Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, nor do I intend to. I'm glad I don't have to deal with filler-hating fans, thank you very much.


Prologue

A hollow is born heartless. The wretched remains of a soul, thriving on the lives of his colleagues, his friends and family. His will is no longer his own, but that of what he has become. There is no love in a hollow, nor sorrow.

If a hollow is heartless, then an Arrancar is truly empty. Pulled out, as it were, torn away from the only semblance of self left in him. He has become nothing more than a shell. Nothing more than a tool.

And we Espada are the ultimate tools. Hueco Mundo's sharpest swords; some of us double-edged blades, some of us loyal to the end. Controlled completely by our master, our creator who calls us his children. We were created in his image, and therefore he is our god. We are puppets whose strings are stronger than steel. Our lives are his to do with as he pleases. There is nothing that he does not control.

This is what our Aizen-sama has told us. His word is our law, our judge, jury and executioner. Before, there had never been a reason for me to second guess him. Before, everything he said proved true. He told us that we existed for the sole purpose of serving him, and I willingly believed him. After all, he was the one who rescued me from my pitiful existence as a mere hollow. He was the one who breathed life into me, who gave me human form and clothed me. I was born solely for him, under his watchful eyes.

The birth of an Arrancar is no longer something special, however. It seems every day another Hollow is added to Aizen-sama's family. Espada are by no means required to be in attendance every time a new arrancar was created, but there is little in the way of entertainment to be had in Las Noches, and so it is not uncommon to see Espada gathered for a birth. In truth, I had not meant to be in attendance that day. It was by coincidence that I found myself in the hall at the time. Now I wonder if that is so.

A bright light shone, as is the norm, and suddenly where a hollow had sat, there was a man. A man with strikingly blue hair, and a sharp-toothed jawbone set against his right cheek. Gin handed him a robe as Aizen-sama asked his name.

The man smirked insolently and sneered in reply. "Grimmjow Jaggerjacks."

Chapter 1

I was shocked a bit at first, then angered. Never had I seen or heard anyone show disrespect toward Aizen-sama. But Aizen-sama merely smiled slightly in amusement. "Welcome, Grimmjow," he said politely.

But he was forgettable, this new puppet. He held no importance to me, and so I could ignore him so easily. Aizen-sama took him as one of his favorites, as one of his beloved Espada. Still, for the longest time, he was nothing to me. No more than an annoyance. No more than a speck, a tiny fly at the edge of my vision. He was not special in this way; I had eyes for none. I had only duty.

It was duty that led my life; duty showed me where I should walk, how I should speak, what I should do that would be of the most benefit to Aizen-sama. It was constant and unwavering. It was all that was familiar to me, and therefore it was all that was important to me.

Consequently, I could not understand how this new espada could neglect the duties that Aizen-sama set for him. Could he not see that Aizen-sama would not have commanded him unless it was important? Was he blind to the disorder, the foolishness and anarchy that he spread with each of his acts of insubordination?

His rebellious nature was infectious; although few of the other Espada were foolish to the point of outright defiance, as he was, the atmosphere of Las Noches had taken a definite shift. Arrancar were quicker to question Aizen-sama's dictatorial decisions, but they would never act against him. They would criticize him when they thought he could not hear, but they would never say anything to his face. None were brave enough. With the exception of one.

At each meeting I watched as he questioned Aizen-sama's authority. He was careful with his words – always, he was argumentative and uncooperative, but he seemed to recognize there was a line he should not cross. He ridiculed, but he did not mock. He protested, but he did not refuse. He danced carefully along the border between difficult and dismissible.

Often I wondered why Aizen-sama bothered with him. He had shown no exceptional physical or mental abilities that I had seen, besides being perhaps slightly faster than the average arrancar. And yet he had earned the rank of sexta, only two seats below me.

He was irksome, but easy enough to push to the back of my mind. As long as he did not interfere with my duty, I could ignore him with ease.

It was when he defied Aizen-sama that he became my enemy.

