Coronado

"We're in this Together Now" - part 2

Orihime's lungs burned.

Her throat was cold and raw and her cheeks were hot and pink as she panted hard, the fall of her boots echoing to create a chorus of noises through the whitewashed halls of Las Noches.

They were running for their lives.

Grimmjow's bright blue hair was a beacon ahead of her as he maneuvered them through the maze of the palatial complex. He would pause occasionally, and she would see the sharp profile of his face as he cocked his head, listening down the hallways that stretched from the many intersections they encountered. She was glad he’d slowed down to a normal speed; there was no way she could keep up with his Sonido. He still looked worried, though, and that frightened her.

"What happened, Grimmjow?" She still had no idea why they were suddenly running, and her fears demanded information. He gave pause at her whispered question, looking back at her out of the corner of his eye as if just remembering that she was following him. He then continued on as if she had said nothing. She hadn't really expected him to answer, after all.

Orihime hurried after him.

She did not often see many others traversing these passageways during her regular explorations, but even she had to admit that the palace seemed eerily empty. With all the ground they had covered, she expected to have run into at least someone else following their sidestepping of Ulquiorra. She hoped it had to do with Grimmjow's evasive maneuvers.

Her skin prickled and her eyes widened when she heard a bloodcurdling shriek echo down the white corridors.

It was not quite human, nor was it like any animal she had ever heard or imagined. It was ghoulish, like the scream of a bat magnified a hundred times. Cold chills ran up her spine, and she knew herself well enough to know that her face had likely lost some of its color in her fright. It was worse when she heard her coconspirator curse under his breath in reaction to the horrible noise. He hurried his pace, and she struggled to keep up.

"Grimmjow, what's happening?" she demanded again, with increased urgency lacing her tone. He did not turn back to her this time, but did offer her a response.

"Your babysitter isn't quite the idiot I was hoping he was," came the reply. Orihime's expression changed.

"Ulquiorra…" she whispered in understanding. He merely grunted his acknowledgement ahead of her, before roughly grabbing the girl around the wrist and practically dragging her to keep up. That noise… that terrible noise was him? She had stumbled somewhat when her brain caught up with his revelation, and he could not have her hindering their impromptu escape. He refused to let his precious trump card become his liability.

They were off again, this time with the Devil at their heels.

"There!" she heard Grimmjow say, catching her attention. The white hallway ahead of them suddenly melted into inky blackness off in the distance: the exit to Las Noches. The dark at the end of the tunnel, Orihime thought ironically. As it grew closer and closer, the weight lifted from her shoulders with every burning step that got her nearer to escape.

Then the hallway imploded all around them.

Orihime screamed at the noise, and debris flew everywhere. Grimmjow cursed, yanking the girl forward by her wrist and doing his best to shield her smaller body with his own as he kept up his forward momentum. He shouted into her ear over the racket of destruction.

"Shield! Now!"

Orihime gasped. Of course.

With a golden sparkling, three of her fairies burst from her hairpins and surrounded the two fugitives as they emerged through the opening and into the cold desert night air.

Grimmjow cushioned the impact of their escape by tucking into a roll on the white powdery sand. Orihime nearly bit through her tongue thanks to their jarring landing, despite the protection the cage of the Espada's arms offered. He finished his roll right back on his feet, his cold eyes brutal and calculating. The girl was amazed by his composure despite the chaos all around them. Her head was still spinning, after all.

The dust was gradually settling in the ruined entryway behind them, and Orihime was a little surprised when Grimmjow forced her behind him, acting as a bodily barrier from the threat.

"What do you think you are doing, Grimmjow Jeagerjaques?" The deep, crisp, and familiar voice sent a thrill of terror down Orihime's spine. He actually sounded angry.

The dust cleared enough for the two to see the imposing silhouette of the Fourth Espada draw itself against the light from the compound behind him. She trembled against the Sexta before her, the air in her lungs thickening and stifling from the oppressive and furious pressure of Ulquiorra's reiatsu.

Grimmjow said nothing, merely staring at his superior with a quiet, ill-concealed hatred.

Ulquiorra's verdant gaze shifted to the girl, and she met it briefly. Try as she might, she still could not understand the puzzle that was her captor. His look was intense, but entirely unreadable. It was far from expressionless, though, and that's what scared her most.

What was it? Disgust? Annoyance? Maybe it was just confusion.

...Or was it betrayal?

Orihime looked away finally, unable to meet his gaze any longer. She wore a frown on her face. He had no right to look at her that way.

