Edited in September 2011! Two years is a long time for an unfinished fic; life happens, but that's no excuse for my laziness.
Summary: Ichigo accidentally swallows several pills Grimmjow drops from a bottle as they duel, and somehow defying the age rate, has his body modified into a child's. Unwilling to give up on the battle, Grimmjow pleads with Aizen to allow the child to live – at least until he turns back to normal. As castigation, Aizen makes Ichigo Grimmjow's liability.
"You're going down, Shinigami!"
A quick flick of the wrist, and Pantera swung in his opponent's direction. There was a clang of swords, and sparks flew as the metal blades clashed. Grimmjow aimed a side kick at Ichigo, catching him unguarded in the ribs. A fist nearly caught him on the jaw, but the Espada managed to dart out of harm's way. Evading the boy's hits had always been a bit of a challenge, but that was one of the many reasons why Grimmjow saw fit to fight him.
"You're the one who's going down!" Ichigo yelled out, rushing forward in fury as he slashed Zangetsu out at Grimmjow's direction.
Much to Ichigo's chagrin, the Espada was quick to move.
Ichigo felt a momentary spike of panic when Grimmjow vanished from sight. "Ah, shit –!"
As Grimmjow dodged the attack, jumping a few steps higher than the substitute Shinigami to avoid the blow, a little bottle filled with portentously bright purple capsules flipped out of his pocket. He reached out with a hand to grab at it, but only managed to grasp at thin air. Grimmjow cursed inwardly and flailed for balance.
The cap popped open as it fell.
It must have loosened in his pocket while he was fighting. Gravity pulled the pills downward to rain straight onto Ichigo – and regrettably, his open, gaping mouth. Having righted himself, Grimmjow gritted his teeth and made to prepare for another attack, but his enemy hadn't moved from the same spot yet.
The orange haired teenager choked, hacked and coughed, shoulders squinching upwards as he clutched at his throat, pills plopping to the ground far below left, right and centre. Grimmjow watched in disgusted fascination; was his nemesis about to die by his energy tablets?
Much to Grimmjow's disappointment, Ichigo took a deep breath and swallowed the capsules with difficulty into his system, grimacing at the bittersweet taste. Shuddering, he coughed several more times before managing a disgruntled glare.
"What the heck was that?" he asked, gripping Zangetsu tightly in front of him – in case Grimmjow decided on a sudden assault.
"It's really none of your business, but if you must know . . ." Scoffing, Grimmjow crossed his arms. "Those were Hollow energy pills created by Szayel. Supposedly gives us better recharge systems so we heal our wounds faster. And you totally swallowed half the bloody bottle, idiot. Way to go."
"What?" Ichigo clutched his stomach, fingers fisting his rumpled Shinigami robes.
Having a doctor as a father and helping him run the family clinic had taught the teenager that most pills were dangerous, especially on an empty stomach, like his was now. Ichigo figured this was just karma's way of getting back at him. Still, he had to ask.
"Are there any side effects on non-Hollow beings?"
Grimmjow ran a hand through his pale blue hair. "It wasn't relevant when Szayel gave us a briefing, so I didn't bother listening."
Silence greeted him, and Grimmjow leered at the teenager standing directly opposite him.
"What's the matter, you got a weak stomach, kid?"
Ichigo didn't reply. Instead, the teenager dropped to his knees and began coughing madly. A little swirl of shimmery silver and purple dust was already beginning to churn around Ichigo's feet and knees, gradually building up into a rather violent eddy of sparkly powder.
Grimmjow stepped back a little, unsure of what to do and contemplating whether to help or just stand and watch the show. It was rather amusing, now that he got to witness this first hand. Szayel would be proud of his concoction.
Ichigo was coughing more now, waving the dust feebly away. It looked like he barely had the energy to fight anymore. The Sexta Espada wondered if that was a good thing.
Finally, the vortex subsided and a purple cloud of smoke puffed up, shielding Ichigo from view. Curious, Grimmjow tentatively poked the swirls with the tip of Pantera. Nothing happened. The Espada blew at it experimentally, only to have more dust rebound into his face. Coughing, he waved the dust aside and stared at the lump of black Shinigami robes that lay on the ground in surprise.
They weren't empty, but they didn't look very Ichigo-esque, either.
Grimmjow felt slightly worried.
The robes moved, revealing a little gurgling toddler who was doing his best to stand up straight, but his legs kept slipping and sliding and getting tangled in the clothing. The child definitely had orange hair that stood up in small spikes all over his tiny head, immediately confirming the Espada's suspicions.
