I swear I thought this story was dead. I had absolutely no inspiration to finish it. And yet, somehow, after three years here we are with only one chapter to go. I just want to remind everyone this story is, and has been for a good while now, non-canon. There's one part in particular I'm sure will raise some eyebrows, so let me say right now it was inspired by a piece of fan art, which I have linked to in my profile.
So, without further ado, please enjoy this next installment of Pink Doesn't Suit You. Don't forget to review!
The awkwardness in the room, which had briefly dissipated after her conversation with Ulquiorra, returned as the seconds ticked away. Orihime poured herself another cup of tea, brought it to her lips, but didn't take a sip. More than an hour had passed since Szayel and Urahara left to discuss—well, whatever it was scientists discussed—and fifty-nine minutes since Grimmjow left in a huff. She traced the rim of her cup and glanced at Ulquiorra. He shook his head, as if he'd heard the question that had been echoing in her mind.
"Maybe," Orihime said, "we should go look for Urahara-san and Szayel." Half a minute passed. When Ulquiorra didn't answer, she added, "Or at least find out where Grimmjow went. I still feel his reiatsu, faintly, but—"
"Oh, there's no need to worry about him," said Urahara, sliding the door open. Szayel followed close behind. Both scientists looked exceedingly pleased about something. Szayel walked over to Orihime but didn't sit. "We've convinced him to help us out a little longer before he strikes out on his own."
Orihime raised an eyebrow as her gaze shifted between Szayel and the shop owner. "How?"
"You'll understand soon enough," Szayel said with a smirk. "But right now we should prepare ourselves." He turned to Ulquiorra, his expression suddenly serious. "It won't be long until Aizen figures out we aren't in Hueco Mundo. And when he does…"
Ulquiorra stood. He nodded to Szayel, all animosity between the two gone—for the most part. "We will be ready."
"Ready?" Orhime's heart was in her throat. She deciphered the meaning behind their words and didn't like it one bit. "He's going to be coming here, isn't he? Aizen is. To Karakura."
"Yes," said Szayel, unable to look Orihime in the eyes. He heard the concern in her voice, and not just for him and the other ex-Espada. The temptation to quell her fears was strong, but to do so would be an insult to her intellect. It was clear she understood the situation as well as any of them. "And it won't be just him. The other Espada and those other Shinigami ex-captains. Possibly other Arrancar as well."
Orihime took a deep breath, a glint of determination in her eyes. She rose to her feet. "How long do you think we have?"
Ulquiorra's hands came out of their pockets, his right hovering over his zanpakuto.
"That's what why it took so long for Urahara and I to come back," Szayel explained, and glanced at Orihime. "When I mentioned several months had passed since you arrived in Hueco Mundo, Urahara was confused. It turns out you were only gone from this world for a couple of weeks. We realized that time must pass differently between the two."
"Just like with Soul Society," Orihime added, thinking back to the journey that felt like a lifetime ago.
"How long, Szayel?" said Ulquiorra, his voice clipped.
"In Hueco Mundo it'll probably take a half a day, at most, for our disappearance to be noticed." Szayel gripped his zanpakuto with his left hand, his right reaching out for the screen handle. "Which means Aizen and the others should be here—"
Before Szayel could answer, the door slammed opened. Grimmjow entered the room, zanpakuto in hand. A wide grin stretched across his face. "Right now."
Orihime watched the ex-Espada consider each other. They had been 'allies,' in the loosest sense of the term, as Espada, but with their loyalties renounced there was nothing to keep the three from killing each other. And yet, some deeper understanding passed between them.
Grimmjow and Szayel smirked, while Ulquiorra nodded slightly in their direction. They had their differences—some more and deeper than others—but their fate was shared.
In the blink of an eye, they disappeared from sight. Orihime ran out of the room after them, through the maze of Urahara's shop, to the front. She didn't bother checking if the shop owner was behind her, although she could hear his footsteps some ways back. As she approached the entrance Orihime noticed the screen door shoved to the side and practically off its rails.
