A/N: I'm going to ask you before you start reading as a warning—please do try to put up with the absurdity and vagueness at times in the events of this story for the sake of the idea behind it. xD Also, the GrimmHime isn't quite as pronounced as in all my other work, but I think the reality and possibility of something like this happening should be enough a reason to accept the vagueness of the pairing.

Returning Favours

She was clutching her hands together so tight it hurt but she paid the sting no heed. She had no attention to spare anything besides what her eyes could see in front of her. Her heart was gripped by vicious anxiety which adamantly refused to let her loose.

It refused to leave her because the fight that had been going on for a few minutes in front of her very eyes would not end.

She feared it ending.

She feared the end because even she, Inoue Orihime, a pacifist to boot, someone with little to no combat experience, could tell Kurosaki-kun was going to lose.

After all, Ulquiorra wasn't even trying all that hard, really.

As if that wasn't enough, she couldn't do anything to help her shinigami rescuer.

If she came between them, they'd crush her, intentionally or not. If she tried to stop them it would only result in her own demise. She couldn't even get an opening to go and heal Kurosaki-kun's wounds and his movements were already starting to slow down. Even with the monstrous strength of that horrid Hollow mask of his, he was barely a match for the ineloquent Espada.

She felt useless and a dead weight.

She hated it.

She'd thought she'd changed.

How wrong she'd been…

There had to be something she could do. She raked her brain for it, grappled with a way to intervene without putting herself in danger because doing so would be wasting everyone's effort and sacrifices so far to come save her, struggling to come up with a way to tip the scales in the right direction.

But something was stopping her; something was blocking her innate creativity.

While she had no doubt who she wanted the winner from this scuffle to be, she didn't want Ulquiorra-kun to die either. Sure, he had tried her repeatedly, taunted her, demeaned her, humiliated her even, angered her at many instances but she would not wish death upon him for that.

He hadn't really done anything to harm her and it had been only when he had been absent that those two Arrancar girls had dared to venture picking on her. That and it wasn't like he wanted to fight against Kurosaki-kun—he was just following the orders of that traitor shinigami Captain, Aizen.

And thus, usually a person of quick and witty improvisation, Orihime now found herself at an impasse.

There was a particularly loud crash when Kurosaki-kun slammed into a wall, creating a rather large hole in it. He got out of the debris quite quick, shaking himself off before charging straight at Ulquiorra again with a raw snarl of rage.

But Orihime's focus had shifted from the fight to the gaping hole in the wall where a strikingly familiar room lay before her eyes.

The room of the Hougyouku!

Her dark gray eyes widened considerably.

The pillar where the Hougyouku was kept was completely smashed to pieces.

Now was her chance to do the thing only she could do…!

She looked back to the two combatants who were too busy with each other to pay much attention to their surroundings. Adrenaline was pumped in generous quantities along with her blood in her blood stream. Her heart was racing like mad in her barely sustained calm. She had to move stealthily, she had to remain cool or Ulquiorra would sense something and stop her before she could do this.

Before she could end it all. Before she could save everyone. Before she could put an end to the nightmare.

Arriving safely to the adjoining room with no one following her, Orihime searched the debris for the small sphere which looked like it contained a whole compact little Universe in itself.

By the time she dug it up from the bits and pieces of the semi-destroyed room, her ears were ringing from the exhilaration.

She would be able to help Kurosaki-kun! She'd help save the world, the Soul Society and no one else would have to die in this terrible war anymore. No more treason, no more betrayal, and definitely no more bloodshed.

And she was only four small words away from that utopian world…!

"Souten Kisshun…"

Her voice hitched in her throat from the strain her nerves were putting on her psyche. She summoned all her strength—she would see this through; there was no one else who could truly undo this evil besides her.

This was the moment she would prove her worth to everyone and to herself, prove that Aizen was no God and that he could not predict everything. She would prove that good always triumphed over evil. She would defend all her naïve beliefs in this one single moment of truth.

With renewed force, she continued with more decisiveness and conviction than ever before in her life,

"I reje—" but she never got to finish that sentence, because an abrupt strong flare of spirit pressure from behind her overwhelmed all her senses, making any and every process in her body halt in a single moment in time.

She'd hesitated a moment too long; she'd been but a second too late.

And now she was caught.

Ulquiorra was standing right behind her, a disturbingly unreadable look in his eyes, the promise of merciless slaughter in them if she as much as made only one wrong move.

"That's as far as you go," he drawled out in his usual listless voice, but the undertone threat was perfectly discernible to Orihime. "It was exactly for this reason that Aizen-sama wanted me to be the guard of the fortress while he was in the real world. He foresaw you trying to reject the existence of the Hougyouku so he stationed me as your guard at all times, to insure no such thing occurred. You have only proved to be hopelessly predicable with this last pitiful attempt of yours, Inoue Orihime."

