Coronado

"None of them can Stop Us Now"

The roar of the battle below them was drowned out by the scream of the wind in their ears. They could see Ulquiorra focused entirely on their movements as they weaved in and out from between lesser Hollows, the monsters mauling one another in a frenzy of bloodlust. His glare was a cold jade, reptilian pupils following the desperate evasion of the substitute Shinigami and the former Espada.

"I don't get it," Ichigo called out from behind Grimmjow, the two warriors back to back as they fended off the onslaught of Aizen's attacking hordes whilst keeping a safe distance from the deadly Cuatro. He did nothing to mask the distaste beneath the confusion in his voice. "Why have you changed sides?" He still hadn't forgotten the hand through Rukia's middle.

As they pushed back the masses that stood between them and Ulquiorra, Grimmjow snarled in response.

"Don't you fucking think for a minute that I'm on your side," he spat as he thrust Pantera into the face of a lesser Arrancar. He ripped the glimmering blade from the partial mask of bone, crimson blood spraying from the wound he had inflicted. In the next beat, he spun precisely, slicing another through the spine. Ichigo whirled around at his response, shocked and on the defensive.

"Then what..." Ichigo’s question died in his throat the moment Grimmjow turned to look at the orange-haired youth. His eyes shimmered blue with an icy, potent hatred that made the boy’s heart stutter. The expression he wore was full of such loathing, Ichigo wondered if it could possibly all stem from their rivalry on the battlefield, alone.

Then, the Espada stunned the boy again. "I'm on her side," he growled as his hard eyes landed on the girl a stage below them. Ichigo's gaze slipped from his reluctant fighting partner to the object of his scrutiny.

Orihime was in the center of a throng of Hollows, from the most basic of forms to massive Gillians and even some full-fledged Adjuchas. She was alone with them.

Ichigo felt panic rising in his throat like bile.

"Inoue…!"

"Pay attention, you dumb fuck," Grimmjow interrupted, hissing balefully at the substitute Shinigami.

Uneasy alliance be damned, he was ready to slash through the former Sexta with Zangetsu if it meant he could get to Orihime’s side faster. His friend was in danger, and there was no way she could protect herself from all those Hollows he had just seen surrounding her. He turned again, ready to dive to her rescue.

But when he did, and he looked back down, he realized that none of the Hollows were even facing Orihime. His jaw came somewhat loose as his mind tried to process Grimmjow’s command and grasp the situation.

"They're… protecting her?" he asked incredulously, voice nearly cracking. He parried a Hollow’s stray attack that almost caught him off guard before looking back at Grimmjow. The man’s unfamiliar expression nearly floored him.

For the first time, Ichigo did not see bloodlust, or disinterest, or mania, or even hunger on this Arrancar's face. For the fraction of a moment that Ichigo witnessed it pass over his countenance, he saw Grimmjow's eyes brim with a powerful intensity that the human boy never would have expected to see there.

In them he saw… Pride. Satisfaction. And…

"They've pledged themselves to her," Grimmjow said matter-of-factly to the young man, whose head was still spinning with this unexpected turn of events. He watched Grimmjow’s eyes harden again, aware of his scrutiny. "She is their queen, for all intents and purposes."

"Their… queen?" Grimmjow's stare remained on the young woman below them for a moment longer, watching as she moved with her battalions through Aizen's ranks, carving a path for her allies with Tsubaki just as quickly as she healed her fallen comrades. It could be said that morale amongst her Hollows had never been higher. These typically solitary creatures could now fight to the limits of their abilities without risk of dying, thanks to their very own goddess. Their cries were so ferocious that many of their opponents did not even stick around long enough to be cut in half by her offensive power. They were getting closer and closer to the epicenter of the battle.

Grimmjow's gaze rose to the substitute before him.

"I will help her destroy the Hougyoku. You're either with us, or you're against us, Kurosaki."

With those steely words, Ichigo looked back down at his schoolmate, watching with wide eyes as she plowed through their enemies with what seemed like great ease. So that was their plan.

What the hell happened when she was captured? Was this the same Inoue that he had come to rescue? The same selfless, pacifistic, sacrificing girl that he’d gone to school, to battle, and to war with?

His fingers twitched on the pommel of his blade when he heard her cry out in anguish. One of the Hollows at her side had been on the receiving end of a particularly wild Bala, and her healing fairies were out not a moment later, repairing the damage. Even from this distance, he could make out the wretched look of vicarious suffering on her face.

This battle was killing her, and she felt every blow – to ally and enemy alike – acutely.

Hueco Mundo hadn't changed Orihime much at all, it seemed. His grip on Zangetsu tightened once again.

Ichigo usually didn't ever waste a great deal of time deciding anything. His black and white outlook helped him make decisions with a confident spontaneity, and that instinct had served him pretty well through life. Right and wrong were typically straightforward, and internal conflict could be left up to worrywarts like Keigo.

"What are we waiting for, then?" he said to the blue-haired Hollow, his voice deepened with his resolve. "Let's make sure Aizen doesn't realize she's coming."

Grimmjow's gaze remained stern as it pinned down the human boy. Unreadable, his azure glare was fierce in its ambiguity, but the human boy did not back down. His own scowl was markedly ferocious as he waited for the former Espada to react.

Then, Grimmjow nodded once. "Good," he said firmly, quietly. Theirs would be a tentative alliance, forged by their strange and mutual connection to the same girl. Then, with a complete change of attitude and as if reminding himself, “Don't think this means I won't annihilate you when this is all over, by the way." Ichigo sent him an ugly glare, but Grimmjow pretended to ignore it. "It's time to kick some ass together, turdface."

The two executed a Shunpo and Sonido nearly simultaneously, now hurrying in the direction of Ulquiorra. They were finished evading. First, the Cuatro had to be stopped, and neither was fool enough to think they could do it alone.

Grimmjow suspected he could defeat his superior if he permitted himself to surpass his own limits, but he would not put his future at stake like that. It was time again to make an uneasy battlefield alliance, this time with the loathsome human boy currently at his side. If nothing else, he would do it for the woman. She'd probably be fool enough to be proud of him for the act.

He snorted at the thought, earning him a confused glance from Kurosaki.

Always one to keep his eye on the prize, though, Grimmjow never took his sights off of the conniving former Shinigami captain and his long-lived plans as his golden streak of hope burned brightly below them.


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