyes wide like saucers in her own. I shouldn't have done that.
But he had turned away from her to look elsewhere, evidently deep in thought. She was presented with his profile, free of the bony obstruction that adorned his other cheek. There was nothing to show that he'd even noticed her contact.
Here, in the dancing torchlit glow of the medium-sized chamber, he looked almost human. The eerie moonlight illuminated what the soft flames did not, and his unrealistic hair almost passed for dirty blonde. He sat here with her, all friendly banter and listening ears and normalcy. It was almost like there was no Las Noches, no Seireitei, no Shinigami and Aizen and Hougyoku, but instead just a young man and woman enjoying one another’s company. Not for the first time, Orihime wondered what Grimmjow was like as a living man as her gaze softened on him. Had he been anything like this? She thought she might have grown to truly like a person like that.
Yet despite the fact that she was finally enjoying his company again, and she had so much still to learn about this man, she recognized this excellent stopping point for what it was. It was about time they ended an encounter on a high note again, after all. No more strangling for her, no thank you.
"I think I'm going to turn in. It's been an… eventful day," she declared with a long sigh.
Grimmjow snapped out of his reverie to acknowledge her again, a soft "Hm?" in his throat. "Right," he said when he'd processed her words and stood to leave. Then, not one to miss the opportunity to take a jab, "You needy humans and your habit of sleeping." It was a weak attempt at continuing his earlier teasing, but she smiled slightly at the effort.
"Goodnight, Grimmjow," she said softly, dismissing him whether he realized it or not.
He paused in the doorway before stepping all the way out, and she wondered if he would return the farewell this time.
He departed, and the silent shadows swallowed him as one of their own.Orihime sighed before rolling over and falling asleep.