Disclaimer: Bleach is the property of Kubo Tite. I own a Zangetsu keychain.
A/N: The story begins shortly after Orihime heals Grimmjow's arm and runs in a somewhat different direction.
He ran down the chaos filled night street as the sounds of cries and screaming chorused with the sounds of clashing metal. The smell of blood was thick in the air. Dead bodies of samurai and civilian alike were strewn everywhere. War was being waged.
He focused on the walled castle ahead: his destination. Looking up, he found the magnificent structure completely engulfed in flames. He could do nothing but stare until someone beside him spoke, a calm and even voice.
"I'll find her."
He turned his head to find the owner of that voice, another samurai, also staring up at the raging flames. "I'm coming with you," he heard himself say.
"No. You're wounded." The samurai eyed his shoulder.
Following that line of sight, he looked down to find that his shoulder was indeed bleeding from a sword wound. And apparently, he was bleeding from quite a few other places as well.
"Wait for me at the tree on the hill, Genji. If I'm not there by dawn, leave without me." After saying that, the samurai dashed off ahead, not giving him a chance to reply.
"Oi!" He called after the samurai, but received no response. "Bastard!" he swore under his breath. Then he projected his voice in order to compete with the noise of battle. "I ain't leavin' without you, ya hear?! UKITA!!"
Grimmjow bolted up in his bed, frustrated. He'd had that same annoying dream again, the one he'd been having ever since Inoue Orihime regenerated his arm out of thin air. He frowned. That girl did something to me.
It didn't seem like just another dream, but it didn't really make any sense to him either. Why would he dream about samurai battles from times long gone? Was that supposed to be something from his life? Strange as it was, it did seem distantly familiar somehow. Genji…was that his name? Compared to Grimmjow, it sounded a bit lacking in his opinion, if not outright lame.
All senselessness aside, what bugged him the most about this recurring dream was this Ukita person. He had longer black hair tied up into a high ponytail and was wearing full samurai armor. He definitely looked different without his mask or the markings on his face. But Grimmjow could recognize those piercing green eyes anywhere.
"Ulquiorra," he hissed with distaste. Aizen's number one loyal dog. Everything about him just annoyed the hell out of Grimmjow. The fact that Ulquiorra was stronger only made Grimmjow despise him more. The fourth Espada was definitely on the top of his list of 'people whose asses needed to be personally kicked by him'. To put it plainly…he hated Ulquiorra. So, what the heck was he doing in my life?!
He wasn't able to make heads or tails about that dream, and thinking about it only succeeded in putting him in an even fouler mood.
Ulquiorra entered Orihime's room to find her standing in front of the window staring up at the moon once again. Glancing over at the table, he saw her untouched dinner. "Eat your food, woman. It is your duty to remain healthy so that you may properly serve Aizen-sama when he should call on you."
Without turning around, Orihime gave her quiet reply. "I'm not hungry."
This manner of greeting was becoming routine, and Ulquiorra was losing his patience. She had not eaten since he brought her to Las Noches, and it had already been three days. He had threatened to force feed her, but still she would not comply. Perhaps the fact that he never actually followed through with his threat had strengthened her will. That would not do. He had to break that will and show her who was in control.
Before Orihime knew it, she found herself pinned seated to the couch, Ulquiorra standing over her with a hand around her neck, staring down at her with emotionless eyes. She opened her mouth to protest, but before she could even get a word out he had used his free hand to shove rice into her mouth and clamp over her mouth and nose immediately following. She grabbed at his hand with both of hers, attempting to pry it off. In her struggle to breathe, she swallowed the rice in her mouth.
Ulquiorra released her and took a step back. She leaned forward, one hand over her lips and the other on her chest, as she began to cough.
He glanced down at her then turned away, his face void of emotion still. "I did not find that to be particularly enjoyable. If you do not want a repeat, then I suggest you eat." He began to head for the door. "I will return in an hour."
When she heard the door close behind him, Orihime began to sob quietly, failing to hold back her tears any longer.
Outside Orihime's door, Ulquiorra stared down at the hand he used to force her to eat, almost glaring down at it. To say that the act was "not particularly enjoyable" was a severe understatement. His body practically rejected it with every fiber of its being, and that didn't make any sense to him.
If she wouldn't eat, he had to make her. If she retained any shred of will, he had to break her. It was his duty to guard her and make her submit. Despite the fact that her powers were unique, and she was more than mere trash like the others, she was still only human.
So, what was this overwhelming and uneasy feeling? Guilt? Ridiculous.
He didn't understand. It was rare for him to not understand, and he didn't like it one bit.
Orihime had returned to her position standing under the window, looking to the moon for whatever little comfort it offered. Still sniffling, trying to get her emotions under control, she did not notice when someone else had entered her room.
Startled, she turned around to find Grimmjow standing there. With his hands in his pockets, he looked at her with a certain amount of disdain in his eyes. He sauntered a few steps into the room, his eyes never leaving hers.
