Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Kubo. I recently acquired a mini version of Ulquiorra's zanpakutou! And by mini, I mean like…two toothpicks long. XD
Nel tapped the airspace lightly with her fingers, and Garganta opened up. "This should lead you straight back to Karakura," she said, her expression solemn.
Himeko and Uriya shared a glance. The orange-haired girl frowned and was about to speak when Uriya grasped her hand, stopping her. He looked over to Ginjo who was silently staring at Nel with an unreadable expression. Then tugging on Himeko's hand, the Quincy said, "Let's go, Hime."
Throwing one last reluctant glance at the arrancar girl, Himeko followed Uriya into the portal.
Once they disappeared, Ginjo spoke. "You're not coming."
Nel's hand reached up to touch the red band that had been permanently etched into her skin, her eyes downcast. "I can't." Now that the reiatsu monitor had shattered, Soul Society would no longer allow her to remain in the living world. "I'm a hollow. I don't belong in the living world. This is my home."
Even though she said as much, Nel wasn't sure if those words really rang true to her. She looked up at her bleak surroundings. It had been Pesche and Dondochakka who had made it possible for this place to feel like home. Now that they were gone…was she prepared to spend the rest of her life wandering this wasteland alone?
Watching her ever darkening mood, Ginjo couldn't help but get annoyed. He had never been any good at stomaching this sort of drama. Without warning, he walked up to her and simply hoisted her up over one shoulder. "Just come already, damn it."
"Grimm!!" she exclaimed, surprised and somewhat panicked. "Put me down! I'm not coming!"
"Why?" he asked, his tone calm in comparison to hers. "You obviously wanna come."
She struggled to get loose with no success. "That's not the point! Soul Society will—"
"Screw Soul Society," he retorted offhandedly.
Nel was nothing short of baffled by how lightly he seemed to be taking this. "Grimm, be realistic! They won't just let me—"
She stopped struggling and gave pause at the unexpected seriousness in his voice.
"Can you honestly tell me that you want to stay here?"
"When I was here, I hated this place," Ginjo continued as he looked out to the endless desert. "It drove me insane. Is this shithole where you really wanna be? You say yes, and I'll put you down."
Nel clenched her fists, her hands taking hold of the fabric on his back as she tried to hold back her tears. The truth was, she wanted more than anything to be able to remain close to him. It was a bit absurd if she thought about it, because their paths had only crossed again just recently. Nonetheless, during that brief span of time, he had become such an integral part of her life that she wasn't sure she could simply go back to living it without him. She just didn't think that staying together would be possible. There were so many risks involved. But if she had to survive here on her own, she would surely break down and fall apart before long.
"Yes or no?" Ginjo prompted, his patience wearing thin. "Which is it?"
She shook her head with a quiet sob as a whispered reply escaped her lips. "…no."
He grinned in triumph. "That's all I need to know." She didn't belong here anyway. Even though she was a hollow, she was a damn misfit in Hueco Mundo. Years ago, Pesche and Dondochakka had taken the opportunity that Nnoitora had unwittingly created to take her away from Las Noches. Now, he would take this opportunity and take her away from this place all together.
The moment he started walking, Nel hollered. "Wait! What about Soul Society?"
"Damn it, quit worryin' about the small stuff!" he said with agitation. "We'll handle it! It's not like you'd be the first non-human to stick around in the living world anyway. We'll get Urahara to hook you up with a gigai."
"I'm…not so sure he'd help this time," she thought out loud. Doing something like that would, without a doubt, land the exiled shinigami in a world of trouble.
Ginjo shrugged. "I don't really see him refusing, but if he does…I've got an ace up my sleeve."
Nel blinked, curious. "What ace?"
The vizard grinned. Every man had a weakness, and Ginjo knew Urahara's. "That man can't say no to my sister."
With that said, Ginjo stepped into Garganta, taking Nel with him.
Upon arriving in the living world on a deserted neighborhood street in the middle of the night, Ginjo set Nel back on the ground. Standing there dully with her eyes on the pavement, she said nothing and made no move. When the depressing moment dragged on, he grumbled and began knocking on her mask continually and none too softly with his knuckles. "Quit giving me that pathetic look already!"
Nel raised her hands to cover her head protectively. "Ow!" She glared up at him with a childish pout, and he frowned right back at her. Even as she stared into his scowling eyes, she knew that, in his quirky way, he was trying to help her get through this, and that thought eventually persuaded her to smile gently.
Ginjo's frown deepened at her sudden, seemingly odd-timed, change of expression. "What the hell's so funny?"
She didn't reply. Instead, she opened her mouth and pointed inside, demanding sweets.
To his credit, he didn't roll his eyes as he deadpanned, "I don't have any on me."
Nel shrugged lightly, eyes sparkling with mischief. "I'll take a kiss as a substitute."
At this point, Ginjo got even more agitated. He took a step away, his hands itching to pull his hair out. "Will ya quit…!" he began in a strained voice before coming to an abrupt stop as his brain tried to figure out what he wanted to say. "Will ya quit making the first move on me all the time?!"
