Ah, here we go! Long time no see, folks :) And, as usual, I am not going to keep my word after the up next...(five months later, even I cannot blame myself :) so...Please don't :D

Many, many thanks for your kind words in my absence. They made for great encouragement, and kept me having fun at writing this, as I can only hope you have fun reading.

As always, props to my betas - IVIaedhros and Maidros, both better men than I :)

And so, to tonight's

Warnings: To all you non-Understanding readers out there, Szayel and Tousen, well...they're sort of an item. Don't say I didn't tell you.

'This subject is not open to conversation.'

Kaname Tousen sat up, abruptly and mechanically, looking every inch the automaton he was, and even managing to sound more like an automaton than usual. He pushed the silken sheets aside, then paused for a brief moment, getting his bearings.

The hesitation was all that Szayel Aporro needed. Once more congratulating himself on the inspiration of removing the carpet from the side of his bed, the Arrancar sensuously leaned over, putting his arms about the other man's bare stomach to keep him in place. Kaname Tousen was not keen on post coital cuddling – no more than he was keen on foreplay, as a matter of fact – and while he had initially thought that the latter of Tousen's dispositions would cause him some trouble, it was the former aspect of his personality that was thwarting Szayel's expectations.

It left him little room and time for pillow talk manoeuvring , which had been the very purpose of the entire affair. Well, Szayel considered, playfully and tenderly biting at Tousen's side, and smiling to himself as the Shinigami shuddered, it was not as if the entire situation had not given other types of satisfaction as well. Kaname Tousen was not an unattractive man, and though he was not a considerate lover by any stretch of the imagination, he was sufficiently satisfying. Whatever harm he caused, Szayel thought, analyzing the bruising on his wrists with a tender, appreciative eye, was entirely incidental.

Too bad; that would have at least made it interesting.

But then, it was probable that the lack of purposeful brutality was not caused by the fact that Tousen did not want to cause pain, but simply by the fact that he did not truly know how to do it properly. Also, actively causing pain might have forced him to directly focus on the act, at precisely the time when he would have preferred that his mind was as far away from his body as possible.

Yes. Decidedly, the Shinigami's obvious self loathing was by far the most pleasant aspect of the affair; having the opportunity of observing such a deeply schizoid personality from up close was a treat that any psychologist might have killed for. In fact, Szayel suspected that Kaname Tousen suffered from at least three different and completely independent personality disorders and neurosis, starting from his pathological attachment to Aizen, through his fixation on virtues he clearly did not possess, and finally, to his deeply repressed sexuality and all of the delightful manifestations that it caused in his shattered, misbalanced ego.

It was precisely because of the latter aversion for intercourse that Tousen rushed his way through his increasingly regular encounters with Szayel Aporro, a fact that amused the Octava to no end. It was Szayel's educated opinion that if one abhorred their own sexual gratification that much, and probably rushed to some form of cleansing flagellation immediately afterwards, one might as well have thoroughly enjoyed intercourse, and give oneself something to truly feel guilty for. Tousen, on the other hand busted into Szayel's bedroom and darted out immediately afterwards, literally like a bat out of hell.

Attempting to talk or charm him out of what was decisively an annoying and rather insulting habit had yielded no result; true to himself, however, Szayel had reasoned through the situation and realized that the longer he kept Tousen in bed, the more nervous and eager to concede to anything he became. Since retaining his attention with any sort of physical interaction was not an option, and Tousen was not among the most talkative of the lot, another method had to be found. And Szayel had quickly and seamlessly found one.

Even the most minor alteration to the room caused Tousen to be unsure of his whereabouts. Like any blind man, he relied on familiar surroundings, textures of surfaces, perhaps smells and sounds for orientation – if the layout of Szayel's bedchamber changed, he had a harder time rushing out. The simple, yet masterful idea had worked wonders for Szayel Aporro over the past few weeks – placing the dressing table by the bedside had obtained him the permission of extending his laboratory outside the tower; changing the orientation of the bed had bought him just enough time to slip in a few words about lining a few unimportant rooms with sekki stone; adding carpeting had helped convince Tousen that quite a few of Szayel's larger and more unpredictable Fracciones, such as Medazepi were built with nothing but Aizen's glory in mind – all small tricks, which had brought about great victories.

