"They've Got to Hate what they Fear"
Grimmjow's investigation was swift – and violent.
The interruption had been caused by a showcasing Adjuchas, proclaiming to challenge the strength of this rogue Espada in order to determine his worthiness.
Grimmjow, however, didn't give a flying fuck why he'd interrupted. All he knew was that there was hell to pay.
He took in the situation with quick judgement, determining that no, this moron was indeed not worth his time.
He simply obliterated the challenger. What was one less Adjuchas in his army when he could reinforce the subservience of the surviving onlookers by scaring them shitless?
That, and bloodlust was still lust, so it sure made him feel better.
The look on his face was cold and full of disregard as he stood over the disintegrating Hollow, the former Espada hardly breaking a sweat while dispatching him. Having been properly put into their places, the audience of formerly frenzied Hollows silently tucked tail and returned to the shadows in a decidedly anticlimactic fashion as they were effectively reminded of this powerful usurper's potential.
Grimmjow's expressionless face as he returned into the labyrinthine ruins hid the absolute tumult within his mind. His transit back toward the chamber where he left the girl passed in a blur, since all he could think of was his most recent kill… and the distracting feel of her lips on his own. They vied for dominance of his fractured soul, and he could not decide whether the destruction from moments prior was actually being ousted by these new and unfamiliar emotions evoked by Orihime.
His thoughts swirled impossibly in his head. It was why the scene waiting for him upon his return did not quite register at first.
He blinked twice before he dared ask a question.
"… the hell?"
The moment the words were out of his mouth, he was swarmed.
"It's him!" exclaimed Lily as she flew in thrilled circles around the Arrancar. He recoiled, but could not avoid the other four who were joining her in her frenzy. He looked over at Orihime to tell her to call off her little bugs, but his words sputtered at the sight of her own condition.
"Owww! Stop! Tsu-ba-kiii… that hurts!"
The corners of Grimmjow's lips tightened, mostly so that his amusement could not escape into his expression. He ignored Ayame's fiery blush and Shun'ō's knowing grin in favor of rolling his eyes at Tsubaki, who was simultaneously pulling Orihime's hair at the roots while bracing himself with a foot on her face. He was snarling something at her, and she looked like she needed to be rescued.
Moving through the cloud of his own fairies, he brushed past them to approach the human. When he reached her, he used his thumb and middle finger to catch Tsubaki by his wings, and the tiny man exploded with curses. Grimmjow lifted the thrashing fairy to his face and glowered at him.
"Scram, pipsqueak. Take your tribe with you, while you're at it."
"I told you I'd kill you if you so much as touched her, you bastard!" He swung wildly. "Come here and fight me like a man!" he spat.
Grimmjow sneered at his little challenger, but was suddenly struck by a brilliant idea. Turning to look back at the tiny crowd he had earlier tried to ignore, he raised his eyebrows pointedly, and his message came across loud and clear.
The other five fairies sprang into action, zooming forward and taking custody of the most furious member of their family. A short-lived but nevertheless epic struggle managed to subdue their sibling. With a last exuberant wink on Lily's part, the six Shun Shun Rikka vanished in a flash of light and returned to the hairpins near Orihime's temples.
"Mind sharing what the hell that was all about?" he finally asked the frazzled woman before him. Her embarrassment was palpable as she looked everywhere but at the former Espada and tried to answer.
"I, uh… got really worried, but you told me to wait here, so I didn't want to make things worse," she began in a rush as she fixed her hair, "so I thought maybe I could take my mind off things if I had someone to talk to, and since Gama-kun isn't around for whatever reason – not that he answers anyway – but I figured I could summon my Shun Shun Rikka, but when I did they just went nuts and I didn't know what to do, especially when Tsubaki started pulling my hair, and then Lily was saying these really embarrassing things, but Shun'ō wasn't stopping them like he usually does, and they were all going crazy, and I just… I couldn't… I…"
She trailed off, her run-on sentence limping to a stop. Grimmjow was staring at her, and the look in his eyes was staggering.