A vice tightened around Orihime's heart. Not because she realized her fate was sealed and that it would probably be worse than death, but because she realized Kurosaki-kun was nowhere in sight. This could only mean one thing. He'd finally gone down. He had been killed and she hadn't even succeeded in doing what she'd had to do. He had died in vain…

All was lost now. If Kurosaki-kun was no more, she didn't feel the will to struggle anymore. She could try as she might but there was no way she could beat Ulquiorra when a shinigami of Kurosaki-kun's calibre had not succeeded—she could not possibly delude herself into thinking otherwise.

She turned around on her heel slowly, her gaze pinned to the space between her feet and his. The human girl couldn't believe how it was all going to end. Everyone's effort would go to waste in the flick of a wrist, with the pointing of a finger and then there would be nothing anymore.

Tears brimmed in her eyes; tears of sadness, of despair and of frustration. She shouldn't have dithered; she shouldn't have been so slow. She could've made a difference but she hadn't been strong enough.

And now it was all over.

Just as his arm was reaching out to grasp her, it happened.

A powerful red light tore through the space between them, as though coming from a completely different dimension on its own accord, and just a millimeter short of frying her too. She looked up sharply, eyes wide in disbelief at this turn of events she could not explain to herself.

The very next moment a broad bloodied back blocked her view completely. Looking up, and up again, to see who it was, she immediately spotted the familiar flame-like hair-style. As if that wasn't enough of a hint in itself, the large edgy "6" glared at her imperatively from the exposed back of the individual.

"Grimmjow…-san?" she uttered, her voice still shaky from the emotional stress she was enduring even at that very moment.

She had been saved, against all odds.

And by the least likely person of all, too.

That made it the second time. The second time he had saved her.

He turned to look at her over his shoulder, an unnaturally calm and steadfast look in his sapphire eyes. His brows were drawn together in a tight angry line.

"Do your thing, chit," Grimmjow commanded in a steely tone which left no room for complaints. "There will be no more second chances after this if you fail again."

The moment their gazes met she felt the full force of his presence, of his being. He exuded an odd, uncharacteristic for himself aura, his appearance somewhat different from the last time she'd seen him and it had nothing to do with his roughed up look. Where was he getting all that strength? He had been on the brink of death the last time she'd seen him. How was it possible for him to be here?

He looked away decisively, his gaze set ahead and she realized what it was that made him so different.

He knew. He knew and he was doing it intentionally.

Grimmjow knew he was going to die. He knew he wouldn't live long after sustaining such severe injuries if he moved around too much and still he pushed on, draining the last bit of his strength reserve. He realized perfectly well he would perish but he would do everything to drag his enemy with him.

This was unlike flinging yourself in front of a speeding car to save someone. In a case like that, you moved almost instinctively and the pain of the collision lasted only a second, because you died instantly.

This was a much more fearful death. Realizing perfectly well the consequences, he repeatedly called on all his remaining strength, every muscle in his body permeated with its imminent demise.

She was in awe at the strength of will that must be necessary to do what he was doing just then.

And in that moment Orihime felt a powerful stab of sympathy and despair for the Sexta Espada. Sitting back and doing nothing while people self-destructed was not her cup of tea.

"What a surprise," Ulquiorra began emotionlessly, not sounding the least bit surprised. "You were still alive?"

"Alive and here to kick your sorry ass," Grimmjow snarled and took his stance. Ulquiorra snorted.

"Defeat me? In that condition? By yourself? You are most certainly out of your mind, Grimmjow."

"Who said he was on his own?" The voice came directly behind the emerald eyed Espada and he was almost a second too late to dodge the subsequent black Getsuga Tenshou that followed the query, tearing the entire room in half with its immense force.

Grimmjow huffed, blinking to clear his blurring vision.

"Damn shinigami, getting in the way of my fight…" he grumbled, unsheathing his sword. With a last meaningful look out of the corner of his eye, he launched himself at the two battling men, unintentionally forming a very strong united front with the orange-haired boy who had defeated him not three hours prior.

It took Orihime record time to snap back out of her reverie, her confidence boosted by Grimmjow's sudden unpredicted arrival. She had to hurry and destroy the Hougyouku before either of the two men fighting the Cuatra Espada could fall.

There was no hesitation this time, no faltering. Her voice was now strong and solid, a perfect projection of her determination at that moment.

"Souten Kisshun—I reject!"

For a ball as small, the Hougyouku put up much of a fight at the prospect of having its existence denied. It resisted and resisted her powers but she would not waver; there would be no second chances anymore and she would not need any.

Because she wouldn't allow him to give his life in this fight. Because she would not let him die. Because suddenly she didn't want him to die. Because he had given her confidence she had the power not to allow him to die in this show down.

Because he had saved her, knowing he could only entrust this important task to her.