To much of Szayel's chagrin, however, the latest of his ideas had had far less success. The fact that he had invented semi-biological reiatsu reading devices that could stream information about whatever opponent the wearer was facing should not have passed unnoticed. The creation, which was a fortunate meld of semi-sentient reishi and mechanical nanotransmitters would have been absolutely perfect for Ulquiorra's trip to the human world; no less, in fact, than a stroke of genius – one of many, granted, yet...Ichimaru Gin, who was driven by what Szayel Aporro could only describe as petty jealousy, had not been eager to test their functionality, and, without Ichimaru Gin's ear, Aizen himself was completely unreachable.

A simple calculation had shown that Halibel would do nothing that would enhance Ulquiorra's chances of success at anything. The fact that she had volunteered for the mission and been refused was notorious, thus, the fact that she possessed a relatively open mind and even a laudable amount of intellectual curiosity would not help on this particular occasion.

As for Ulquiorra himself...The fact that Szayel was here, yet again at the starting point and trying to weasel five more minutes of Kaname Tousen's attention, spoke volumes about how receptive the Cuarta had been to Szayel's suggestions.

'But Kaname,' he purred, following his words with a soft kiss, and ginning when Tousen shifted uncomfortably, 'my idea can bring no harm; in fact, I believe...'

'Your opinions are unimportant, and this subject is not open to discussion.'

Szayel frowned; even for Tousen, this was unexpectedly rude and brief.

'Please...you cannot tell me that the notion of Ulquiorra – or Yammy – as the case may be, carrying a few very small and completely safe and, I dare say – completely motion uninhibiting! – devices is that unmentionable.'

This time, Tousen resolutely rid himself of the Arrancar's arms and stepped out of bed onto the cold floor. The absence of the carpet clearly confused him, but it was not enough to slow him down.

'The plan has been set and is already in execution,' Tousen said, bending over to retrieve his clothes from the floor. 'When Aizen-sama requires your assistance, he will doubtlessly call on you.'

'I am humbly volunteering,' Szayel purred, his facial expression in harsh contrast to the sweetness in his voice.

'You are overstepping your attributions,' the Shinigami responded indifferently, wrapping his silken hakama about himself. 'Besides,' he added, obviously eager to bring the Arrancar's insistence to an end, 'as of a few hours ago, Ulquiorra is already on his way to the human world. Your intervention is not only unnecessary and unsolicited, but also tardy.'

Szayel Aporro bit into the pillow, somehow managing to stifle his frustration at the cost of ripping through the fine silk pillow case. His post-orgasmic chill evaporated as quickly as the shallow climax that had caused it, pink little soap bubbles exploding into green bile. Of all the sheer, unpardonable idiocy....Why, Szayel thought, small harmless, fists clenching uncontrollably, why was Ulquiorra already on his way to the human world? There had been no preparation for it! No warning, no planning, not even a single mention of it in the Espada council, aside for the actual announcement...

'Your reiatsu is out of control, Octava Espada. Do not count on my blindness; I see your true colours well enough.' Tousen said, a hint of superior amusement in the voice of a man without a sense of humour. 'You act as if you had expected to prior notification; did we ever leave you with the impression that we answer to any of you?'

Quickly reassessing his position, Szayel Aporro swallowed dry, and brought his reiatsu under control.

'Of...of course not,' he whimpered, hoping that he had sounded suitably contrite and inwardly cursing at his lack of control over his spiritual energy. 'I am merely...disappointed, at...'

...the fact that you have dispensed with a potentially priceless source of information for no rationally discernible reason...

'The lost opportunity to serve,' Szayel Aporro completed, in a voice suited to a hymn of praise.

Among the many other things that he was, Kaname Tousen must also have been tone deaf.

The ironic part of the situation was that Tousen himself had had no reason to so decisively bar Szayel's idea from reaching Aizen's ear. Gin might have, perhaps, Ulquiorra was quite the arrogant bastard, but Tousen...He would have had nothing to lose. In truth, with so many worthy contenders for the Creator's attention, Tousen should have jumped at the opportunity of showing his shameful little indiscretions were at least useful.

Without uttering a single word of farewell, Tousen had left the room; if anything, Szayel's mistake in allowing him to see how much frustration he had caused seemed to amuse him. Why, only Tousen knew.

Attempt number four, Szayel thought. Not only a failure, but a resounding failure.

With a deep sigh, Szayel brought his frail forearm to cover his mask, and considered the situation with his eyes closed, momentarily choosing to focus on the subtle smell of sex and sweat that the sheets still carried. It was indeed most fortunate that he could climax under almost any circumstances and with almost any partner. Otherwise, he might have actually taken the time to more keenly reflect on the fact that Kaname Tousen was not only a blind, stuck up fool, with a penchant for spewing first class platitudes. He might have been unable to stop from pointedly thinking that Kaname Tousen was quite the idiot, which, of all things, was the only characteristic that Szayel Aporro found lethally un-sexy.

