For Judikickshiney. Happy late B-day.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or "Hotel California" by The Eagles.
AN: This is based on the wonderful song "Hotel California" by The Eagles. If you've never heard it, I suggest you listen to it before reading this story. It gets you in the right mind set. Keep an open mind that this is AU. Kenpachi and Yachiru are not father-daughter. Yachiru is grown. This is first person, which I don't write in, so forgive any errors.
Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
I turn radio down as I scan the sides of the road for any sign of life. These Arizonan deserts are as solitary as you would imagine. I've been on Highway 89 for two hours already and haven't seen another traveler. It's getting dark out and my gas is pretty low. I hope I come across something soon or else I'll be in trouble.
My window is cracked a bit, a warm breeze rushes in and I breathe in the heavy air. I remove a hand from the wheel and content myself with regaining the feeling in my stiff fingers. I doubt my cell phone could even get service out here, not that the battery wasn't dead anyway.
It was only reasonable to believe there had to be a gas station somewhere nearby. They couldn't expect someone to just drive straight across a desert without anywhere to stop, could they? I couldn't blame anyone for not wanting to live out here. This "Painted Desert" was just a wasteland with a highway running through its center.
There's a sign up ahead in the distance. It's faded and the sky was starting to get dark, but I could vaguely read something that looked like it might be an advertisement for a motel about ten miles ahead. It was better than nothing. Hopefully it was still open and I could find someone to tell me how much more of this endless wasteland I had to endure.
I'm almost excited as I catch sight of a few lights shining a few miles ahead. I tap my fingers anxiously on the wheel, taking in the sight of the desert moon hanging low, almost like it's touching the ground.
A coyote's in front of the parking lot, feeding on some old carcass that was lying on the side of the road. I drive around it and the canine yips and springs a few steps backwards, giving my car some space as I pass the mutt.
There are two cars in the lot. An old convertible, older than I would have expected to see in a place like this, but it's obvious it hasn't been driven in years. There are weeds growing out of the rusted hood. The tires are all flat. One's even gone. The fabric top was probably destroyed years ago and a ripped piece of the fabric was fluttering in the light wind. What once was a beautiful car was now nothing than a piece of junk that had fallen into disrepair.
Another car, much better looking than the convertible, looked like it might still be drivable. This one was non-descript and black, but unlike the other two, this one was in one piece. Not a dent on it. It was covered in dust, but then again so was everything else. There was nothing odd about this one except it looked like some kind of gangster car. Big and sleek, an eighties model of some sort, it had been there the shortest time of the two. There was another person here, or maybe it was the owner's.
I get out, stretching my back before I pull my duffle bag out of the back seat and heft it over my shoulder. Might as well stop for the night and get some information. I shut the door and hit the button on the remote to lock the doors.
I shuffle past the longtime dead convertible and caught sight of one more car almost hidden on the other side of the building. The pale orange Nova had somehow been crashed into the cement base of the hotel. The windshield was shattered and the front end was crushed, a big feat considering how tough that kind of car could be. The driver must've really been going fast to crunch it up that good. It was a little lopsided, the left side of the car was stuck in a deep groove, probably make by the car as the driver had lost control. My eyes follow the groove back to an old garage, a hundred yards behind the hotel. The wooden door was in pieces, some scattered across the ground. Stupid idiot had driven straight through the door. The driver's side door hung open and the bottom of it grazed the dirt. If it weren't for the interior beginning to rot, I would have thought that the owner's kid had tried to take it for a recent joy ride or something, but from the growing rust holes dotting the under body of the car, I'm pretty sure it's been sitting there for quite some time.
"Did you need something, Sir?"
I pull my head away from the Nova and my eyes widened as I catch sight of a girl—young woman standing on the wooden porch, holding a small lantern to peer into the darkness. I take a few steps toward her.
"Yeah, I was hoping to get a room for the night. This is a hotel, right?" I rub the back of my head, looking for a sign confirming my words.
Her eyes narrow and she lifts the candle slightly, catching my face in the orange light. Her stare is making me uncomfortable, but after a few seconds she motions for me to come closer. "It's been a while since we've had any guests here. No one really comes down this highway anymore."
"I don't blame them, there's not much going on around here, is there?" My feet carry me up the steps and onto the porch.
"Not really," the girl gives a small shrug. "You have to go into the city if you want to do anything and that's another two hours drive from here."
"Two hours to the next town?" I blank; I know I don't have that much gas. A few more miles and my gas light would probably turn on.
"No, there's a town about ten miles ahead," she smiles pleasantly. "You can go if that's all you really needed. I won't mind if you leave, most people usually do after they learn there's a town nearby."
I almost take her up on the offer to leave, but instead I reach out and open the door for her, letting the both of us inside. Some kind of emotion shimmers in her eyes as the door falls shut behind us. The wax trickles down the candle, landing on the base of the holder and she smiles.