She stepped out into the early morning light, bright and blinding, and stood rooted in front of the doorframe. Her eyes fixed onto the two silhouettes in front of her. They were not the Grimmjow and Ulquiorra she was familiar with. This was their true forms.
Their released forms.
Grimmjow no longer had his trademark jaw mask. His teeth were longer, more catlike—with a tail and ears to match. His hair was longer, still as bright a blue as the sky above them. There were a couple of things that were familiar though. Orihime recognized the marks around his eyes and the collar of what used to be his uniform.
The change was more drastic with Ulquiorra. His mask was gone, replaced with two horns coming out from his head. His tear marks were no longer the lovely shade of green she once admired, but a more pronounced, thicker, black. Even his hollow hole seemed to weep that same black. There was nothing to be seen of his uniform. Orihime stared at Ulquiorra—or rather up at him, thanks to a pair of leathery wings and matching tail. She couldn't help feeling he looked, quite literally, like a demon.
"Grimmjow and I will go on ahead," said Ulquiorra, his gaze fixed on some point on the horizon.
Orihime followed his gaze, frowning. She could feel the reiatsu pouring out from that spot as well. It was overwhelming, even from where they stood. "What about Szayel? And me?"
Grimmjow glanced behind her. "I think he said he'd try convincing you to stay here." He scoffed. "Good luck with that!" Then he sped off, no doubt determined to beat Ulquiorra to their destination.
Ulquiorra closed his eyes. "That idiot." When he opened them, his yellow and green orbs turned to Orihime. His expression seemed softer somehow, despite his appearance. "Although I do find myself agreeing. Perhaps that makes me an idiot as well."
"That would make three of us."
Orihime nearly jumped at the sound of Szayel's voice. He was directly behind her, closer than she thought. She wanted to face him, curious what she might find. Try as she might, she couldn't bring herself to turn around.
"You'd better go after him," said Szayel, a hint of amusement lacing his voice. "Grimmjow tends to be rash."
If she didn't know any better, Orihime would've sworn she heard Ulquiorra let out a small laugh—albeit a weary one. However, his face remained as passive as ever. "At the very least."
His wings flapped once, then twice, moving the air around him. Orihime's hair whipped about her face, her skirt winding around her legs as Ulquiorra went higher into the air. She watched him fly further and further from her and Szayel, following the same path Grimmjow had taken moments ago. Only when he was nothing more than a speck in the distance did Orihime find her voice.
"So, how are you going to keep me here?" she asked, her back still to Szayel. "I'm guessing that's why you had Grimmjow and Ulquiorra go ahead, so they couldn't stop you from doing . . . whatever you plan on doing."
Szayel sighed. "Turn around."
"I'm not helpless, you know." Orihime had wanted to keep the resent from her voice, but a little managed to seep through. "I may not be as physically strong, but there are many kinds of strength. I thought you'd understand that better than anyone. You always seemed to prize intellect just as much."
"Orihime," Szayel repeated, more firmly this time. "Please."
The mention of 'please' was enough to pique her curiosity. Szayel wasn't one for formalities. Deceitful, he had called it. In fact, he hadn't used the word since he stopped being overly formal with her, when she was a mere experiment. Orihime turned on her heel. She didn't know what to expect.
A gasp slipped past her lips.
Szayel's pink hair was the only part of this form she could recognize, and even that was different, the tips dyed a dark purple. Purple featured quite prominently, from the tips of his fingers to the ends of his sleeves. A matching purple mark decorated his left eye and upper lip. His glasses no longer framed his eyes, having morphed into a sort of visor. But perhaps most startling of all were the pair of wings that had sprouted from his back. They weren't thick like Ulquiorra's, but thin, wispy, with drops of red hanging down. Almost as if he were bleeding.
Altogether the impression was a mixture of strangeness and beauty—and a bit of terror. Such a form seemed fitting for him.
"Szayel, you . . ." Orihime stepped towards him, her hand outstretched.
