"As Lost as I Get..."
It was rare for Orihime to catch the Espada in slumber. Usually, she would be the first to succumb to the lure of the dream world, and she expected that he drifted off only after she was sound asleep.
But as she ascended the stone steps, she took notice of his blue-crowned head, chin tucked comfortably against his chest while his arms wrapped possessively around Pantera. He was propped against a column, clearly strategically seated so that he might see an incoming threat from all directions.
Or, she observed, so that he could watch over her as she explored the grounds.
Smiling softly, she neared quietly, eyes locked thoughtfully on his neutral face. His thick blue eyelashes, darker than the hair atop his head, fanned over the teal markings under his eyes, and Orihime couldn't help but note once again, pointlessly, that the two colors clashed terribly. His bony mask was locked in a permanent snarl, but the left side of his face was smooth, barely a trace of the lines that could mark his age had he been alive. She wondered how old he must have been when he died. There was no trace of stubble on his marble cheek, and she figured that perhaps Hollows' hair never changed. She never saw him do anything as mundane as shaving, after all, although she would have found it as fascinating as watching him brush his teeth.
His chest was still as she approached, and she thought with some sadness that he didn't need to breathe. Nearly upon him now, she neatly folded her legs and squatted next to him, fascinated by the Arrancar's rare state. Yesterday’s injury was nothing more than a nightmarish memory, fading into her compartmentalized past along with Yammy’s backhand and her brother’s bite.
Her eyes skimmed all over his features, drinking him in this way in case she wouldn't be able to again. Here, like this, she didn't think he was an angel or a demon, but instead a human man with a hole in his heart and a hunger in his soul.
She watched, and she wondered.
"You'd better not be thinking about touching my face," Grimmjow growled, voice heavy with lethargy.
Orihime squeaked and started backpedaling, only to immediately fall on her backside in an ungraceful heap. "Eh?! I-… I thought you were sleeping!"
One eye cracked open, the electrifying blue of his iris shocking Orihime with some embarrassment at being caught staring so brazenly. "I hear pictures last longer," he said. She flushed at being teased. He’s probably never even seen a camera! Dumb… old… old guy!
"I thought you were sleeping," she repeated. "Sorry," she mumbled.
Grimmjow shifted, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his knees as he eyed the flustered girl. She heard his joints pop and regretted waking him.
"The dead don't need to sleep, stupid."
Orihime froze, shocked. "What?" she asked dumbly. "But… I thought… all those times!"
Grimmjow cracked his neck, making her wince at the noise. "It's a nice-to-have, not a necessity. I can get tired, like if I'm running all over the place saving your ass. But sleep?" He shrugged his shoulders as he rubbed a hand along his neck. "There's no point in it for the dead."
And as her eyes followed the graceful physicality of his waking routine, Orihime couldn't help but just accept it, as she did so many things, because in the end…
It made a lot of sense.
Orihime was amazed by the number of lesser Hollows that seemed to flock to them as the days passed. Most recently, a tiny toad Hollow had made its home on a perch atop her shoulder. Having determined it to be – surprisingly – harmless, she began taking it with her everywhere, much to her Arrancar’s annoyance.
When Grimmjow neared to look at it closely, she couldn't help but blush at his proximity. The handsome maskless side of his face was inches from her own as he frowned at the tiny amphibian.
"You know, you really need to stop bringing home all these strays- Gah! Mother-… Fucker!" He held one hand over his eye and scrambled backward as the little Hollow retracted its long black tongue, the sticky appendage returning with a pop! into its toothless mouth.
Orihime covered her snorting laughter with both hands, tears collecting at the corners of her eyes. The toad croaked innocently. Grimmjow stormed away, potent curses spilling from his lips as his hand covered his face.
Grimmjow wondered once if the endless night affected her. He vaguely remembered a time, foggy like a dream, when his sunkissed living flesh would thrive on a dose of the sun's radiant warmth and a warm breeze laced with salt.
Then, one day, as his eyes reflected the golden glow of her Souten Kisshun wrapped softly around a minor injury he'd sustained, he took back the thought.
She was the sun.
"I'm gonna kill you, you little beast," Grimmjow threatened as he stalked up to the little toad, alone while the girl left to bathe. It did not budge an inch as he made his predatory approach, murder on his mind. Its vacuous, bulbous gaze blinked at him through elliptical pupils.
He slowly reached out a powerful hand, fingers curled like claws promising carnage.
"Grimmjow, stop!" The former Espada's shoulders hunched guiltily in reaction to the girl's voice, caught red-handed inches from his enemy.
The toad Hollow hopped to Orihime's side.
"Poor Gama-kun. Is Grimmjow being a bully?" The little beast croaked again, as if in response. She bent to pick it up, hair damp and assets nearly spilling out of her tube top. Grimmjow made a noise off to the side.