The cool amusement of his gaze was tempered by the fire of his focus, and she unconsciously bit the inside of her bottom lip as he took the few steps needed to close the distance between them. She knew what that look in his eyes was. It was desire, but maybe if she avoided acknowledging it then she could do something about her torching face.
"Orihime," he said in a low voice, and she was so shocked to hear her name on his tongue that she met his eyes again without a thought.
Victorious, he smirked as he bent to catch her lips with his.
It was different this time, Orihime thought. Grimmjow was in complete control now, and she felt the electricity from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. His hand caught her face this time, and the hard pads of his fingertips were an indescribable stimulant as she closed her eyes and let it all happen.
His lips were feverish upon her own, and as he coaxed her into participating, she wondered how he could still be making her feel so warm when he was so cold. She gasped as his mouth blazed a trail of searing kisses along her jawbone and to her ear, his tongue flickering out to taste her like feathery silk. He gently caught the lobe between his teeth and nibbled as his breath hissed a soft caress into the shell.
Her hands had wandered up of their own accord, and her nails scratched lightly at the nape of his neck, combing through the fine hairs there. He growled encouragingly, and she smiled through her unmistakably budding lust. As he tickled her ear, she turned her face into the column of his thick neck, delicately tracing her lips along where his pulse points would be. She felt more than heard his breath hitch, and it took only a moment for him to suddenly back her into the table behind her, towering over her and kissing her desperately again.
His hands were everywhere, starting at her hips and clutching like a lifeline. She felt his fingers dig into her fleshy parts through the fabric of her dress, and she was alight wherever they went. He slowly trailed them upward, and her heart fluttered as she felt his palms gently pass over her ribs.
When she felt his thumbs trace the underside of her breasts with a feather-light touch, she gasped and pulled away from his lips by a hairsbreadth.
While she certainly liked it, the contact drew a sliver of her brain back down to earth while the rest of it continued to fly in the silver clouds of metaphor. This was new. This was very new, and she was afraid. His touch sent a jolt of electricity all the way down to her core, and she'd never felt that kind of desire before.
She suddenly heard herself and how loudly she was panting. Her gaze slowly came back into focus, and she caught sight of his lips, slightly parted and looking particularly ravished. She blushed and wondered how bad hers must look.
Grimmjow, for his part, slowed down as soon as he felt her flinch. He certainly had no qualms about going further, but what fun was there in forcing the girl into something she wasn't ready for? No, he could wait.
Goddamn if this girl doesn't have me whipped, he thought bemusedly to himself as he rested his forehead on hers, trying to calm his libido with controlled breaths. His own arousal was screaming at him through his pants leg, but there was no way she was ready for that. He just hoped she didn't decide to lean forward into him.
Lifting one hand to again rest on the side of her neck, he asked quietly, "Am I better company than your stupid frog?"
A short pause allowed Orihime's brain to catch up. When it did, her wide smile reached her eyes. "Well, don't tell him I said so, but…"
Grimmjow snorted massively before bending down to wrap an arm around her middle. With an excited squeal from the unprepared girl, he lifted her over his shoulder, purposefully placing his hand precariously close to her backside as he turned and strode toward the door.
"It's time to get to work, slacker."
Her giggles were heard echoing throughout the maze of ruins as she was carried out like a sack of potatoes.
Grimmjow wasn't lying to the girl when he told her the dead needn't sleep. He preferred to not even try. He hated the visions the attempts would give him.
His dreams were without content – only sensation. While there were no characters or places or identifiable emotions, he would always awaken with the unusual memory of floating, like he was suspended in a fluid. The weightlessness combined with a perfect silence, enveloping him in a shroud of nothingness. His senses were numbed, but the strange, directionless vertigo would remain.
He hated it.
Whenever he could, he would shock himself into wakefulness, always enraged and ready to pick a fight with whatever poor bastard he ran into first.
This time, though, for the first time, something was different.