Purple-tipped fingers wrapped around Orihime's wrist before her hand could reach him. "Don't. This form is quite—it's not—" Szayel smiled grimly. "Let's just say we don't want you to accidently brush against one of my wings."
"With any luck, you won't have to find out."
A shudder ran down Orihime's spine.
"You were almost correct: I didn't want Grimmjow and Ulquiorra to stop me. But not because of what I would do. I won't keep you from coming," said Szayel, finally releasing his grip on her arm. "All I will say is, if the situation takes a turn for the worst, run. Do not try to help us."
Orihime's eyebrows furrowed. "I don't understand. Why shouldn't I—?"
A strange look clouded Szayel's face, the emotions swirling in his amber orbs. Fear. Shame. Uncertainty. It didn't suit the former Octava Espada, who seemed to exude confidence. Some would argue overly so.
"I already have something of a plan in place. Well, more like the rough outline of one," said Szayel, without his usual assertiveness. "I can't be certain that everything will go as I anticipate. If that happens…"
Orihime frowned. Szayel wasn't one to be roundabout. That was Ulquiorra's specialty, or even hers, to a certain degree.
"You know, it's funny. Before I met you I foolishly believed I had achieved perfection." Szayel chuckled and looked down at himself. "With this form. But the more time I got to spend with you, to know you, to understand you, the more I realized how far I was from the truth."
A beat passed.
"What I mean is, I can't promise I can—that I—"
"I understand," said Orihime, taking his hand into hers.
Szayel stared at her. "You do?"
Orihime nodded. It took a bit of concentration on her part. She wasn't accustomed to translating his words, like she was with Ulquiorra. But she understood why he couldn't say them aloud:
I don't want to see you hurt.
A burst of energy caught their attention.
"Kurosaki-kun…and everyone else," Orihime whispered. "I guess I can't say I'm surprised. They would want to defend Karakura, too." Her eyes widened. "Oh no! I hope they don't try to fight with Grimmjow and Ulquiorra. They don't know they aren't loyal to Aizen anymore!"
"You're right," Szayel said, without the slightest worry in the world. "Well, I think we've made those two wait long enough. We should probably join them." He smirked. "This will be more interesting than I thought."
He didn't appear to hear her. "It'll take too long if we go by ground. I should've thought this through better. But no matter! I can carry you. Just remember to keep from touching my wings."
"There's something I need to do before we go."
"Fine," Szayel replied irritably. "But be quick—"
Orihime stepped closer, closing the gap between them, and placed her hands on his cheeks. The words on his lips died as she smiled up at him. That smile. Szayel had seen it once before, during the rainstorm they'd experienced together. Its appearance was no less shocking now, only this one seemed ten times wider, brighter, and more brilliant.
Was it because he could see it up close? Or maybe, just maybe, because that smile was—?
Szayel's breath caught in his throat when he felt her lips press against his. It shouldn't have affected him this way. Skin connecting with skin. The warmth joining them. Her light breaths across his cheek. Nothing spectacular. This wasn't even the first time they kissed. He distinctly remembered that one.
But there was a difference: she was the one to initiate. Somehow, that made all the difference in the world.
All too soon Orihime pulled back. "For luck." It was her turn to be cryptic. Her hidden meaning lingered in the air, but both understood, as if she had spoken the words clearly:
Just in case.
Szayel found himself wishing she hadn't moved, but he pushed the feeling aside. More important matters needed to be taken care of.
He knelt down and placed a hand on her back, his left arm behind her knees. With little effort he lifted her into his arms. Orihime was about to wrap her arms around his neck when she remembered the warning about his wings. She grasped the front of his morphed uniform instead, but as they rose, the ground looking too far away for her liking, her whole body tensed.
Once Szayel took off, in the direction of the enormous amount of reiatsu, Orihime had to look away, her head buried in his chest.
"I won't drop you," said Szayel. "That would be a waste."