"Suck-up," he mumbled under his breath, arms crossed as petulance replaced guilt.
Orihime glared at the Arrancar before whirling away and back into the adjacent chamber, the toad gathered in her arms protectively. Grimmjow put on a pout, the expression soured by his trademark scowl.
Bawabawa whispered something to Dondochakka before returning to the hive in his mouth with a burst of flashy light. Then, like a game of telephone, the Tiki-faced Arrancar leaned over to speak to Pesche, who then bent over to whisper into Nel's tiny ear.
"Itsyugo," whined the little girl, something serious in her infantile tone as it echoed in this empty chamber of Las Noches.
"What?" barked the orange-haired boy at the little Arrancar as she climbed up his hakama to her perch on his shoulder. She raised a pudgy hand to his ear as if to tell him a secret.
"The pwincess is in anudder castle."
Tsubaki blasted through a series of columns in the ruined courtyard, completely eradicating all the stone within his circular path of destruction.
The toad Hollow seemed to have found a permanent home on Orihime's left shoulder, so her offensive fairy alighted on the sleeve pouf of her opposite side.
"I got through six more than yesterday," her tiny, black-garbed partner remarked happily. "We're getting better at this." Orihime nodded enthusiastically. The toad croaked at nearly being unseated.
"Not bad, pipsqueak," came a familiar voice from the sidelines, catching all three unawares. Orihime turned to see Grimmjow leaning casually against a column, sharp eyes on her one Shun Shun Rikka. "I expect you to get through five more tomorrow."
Tsubaki gave him the finger. Grimmjow merely smirked, then turned to leave again.
"So… why 'king'? Wouldn't that be a ton of work?"
Grimmjow looked down and out of the corner of his eye at her as he contemplated the question, picking something out of his teeth with his pinky finger.
"Have you always been an underachiever, or is this a rhetorical question?" he asked while he examined imaginary food under his nail.
Orihime blushed and turned away, grumbling under her breath.
Ignoring the din of the monsters all around then, Grimmjow looked out across the churning crowds, face stoic and eyes glinting with his well-concealed excitement. Now this was an army. Then, he glanced down at the base of the rubble pile he stood upon and at his trump card.
She was already looking at him, and when he met her slate eyes he finally allowed a tiny smile. She was, after all, the reason this was happening at all.
If Tsubaki was the headstrong one of the bunch, then Lily was the conniving one, Grimmjow noted.
Orihime had been practicing her Santen Kesshun, effectively blocking a full-power attack by one of the Adjuchas-level Hollows that had recently joined their group. The Arrancar had been supervising their skirmish critically, both gauging the girl's progress and ensuring her safety against her somewhat unpredictable opponent.
The battle over, he watched as the triangle of her shield disintegrated, two of the corners flying directly back to their places in her hairpins. One of the fairies, though, diverted.
His vision was filled with bright sunglasses and pink hair as the tiny woman flew right up to his face. He recoiled at her unexpected approach, almost cross-eyed.
"She's getting good at this, isn't she?" said the little fairy. He didn't like the way she was waggling her eyebrows at him.
"Go away," he said with a grunt. He waved his hand in front of his face, but she merely dodged it.
"Aw. You're no fun," she said with a pout. "I really don't get what she sees in you. Besides the fact that you're hot."
Grimmjow sputtered. "What the fuck is wrong with you? Get out of my face." He swatted ineffectually at the fairy again.
"She deserves way better than you, you know. She's pretty, smart, funny, and has, like, that Ichigo kid wrapped around her little finger," she said loudly, counting items off on her digits. Grimmjow didn't have to know she was stretching the bit about Kurosaki-kun.
"That's enough," he growled, having finally reached the limit of his patience. That comment about Kurosaki was the last straw. He didn't want to hear that; it was bad enough that Orihime used to go all starry-eyed at the mere mention of his name. He didn't need to think that the boy might have felt the same way.
Lily crossed her arms and harrumphed in his face. "Just remember that next time you're thinking about ravishing her, hmm?" Grimmjow nearly choked again, and he was ready to smack the fairy out of the air. Unfortunately for his timing, she used that moment to wink at him and vanish, returning to her home in Orihime's hairpins.
Grimmjow had to adjust his focus for a second time when the disappearing fairy revealed an inquisitive human girl, her slate eyes blinking curiously at the Arrancar. He made an unbecoming, helpless noise at her proximity.
"Sorry if she was bothering you. She can be a little ridiculous sometimes," she said with some embarrassment, unaware of the nature of their conversation. "Is... Is everything okay?" she asked with a concerned glance. Is he... blushing?
Sure enough, the color stood out particularly well against the teal of the markings under his eyes, and Orihime couldn't believe her own.
She didn't have long to admire the uncharacteristic response when he turned away from her, mumbling something unintelligible under his breath and escaping quickly."...Huh," was all she could manage to say.