Not long after he made Grimmjow an Espada, Aizen-sama decided that it would be best for both himself and the arrancar to maintain a policy of utmost secrecy. The implications of his decision were clear; arrancar were not permitted to enter the human world unless they had explicit orders from Aizen-sama himself. It was irksome to some, yes. They had been inconvenienced; they felt that they had lost rights they were entitled to. But they did not dispute Aizen-sama, and they did not enter the human world.

He, however, seemed to decide that this order excluded him. In any case, it was not a surprise when I happened to come across him returning from that very dimension from which he had been banned.

"What do you think you're doing?" I demanded upon seeing him step out of his portal.

He turned sharply to face me, a look of terror briefly crossing his features. He had not expected to run into me so soon upon returning, of course. That was good. It meant I had the element of surprise.

"Oh," he said, visibly relaxing. "Well, if it isn't Mr. Cuatro." He smirked as though he though himself dreadfully clever.

"I will not repeat myself again," I said sharply. "What do you think you are doing?"

"Oh, lighten up," he whined. "You think it really matters if I take a little trip to the real world every now and again?"

"Aizen-sama believes it does."

"Aizen-sama," he sneered. "Do you really think he knows what he's doing?"

"Do not question Aizen-sama," I said icily. "Or would you rather that I report you right now?"

His derisive sneer fell a bit, if only to be replaced twofold. "Why don't you fight me?" he goaded. "If you beat me, you can tell ol' Aizen-sama anything you fucking want."

I stiffened as his hand reached for the sword hilt at his waist. Quickly, too fast for his sluggish brain to perceive, I stepped up to him and grabbed his wrist, even as his hand closed around the hilt.

"Do not think of fighting me," I ordered him coldly.

He chuckled scathingly. "Is Aizen's little favorite afraid to get his hands dirty?"

"You misunderstand me," I corrected him. "I merely meant that you would not be worth the time it would take to kill you."

His eyes twitched, and his smile faded as he sized me up. "You think you're so high and mighty," he spat at me.

"Need I remind you that I am two ranks your superior, sexta?" I asked, putting a scornful emphasis on his title.

He was no longer smiling. Now, he was furious. His eyes glared at me angrily through narrowed eyelids, his brow furrowing in rage. I had insulted him, and he knew that I was right, no matter how he played his hand.

I waited until I thought he had begun to cool down, then released his arm and moved to walk past him. I had hardly taken a step when he lunged at me. He struck at me with surprising accuracy, his blade zinging angrily through the air. He had aimed to kill me. But he was slow. Far too slow to even scratch me, a fact I demonstrated not only by dodging his meager attack, but also by completely disarming him in the same instant. Both his arms pinned behind his back with only one of my hands, his sword lying at his feet, out of his reach. He had lost.

And yet, he laughed. Scornfully, triumphantly. He turned his head so I could see his sneering grin, his teeth unnaturally sharp.

"Does defeat amuse you, trash?" I demanded.

"Heh," he scoffed. "I got you to use your hands, didn't I?"

I stared at him in mild shock, wondering what he meant.

"I've seen you fight," he elaborated. "You only ever use your hands if your opponent is at least on your level or stronger." His grin became maniacal, almost hysterical. "I'm as strong as you are, Ulquiorra."

I bristled at his casual use of my name. I was his superior; how dare he address me so nonchalantly? How dare he presume to place himself on my level, when he had seen not even a fraction of my true strength? He had been sorely misguided if he had thought he could possibly match me.

"It is unreasonable to expect me to engage in any fight without the use of my hands, sexta." I spat his title at him. "I only required hand one to disarm you just now. There is a reason that Aizen-sama made me his fourth espada, and you his sixth. I am far stronger than you could ever hope to be."

He had dropped his sneer, and the victory in his eyes had changed to a murderous glare. He intended to kill me. I wouldn't stop him if it was a battle he wanted. But he could see now that what I said was true; I was stronger than him, much stronger. He stood no chance against me, not alone. He could try to fight me all he wanted, but it would only end in his death.

When I released him, he said nothing, and after picking up his sword, he strode away without so much as a glance back.

It was after that incident that my view of him began to differ. The transformation was a gradual one, but the effects were no less apparent because of it.