She tilted her head to the side, definitely amused by that reaction but trying incredibly hard not to show it. "Why?"
"Cuz it makes me look like a damn sissy!" Suddenly reaching out and cupping his hands on either side of her head, he pulled her in, pressing his lips against hers. As one of his hands tangled itself within her hair, the other one traveled down her back, supporting her weight as he pulled her even closer to himself.
Was she surprised? Yes. Did she mind? Not one bit. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she returned his kiss in kind. Even though this was the first time Ginjo had ever initiated a kiss, the kiss he gave Nel was long, deep, and passionate…because Kurosaki Ginjo never did anything halfway.
Standing not too far away, Himeko hid her mirth behind her hands while Uriya simply looked on with his typical look of indifference. The pair had actually been present the entire time and merely forgotten.
"Hime," Uriya finally spoke up. "What is it again that Ginjo always says?"
Himeko folded her arms with a deep scowl, speaking in her best imitation of her brother. "I don't wanna see any of that crap."
Despite how busy he was with the beauty in his arms, Ginjo had the good graces to spare a hand to give his best friend and sister the finger, causing Himeko to chuckle and Uriya to smirk.
Eventually, Ginjo and Nel broke apart, both gasping for air. "First things first…" Ginjo began, speaking between deep breaths. "Tomorrow…you and me…one on one…no hold backs…your release against my bankai."
Observing, Himeko leaned over to Uriya and whispered, "Does he think he's being romantic?"
With her arms still draping round Ginjo's neck, Nel grinned innocently up at him. "Is that a date?"
Turning to Himeko, Uriya made his apathetic reply. "She doesn't seem to mind."
"No," Ginjo replied dryly to Nel's inquiry. "It's called a sparring match. You owe me, remember? For taking my half of the fight."
"He's not very good at this," Himeko whispered to Uriya again.
"Yes," Uriya agreed. "I do pity Neliel."
Ginjo finally snapped as he turned to them and yelled. "Hey, what the hell's with the side commentary?!!!"
Speaking in unison, one with a grin, the other matter-of-fact, Himeko and Uriya replied with one word. "Payback."
Ginjo geared himself up to holler all kinds of obscenities but, in the end, couldn't come up with a good enough comeback to say anything. It was that karma thing again, wasn't it? And this one in particular had been a long time in coming.
Seeing her brother's look of frustration only made Himeko laugh. "So, Nel-chan? Does this mean you'll be staying with us now?!" she asked the green-haired arrancar happily.
Nel smiled with a nod then turned to Ginjo. "So, Grimm? Does this mean I can share your room now?"
"What?! Heck no!" the vizard replied with no hesitation.
"But why?" she asked, disappointed. "I like your bed. It's cozy."
Ginjo grumbled. "How many times do I have ta tell ya?! It's small! You're big! And my old man's gonna murder me in my sleep!!"
"No, he wouldn't," Nel said as though that was the silliest thing for him to say. "Ichigo's a sweetheart!"
"You obviously don't know him the way I do," he deadpanned.
As their argument continued, Uriya heaved a quiet sigh before turning to Himeko. "Goodnight, Hime. We will see you tomorrow."
The orange-haired girl blinked. "Eh? We?"
Cutting his way into the still ongoing argument, the Quincy took hold of Nel's wrist and pulled her away. "Neliel. Come with me."
"Hm? Uh, but…" Nel turned back to look at Ginjo with uncertainty but allowed herself to be led away nonetheless.
With a slump of his shoulders, Ginjo breathed a sigh of relief. Then he placed an arm around Himeko's shoulder and began steering her towards home. "Come on, princess. I'm beat."
She looked up at her brother, a smile on her features. "I'm happy for you, Gin-chan!"
Ginjo glanced at her from the corner of his eyes before looking away, uncomfortable. "Whatever. Let's go."
"Where are we going, Ulqui?" Nel asked as Uriya led her around another street corner.
He continued to walk, tugging her along. It was obvious she still wanted to go back with Ginjo. "Neliel. Do you like Kurosaki Ichigo?"
She blinked at the question then broke into a bright smile. "Of course!"
"I assure you he will definitely live longer if you do not stay in the Kurosaki household…especially if you intend to remain in the living world on a permanent basis."
She twisted her lips in thought, not sure she understood what he meant by that. "Then…should I go back to Shinji's?"
"Do you like Hirako Shinji?"
"Yes!" she replied with the same enthusiasm. "Shinji's a sweetheart, too!"
One of these days, Uriya was going to have to ask her what her definition of 'sweetheart' was, as it seemed a large number of people fell under that category for her. "Then I would advise against it," he replied straightforwardly. "It may jeopardize his lifespan as well." That man had moronic tendencies that, in Uriya's eyes, couldn't really even qualify as being perverted. On more than one occasion already, he had witnessed Ginjo smashing his foot into Shinji's face for getting too close to Nel. Shinji's health aside, if she stayed with him long term, it would only serve to generate a lot of unnecessary nonsense.
"Mmm…are you saying I should go to Urahara-san?" she asked, a bit unsure. She didn't really know him all that well.