Orihime's grip tightened. After a minute she was able to pry her eyes open, long enough to glare at him. She couldn't bring herself to look down, not yet, but she glanced back at his wings. They weren't flapping—or moving at all. And yet here they were floating in the clouds, the streets and buildings of Karakura speeding past them below.
"How are we flying?" Teasingly, she added, "Magic?"
Szayel chuckled. "Perhaps."
"You know," Orihime said, mainly to distract herself from the heights they were currently soaring through, "carrying me like this…you have to admit, it does seem like something a hero would do, don't you think?"
Szayel didn't respond. That was all right. She hadn't expected him to.
They were getting close. As they approached Orihime found it harder to breath, and not because of her flight with a certain former Espada. She could feel everyone: Aizen and the other Shinigami ex-captains hanging back in the distance, taking in the sight before them; Grimmjow and Ulquiorra, already caught up in the battle; the other Espada and their Fraccion, a few already joining the fray.
And her friends.
Ishida and Renji, still battered from their previous fight, pointed up in their direction. Surprise was evident in their voices, though Orihime couldn't make out what they were saying. Their gaze didn't last long as Tesla and Nnoitra attacked, forcing them back. Ichigo spared her and Szayel a glance before returning to his fight with Grimmjow. Ulquiorra was close by deflecting attacks from her friends, Yammy and Nnoitra, in an almost bored fashion. Rukia and Sado were off to the side, injured from before, but alive.
"You know your friends well."
Orihime shook his head as they descended. "Unfortunately." The ground met them with increasing speed. "We need to get them to understand. They shouldn't be fighting you or Grimmjow or Ulquiorra! We need to focus on Aizen and the others."
"Think I should give it a try?" asked Szayel, his grip on her tighter. "Or maybe I should I leave the convincing to you?"
Sado's voice was the first Orihime could make out. As they approached he stared at her, wide-eyed. "Inoue?"
"Inoue-san!" Ishida cried out, his bow taunt. If looks could kill, he wouldn't have needed it to kill Szayel on the spot. "Drop her!"
"Certainly. Though you probably want me to wait till we're on solid ground," Szayel said as he touched down, no more than a foot away. "That would be quite a nasty drop, don't you think?"
"We aren't done fighting." Nnoitra sneered and slashed at Ishida, barely scratching him. "Damn it, Szayel! Can't you see we are in the middle of the something? Go find your own prey!" Szayel was about to point out that, technically, the Quincy was his prey to begin with, when Nnoitra noticed Orihime standing next to him. "Ah, I see you already have."
"I really do not have time for this," Szayel remarked, but his intrigued tone betrayed his words.
All around Orihime was pandemonium. How would she get her friends to stop fighting the three ex-Espada? To them, all Arrancar were the same. They were the enemy. She left Szayel for the moment, too preoccupied with the tussle he had gotten himself into, and made her way to Sado and Rukia.
"Kuchiki-san, Sado-kun," said Orihime, and with a tap of her hairpins, called forth Ayame and Shun-ou. Healing these two took priority. Maybe if she could convince them, she'd have a better chance of convincing the rest.
Rukia looked up, relief flooding her face. "You're all right."
"I think that's my line," Orihime said, smiling. "I felt your reiatsu disappear, and I thought—" The words caught in her throat. "Well, it doesn't matter. Don't move. You'll be better in no time."
"We could say the same about you! Your reiatsu completely disappeared not long after we arrived," said Rukia, as she slowly sat up. Her wounds healed faster than expected. "Ichigo thought they might have…"
Orihime closed her eyes. "No."
"We figured that much," said Sado. "Just now."
"Inoue, what is going on?" Rukia's eyebrows furrowed. "And why were you in the arms of that Arrancar?"
"Kuchiki-san, I realize it might be difficult to believe, but he's not our enemy. The other two fighting against Kurosaki-kun aren't either, the one with blue hair and the other with wings." Orihime waited a moment, then said, "They're no longer loyal to Aizen. They've defected."
"Your friend is right!" Szayel said, dodging an attack from Ishida and Telsa in succession.