He was floating in that same muted aquamarine just like he always was. His limbs floated weightlessly at his sides, and his hair was like a colorless halo around his head.
This time, though, there was a noise. It was the faintest sound of rushing, like a springtime river in the distance.
He felt heavy, and in the first variation of his dream since memory served him, he realized that his surroundings were draining away. Burning air filled his lungs, and he gasped for an icy breath he never realized he needed.
As the last of the liquid drained away, he was gently left on his hands and knees, bowled over and panting raggedly. His hair dripped into his eyes, and he felt the gnarly fingers of panic start to grasp at his heart as he stared at the ground. He crushed his eyes shut.
When they opened again, it was to the vision of a hand. It was small and feminine, alabaster and delicate. Palm-up, it offered its fingers in gentle invitation.
There was something to be said for salvation. There was something else entirely to be said for salvation offered freely. He knew there was nothing he had done during his undead days to deserve this, and likely little more he'd done in life.
But, he thought as he lifted a hand from the wet floor to place it in hers, angels didn't always come only to those who called.
"Grimmjow-sama," said a familiar, accented voice. His blue eyes snapped open, disoriented at first as he took in the sandstone walls and ancient columns, alighting on an embattled face he had not seen since their escape from Las Noches. "The battle has begun."
And as he eyed the obviously-fatigued Arrancar from so long ago, loyal despite the Espada's initial rejection of his subordinacy, understanding came quickly to him.
He grinned widely.
He sent his new Fracción off to Orihime to be healed, and he prepared himself for the start of their war.
The room around them positively vibrated with the mounting anticipation of all those gathered. Hundreds of Hollows of all shapes and sizes – Grimmjow noted with particular interest the five towering Menos Grande flanking the Great Hall – assembled for this defining moment.
The former Espada stood poised atop the pile of stone rubble at the center of it all, leaning forward with one arm propped on his knee and the other holding Pantera slung over his shoulder. Orihime looked up at him with something akin to wonder as he spoke to them all, his voice a fierce growl that thundered over the restless masses. With every sentence, the roar of their excitement built, and the girl was certain she could taste the bloodlust in the air.
She may not have been one for violence, but even she had to admit that Grimmjow's words and mannerisms here, now, were inspiring this unfamiliar excitement in her. She was getting swept up in it, in the wonderful madness that was battle, like the zealous crowds at a sporting event.
She stared up at her ally, partner, and friend with pride, and Grimmjow again noted that hint of something ancient and wise in her eyes. He felt her stare, but avoided eye contact, knowing that there was a time and place for special treatment, and this was not it. She'd understand, anyway. She was smart like that.
There was no poise or refinement in his pose atop his little hill, but the effortlessness with which he stood there over his new legions instilled pride and surety in the empty centers of this mass of monsters. He was their leader, their Alpha, and soon…
…he would be their king.
When he suddenly pointed at her halfway through his speech, Orihime blanched.
"You all see this human girl? Do you?" he called over the crowd. The assembly of monsters chittered and cawed. Some knew exactly who and what she was, but even more were left in the dark, wondering who this delectable little morsel before them could possibly be. Did their new master perhaps bring them a snack?
Grimmjow's reiatsu roared throughout the chamber, grounding them all with a demonstrative show of dominance. The Hollows were silenced.
"She is your queen, and the only reason any of you are alive right now." With that, he abruptly aimed a sure Cero at one of the five towering Menos Grande-class Gillians, incinerating its middle and effectively severing its top from bottom. It cried out in monstrous agony, and the creatures all throughout the room wailed in commiseration or bloodlust. The girl couldn't tell which.
"What are you doing?!" she hissed at her partner in horror. He remained stoic as he turned his gaze to her and commanded:
And, while Orihime abhorred his methods, she understood.
"Souten Kisshun. I reject!"
Two bursts of stardust exploded from her hairclips, rushing to the Gillian as it fell slowly through the sky to the stones below. The Hollows all around were already whipped into a frenzy, ready to consume their supposedly lost sibling.