She took an involuntary step back. It was only natural. How could she not hold a certain amount of fear for this person? After she had regenerated his arm, he had immediately used it to pierce through Luppi before completely incinerating the top half of his body. When it was over, he had simply laughed maniacally. Even now, while in a seemingly calm mood, Grimmjow's reiatsu still radiated a certain amount of bloodlust. She didn't know what he wanted with her, but she wasn't sure she wanted to ask.
"Aizen said your power was event rejection," the sexta Espada said, getting straight to the point.
Orihime noted that he did not speak Aizen's name with the same amount of respect the others did.
"Does that mean you can also reject the fact that something's been forgotten?"
Orihime arched her brows and blinked. The question was unexpected and, quite frankly, she wasn't sure what he was trying to ask. "Huh?"
Grimmjow frowned with a small grumble then raised his voice. "I said, can ya bring back lost memories?!"
His reaction made her take another step back. "I…I don't know."
He was on her in a flash with his hand cupped around her chin, bringing her face up closer to his as she stood on the tip of her toes. He narrowed his eyes and spoke in a low, dangerous voice. "Don't mess with me, princess."
Orihime swallowed nervously. His face was a mere inch away from hers, and she was too intimidated to even look away. When she spoke, she tried her best to control the shakiness in her voice. "I…I'm not. My powers are still kind of new to me, and…I don't understand it completely. Maybe it can restore memories. I don't know. It's never happened before. At least…I don't think it has…"
After staring at her for a few more moments, determining that she was telling the truth, Grimmjow let her go.
She looked at him then, her fear momentarily replaced with curiosity, and wondered if maybe he was remembering something.
Grimmjow turned away and frowned in frustration. She doesn't know how she did it… Damn it! Then he unsheathed his zanpakutou and turned back to her with an intense look in his eyes.
Orihime's blood froze. "What are you…?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
Before she finished, however, he had swung his zanpakutou and sliced his left arm off.
She gasped in horror as her hands clasped over her lips. Nonetheless, she simply could not tear her eyes away from the bloody severed limb lying on the pristine white floor.
Grimmjow clenched his teeth to prevent himself from screaming in pain. He sheathed his zanpakutou and sat down in a chair at the table, his still attached hand balled into a tight fist on the table. "Fix it," he hissed between strained breathing.
Orihime was still in shock and did not move.
At that, the girl nearly jumped out of her skin. "Y…yes." She picked up the arm and went over to heal him, her adrenaline pumping through her the entire time. She couldn't understand what just happened, and she didn't dare ask.
"Stop looking so glum already," Renji complained with an annoyed frown. "It's not like you."
"Shut up, idiot," Rukia retorted. "Who says I'm being glum?" Though she said as much, there was no conviction in her tone. Quite frankly, she didn't sound convincing even to herself.
The two of them were currently at a small teahouse in Soul Society, having lunch. Well…Renji was having lunch, but Rukia merely stared at hers.
Renji sighed and put down his chopsticks, his appetite lost. "Look, Rukia. We still have time. She'll be fine, at least for now," he tried to console. "I don't care what Yamamoto Taichou says, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that whole attack was a set up just to capture Inoue. If Aizen would go through all that trouble just to get her, he must have some use for her."
Rukia nodded, albeit a bit mechanically. She had also come to the same conclusion. But even if Inoue was not in immediate danger, there was still another person she was worried about. Ichigo.
She would like to at least be able to go to the living world to check on him. She knew he would blame himself, especially since he had promised Inoue with so much conviction that he would definitely protect her next time. But all she could do now was worry about him and hope that he would not do anything rash.
The sun was due to rise in a couple more hours, but still Urahara stood outside his shop and waited. Eventually, he was rewarded with the soft sound of footsteps on the street.
The shop owner's lips curled up slightly in a small smirk. "I thought you would show up about now."
"How did you know I was coming?" came Ichigo's response. The boy was already in shinigami form.
"You want to enter Hueco Mundo, and you thought I would know how to get you there. Am I right?" Ichigo did not reply, so he took his silence as confirmation. "Well, you would be correct. Come along. The preparations have already been made." He turned to lead the way inside.
Ichigo's eyes widened, genuinely surprised. This was turning out to be a lot easier than he had thought.
Before they could get inside, however, a voice stopped them from behind. "Aren't you rushing him just a little too much?"
Urahara turned around to find a boy with short blond hair staring at him with slightly accusing eyes. By now, said boy already had Ichigo's neck all wound up in bandages, practically choking him, while he himself held on to the ends like a leash.
Shinji turned his attention to Ichigo with a frown, tugging him in by the bandages. "What's with leaving a bundle of used bandages in front of our door, huh? Who the heck would want to use your pre-used bandages?"
"Hi…Hira…ko…!!" Ichigo managed to choke out as his face turned blue and his fingers grasped at the white cloth circled around his neck.
Urahara observed, hiding his face behind his fan, but did not intervene.
Shinji finally let go, much to Ichigo's relief. "So, do you like black…or white?"