Rukia glared at him. "Just because you've defected doesn't make you any less our enemy. You're still Arrancar."
Ulquiorra flew up, over a shouting Ichigo, and landed directly in front of Rukia. "That's correct. We are still Arrancar, regardless of our loyalties." He glanced at Renji, struggling to keep up with Nnoitra and Tesla. "However, considering your situation, I don't believe you are in the position to be picky with your allies."
"Who are you calling 'allies'?" Grimmjow demanded as he struck a blow to Ichigo's back.
Szayel managed to get away from his fight with Nnoitra and Ishida, who were too preoccupied fighting each other to notice he slipped away. "Look," he said, a hard edge to his voice, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? And if you so desire, if we survive this, you can talk to that shopkeeper, Urahara."
A second passed.
"Renji, listen! Don't attack recklessly. Some of these Arrancar are our allies," said Rukia. Then, under her breath, added, "Apparently."
"Are you kidding me?" Renji asked, incredulous. He took in the scene before him, Arrancar fighting against Arrancar fighting against them. "If you say so. Just tell me who to attack!"
"Avoid pink, blue and green!" yelled Orihime, shielding herself from one of Yammy's stray attacks. "Pink! Blue! And green!"
Renji tried not to groan. "Right…"
"You too, Ichigo!" said Rukia, right as he was about to swing his sword at Grimmjow. "Ishida, did you hear what Orihime said?"
Ishida dodged a cero from Nnoitra. "I heard!" He eyed the former Octava Espada and frowned. "Although I don't understand why, I'll trust Inoue-san's judgment."
"Damn, just when I was having fun," Grimmjow said, and pointed at Ichigo. "This isn't over. Consider this a breather from our fight!"
Ichigo grinned. "Fine with me."
"Now what, Szayel?" Orihime asked, finishing up the last bit of healing on Sado. "What was the next step in your 'outline' of a plan?"
Before Szayel could finish, a blurred figure passed him. A spray of blood burst from a slash across his chest. He pressed his hand against the wound. Seconds later similar wounds blossomed on Grimmjow's back and Ulquiorra's leg. Ishida and Renji moved closer, back to back, their weapons ready to strike against this new attacker.
"Ichigo!" Rukia got to her feet and pulled her zanpakuto out, ready to join him.
"I'm fine," he said, gritting his teeth. He gripped his bleeding shoulder and scanned the area, but couldn't find anything. The Espada and Fraccion they'd been fighting seemingly vanished. His grip on Zangetsu was tighter than ever. "How is this possible? I didn't feel anyone approach."
"Of course you wouldn't," said a smooth, masculine voice. "I'm not like anything you're used to, Shinigami."
A white-haired figure stepped towards the group, his gaze as cold as the icy blue of his eyes. For a split second Orihime thought it was Hitsugaya, somehow there to help them. But she realized it couldn't be. The tenth squad captain wouldn't have attacked Ichigo.
And this person was wearing an Arrancar uniform.
"Orihime, so good to see you again!" he said, grinning widely—too widely. Then his gaze shifted, landing on the former Octava Espada. "And you too, Szayel. I guess I should be thanking you. But I'm sorry. I'm afraid"—he pointed his bloodied zanpakuto at them—"I have to kill you instead."
Szayel flexed his fingers. "Kill me, you say? How amusing."
Everyone turned to the pink-haired scientist. They obviously had the same thought in mind, but no one dared ask. Not even Grimmjow and Ulquiorra could bring themselves to question their fellow ex-Espada.
"Szayel," Orihime said finally, her hands moving to her hairclips. She knew she would have to call forth Tsubaki, but she didn't think it wouldn't be this soon. "Do you know who this is?"
"Of course." His eyes practically danced with excitement. "You do, too."
Orihime stopped, her hands barely brushing her clips. "I…do?"
"I'm hurt you don't remember! But I'll forgive you. I do look different, after all," said the white-haired figure. He bowed slightly, almost mockingly, and laughed. "TREA Granz, new and improved, Octava Espada."