A/N: It's been ages I know, and I apologize. I didn't intend to stop writing this one for so long, it just a thousand other stories took over my brain and it's taken me this long to beat my muse into submission. It's not an amazing chapter, and nothing much happens, but it was what I needed to get the inspiration back wth this one.
"What in seven hells is that thing?" Ichigo asked looking horrified at the mummified corpse standing in the middle of the rubble.
Renji had guided them outside Las Noches, to a place which was close by but slightly apart from the main compound. From a distance it looked just like a pile of rocks thrown haphazardly in the middle of the sand, but after a careful look Ichigo realized it was more like something had been blown up from the inside out, a big hole revealing a wide chamber underneath.
Close to the hole was the pink haired mummy, its dried features staring at nothingness in horror.
"So this is where Szayel was," Grimmjow said contemptuously, shooting the thing a disinterested look before moving forward, Ulquiorra and Orihime trailing after him without sparing it even a glance.
"How come you didn't find this before, Espada?" Kira asked suspiciously, giving wide berth to the body.
"We searched Las Noches from the inside," Ulquiorra was the one to answer without even looking back at Kira and Shuuhei, who closed the group approaching the hole. "This might not be connected to the main building, or it's connected by a hidden passage we didn't find."
"Yes, that freak was always secretive with his experiments," Grimmjow added with a shrug before disappearing inside the hole. Ichigo followed him, landing gracefully in a wide chamber, empty except for two doors on opposite sides and the debris fallen from the ceiling.
The rest of the group followed them inside.
"Which way?" Rukia asked and Ulquiorra moved to the door further from their position.
"That other one goes back to Las Noches, the laboratory should be this way," he said opening the door and revealing a white corridor behind it. They went that way, walking in silence for a while until they reached another door.
It opened to a slightly darker chamber, a bit wider and a lot shorter leading to another door in the end. Without a word they crossed the empty room and opened the new door.
The first thing Ichigo noticed was the bright light. It was white, reflected off the too-white walls and ceiling, and almost blinding. Then the smell hit him.
"Oh fuck!" he said scrunching up his nose in distaste. He could see the disgust mirrored in his companions, Rukia and Renji flinching and taking a reflexive step back. "What the fuck is this?"
The room smelled of death and decay, the stench so powerful it brought back memories of the war. Ichigo could see in one side of the room a row of glass cages, some of the panels were broken and inside there were decomposing corpses. That wasn't the most disturbing thing. All of them had pink hair, almost the only thing recognizable on them.
"That has to be the most disturbing thing I've seen," Renji said, his face showing the horror he had to be feeling.
"Are all of them--" Orihime asked, her voice tremulous. Ulquiorra grabbed her hand and squeezed it and she drew closer to him, almost leaning against his side. Ichigo felt the urge to roll his eyes; if there was something he had never imagined Ulquiorra could be, that was caring.
"Szayel used himself in his experiments, it seems," Ulquiorra said, darting a quick look at the cages and then moving quickly to the other door, Orihime following him closely.
That was a good idea, Ichigo didn't want to spend one minute longer than necessary in that place.
The next room was also devoid of life, and luckily of dead things as well. There were shelves upon shelves of folders and ledgers. No one gave them a second look, though it was clear that it was the library. It probably contained the documentation for every single one of Szayel's experiments, and Ichigo made a mental note to tell Urahara about it.
He was probably the only being who'd like a place like that.
There were more disgusting specimens and other smelly things in the next chamber, though nothing as bad as the first ones. The smell, for one, was at least bearable.
"Is this place never going to end?" he heard Renji grumble and Ichigo agreed with him. Labs made him nervous.
They trailed after Ulquiorra and Orihime from one room to the next, Ichigo's eyes scanning the contents quickly before being drawn again to Grimmjow's figure. He didn't understand himself where that bastard was concerned, it was impossible to want to kill someone so much and at the same time want to fuck him so desperately.
Grimmjow was the most annoying being Ichigo had ever met, and he was a complete and utter bastard. He came and went as he pleased, with complete disregard of Ichigo's wishes and feelings. He cared about nothing but himself and his desires, and he took what he wanted when he wanted it.
And the worst past was Ichigo was perfectly conscious of that, and he still wanted him.
"So," Renji said falling into step with him, his eyes on Grimmjow's back as well, his voice pitched low enough only Ichigo could hear him. "What's with you and the psycho? Didn't you say you had not seen him in years?"
Ichigo felt his face heating up. He had been lucky enough there were other issues at hand, but he had known there was no way to avoid his friend's questioning.
"I hadn't," he replied, not looking at Renji.
"And the first thing you do after three years is snog him in broad daylight and follow him to this wasteland?" Renji's voice was thick with amusement and incredulity. "Pull the other one."
