Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! I'm not quite sure where this story would fit into the anime timeline, but it would definitely be after Ichigo met Grimmjow and Ulquiorra so you can think of it as something like a filler episode. Enjoy :)
Summary: Ichigo comes across a large cosmetics store, no different from any other... except for its clientele.
Warnings: Crack, OOC-ness and minimal plot if any.
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
One fine Sunday morning, Ichigo stood outside a new supermarket on the other side of Karakura town, arms laden with bags of vegetables and eggs. He had followed Yuzu here to help carry the groceries, but she had run into a couple of schoolmates at the supermarket and decided to spend the afternoon with them.
Ichigo didn't mind; Yuzu certainly deserved some time off after cooking their meals everyday. Seeing as it was close to noon, he decided to have his own lunch first before going home. Karin was at football practice and their father could survive an afternoon on his own.
Spotting an eatery a few doors away, Ichigo went to sit down at one of the many small tables lining the sidewalk. He set his groceries down beside him, ordered ramen and tea from the smiling waitress, and then whiled away the next few minutes idly watching the people around him going about their business.
Just as his food arrived, two Shinigami appeared in the street and and strode briskly into the store beside the supermarket.
Ichigo blinked. What were Ikkaku Madarame and Yumichika Ayasegawa doing here?
Frowning, he picked up his chopsticks and froze when another familiar figure in Shinigami robes and a Captain's haori appeared in the street and went inside the same store. There was no mistaking that shock of spiky silver hair.
Was there a mission going on in Karakura Town that Ichigo didn't know about?
Still frowning, he started eating his ramen, keeping a vigilant eye on the street before him. He almost choked when Byakuya Kuchiki appeared at almost the same spot and crossed the sidewalk before entering the store, not even glancing his way.
What the - was this Visit Karakura Town Day?!
But no one else appeared for the next ten minutes or so. Ichigo was almost finishing his ramen when two more figures appeared at almost the same spot, the familiar tinkling of bells sending a frisson of alarm down his spine. Kenpachi Zaraki strode inside that same store with Yachiru perched on his shoulder.
Alright. That was it.
Ichigo avoided the fight happy captain whenever possible, but he decided that this was an exception. He was going in there as soon as he finished his meal to find out what was going on. Then he choked on his soup, thanks to the sudden appearance of a figure dressed in white robes with a shock of electric blue hair. Coughing, eyes watering, Ichigo waved away the concerned waitress and gulped a mouthful of tea only to choke on that when Ulquiorra - what in the world?! - appeared next, following hard on Grimmjow's heels.
Wheezing and coughing, Ichigo darted a quick look around, fingers clenched tight around his cup and almost cracking the porcelain. Everything appeared calm and quiet - no madness or mayhem, no people screaming and running up and down the street, no explosions or bodies - or body parts - flying through the air, no wild maniacal laughter or loud clashing of zanpakuto.
It didn't feel right.
Ichigo paid for his lunch and told the waitress he wasn't feeling well and would have a short nap before heading home. Then he pillowed his head on one arm on the table, pulled out his badge and exited his body, leaving it slumped beside his groceries. He headed for that store, every muscle in his body tense and alert.
The sliding doors opened soundlessly as he approached, letting out a waft of air conditioned, perfumed air and soft strains of classical music. He was standing in a large, almost empty foyer with a set of escalators in front of him, left side going up and right side coming down. Above it was a large polished sign that said '1st Floor - Cosmetics, 2nd Floor - Haircare, 3rd Floor - Accessories, 4th Floor - Miscellaneous.'
There was no one about. Stranger still, he couldn't sense any reiatsu at all... not even his own. It almost felt like he was inside a bubble except he could still smell the scented air and hear the classical music clearly.
After another glance around, he took the escalator up, body poised to spring into action if needed. On the first floor, the walls on his left, front and right were covered floor to ceiling with shelves stocked full of... cosmetics?
That was what the downstairs sign said, right?
A dozen feet before him was a long, waist high glass cabinet on which stood a row of round, back lit mirrors on stands. In front of three of those mirrors were two figures in Shinigami robes and one in Arrancar robes, all with their backs towards him.
Ichigo stumbled on the top step before recovering his balance. The bald figure, standing directly under a down light that made his head shinier than ever, had to be Ikkaku Madarame which meant the one beside him with shiny black hair in a bob cut was Yumichika. Both were busy applying something to their eyes as they peered at their reflections. The third figure, Ulquiorra, was painting something on his cheek.
Ichigo blinked. Yumichika's eye feathers were obviously artificial, but he had always thought the red smudges on Ikkaku's eyelids and the green lines on Ulquiorra's face were birthmarks or something... certainly not painted on.
All three males seemed to realise they were being stared at and spun around at the same time. Caught off guard, Ichigo took a step back and stumbled again as his foot came down on the top step of the escalator. Thankfully it was the one he had just stepped off of, otherwise he might have plunged head first back down again.