Gawking, the Espada squatted for a closer look, and the boy turned to look at him, instantly spellbound. One little chubby hand reached up to touch Grimmjow's mask, and the Espada jerked back, slapping the boy's hand away.
"Too close." Grimmjow hissed.
Ichigo hit the ground hard on his rump, his lower lip trembling as he struggled not to bawl. To top it off, he was stark naked and flashing his privates for the world to see. Not that he had much anyway. He was only an infant. Grimmjow curled his lip, unable to take his eyes off the teary eyed, glowering boy. The resemblance to teenage Ichigo's scowl was striking.
The infant hiccupped, and garbled nonsensically up at the Espada. He sounded a tad miffed, and who could blame him?
"Hey, kid. Shut up, I didn't hit you that hard, alright?" Grimmjow sheathed his sword, watching Ichigo's interest with the experienced way he covered the blade.
The toddler raised his hands up at him in response, wide honey brown eyes fixated on Grimmjow.
"What am I gonna do when Ulquiorra asks me if I've defeated you?"
"You will see Aizen," Ulquiorra replied from behind Grimmjow, successfully shocking the Sexta. "To explain how this happened. But before that, collect the child and bring him along as evidence. Aizen-sama will think of a good way to put him to use."
"What, you mean like a lab experiment?" Grimmjow scowled. He wasn't used to being crept up on. "He's not taking this kid from me. I need to let him grow up so I can finish our fight!"
Ulquiorra turned and walked away towards a gargantuan that he'd conjured up single-handedly.
"If you ask me," he said as he stepped into the unending blackness. "It seems like you actually care about that child. Please remember that Kurosaki Ichigo is a human turned Shinigami, therefore once fully grown, he will not return to our side."
"Wait, you said 'once fully grown'! How do you know he'll turn back?"
"There is only one way to find out."
A nerve twitched on Grimmjow's temple, but he bit back his sharp response and turned to face his problem. He knew better than to question Ulquiorra's authority. Aizen knew what he was doing when he picked the Quarto Espada as a leader.
Seated on the ground, Ichigo was rolling one side of his black robes like a carpet, unaware of his odd fate. Sighing, the Espada picked him up, wrapped part of the trailing robes around him and followed in Ulquiorra's wake.
"You brought a child back with you?" Nnoitra crowed, a sinister grin spreading across his sharp face. "That's hilarious."
"Aww, don't get your panties in a twist!"
Grimmjow gritted his teeth, wisely choosing to ignore his fellow Espada's jibe. He stepped in line and joined the other Espada as they made their way into one of the various meeting rooms constructed by Aizen.
Walking beside Grimmjow, Halibel tilted her head to gaze down at the little boy struggling to keep up with the Sexta Espada's brisk stride.
"Do I want to know?" she asked, shifting her gaze back to Grimmjow.
"He's a human, isn't he?" Szayel piped up from behind them. "You certainly have odd attachments."
"It was an accident." Grimmjow growled.
Nnoitra snickered. "That's your excuse? You're a sitting duck in the wild woods, now."
"Keep talking." Grimmjow snorted derisively.
"Ah!" Ichigo yelled suddenly, startling the Espada.
The toddler was sprawled out on the marble floor, slipping and sliding on his tangled robes. Tears welled in his honey brown eyes as he registered the dull ache of falling face first onto the floor.
"What did you bring him for?" Yammy's deep voice boomed at Grimmjow. "Couldn't you just leave him where Shinigami would find him?"
"Exactly." Halibel placed one hand on her hip. "Having a child around here in troublesome. Aizen-sama will kill him for sure."
Grimmjow stuck his hands into his pockets and shrugged. "I'm just waiting for him to grow so I can fight him properly."
"Are you delusional?" Szayel asked laughingly. "I doubt I can find the antidote for something like this. It could take a long while; possibly even a few years. I've never tested anything on humans before."
Barragan chuckled. "If Aizen doesn't kill him, Szayel will. Mark my words."
"Shut it, grandpa." Grimmjow spat. "You're not allowed to touch him. The boy's mine till he grows up. Then I'll be the one to kill him."
Accustomed to the Sexta's insults, Barragan huffed.
"What a blatant lie!" Shaking his head, Szayel placed a hand on Grimmjow's shoulder. "I wouldn't dream of killing him. Far from it. I'd torture him."
Halibel crossed her arms over her ample chest. "How disgusting!"
"Enough. It is not your decision to make, Grimmjow. We must consult Aizen-sama." Ulquiorra chastised, pushing open the double doors that led into a vast room.
"What're you waiting for?" Nnoitra gestured to Grimmjow. "Ladies first."