Then, warm, golden light enveloped the Gillian's mortal wound. It instantly began mending itself.
She had their attention.
Hundreds of wide, wonderfilled eyes turned in her direction as she concentrated on her work. As the sweat beaded on her forehead – couldn't Grimmjow have made the injury a little smaller?! – she did her best to ignore their gazes.
"There had to have been easier ways to do this," she complained to him. The Arrancar merely smirked and dropped the few feet from his perch to her side.
"They're dumb. They need to see to believe," he said softly, his breath ghosting into her ear to send electric shivers up Orihime's spine and across her shoulders.
Gah! Distracting! she thought with mild panic and a fiery blush. She whined in her throat. Grimmjow chuckled lowly. Ooh… he knows exactly what he's doing! she complained in her mind, trying to keep any other unbidden noises to herself.
When the Gillian was healed and in one piece, she shifted awkwardly, particularly aware of its giant, empty eye sockets staring into what seemed to be her very soul. She had forgotten how frightening they were.
"Um…" she began.
She snapped her head up to look at Grimmjow when she heard him laugh, rough but controlled.
"Looks like you, little Princess, just upstaged me." He pinned her with a fierce gaze. "I think it's about time we crashed a party, don't you think?"
Orihime felt her pulse race and her breathing increase in excitement. She nodded once, firmly. "It's time, isn't it?"
At a small table, Orihime looked up from her task of refolding her cloak. It was her seventh try. Grimmjow's almost-smile was wry.
"I guess I just can't believe it's actually happening. I've never fought in a war before." She smoothed the fabric with both hands, willing their trembling not to reveal the true extent of her worries to the Arrancar at her back.
Daily life had been so strange since they had run from Las Noches. So concerned had she been lately by her confusing feelings for the man behind her that she had almost entirely forgotten about the horrors they'd escaped – and would soon be returning to. Her brave friends and the troops from Soul Society had even come for her, as Grimmjow had told her, and she felt a little guilty for sparing time for romance when so much was still at stake. Aizen - she shuddered when she thought of the horribly manipulative man and his silk words - was still a very real threat, despite the recent distance that made him seem little more than someone else's problem.
Ulquiorra's cold, marble face and piercing green, reptilian eyes flashed in her mind. Echoes of that horrible noise she heard in the hallways fluttered around her like phantoms. Cold tendrils of doubt swirled around in her stomach.
And then there was Kurosaki-kun…
Orihime bit her lip as she thought about her feelings for the boy, and how suddenly, strangely, they were not the source of the butterflies in her stomach. Her mind flashed to a memory of urgent lips upon her own and strong fingers threading through her hair, and an increasingly familiar tightness gripped her heart with what might very well be...
She heard his soft footfalls before she felt his body approach from behind. His long arms came around either side of her body to cage her, and she noticed the butterflies in her belly come to a stop when his large hands covered her own, stilling their fidgeting. He leaned forward over her shoulder, and she saw his face in the peripherals of her right side. She could not see his bone fragment.
Grimmjow watched their hands entwine, expressionless as he examined her soft palms with his hard, callused fingers.
While their relationship had certainly changed a great deal over the past few weeks, this could easily be the most intimate gesture he'd shown her yet. She worried her bottom lip harder as she watched his ministrations, holding her breath. Her brain swirled with a million thoughts, jumping from her past to her present to her future to her present, and her heart wanted to explode with something she did not want to name.
He was no monster. No monster could make her feel like this.
"We're going to win," he rumbled softly next to her ear. She felt the vibrations from his deep voice in his chest, and - just like that - she was comforted. She ordered her imagination to return to Earth. She could not stop her remaining doubts from bleeding through her words, though.
"How can you know that?" she whispered, frowning when she heard the tremble in her voice. I am not weak. She smiled gently when she heard his characteristic scoff.
"Because you're going to destroy the Hougyoku with the very power that Aizen was too idiotic to take advantage of."
Orihime leaned away so she could look up into his face. "And if I mess up?"
