Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, as I am not Tite Kubo. The Bleach I own keeps my whites white. Hell, I don't even own the above disclaimer (If anyone does, it's Philyra. I would recommend that you check out her very awesome Strictly Dancing series. Seriously, it's that good.) I do, however, own a large cd collection, three very full bookcases, the beaten up laptop I am writing this on, as well as the $15000-$20000 debt I am still accumulating at university. Go me.
It was the woman who started it. Her emotions, her tales of her friends. He had listened against his better judgement, not even realising that he was being drawn further and further into her world. He had begun to chafe under the command of one he had once followed blindly, but he had told himself that he was just restless, as they all were, waiting out the calm before the storm of battle. Except, that wasn't quite it, either. Fourth Espada Ulquiorra Schiffer was slipping. He found himself questioning, more and more, why he did what he did. Why he followed orders. Or rather why, in some cases, he elected not to.
It alarmed him, the way he was becoming more and more like Grimmjow, and Grimmjow himself was only too eager to point it out to him. They met more often now, as the Sexta Espada languished in the care of the human woman, recovering from his fight with the substitute shinigami. That was when Grimmjow finally helped him put a name to what was happening, and told him the unthinkable. It had been an ordinary meeting, bringing the woman her food as usual while she worked on the wounds her friend the substitute shinigami had wrought, when suddenly the Sixth Espada sat up, looked at him suddenly and said the four and a bit words that would change the course of his life.
"You want out, dontcha."
It was a statement, not a question. As the woman sighed and informed Grimmjow that he'd be better off sitting still, the other Espada had an epiphany of sorts.
Grimmjow was absolutely right. He didn't know what it was that he did want, but he knew it wasn't this. He wanted out of Hueco Mundo, out of the mindless subordination, out of what Grimmjow would term 'the whole fucking shebang'. A further thought occurred to him. "So do you." The Sexta Espada grinned at him as the woman finished her work at long last. Dusting off her hands, she stood up, looked both of them in the eye and, for the first time since she had been brought to Hueco Mundo, genuinely smiled.
"So then", she said, "what do we do?"
Their plan was ludicrously simple. He had already been assigned to guard the woman – no – Orihime, during the battle, as Aizen-sama still had plans to keep her. Grimmjow would simply break ranks during the fight to chase after who ever caught his eye, and then slip away to join them. No one was going to question it because that was simply how Grimmjow was. As for him, his loyalty went without saying. Unlike Stark, with his dislike of doing anything other than the obligatory inhalation and exhalation, or wild, unpredictable Grimmjow, he was above suspicion. After all, Aizen-sama saw everything he did through his eyes…
So long as they were open.
What the traitor shinigami didn't see after the Espada apparently went to sleep, was that Grimmjow would come fetch him, lead him to Orihime's room and they would discuss certain points of their escape, Ulquiorra keeping his eyes tightly shut the entire time. They had a plan. They had a bargaining chip, or would have, if all went well. It wouldn't be necessary for Orihime, who would be welcomed back to the Soul Society with open arms, but it would be for them, the Espada, who simply wanted to be allowed to go their own, preferably separate, ways. While he could now tolerate and even understand Grimmjow, Ulquiorra had no intention of embarking on a new life with him in tow. Or worse, in Grimmjow's wake.
And it had been those decisions, those realisations and those plans that brought him to this point, he thought, as he gazed with Orihime over the battle in front of them. All the necessary people were distracted, Aizen with an old man whose reiatsu was almost difficult to bear even from this distance, Tousen with what looked like a large fox, and Gin with an opponent who was somewhere within the ice that had formed over that part of the battlefield. His fellow Espada were similarly occupied. Stark was fighting a man who, from this distance, looked and moved like he could be his twin, while a man with long white hair and a petite dark-haired female who shot kido from her fingertips dealt with his Fraccion, who were, in turn assisted by the strange masked shinigami who had joined Aizen upon the death of Szayel. Barrugan was dealing with a spiky haired behemoth that had something pink attached to his shoulder, and an all-too-familiar orange haired lout was attacking Halibel. And for once, timing his entrance perfectly, Grimmjow arrived quietly. Orihime turned and nodded to him, and the other Espada couldn't help but allow a corner of his mouth to twitch at the grin that accompanied the simple statement –
They left quickly and quietly, masking their spiritual pressure and keeping to the very edges of the battlefield as they crept their way toward the encampment where Orihime informed them the fourth squad were bound to be working. They were less likely to be attacked immediately, she had reasoned, than if they encountered a raging shinigami on the field who could very easily shoot (or bankai) first, and ask questions later.
And so they continued their escape, passing swiftly through the carnage, willing both hollow and soul reaper to pay them no heed. He knew that, while most soul reapers would stay out of their way, all they needed was a group of ambitious Arrancar who could put two and two together, and realise the obvious - that two Espada who seemed to hate each other, a human girl prisoner and the item they were carrying all headed toward the enemy camp was something someone higher up ought to know about – and they could all be dead. On the other hand, they were so close now, it would be almost ridiculous if –
Grimmjow saw them coming first. Yelling a warning at the sight of the cero heading toward him, it was choked off as the cero made contact – not with him, but with the shield of light that appeared to block it. Stunned, the Fourth Espada turned around to Orihime, who smiled slightly. He drew his sword, as Grimmjow, with a growl, mirrored his move. As one, they attacked, slicing through the group of seven arrancar who had decided they were easy prey proving quickly and painfully that their assumption had been ludicrously off target. Decapitating one, and skewering another he decided to leave Grimmjow to finish them off, turning back to Orihime, only to find another bearing down on her. Before the Arrancar could take another step toward the girl, the Espada had flashed forward to impale him on his blade, only to jump back, as someone else's zanpakto burst through his enemy's chest, copying his move from behind. For a second he stood there, transfixed, before removing his sword as his 'assistant' removed theirs, ready to attack this potential foe.
The body fell away, revealing a tall, curvy woman with a wavy mass of green hair that fell to her waist. She was dressed like a soul reaper, in one of their uniforms, but she had modified it to look like the one he was currently wearing. It was slightly open at the neck, drawing attention to the hole in her throat. Almost unconsciously, he put his hand to the void hidden under his uniform in the same place, she looked at him curiously, and with dawning recognition touched her own hollow. Their eyes stayed locked on one another, until Orihime shifted in the background, drawing the woman's attention and causing her eyes to widen.
"Orihime Inoue, right?" she queried, as Orihime nodded nervously. He voice was gentle, almost childish. The woman only smiled at her, before turning her gaze to the two Espada. "And where were you taking her?" she growled, her grip tightening around the hilt of the zanpakto.
"Home." Ulquiorra replied before he could stop himself, jolted into action not by fear, but something even more alien to him, something he couldn't name. "We were taking her home." He paused.
"We're out, you see", Grimmjow said, stepping in with the explanations, "We're done. We're not taking orders, blows or crap from that lot anymore. We figured that we might need a bargaining chip. Not Orihime though, that's a personal favour. She kinda grew on us. We've gone one better." With that, he pulled a brilliant, multifaceted gem out of his pocket and held it out. The woman's eyes widened once more.
"Is that - "
"It is." The Fourth Espada cut in, and their eyes met once more, a grin spreading across her face.
"Well…" She drawled, "This will be interesting."
And so it was that Ulquiorra Schiffer and Neliel Tu Oderschvank first met, on the field of battle as the fate of three worlds was decided.