I began to hate him. He was disrespectful. He was rude. He was loud, and detestable, and I wanted him to die. No, I wanted to kill him. I wanted his blood on my hands. I wanted to watch as his eyes glossed with death. Never had I so wanted anything as I wanted that.

I wanted to listen as he breathed his last breath.

Every time I saw him, every time I heard his voice, my desire to kill him grew a little more. I restrained myself from showing my hate. I would not make any sign that I felt differently about him than about any other arrancar. But he was different, because he was so abhorrent, so loathsome, because I wanted to kill him when I merely tolerated the others. His was the throat I wanted to tear. His were the lungs I wanted to crush.

He was my prey, and I would be his end.

Almost it felt as if he was deliberately taunting me. Whenever he said something particularly offensive, it seemed that he would purposefully meet my eye and smirk. His comments all seemed to be a personal attack aimed directly at me. Aimed as accurately as his sword had once been. But this was more effective. I could dodge a blade. I could not close my ears completely to his accusations, his ignorant ramblings, his derisive comments. They only served to infuriate me.

His snide remarks and ridicule began to root themselves in my mind, along with all his other features. They consumed me, filled me with a cold rage. Thoughts of him began to sneak up on me unbidden. Now he was able to enrage me not only when he was present, but when I was alone, as well. He planted himself firmly in my head. My hate for him was beginning to devour me.

I told myself that I could not become obsessed with him. It was unseemly for a superior to be so fixated on his subordinate. Besides, I lived for Aizen-sama, and until Aizen-sama no longer had a need for him, he must stay alive.

But then, he would be mine.

For so long, I watched him, waiting for the day when I could fulfill my wish, when I could take the life from that foolish, imbecilic body. I watched him carefully, imagining my hands around his throat. I watched his every move, learning, so that I could kill him swiftly when the time came. It was all unnecessary; I could have killed him without a thought, without so much as flick of my hand. But I couldn't help studying him, or imagining his death.

A million times I killed him in my dreams. I slit his throat, and soaked my hands in his blood. I crushed his skull beneath my foot, and admired the crack it made when the bone collapsed. I pierced his heart with nothing but my bare hand. That was my favorite. I could nearly feel his heart as it beat its last pulse, growing cold between my fingers.

Always, these fantasies left me unsatisfied, wanting more. I could not be content until he was dead. Not until I killed him, and watched him die.

It seemed that he was everywhere I went. He would pass me in the hall and smile that infuriating sneer. On missions, wherever I went, he was there. At meetings, it seemed he would meet my gaze on purpose, as if laughing at me, and the urge to rip him, to tear him limb from limb would almost overtake me.

I was apparently not the only one who disliked him. The others seemed to enjoy a good brawl with him now and again. Aizen-sama quickly grew impatient with his disrespect, and often reprimanded and punished him. It enraged me; he was not theirs to harm. He would die at my hands. Only my hands could cause him pain. I would be the one to end his life, not them. They couldn't do it properly. Only I could destroy him. Only I could put an end to him. He was mine.

It seemed that I watched him for an eternity. I could hardly remember a time when I hadn't lived wholly for his demise. Everything was about him. About his death. Him.

And then, before I knew what was happening, he wasn't whole anymore.


Um, hello there. I'm Laura, and this is my first fanfiction outside the realm of Harry Potter. Yes, I'm aware that the amount of angst is overwhelmingly angsty. It's enough to make you want to angst, isn't it? Or maybe that's just me. Cough cough.

This story is actually finished, you know. (And you can't say "No, I don't know," because now you do!) It was written as and meant to be read as a one-shot, but turned out muchmuchmuch longer than I'd originally anticipated. So, five chapters. The second one's pretty short, I'll warn you. Not that this wasn't. But the second one is even shorter. The point is, if you want to read it the way I intended it to be read, wait until I've posted all the chapters. Lots of good this warning is going to do you at the end of the chapter, eh? But, as my dear, dear beta has pointed out, that's a fuckload of angst to take in during just one sitting.

Speaking of my dear, dear beta... NeuroticNut! That's her. Did I spell it right? I think I did. Thank you so much. You know you love my driving!