She introduces herself and tells me dinner will be served in an hour as she shows me to my room. I figure I have enough time for a shower and hop in almost immediately after I shut the door. I strip myself of my sweat-sticky t-shirt and jeans and turn on the shower. I leave the water at a mild luke-warm and rinse the day old sweat and grime off my body and out of my hair. I towel myself dry and pull my wet hair back into a tight plait. A fresh change of clothes and I'm out the door.
A chill runs down my spine as I pass a door that was left cracked open. There wasn't any noise or movement, but I could tell someone was in there. I hurry past as best I can, heading back for the entrance.
"Yachiru?" I ask quietly. The place almost seems abandoned. She couldn't have been the one in that room, right? The uneasy feeling I'm getting isn't much help.
The building is pretty big and probably was built in the earlier twentieth century. It's beautiful inside with a spiral staircase, dozens of rooms, and a spacious living room area. Lots of twists and turns, too, unfortunately. I wonder who built a small mansion like this in the middle of a desert, but I know I won't get any answers.
There's no electric lighting and there are sconces at even settings across the walls. Candlelight flickers out of a few of them, casting my shadow across the wall. I hear a door creak open and immediately head for the noise, desperate to find the girl, Yachiru, again.
I stop as I turn a corner and nearly ran into a hulking giant of a man. The candlelight flickers across his bare chest. A large jagged scar ran from shoulder to hip, ridging up over tight, well-formed muscle and skin. He lifts a brow and I notice another scar running down the left side of his face. A closer look shows a massive amount of scars and even a few fresh wounds covering his body.
"A new one, eh?"
"I, uh," I swallow, unsure of what to do.
"That's what you call me."
"Don't listen to him," Yachiru's voice came from behind us. "Ken-chan's a big softy."
Soft wasn't the first thing that came to my mind. More like hard. Very hard.
I nod, introducing myself. "Renji."
"Just call him, Zaraki," Yachiru tells me, giving a light smack on the man's washboard stomach. "He won't bite," she winks. "Hard."
And I somehow doubt her words.
She shimmies her hips a little as she leads the two of us down the hall. I can't help but watch as the petite girl walks. Almost as if she's trying to entice me on purpose.
She is truly a lovely girl, almost childlike face with wide eyes and thick lashes, just noticeable curves under the t-shirt she wore. Smaller girls like that have never been my taste, but I tighten my fists anyway as I look away from her. I can tell from the look in the eyes of the man next to me that smaller girls are just his taste. I swallow realizing that this man must be her husband or lover.
I can't touch her then. My fingers dig into my palms for a second before I relax. It wasn't like I would anyway.
Yachiru leads Zaraki and I to a courtyard that was settled in the middle of the building. The glass doors almost make it look like an atrium, but there's a small garden in the center of the cobblestones. Apparently the desert sun didn't destroy the leafy plants that were growing there. The short trees shadow the seating that sat under them.
"I want you to meet my friends," Yachiru says, pointing ahead. I follow her finger to a chaise lounge settled in the corner. Funny, I hadn't noticed it before. I also hadn't noticed the two wrapped together on the cushions.
"Ikkaku," Yachiru interrupts and a bald man pulls away from the lips he'd been devouring, a slightly annoyed look on his face.
My eyes fall on the panting man underneath him. He had one of those faces that are often mistaken for beautiful, but are actually just incredibly handsome. He's pale and sweating slightly even though the temperature has dropped significantly. His eyes flutter open and he tries to get up, but Ikkaku places a hand on his chest and firmly holds him down.
Zaraki grunts at him, making Ikkaku hesitant a little before he answers. "What is it, Yachiru?" Ikkaku's tone is impatient. He obviously wants to get back to what he was doing.
"Please let Yumichika up," Yachiru's commanding tone is unquestionable; I can hear it hidden in her voice. I wonder how such a small woman can be in control and I expect Ikkaku not to follow her orders, but to my surprise the bald man stands and Yumichika slowly gets up and walks over to me. He looks sickly and a little thin, but is still attractive all the same. He gives a slight bow and a smile that doesn't reach his eyes.
"Ayasegawa Yumichika," the man introduces himself. I can't help but notice various bruises covering his chest. I have no doubt that they are some kind of gift from this Ikkaku guy. "It's nice to meet you."
I hastily bow in return, unsure of what to make of the young man's formality and traditional way of speaking. "Abarai Renji."
"Yumichika is the worst friend I have," Yachiru smiles, running her fingers through the man's long hair.
"Worst friend?" I repeat, confused by her words.
"He was the only one who didn't want to stay with me," Yachiru's voice holds a tinge of sadness. "He tried to leave us when we first met."
My thoughts drift back to the Nova outside and the condition it was in. How long has he been here and what did they do to make him stay?
"Renji," Yachiru smiled warmly and takes my hand in hers. "It's time for dinner."