"What're you staring at?" Ikkaku demanded. He had purple patches on his eyelids. "Never seen a man apply make up before?"
Ichigo stammered a quick apology, wondering why none of them appeared to have recognised him.
Yumichika smiled and placed a hand on Ikkaku's shoulder. He had attached glittery purple and green feathers to his right eye.
"I'm sure he was staring at me, Ikkaku," he said. "This combination complements my colouring better than the red and yellow feathers did. But purple doesn't seem to suit your colouring. You're better off staying within the pink spectrum."
"I agree," Ulquiorra said.
Yumichika smiled at him and then he and Ikkaku turned back to their respective mirrors.
Ichigo's eyes snapped back to Ulquiorra, already tense muscles tensing further as the Espada took a tentative step forward.
"Could you tell me which shade suits my eye colour better?" A slender hand lifted to point to each of Ulquiorra's cheeks in turn.
"Huh." Ichigo took a step forward and tipped his head to one side, noting that the vertical green line on Ulquiorra's right cheek had a turquiose-ish hue to it. "The uh, left side?"
"I think so too. Thank you." Ulquiorra's eyes crinkled a bit at the outer edges when he smiled, his irises a deep, deep green. With a polite nod, he turned back to the mirror.
Ichigo's forehead wrinkled, he didn't think Ulquiorra even knew how to smile. He rubbed the back of his head and glanced at Ikkaku and Yumichika, but they were busy discussing the merits of peach versus salmon and ignoring him completely. Feeling like he had fallen down a rabbit hole somewhere, Ichigo finally shook his head and rounded the escalator to ride up to the next floor, still glancing over his shoulder at the three figures.
The second floor too had shelves covering the walls only these were stocked with haircare products in various sized bottles and jars.
On his left stood Grimmjow, reading the contents of a jar in his hand. Above him was the sign 'Hair gel'. Standing before another section was Toushiro, running a finger along a row of bottles with the sign above him reading 'Hairspray.'
Ichigo stepped off the escalator, muscles tensing up again, narrowed eyes darting between those two. He had never thought about how they managed to keep their hair wild and spiky, but more importantly-
Why weren't they fighting?!
Weren't they enemies?
Ichigo only realised he had made a sound when Grimmjow and Toushiro turned to look at him, heads tipped enquiringly to one side.
"Sorry, was I in your way?" Grimmjow obligingly moved to one side, appraising cobalt eyes taking in Ichigo's hair.
"No! I just... well..." Ichigo trailed off and rubbed the back of his neck again, his mind a complete blank.
"Not sure of what you want?" Toushiro finished for him with a knowing nod. "No problem, each product here has a bottle labelled 'Tester' for you to try. Knock yourself out."
"Ah. Thanks," Ichigo mumbled.
Toushirou nodded and turned back to the shelves. He took a step back, head tipping up and then he stretched up on tip toe, reaching for one of the higher shelves and huffing when his fingertips just grazed the bottom of the bottle he wanted.
"Allow me." Grimmjow reached up and plucked the bottle off the shelf, passing it to Toushiro while Ichigo gaped at them both.
"Hey, no problem."
Well! If that wasn't a polite exchange then Ichigo had no idea what was. Blinking rapidly and feeling like he was falling even deeper inside that rabbit hole, he backed away and went to ride the escalator to the third floor. Hopefully, he would find an answer there... something that would make sense.
The sheer number of colours on this floor startled him - a dazzling display of bolts of fabric, rolls of ribbons and laces, cases of sewing threads of every conceivable colour... and a very familiar figure garbed all in white, with a light blue cross on the back of his short cape.
Uryuu Ishida spun around, blue eyes behind rectangular glasses widening in recognition.
"Kurosaki! What're you doing here?"
Thank heavens, someone who finally recognised him!
"I could ask you the same thing." Ichigo strode up to him, throwing a wary look over his shoulder.
Ishida pushed his glasses higher and pursed his lips.
"I have no idea why you're here and in your Shinigami form no less, but Kuchiki-san suggested I try out this place after I ran out of blue ribbon for my arts and craft class. I have to say, this store stocks an excellent range of embroidered decorations. Just look at the sheer detail on these purple flower applique..."
Ichigo glanced over his shoulder again, wondering why the hell was Ishida prattling on about flowers when a number of Shinigami and - more worryingly - Espada were just downstairs, never mind the fact that all was quiet and peaceful, and said Espada didn't seem to know him. Neither did the Shinigami for that matter.
"Are you blind?!" he hissed at Ishida who glared at him in annoyance for being interrupted.
"No, I am not. I am wearing my glasses in case you haven't noticed. And you didn't answer my question - were you spying on me?"
"No, why would I? Didn't you see the other people who're here?"