Sparing the Quinto Espada a sneer, Grimmjow turned to the small boy. Ichigo was holding out both hands to him, as if he wanted something.
The boy merely tilted his head and babbled little kid sounds.
"Hurry the fuck up." Grimmjow commanded, but the boy didn't move aside from blinking wide, innocent eyes up at him.
White gloved hands reached down to pick him up under his arms. The little boy gurgled, and Grimmjow bristled.
"What are you doing?"
Stark cradled the toddler's head to his shoulder, supporting his bottom with one arm. "It was rather obvious. He wanted to be carried."
With narrowed eyes, Grimmjow turned on his heel and stormed into the meeting room without another word. Aizen was already seated at the head of the table, ordering tea to be served around. The Espada entered and settled themselves into the remaining chairs.
With Grimmjow's luck, he found himself seated between Ulquiorra and Stark. The little boy was sucking on his thumb, clinging onto Stark's robes as the Primera Espada held him. He looked mildly mollified, considering his situation. Grimmjow heaved a disgruntled sigh.
"I trust you completed your mission well?" Aizen smiled placidly at Ulquiorra. "Give me a summarized report."
As Ulquiorra dutifully rattled off the day's mission, Ichigo stood up shakily in Stark's lap. He took a deep breath and leaped over to Grimmjow, scrabbling at the Espada's robes for a steady grip. Swift hands quickly caught him before he fell.
"Careful." Stark murmured, placing him onto Grimmjow's lap. "That would've garnered a bruise."
"Why couldn't he have just asked?" Grimmjow muttered back. "Would've made things a whole lot easier."
"Maybe he can't speak yet." Stark hypothesized. "How old is he?"
"I don't know." Shrugging, Grimmjow angled his face away from the child's inquisitive hands. "He's like a miniature Wonderweiss."
By now, they had gained Aizen's attention. The Shinigami traitor turned to Grimmjow and smiled.
"I see you have acquired a new . . . pet."
"He's not a pet." Grimmjow muttered, then added as an afterthought. ". . . Aizen-sama."
Szayel snickered behind one dainty manicured hand. Seated beside him, Nnoitra leered across the table at Grimmjow, who bared his teeth in a silent dare. None of them had the guts to start a fight in front of the man who gave them a rebirth with reinforced powers and bodies.
"What are your intentions regarding the child?" Aizen asked smoothly, sipping tea from his white porcelain cup.
Apprehensive, Grimmjow snuck a look at Ulquiorra, who gave him a one shoulder shrug in response. So the Quarto Espada hadn't spilled the beans yet, but that meant it was up to Grimmjow to do all the explaining. It wasn't something he was very good at.
"I want to continue fighting Kurosaki."
Grimmjow instantly regretted saying that. Even to his ears, the excuse sounded vague. Across the table, Szayel sighed ruefully, giving him a look of mocking sympathy.
"In this state?" Aizen sounded mildly surprised. "Why, I believe you could kill him with one stab of Pantera right now."
"That's not it." Grimmjow struggled to find the right words to string together. "It's just that . . ."
To his left, Stark sat up a little straighter and propped his elbows on the marble table. "What Grimmjow is trying to say; he wants to wait for the boy to grow up so he can finish their fight. It's a simple urge of wanting to establish who's stronger. The boy will be killed after that, of course."
Aizen mulled over this possibility, keeping his eyes trained on the innocently cooing child in Grimmjow's lap. The Espada sat in silence, nervously awaiting the verdict.
"He swallowed the energy pills, I presume?" Aizen awarded Grimmjow with a wry smile. "Courtesy of Szayel, of course. The mission today was completed five times faster than it would have taken; I suppose you were in luck."
"How did you guess, Aizen-sama?" Ulquiorra asked, while Szayel preened.
"Mere intuition." Aizen waved a hand casually. "Side effects from the tablets were studied accordingly, you see. We just didn't expect something like this to happen to a human. Although the Kurosaki boy was in his soul form, it doesn't change the fact that he's still a living human. I am curious to know what the effects will be to a Shinigami, however."
The smile on their leader's face widened, and the glint of light reflected from the ceiling above added a mysteriously ominous feel to the atmosphere. A pregnant silence settled over the meeting room and its occupants.
"Grimmjow, I fully understand your need to establish who is the strongest, but at this very moment, I am perfectly sure this . . . child . . . is not fit to entertain your battling purposes. I suggest we kill him – he is of no use to us. Soul Society is at a handicap because of his sudden absence, but with the boy truly gone, we have less one obstacle to deal with." Aizen concluded softly. "Although it will be a dreadful shame to see him go."