The former Espada turned his head slightly so he could look at her out of the corner of his eye. "Then I'll be there to get you out of every fuckup you get yourself into, of course."
Warmth swelled in her chest, despite his vulgarity. "You promise?" she asked hopefully.
His facial expression remained stoic, but she could see his eyes smile. "Tch. I promise."
He couldn't entirely mask his surprise when she stood on her toes to leave a chaste kiss on his cheek. The affectionate gesture was foreign to him, having not received it in hundreds of years, so when his face scrunched up in mock confusion the girl couldn't help but laugh. He felt some of the tension leave her as she exhaled and sank back into his pseudo-embrace.
He let her stay there for a moment, allowing himself this one indulgence before the next phase was set in motion. Soon, he would be back in battle, shredding his enemies with sword and claw alike. He couldn't wait.
But there was something equally appealing about his here-and-now. He buried his nose in her shoulder and took a slow, steadying breath, allowing her scent to lull him into placidity if but for a minute. At this very moment, everything else seemed like such a distant undertaking. Ulquiorra was still a dick, but a distant dick, and Kurosaki was still a self-righteous little orange maggot who had no clue how outclassed he was, but it did not bother him as much. The deep, simmering hatred he had for Aizen, his captor and master of nearly a century, was suddenly secondary to the possessiveness he felt for the girl in his arms. There was no way she could ever understand what a tranquilizer her mere presence was.
He stayed like that for a short while before his restless nature finally took over. Rubbing his thumbs across the backs of her hands, Grimmjow reached forward and swiped her folded cloak. In one motion, he stepped back and swirled it around her, letting it come to rest on her shoulders and swallow her comparatively small body.
"Time to get your ass in gear, Princess," he ordered as he looked down into her eyes, his voice husky with something unnamed before he cleared his throat.
Then, on impulse, he reached out, grasping her waist and crushing her body to his. He eyed her with a frown before he dipped, meeting her lips one last time. He felt Orihime stiffen in shock, but he persevered.
The human girl's eyes welled with emotion at the unexpected action, wondering what had him acting like this. As she felt his kiss intensify, though, it was not long before she was reciprocating passionately, pouring her heart and soul and misgivings into the action. Her fingers reached up and threaded into the hair at the nape of his neck, and his one hand covered her shoulder blade, pressing her closer.
She wondered as they embraced what would become of them after this was all over. She'd avoided the thought until now, but the fleeting worry nagged at her, creeping up when her other stresses vied for dominance in her heart. Would he let her go home?
Would she want to go home?
She pulled away a few inches, taking a moment to scan his features. He allowed her examination, looking back at her from under heavy lids and catching his breath. Her lips felt swollen.
"You're touching my face again," he pointed out, a smidgen of accusation in his tone.
Orihime merely smiled sadly, realizing that yes, she was. "You'll live."
An ironic choice of words, but he kept his thoughts to himself. He watched her closely, gaze flickering between her ash-colored eyes and her pink lips before tracing her arms down to her hands with his fingers, grabbing them and setting her into motion and out the door together with him.
Orihime braced herself for the future and whatever it held in store.
The passage between the Negal Ruins and Las Noches was tempestuous, at best. Grimmjow had gone first, followed by the first third of his forces. Orihime passed through next minutes later on Bawabawa's back, the toad on her shoulder and Grimmjow's new Fracción to their right. She was the key to their victory, and her protection would not be taken lightly. Two of the Adjuchas flanked them on either side, but they were far from any Menos Grande in order to prevent drawing attention.
Winds whipped all about them like blades of air, the colors in the dark vacuum shifting between hues, vaguely iridescent. She had to squint her eyes against the swirling storm. Her skin burned, and she was glad Grimmjow had made her wear the cloak.
But Bawabawa was swift, and they soon emerged from the temporal bridge and into the bright, artificial daylight of Las Noches. Orihime raised her hand to her face to shield her eyes, hoping they adjusted quickly.
When they did, she wished she was blind.