Not yet un-sexy enough to cancel Tousen's obviously advantaged position at the Creator's side, but, decisively, a thing to closely consider in the future, if Tousen once again proved criminally daft.

Had the situation been different, and not so perfectly suitable to the demonstration of his latest invention, Szayel Aporro would not have been that outright furious, and just awaited the next opportunity...But, the pink-haired scientist thought, frowning at the world's interference with his creative processes, he really wanted to test the spectral parasites now, not later – there were still so many characteristics that could be fine tuned, such as their adaptation to the host, their uncertain healing capacities, the range at which they would be able to transmit, what type of reiatsu information they actually picked up...

'Sooo unfair...' Szayel Aporro whinnied, towards the ceiling.

The side door of his chamber opened, allowing in a small, rounded creature, which looked like a melon and balanced oddly on too short legs.

'Meep?' it questioningly uttered.

'He's gone,' the Octava sighed, sitting up.

'Meep,' the creature gleefully emitted, bouncing forward rapidly. A neatly packed, ironed and even slightly scented new uniform set was placed by Szayel Aporro's side, then, obviously pleased by its success, the creature took a step back and awaited its reward. 'Meep? Meep?' it pleadingly insisted, when the appreciation tarried.

'I'm not in the mood for cuddling, Lumina,' Szayel harshly muttered. 'I am surrounded by incompetents!'

'Meeeep,' the thing plaintively stretched. It obviously considered the statement unfair, and, upon a moment of consideration, Szayel did too.

'Well, and creatures without proper voice synthesisers installed,' he added, in a tone that sounded at least half conciliatory.

'Mep,' Lumina dryly agreed.

'The problem is that I can only fix the latter category, while the former seems to be absolutely impenetrable.' The Octava snarled.

Lumina blinked, looking up at its maker with round, uniformly coloured golden eyes.

'Opaque?' Szayel tried. 'The light of knowledge and understanding enters their brain, only to travel into the great beyond and never return, not having a single neuron to reflect on?'

Lumina blinked again.

'All right,' Szayel conceded, reaching under the bed, to hastily extract a small notebook, and scribble down yet one more word that would have to be added to the creature's internal dictionary on the next system upgrade.

'Hm,' he said, lifting the short stub of the pencil to his lips, and unconsciously starting to chew on it. 'Impenetrable.'

That much he'd known about Tousen from the beginning.

'But why was he amused?' he asked. 'Surely, frustrating me in all manners conceivable must be the high-point of his miserable day but...'

'Meep,' Lumina shrugged, as if inciting her maker not to ask questions that he could not answer. Unfortunately for the Fraccion, Szayel Aporro ever did anything but.

In Ulquiorra's memories, Yammy's arm fell to the side.

In the real world, Stark's eyes flew wide open. As did Lilinette's.

After taking a quick look around, to make sure that the others, including Aizen, were still under the spell of Ulquiorra's true sight, the Segunda looked down, exchanging a quick glance with his Fraccion.

Who'd have thought...Lilinette's arched eyebrow quietly said.

Stark gave her a minute shrug, in sign that he was not as surprised by Yammy's misfortune as he might have been, then encouraged her to close her eyes and breathe in again with a swift motion of his chin. The girl frowned menacingly, but obeyed, knowing that Stark would not rejoin the communion and that at least one of them would have to be fully informed. It would have to be her, Lilinette's thoughts grumbled, like it always effin' was.

In turn, less interested in the remainder of Ulquiorra's trip to the human world, Stark looked around with narrowed eyes, trying to assess the others' candid reaction to what they were witnessing.

Much as he had expected, Grimmjow's face was curved into a scowl that fully revealed his unnaturally long canines. His fingers twitched eerily and uncontrollably on Pantera's hilt. It was genuinely like watching a cat having a nightmare about not catching the mouse, Stark thought, with a little smile.

He looked on to Nnoitra, who looked like he was about to pick up on the Segunda's own best behaviour and fall asleep. Others' fights were of absolutely no interest to the Quinta, and, furthermore, the fact that Yammy's Hierro had proved unable to stop a zanpakutoh was exactly what Nnoitra would have expected from any Hierro but his own.

In perfect opposition, Halibel was watching attentively, her brow slightly furrowed and her breath perfectly regular. No doubt she would have every detail of the encounter imprinted into photographic memory, and ready to sustain argumentation about how the Hougyoku transformation had benefitted them all.