Zaraki pushes Ikkaku's shoulder and the bald man grabbed Yumichika as Yachiru led me inside. I'm starting to feel panicky and my heart is racing. Something's telling me to leave, but morbid curiosity keeps me from doing it.
When we stop we are in front of the room I hurried by earlier. I hear Yumichika's breath hitch slightly as Ikkaku drags him inside, shutting the door behind them.
Yachiru waits patiently and I look around, confused. There's a muffled cry from inside the room.
"What's going on?" I ask, turning to Yachiru. Her grip on my hand tightens a little.
"You'll just have to see," Yachiru stroked the back of my hand and I could feel Zaraki's anger from here. "It's wonderful."
I find myself being led into the room and gape at Yumichika's prone body tied down on the bed. Ikkaku's sits on the edge, toying with a small knife. I stop, refusing to go another step. A thin stream of blood runs from Yumichika's shoulder to his hip. It had been the same with Zaraki and I begin to wonder if this is some kind of ritual.
Yachiru finally let go of my hand and crawled up on the mattress next to Yumichika. "Renji, come here."
I pale, moving to her side obediently. She takes my hand again and I let her spread my fingers and run them through the blood on Yumichika's chest. I jerk my hand back as I come to my senses. "Let him go."
"He wants to be here," Ikkaku says, giving me a cold glare. He rests a hand in Yumichika's hair. "We all do."
I back away, moving away from them. "Doesn't look—"
Zaraki grabs my shoulder and holds me in place.
"Please, Renji," Yachiru stands on the mattress and takes my face in her hands. "We want you here, too. We're all just prisoners to this place."
I don't know what to say. I want to turn and run, but I can't.
Yachiru's pulling my fingers to her mouth and her tongue darts across to taste the blood on them. I feel sick and look at Yumichika. We make eye contact for a second before he closes his eyes and shakes his head sadly.
That's the final straw. I rip myself out of Zaraki's grip and race down the hall. Thankfully my keys are in my pocket. All I need to do is get to my car. I hate this place, filled with all kinds of twists and turns. Most of the sconces are lit so it's hard to see. To my luck I see the staircase leading downstairs and take it. The front door is only a few feet ahead. I run to it, reaching the knob, but a hand grabs my collar and throws me to the ground.
My chest heaves and I try to regain my breath. I look up at Ikkaku, who was smiling smugly down at me.
"What are you?" I gasp, trying to make sense of anything I'd seen tonight. Ikkaku doesn't say anything. He only steps aside as Yachiru comes up and kneels beside me.
"Renji, don't be silly," Her eyes sparkle in excitement. "We're just like you."
I look up at her, not sure of how to reply. I think of Zaraki, standing in the back silently and Ikkaku lounging against the door. They had wanted to stay, but why hadn't Yumichika? I couldn't understand. What kind of place was this?
"Why won't you let me go?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Ikkaku spoke up, "You can't leave here."
"No one can," Yachiru whispers.
They put me back on my feet and I go back to that room with them. I watch as they partake it what I assume is a nightly happening for them. It's wild, rough, and looks painful. I don't join in, but I don't leave either. They'll just drag me back again, so I stay.
I stay because I can't leave and as time goes by I will come to understand their quirks and rituals, but there are also things I'll never understand.
They can kill you, but you can't die. I saw that on the first night. They did things to kill Yumichika time and time again. He never actually died though, just bore through the excruciating pain until they were finished with him.
They heal almost instantaneously, but their scars never disappear as if they're some kind of testament to what they put themselves through.
They don't age, they don't eat, and they don't sleep.
In the many years I've been here, I've learned more about my housemates.
Kenpachi Zaraki was the first. In 1953 he stopped here for the night, Yachiru opened the door for him and he never left.
Next had been Yumichika in 1971. He was the one who tried to escape, but failed. I have to admire him though. He made it outside. I've never gotten that far in all the times I've tried.
Ikkaku was in 1987. When the offer was made open to him, he couldn't turn it down. He wanted to be here. I can't understand why, but he seems to enjoy being here the most.
Yachiru is the only mystery to me. No one talks about how long she's been here, but she was the first one. I occasionally wonder how she keeps us here, but I doubt I'll ever know the answer.
Of everything I've seen, I won't call it magic or anything like that. It's like we should be under a spell, but we aren't. Sometimes I look out the window at night and can catch small glimpses of the lights in the next town. I wonder how much time has passed in the outside world. I occasionally see cars go by, models and styles I've never seen before, but none ever stop.
There are rumors that this place is haunted by the ghost of a young prostitute, Ikkaku tells me with a laugh. They don't stop because people disappear on this highway.
If only I had known.
I can't help but wonder at night as I hold Yumichika or Yachiru in my arms how true that small urban legend is.
I'll just wrap my arms tighter around them and close my eyes, wishing I could sleep, if only to dream about the past I had and the future that never ends.