"It's true," he grounded through clenched teeth. "I didn't heard from him since the War ended," he looked sharply at his friend. "Same as I didn't heard from any of you, you bastards."
Renji's hands rose in a placating manner. "Hey, it wasn't three years for us, remember? And we had a lot in out plate. Seiretei was in a sorry state and we were missing several Taichous and Fukutaichous, this hasn't exactly been easy for us either."
Ichigo nodded, acknowledging the truth in Renji's words but it still annoyed the hell out of him they couldn't find the time for a visit except when they were in trouble. Again.
"But you didn't answer me," Renji said, stubborn like only he could be. "Are you fucking insane, getting involved with that Espada? He's bad news, he's going to screw you up three ways from Sunday."
Ichigo laughed humourlessly. "Don't I know that? I just can't help it! It's as if my brain shuts down when I'm with him," Ichigo shook his head, not finding the right words to explain to his friend. He didn't have the words to explain it to himself. "It's not as if I intend to marry him or declare my undying love, anyway. I just want to--" he stopped short at Renji's snort, flushing crimson. "Shut up! I know he's a psychopath, and trust me, no one wants to kill him more than I do."
"You're a prefect match," Renji chuckled. "Both of you are insane."
As if he knew they were talking about him, Grimmjow turned around and shot them a curious look. Ichigo narrowed his eyes at him and he smirked before turning again, following Ulquiorra into the next room.
Renji shook his head, his expression turning serious. "Just be careful, I don't trust him."
"You'd be an idiot if you did," Ichigo said, a strong conviction in his voice. Just because he was insane enough to be attracted to Grimmjow didn't mean he was stupid. "I don't know what I'm doing, but I don't trust him either."
Whatever Renji was going to say to that, the words died on his lips when they entered the next room.
Grimmjow followed Ulquiorra and his woman from one room of that pristine labyrinth to another, the weight of Kurosaki's stare making him more nervous than that place ever could.
He didn't know what Kurosaki was telling that other Shinigami, though it was clear he was the focus of their conversation. It had annoyed him at first when that loud red-head had approached Kurosaki, the easy camaraderie he could see between them making him want to hit something. He could remember the Shinigami from the War, always at Kurosaki's side with that other bitch on tow. He couldn't stand them then and the feeling had not changed.
It was also mutual, if the glares the tiny bitch and the other Shinigami threw him were any indication.
He looked back, intrigued in spite of himself and couldn't help but to smirk when he saw Kurosaki glaring at him through narrowed eyes.
If only they didn't need to find those fucking things, he'd have Kurosaki under him, and he was going to make him glare and curse as much as he liked.
So wrapped up he was on the thought of what he would do to Kurosaki, Grimmjow almost bumped against Ulquiorra's woman back. He was about to snap something at her when he took in their surroundings, stopping short and allowing a smile to creep on his face.
That last door had opened to a wider chamber, the biggest one they'd seen in that laboratory. The walls were lined with glass cages, kind of like the first they encountered, but there were no decomposing corpses in them. They were filled with live and healthy hollows, all of them staring malevolently at the new arrivals.
There were also hollows outside the cages, quite a few of them, and in the middle of them was a figure Grimmjow would have never imagined they'd find there.
In hindsight, though, it was almost logical.
"I didn't think it would take you this long to find me, Ulquiorra. And I see you brought some interesting subjects with you. Pity you didn't bring the Quincy as well."
"The fuck!" he heard the red headed Shinigami, Renji he thought his name might be, gasp behind him.
At his back he heard the sound of the rest of their group arriving, various expressions of surprise leaving their lips.
"Isn't that your corpse out there, Szayel?" Grimmjow said, stepping around Ulquiorra's woman to have a good view of the room. He took stock of the hollows, gearing up for the fight that was surely to come. There were a lot of them, though they didn't look too powerful. Szayel was checking one of them, taking notes in a small notebook in his hand. Grimmjow would have laughed at the unreality of the situation had not know how much of a freak Szayel was. "Ya know, that pink mummy outside. It looks like you, only better."
No, he shouldn't have been surprised to find the freak there, and still breathing. All those pink haired corpses in the first room should have clued them Szayel had always been the creepiest of the Espada, and the one Grimmjow could stand the less. It stood to reason he had some trick up his sleeve, and if he knew the creep like he did, they were in for a long and boring explanation on how he had cheated death.
He just hoped it didn't take to long so he could go ahead and kill the freak.
He was going to enjoy this.
"Oh Grimmjow, you're here as well," Szayel said sparing him a brief glance. "Yes, it is." He finished writing things on his notebook, taking advantage of the fact that everyone seemed to be frozen in shock to do so, and then closed it and turned to look at them. The smirk on his face was one that Grimmjow had seen countless times, and it irked him now as much at it had done before. "You don't believe I wasn't prepared for that eventuality, don't you, Grimmjow?"
TCB (Part VI)