Ishida sighed, his annoyed expression morphing into a resigned one which told Ichigo he was about to be lectured on something he should already know.
"If you mean those from Soul Society or Hueco Mundo then yes, I know. After all, this is the only store here that is known to the inhabitants of those two worlds."
Ichigo gaped at him.
Ishida sighed again, shaking his head and muttering, "Why am I not surprised?" before pushing his glasses up his nose again.
"As you may or not may not noticed, Hueco Mundo has a distinct lack of shopping districts, amongst other things. Before Aizen unveiled himself as a traitor and moved there, he managed to secure an agreement with Central 46 - which, as you know, consisted of himself, Tousen and Ichimaru. The agreement stated that inhabitants of Soul Society and Hueco Mundo were welcome to shop in this premise, but fighting, arresting and violence of any sort are strictly prohibited."
Ichigo's expression didn't change.
Ishida made an exasperated sound.
"He had to have purchased his hair products from somewhere, right? And surely even you must have felt the strong kido barrier at the entrance?"
Ichigo scowled. Was that why everything felt strangely muted once he entered the store?
"That kido tampers with the memory of any Shinigami and Espada when they enter the store and restores them when they walk back out. The Shinigami won't recognise any inhabitant of Hueco Mundo, and vice versa. Can't have any bloodshed here or the store would've been demolished months ago, not to mention Karakura Town."
"But I - you - we recognise them!"
Ishida sighed again.
"We are from the Living World, Kurosaki. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some important decisions to make."
"Pah! What a waste of my time!"
The sound of a familiar voice had both of them turning to see an annoyed Captain Mayuri coming down the escalator from the fourth floor with Nemu beside him.
"I distinctly told them to get ready a carton of my black skin dye last week. Now I'll have to make another trip here. If it weren't for needing more shampoo as well, coming here today would be a total waste of my valuable time!"
Neither of them so much as glanced at Ichigo who spun around to stare at a smug looking Ishida.
"Mayuri comes here too?" he hissed in a whisper. "I was sure he would prefer they deliver his purchases to his barracks."
"Of course," Ishida confirmed, "but one of the rules in this establishment is that every customer must pick up their purchases in person, and not have them delivered or even picked up by a representative."
"Indeed or I would not need to travel here," intoned a very familiar voice.
Ichigo turned to see Byakuya Kuchiki standing there with a handful of white tekko, or fingerless gloves.
Grey eyes widened in shock before narrowing in displeasure.
"I do not know you, but your manners leave much to be desired, boy." Byakuya looked down his aristocratic nose at him before turning back to the glove display.
"But..." Ichigo trailed off and scowled at the now smirking Ishida. Then he rolled his eyes and gave a big sigh.
"Fine. The world doesn't need saving today and that's all I need to know," he said. "See you at school tomorrow, Ishida."
Without waiting for a reply, Ichigo spun around and went to take the escalator down, vowing not to be shocked at anything else he might encounter here, no matter how improbable it was. He didn't blink when he reached the second floor and saw a chuckling Grimmjow styling an embarrassed Toushiro's hair with mousse covered fingers before a full length mirror. Toushiro had his arms folded across his chest, cheeks flushed pink as he protested against his hair looking too spiky.
Ichigo didn't even pause when he reached the first floor and strode past a solemn Yumichika carefully applying green eye shadow to Ulquiorra's eyelids while Ikkaku looked on with a critical air. He stepped off the escalator on the ground floor and strode towards the glass doors, only to jerk to a stop when they slid open and a familiar, wrinkled face stared back at him. His jaw dropped.
"Hmph! Step aside, boy. I have a meeting with all my captains and lieutenants in an hour, and my beard is all over the place."
Mouth still open, Ichigo moved to one side, noting that the Captain Commander's long white beard was missing the purple ribbon that kept it in place. Behind him was another familiar figure.
"And I can't do a thing with my hair this morning," declared Retsu Unohana. Her long dark hair flowed loosely down her back instead of being kept in a neat thick braid down her front. With the tip of a slender finger, she pushed Ichigo's jaw up, closing his mouth for him.
Ichigo blinked rapidly as he watched the two Captains take the escalator up. He couldn't help wondering if they would help each other tame their respective beard and mane, but decided an instant later that it wasn't something he wanted to see. Or even imagine.
Shaking his head, he strode out of the store before the glass doors closed. He was going to retrieve his body and his groceries from the eatery, and then he was going to march straight back home, place the groceries in the fridge, go upstairs, get into bed and pull his blanket right over his head before the world got even weirder than it usually did.
Still, he couldn't help the wistful thought that it had been rather nice seeing both Shingami and Arrancar interacting peacefully with each other. Maybe he might return to this store again just to make sure his eyes hadn't played tricks on him.
- Story End -
A/N: Thanks for reading! Please leave a review if you enjoyed it :)