Stark laid a hand on Grimmjow's shoulder. The Sexta was trembling – out of fear or anger, the Primera could not tell, but it was much better to calm him down beforehand.
"Aizen-sama," Ulquiorra began. "Shall I see to it that the child is . . . disposed of accordingly?"
"Wait!" Grimmjow's tone was an octave above the usual low drawl. "Couldn't Szayel make something to turn him back? One last fight is all I need, Aizen-sama."
He was damned if he had to use the word 'please', but it dangled there in all its invisible presence. Pleading was just not his forte.
Persuasion was evidently not one of Grimmjow's gifts, either. Aizen looked far from convinced as he studied the child.
"Having a little boy running around in our domain would be troublesome, much less a human one. Take Wonderweiss, for example. I would have had him terminated if I didn't trust Tousen's capabilities of keeping him in check."
Grimmjow was adamant; trying to argue his point. "That's different! Wonderweiss is one step short of having a slow mind and speech impediment. He can fight just fine, anyway. This kid is something else. Without his powers, he's can't be very destructive."
Raising one eyebrow in a high arch, Aizen stayed silent. He finished his tea and gestured for his cup to be refilled. Ulquiorra obediently stood to carry out his quiet command. Nnoitra narrowed his eyes at Grimmjow, who gave him an icy glare in response.
Finally, Aizen sighed. "Very well. The boy will not be executed, then. Consider this a favor in your debt. But in return, Grimmjow . . . you are the one responsible for him. If there are any problems caused by the child, you will be chastised consequently."
Feeling relief flood his veins, Grimmjow fought down an elated grin. He gave Aizen the most solemn nod he could manage to show he understood.
"He is yours for the time being, until he grows up and dies by your hand. Nevertheless, the child will be safe here, assuming the Shinigami and his friends have no idea where he is."
Leaning against Aizen's chair, Gin spared the Sexta Espada one knowing glance before snickering behind both hands.
Grimmjow decided he didn't like the sinister tone in Gin's laughter. Had Aizen not been present, he would have dared to aim a punch at the sly silver haired subordinate. As if to remind him of his responsibilities, little Ichigo bounced in his lap, trying to stand on Grimmjow's thighs with the aid of the table.
"For now, I will allow provisions for the child." Aizen stood and nodded at Ulquiorra. "See to it that Grimmjow is kept in line, as well as the child. And one more rule, which I cannot stress enough. There is to be no fighting between Espada. All of you will learn to get along. I will not tolerate any immature chaos."
As Aizen turned around with a swish of his robes, Nnoitra stuck out his long tongue and waggled it at Grimmjow, who rolled his eyes. Ulquiorra awarded them both with a pointed stare.
"All of you are dismissed." Aizen's voice echoed as he exited the meeting room through a side door, with Gin trailing after him. "Ulquiorra, you are in command."
"May I remind you that a child is something that will take a lot of getting used to?" Halibel stated firmly as Ichigo ran into her legs clumsily.
"Sorry." Grimmjow hissed through gritted teeth, and knelt to retrieve the boy. "He just slips through my hands like quicksilver is all."
"A young boy his age will have a lot of needs, Grimmjow." Barragan added coal to the fire as he swept by with the speed of a floundering tortoise. "Are you quite ready for all of that?"
Nnoitra sauntered past and slowed down long enough to jeer directly in Grimmjow's face. "Someone here just doesn't know what he's doing."
"Go fuck yourself." Grimmjow snarled, shifting Ichigo's weight in his arms. "I can take you on any damn time."
"Do it. We all know who's stronger." Nnoitra taunted, adding a derisive chuckle to prove his point.
Ulquiorra stepped between them, successfully halting their would-be rage. "That is enough arguing. You heard what Aizen-sama said. Get along, or suffer the consequences."
Ichigo hid his face in Grimmjow's chest, quivering. Halibel noticed, as did Barragan, but they held their tongues. Both were wise enough to know that the oblivious Sexta would eventually catch on.
"Grimmjow, you have an extra liability now. Were it not for your capricious decision to rescue the child, you would not be suspended from fighting. However, you will not be given any important missions that require battling with the child under your protection." Ulquiorra looked at the boy in his fellow Espada's arms and took a deep breath. "I will be assisting you, nonetheless, should you need my help."
Stark reached over and ruffled the child's orange hair. "Count me in."
Grimmjow couldn't really think of anything appropriate to say in this situation. Words of gratitude or affability were not his specialty, either. Shrugging, he hugged the trembling child closer to him.
"Yeah. This is only temporary, though."
So you say, Grimmjow. Haha. :D