All around them was a field of carnage. Monstrous Hollows howled as they slaughtered one another, talons shredding flesh and gruesome jaws crushing bones.
Orihime expected to see such horrors and steeled herself against them as best she could. She leaned forward to give Bawabawa an order, and the group was off, penetrating Aizen's lines to where she knew the Hougyoku was.
As they proceeded, she sent her Shun Shun Rikka all around them, aiding fallen comrades and defending those still standing. She kept Tsubaki with her, deciding only to use him when absolutely necessary.
She was stunned when, just for a moment, she caught the unmistakable glimpse of auburn hair.
"Rangiku-san!" she gasped.
Sure enough, the Shinigami lieutenant was carving her way through the dunes and the monsters atop them. Chaos reigned, and Matsumoto did not have any idea where this new group of Hollows had suddenly appeared from, but she was going to count her blessings and not question the reason the beasts were suddenly fighting amongst themselves. They were mindless monsters, after all.
Orihime was too far to draw the lieutenant's attention, so she sadly withdrew her gaze again. She could not afford the distraction; too much relied on her.
It took the better part of an hour, but the small group eventually made its way through the fray. Here, ranking Espada clashed with Shinigami lieutenants and captains, alike, and the girl's eyes darted between the combatants for a familiar face.
Aizen and his two Shinigami followers stood apart from the current bloodshed, playing spectator. They were accompanied by...
There, standing calmly before his masters while he observed the myriad of battles with a cold, unsettling, verdant stare was Ulquiorra. The Cuatro Espada's eyes darted to and fro, his pupils slit menacingly as he determined the threat posed by each enemy they alighted on.
Then, as if he sensed something exceptional, his attention suddenly focused squarely on Orihime in the crowd. Her heart stopped as his eyes narrowed.
When he flickered from sight, the woman knew he had used his Sonido. When he appeared again directly before their ragtag group, she knew their fate was sealed.
"It was foolish of you to return here, Orihime Inoue." Ulquiorra's deep, stony voice resonated in her soul, and she felt shivers of fear crawl down her spine along with the nervous churn of bile in her stomach.
Grimmjow's Fracción cursed at the Cuatro's sudden appearance as he reached for his sheathed weapon, recognizing the futility in the gesture but unwilling to fail his new master. Bawabawa reared up and roared at the new threat, sending Orihime aloft from her position on his back.
"I do not know what you hoped to accomplish by coming back," he told her, eyeing the Fracción he certainly remembered, "but know that your efforts are worse than futile."
Orihime's hopes plummeted when, not even bothering to draw his sword, the Espada extended his index finger in a motion the girl now recognized well. As the pinpoint Cero charged at his fingertip, she prepared to deploy her shield, not knowing if it could defend them against such sheer power.
The desperate cry stole the attention of the entire group, even Ulquiorra.
Sure enough, the substitute Shinigami was rushing the group in a desperate blur of black and orange, the obsidian Zangetsu brandished and ready to challenge the Espada.
Ulquiorra diverted his attention to the incoming threat, the corners of his lips turned downward in displeasure.
As Ichigo pulled his sword back for a devastating downswing, the Cuatro raised his hand in preparation to catch the blade.
A massive crimson Cero blasted Ulquiorra from behind, catching all unawares and forcefully sending him away from the group.
"Hurry and get the fuck out of here, Princess." Her relief was immense, and she felt her heart start again at the familiar tenor of Grimmjow's voice. "Dipshit here and I will keep him distracted," he reassured, referring to the dumbstruck human boy before them both.
"Okay," she breathed, relieved. The Sexta gave her a look before bounding in the direction he'd sent his once-superior flying. Ichigo followed after, hardly sparing Orihime a backward glance in his confusion. Her heart twisted oddly.
The Fracción nodded at her. "Let's go, Princesa," he said, adopting the former Espada's nickname for her. She nodded back and they continued onward, doubling their previous pace as the trio of warriors they left behind exploded in battle behind them like a supernova.