Ulquiorra's eyes pinned Grimmjow again, and their staredown recommenced.

"Aizen will hear of this insubordination. You will give the girl back immediately," the Cuatro said stonily.

"Fuck you," Grimmjow responded with a sardonic grin.

He's lost it, the girl thought to herself, drowning in a cold sweat of fear. She watched Ulquiorra, face unchanging although she was certain he was thrown by the Sexta's response. He responded after a horrible pause.

"…What did you say?" The question was like cold venom.

"You'll have to fight me if you want her back, bastard," Grimmjow said with an adrenaline-fueled hiss. Orihime could hear the excitement growing in his voice. She was astonished by his change in demeanor. Gone was the nervous animal from before, replaced by this warrior and his bloodlust. This was bad. Grimmjow didn't actually think he could stand a chance against Ulquiorra, did he? "Admit it," he growled through his grinning sneer. "You're afraid to fight me, aren't you?"

Orihime was surprised by the insinuation when Ulquiorra did not offer a response. The Sexta spoke again, his reiki beginning to swirl in anticipation. She saw his right hand clench into a claw in her peripherals.

"You're afraid we'll rip each other to shreds, aren't you, Schiffer?"

Grimmjow barely finished snarling his sentence before he lunged forward, and Orihime was left trying to deflect the cloud of dust that sprung up at his attack. She could barely follow the movement, and only saw when Ulquiorra caught the Sixth's right hand in an arcing downswing, dramatically catching it in his own straining grasp. The force of the impact sent a gale across the desert floor, blowing sand and tossing clothing. Ulquiorra's face was stonily furious, and Grimmjow...

Orihime shuddered at the maniacal grin cutting his face. He was enjoying this!

She had only a moment to realize that before she watched her ally-in-escape fire a glowing Cero from point-blank range, straight into Ulquiorra's waiting hand. She made a noise and covered her head, raising her shield again now that the battle seemed to be getting out of hand. She watched Ulquiorra deflect the attack, and it blew up a wall behind them.

The next part rushed by faster than the girl could follow. One moment, Grimmjow seemed to vanish, then Ulquiorra became equally scarce. They were using Sonido, she realized, at an inhuman speed that she could barely follow with her eyes.

They suddenly appeared again, and Orihime covered her gasp with both hands. Ulquiorra was suspended in the air, directly over a searching Grimmjow, his long white index finger pointed a mere foot from the top of his light blue hair. The tip of his digit began to glow with a bright, concentrated light. He was about to fire a Cero of his own, right into Grimmjow's head.

With a reaction faster than she thought any creature had the right to possess, Grimmjow clenched his teeth and raised his hand straight up. His snarl turned into a grin again as he charged his own Cero in his open palm, then released it at the same time as his opponent's. Ulquiorra's eyes widened right before the two attacks met and the devastating explosion detonated.

Orihime watched on from behind the safety of her golden shield, hands clasped before her in worry. The destruction wrought by this latest attack created an impassable plume of dust, sand, and debris that she could not see through. Her eyes darted from end to end of the cloud, hoping to see a flash of blue anywhere.

An Ulquiorra-shaped figure flew out, and she felt her heart plummet to her stomach. Now he would take her back. Her escape was a fool's errand, she realized. And Grimmjow…

The Cuatro was looking for him, it seemed. He was tense, and searching all around for his opponent. The chaos created by the blast was still churning, and he could not see through it.

It was so thick, in fact, that he did not know Grimmjow was behind him until his strong arm reached around his left side and over his front. It clasped at his lapel and the pectoral beneath it, and Ulquiorra recognized it as a desperate grab for purchase. His eyes narrowed as his head turned to face his attacker, ready to blast him into oblivion once and for all, Aizen's plans for him be damned.

By the time he realized his mistake, it was far too late to do anything about it.

Grimmjow's hand was planted square over the hole in his chest as the tiny Caja Negación slipped in. His vibrant green eyes widened with the shock of his error. I've been outsmarted… by this heathen?

The power of the device sent a paralyzing shock throughout his body before thick black ribbons blossomed from his empty center, reaching out in all directions before converging like a blooming bud moving backward in time. Grimmjow had already leaped out of the way, and Ulquiorra could only manage to say one thing as the dimensional restraints swirled around him.

"Damn."

Then he vanished, and Grimmjow turned to look at the girl on the barren desert floor below, face cold and stoic in his victory.
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