Her brow creased and Ichigo slammed against another wall, breaking it, while Grimmjow was having the last of his life beaten out of him. She tripled her effort and when that did not suffice and the cracking of the ribs of their Arrancar ally resounded in the large hall, she quintupled her power in her battle of wills against an existence as adamant as the hellish little sphere in front of her.

A cobweb-like crack snaked across the smooth surface of the small universe. And then another one, and another one after it.

And then the Universe exploded in a violently powerful blast.

The shinigami from Soul Society were baffled. One moment they were fighting Arrancars with human appearances and incomprehensible power, the next said Arrancars changed shape without a warning or reason, their strength diminishing considerably.

Aizen's army hadn't stood a chance.

"Have we taken care of everyone, Isane?" Unohana Retsu inquired imperiously, her usual air of authority permeated and dulled quite a bit by the exhaustion she had a hard time veiling.

"Yes, that was the last one just now, Captain Unohana," Isane breathed out, relief spreading on her face.

They'd made it in time—there had been many who had been badly injured and some were still unconscious but no one was in critical condition anymore. That was Captain Unohana for you—she definitely knew what she was doing, Isane mused with a swell of pride at having the honour of working under such an incredible person.

The Captain of the Fourth Division sighed in relief as well, not guarding her emotions from showing on her face for the first time.

"Thank goodness we were successful. But next time we might not be so lucky…"

"Hey, what's that over there?" someone by the two top seats of Squad Four asked, drawing their attention to the thing in question. "It looks like it's coming this way…"

All present shinigami pinned their gazes at the very slowly approaching—and severely limping—thing, whatever it was. Eyes widened a fraction when realization dawned on some faces.

"It's an Arrancar!" one shinigami exclaimed and a few unsheathed their swords, taking attacking stances.

However, all stood down when Unohana raised her arm, signifying them to put down their weapons.

"But, Captain Unohana—" one especially spunky shinigami protested, only to be smothered by the look the addressed woman threw him.

"We have shed enough blood and spirit force to waste any more recklessly. Let us see what it wants and then we shall decide on the best tactical move. Am I clear?" Her tone was icy and carried an unquestionable finality. All the low-seated soul reaper could do was nod dumbly.

Soon, from the distance a large panther approached, limping with its left paw. More intriguing than the appearance of the animal-like Hollow though was its cargo—a familiar human girl with orange hair was draped over the panther's back, her body sprawled over it, completely still and limp while carried away. Trapped between the Hollow's sharp canines was the collar of a certain substitute shinigami boy who was equally unconscious as the girl.

The Soul Society folks could only stare in utter bafflement as the panther let go of Ichigo's kimono rather roughly and then shrugging off the fainted young woman from its back as lightly as possible. Once she was secured on solid ground and some people from the Fourth Squad started fussing over her, it snarled in a distinctly male voice.

The destruction of the Hougyouku had practically sucked the life out of Orihime but she had pushed herself further, using what little strength she had left to heal some of his most serious wounds. Needless to say, she had not been too successful, what with being on the brink of consciousness herself and it being much too late for him.

But the desperate effort she made to save him, an enemy who had tried to kill her rescuer repeatedly, that she spent that last bit of her spirit force to try and stitch him up instead of her using them on her precious shinigami—who admittedly didn't need as much stitching up as he did, but that was besides the point,—that she was gullible and imbecilic enough to do something as pointlessly noble and downright idiotic, didn't sit quite well with him.

He felt like he was indebted to her all over again. And he hated it. He had lost his human form but not even a tiny fraction of his beloved pride.

So he had used what little fight he had in him to bring her to safety with her kin, along with that abomination of a shinigami who had barely scraped death himself.

"With this we're finally even, woman."

The panther muttered and collapsed heavily, the life fleeing its body quickly.

Grimmjow could distinctly recall the feeling of all his limbs going numb with encroaching inevitable death. He could remember his mind going blissfully blank, and he remembered being calm for the first time in his whole existence. The innate fear characteristic of all Hollows had left him and he'd felt at ease.

He knew he had died after dragging that woman's body to the shinigami bastards.

So how was it possible that he could open his eyes if he didn't have a body anymore?

He felt horribly disoriented and at once annoyed. He'd just started enjoying his retirement and someone had to go and spoil his fun. That was just so typical.

Then he looked a bit more closely at his arms and noticed they were arms indeed when they should've been paws. Nothing seemed to make sense in that moment.

It was only a second or two later that Grimmjow noticed the girl sleeping at the foot of the bed he was lying in, her face buried in her crossed arms. It seemed she'd been there quite a while and sleep had claimed her when she'd taken down her guard.

He sighed through his nose, relaxing his stiff back against the atrociously fluffy pillow behind him.

Great. Just great. Right when he had settled his score with her she had to come out with a favour he could never possibly return.

Grimmjow abhorred Orihime's idea of kindness. It just grated on his nerves in a way nothing else ever had.

Oh, well. At least he had nerves on which she could grate.

And somehow he knew that as long as it was so, everything would eventually work itself out some way or another.