After a coughing fit, Ichigo gave the vizard a questioning look. "Huh?"
"The color for your funeral, idiot," Shinji said, nonchalant. "Do you want black or white? I figured I could at least tell your family that much. You're going to Hueco Mundo, right?"
"I'm going to save Inoue," Ichigo replied in all seriousness.
"Don't make me laugh," Shinji said, his voice dripping with disdain. "As you are now? You won't even be able to save yourself. That blue haired arrancar would have killed you if I hadn't shown up the other day. He had you beat, and he didn't even have to release his zanpakutou. Not to mention, the guy was even missing an arm. If you lost to that…what makes you think you can take on all of Hueco Mundo?"
"Inoue's my nakama! I can't just leave her!"
Shinji gave him a solid punch in the face, forcing Ichigo to back up a few steps. "Nobody's telling you to abandon her," he said evenly. "Just don't go until you can actually save her."
Ichigo shook his head, trying to clear the dizziness. "But—"
The vizard kicked him in the gut this time, sending him a good ten feet away before catching up with shunpo. Holding a still surprised and disoriented Ichigo on the ground with a foot on his chest, Shinji narrowed his eyes. "I didn't stop you from fighting that arrancar, because I knew you were the stupid type and had to learn the hard way. But apparently, you're stupider than I thought. You're completely outclassed, Ichigo. Go now, and you'll destroy your chance for victory and her chance for survival. I can't let you do that." He stepped away and turned around, slumping his shoulders as he placed a hand over his heart with a sigh. "Orihime-chan is my first crush after all."
Ichigo sat up, one hand subconsciously going to the spot where he had just been kicked, looking away with an exasperated sigh of his own. "Stop making random confessions like that. It's creeping me out!"
Ichigo thought about everything Hirako just said as he began to unwind the bandages around his neck, trying to decide what he should do. But then his perma-frown deepened when, after twenty go rounds, he still wasn't done with the unwinding. "Damn it! How many times did you wind this thing around me?!!"
"Heh…" was the only irking response he got.
Ichigo grumbled and continued to unwind until finally he was free from the damned long strip of white cloth. However, it was too soon for celebration, because underneath the bandages he discovered a metal collar had been secured snugly around his neck. "What?! What the heck is this?!" He tried to yank it off, but failed.
Shinji turned around and faced him, shrugging with a wide grin. "Nothing much. Just something that will electrocute you if you try to step through Garganta."
"Garga-what?" Ichigo asked with a confused frown.
"Garganta," Urahara said, reminding the boys of his presence, "is the portal you must go through in order to reach Hueco Mundo."
"Oh, and only I know how to take that thing off, by the way," Shinji added.
Ichigo was hopping mad by now. "Get this thing off of me right now, you bastard!"
Shinji only grinned. "When you complete your training. So, if you wanna go sooner, you better work harder."
Ichigo gave the blond a major death glare but knew he had lost. If he wanted to go rescue Inoue, he had to clear this obstacle first.
Shinji grabbed the back of Ichigo's shirt and began to haul the boy away. "Hiyori misses handing your ass to ya. You're coming with me."
"Oi!" Ichigo protested as he was being dragged backwards. "I can walk, damn it!"
Shinji ignored him and kept dragging. Then he paused as though remembering something and looked over his shoulder. "Any objections?"
"None at all," Urahara replied without missing a beat. "Just one question…How long?"
"I'll bring him back in a couple of weeks," Shinji replied as a sly grin appeared on his face. "In any case, it will be before winter for sure."
"What?!" Ichigo exclaimed with indignation. "A couple of weeks?! Three days, tops!"
"You wish," Shinji deadpanned.
Urahara watched with an unreadable expression on his features as the boys continued to argue until they eventually disappeared down the road.
At this point, the door to his shop slid open, revealing Ishida and Sado.
"Urahara-san…who was that?" the Quincy inquired.
The exiled shinigami took a moment to contemplate, his eyes still on the empty road. "Probably the only one who can truly help Kurosaki-san at this point."
Ishida wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean, but now was not the time to deal with it. "If Kurosaki can't go, then Sado-kun and I should go without him."
"No," was Urahara's firm reply. "Even with Kurosaki-san, the odds are not in your favor. Without him, I'm sure you already know, it will be impossible. The two of you should continue your training here until a more opportune time presents itself."
"Don't worry. Aizen won't kill her." Urahara turned to face the boys. "I guarantee it."
"It's not just Aizen I'm worried about," Ishida said with a sigh of resignation. "We have no idea how much control he has over the hollows and the arrancars. There's no telling what could happen."
A/N: So…that's chapter one. Hope you liked! It took me about two and a half months to get this thing outlined. At this point, the story's pretty much set. So, any new facts that may be revealed in the manga from here on will most likely not be worked into the story unless it's extremely convenient. Heh… So, here's me hoping nothing too contradicting will be revealed before I'm done.
Thanks for reading! Reviews appreciated!