Stark bit his lip and looked on, past the Octava Espada, and to Leroux.

Then, with the first twitch of surprise, Stark's glance snapped back to the Octava.

Szayel Aporro Granz – the little gay Granz – was...rather irked. No, Stark concluded, focussing his attention, he was impatient and frustrated, expressly reminding the Segunda of a schoolboy that was not allowed to offer the correct answer, when no one else in the class even knew what the teacher was talking about. There was nothing on his features that would attest it, except perhaps the tiny twitch in the left corner of his lips, but everything else, from the straight and detached line of his eyebrows to his patiently entwined fingers denoted nothing but the polite demeanour that the Octava always displayed before his superiors.

Quite admirable, given the overpowering nature of Ulquiorra's shared consciousness.

His reiatsu, on the other hand, was a complete mess, Stark thought, almost amusedly taking in the writhing – actually, nervous and acute vibration - of Szayel's myriad of tentacles. The normally fluid strands of energy were stretched to the point of breaking, like the extended chords of a musical instrument. Something was really ticking the little gay one off, and his reiatsu was advertising it better than if he had stood on the council table and shouted at the top of his lungs. Although on second thought, there was no safe bet against the Octava's shrieking, Stark thought, looking away to avoid chuckling.

His smile froze on his lips and quickly turned into a scowl.

A single green eye, almost hidden under dark tresses narrowed at meeting Stark's fully awake glance. Knowing that all others were still under his true vision's spell, Ulquiorra allowed himself to fully turn away from the throne and face his ancient enemy.

He'd been watching Szayel Aporro as well, Stark thought; the Octava's uncoordinated buzzing was attracting quite some attention. And, though he possessed no true sight, Stark knew exactly what Ulquiorra was thinking and feeling, because he'd been feeling it in turn.

Quickly recovering, and knowing that Ulquiorra had neither the authority nor the power to punish his lack of interest, Stark gave the Cuarta his best and most well intentioned smile.

'What do we smell in this one, master Schiffer?' the Segunda quietly mouthed, tilting his head in Szayel Aporro's direction.

In a most uncharacteristic gesture of aggression, Stark brought his right hand up, gloved long fingers obscuring half of his face.

'I, for one, smell lunch. I'd think, so should you - he is advertising it, after all...' the Segunda questioned, the darkness of the chamber playing across the sharp contours of his cheeks, and creeping over the remnants of his mask. 'Or does Aizen-sama have you on a diet?' he added. This time, the fangs beneath his chin gleamed.

Ulquiorra smirked in disgust – the spell lifted; without lending Stark any further attention, the Cuarta once more faced his God.

'I see,' Aizen said, in an agreeable voice. 'So that's why you decided he wasn't worth killing.'

'Huh?' Stark whispered, looking down to Lilinette.

'Fuck knows how he reached that conclusion!' she hastily whispered back. 'From what I saw...'

'Yes,' Ulquiorra responded, calmly.

A droplet of blood fell from Yammy's torn arm; neither Ulquiorra nor Aizen took notice.

'Your orders said to kill him only if he could become a problem.'

'That's stupid!' Grimmjow exploded from somewhere behind.

'Oh boy,' Lilinette sighed. 'Here we go. The regularly scheduled my-balls-is-bigger-than-yours...'

'Are,' Stark obligingly corrected.

Swept away by a furious swing of the panther's tail, any chance of a logical conversation was blown up in the air.

'You have no control over Stark.' Ulquiorra said.

White fingers with square, dark nails, lifted the porcelain cup to the thin dark lips.

'I was not aware I was supposed to.'

In spite of the self assuredness and cutting tone of the voice, tiny golden fingers, with nails cut so short that they made the hands look childish nervously spun another porcelain cup.

'Whereas,' Halibel continued, with increased confidence and an ironic edge, 'I believe you have full power of authority over Grimmjow. You should attempt to exercise it, sometimes.'

'Madmen recognise no authority.'

Pale eyelids lifted briskly to reveal one vibrantly green pupil, and a completely white one, with only a minor shadow of a sclera.

'But they submit to it soon enough. As soon as they are crushed by it.'

Halibel sighed, and finally lifted the cup of tea to her lips. It was odd; Ulquiorra's presence was the only thing that caused her to remember that once, in a long lost human life, she had truly enjoyed wine, and the only thing that made her think she actually missed it.

Up next - We already know that Grimmjow is going to get in trouble. So, we shall cut to the chase.