"That is something you should never even consider. He's a tasteless madman living in a shack." It wasn't that he had anything against the exiled shinigami. He was merely stating a fact. Then Uriya glanced over his shoulder at her confused look with a slight smirk. "I have a more favorable solution."
Ishida Uryuu sat in his living room couch as he looked from the boy standing before him to the arrancar girl who was standing a few paces behind, his jaws hanging slightly as he tried to process everything his son had just said. "And so…you want Nel-chan to live here with us?" It felt a bit strange calling her 'Nel-chan' now that she wasn't so little anymore.
"Yes. It's the best option," Uriya explained, calm as always. "She needs a home, and we have plenty of space. This house is far too big for two people to begin with."
"Yes, but still…" Uryuu replied, somewhat hesitant. Nel was a girl after all. Living with two unrelated men…it just didn't seem like the most appropriate thing to do. Not to mention, it had been such a long time since they'd had a woman in the house. "What about Kurosaki's place?"
"Neliel's previous accommodations there had been inside a closet," the boy divulged blandly.
Uryuu brought a hand to his forehead. Remembering how Rukia used to live in Ichigo's closet, he supposed they would think such an absurd arrangement to be normal. What other options were there? "The vizards'?" he thought out loud. Well, the vizards may have one of the biggest underground training rooms he had ever seen, but he did remember their actual living quarters being rather compact. "No… What about Urahara-san's?" But then an image of the exiled shinigami's rundown shop flashed across his mind's eye and… "Wait. Forget I even said that."
"Then it's settled," Uriya said, trying to move things along. "Neliel. You will be staying here."
Nel raised her brows as she looked between the two.
"Wait a minute!" Uryuu said, slightly panicked. This was happening way too fast. He needed more time to think it through.
The young Quincy placed his hands in his pockets, fiddling with the rocks inside as he pondered briefly. It was time for a slight change of tactics. "Admit it, Tou-san," he said in a voice low enough that only his father could hear. "Sometimes you wish I were a girl."
"Huh?! Uh…well…" Uryuu adjusted his glasses. That question caught him completely off guard. "Th-that doesn't have anything to do with anything!"
Uriya wasn't sure if he should find it sad or humorous that his father didn't even try to deny his statement. "Neliel is a girl," he continued. "She may actually like…frills."
At that, Uryuu suddenly bolted up from his seat as though he had just been struck by enlightenment. Going into designer mode, he looked to Nel with his chin in hand, eyes studying her from head to toe. Why hadn't he noticed before? The girl had the perfect model's figure, and he was already mentally dressing her up in all the latest designs that still only existed in his head.
Uriya gave a small smirk at his father's reaction, knowing he need not try to convince the man any further.
Uryuu coughed into his hand. "Well…if you feel it's best for Nel-chan…"
The boy tried to contain his amusement. "I do."
"Well then," Uryuu said as he went over to Nel and picked up her hand, decisive. "Nel-chan…welcome to your new home."
Nel blinked at the sudden turnaround, somewhat dumbstruck. "Uh…thank you."
Uryuu nodded with a small smile. "Uriya will show you upstairs so you can pick out a room. I'll go see if we have an extra set of keys and a cell phone lying around somewhere that you can use. Just let us know if there's anything you need." He headed towards his office to search for the items he mentioned but halted when he thought of something else. "Oh, but you don't have to worry about clothes. I have that all taken care of."
Nel observed with wonder as she watched Uryuu disappear. "He seems…excited."
"Try not to notice," Uriya said, suppressing the urge to shake his head. "He's already exerting quite a bit of self control." Then he turned to lead the way upstairs. "Come. Perhaps you should take the guest room with the biggest closet. I believe you will require it."
He barely made it to the stairs when Nel tackled him from behind, throwing her arms around his neck. "Ulqui, you're a sweetheart!" she exclaimed, her smile as bright as sunshine. "I think I'll really like it here!"
"I'm glad," he replied, unalarmed and all in all unaffected by the fact that she had attached herself to him again.
"I really can't thank you enough."
He gave a slight smirk. "Just play dress up with him for me, and I will be grateful."
She raised a brow. "Dress up?"
"You will understand soon enough."
"Um…Uryuu said he was going to look for a cell phone just now," she said, still hanging onto him. "Is that the same as the thing you and Grimm use to call each other with?"
"Yes. About that…" He looked away. "…just be prepared to receive messages."
She gave a slight frown. "Messages?"
He heaved a small sigh as he repeated once again, "You will understand soon enough."
(Two weeks later)
"Everyone, this is Neliel Tu Oderschvank," said the homeroom teacher, introducing the green-haired girl standing at the front of the classroom. "She's a transfer student who will be joining us from now on," she continued in a no nonsense fashion. "Please treat her kindly. Otherwise you may have to take it up with Ishida-kun over there, as Neliel is his sister."
All heads turned toward Uriya, but the teacher cleared her throat before the whispers could get out of control. "Now, Neliel. If you would, please tell us a few things about yourself."
As Nel…in her brand new gigai that looked exactly like her minus her mask, the markings on her face, and the red ring around her neck…began her self-introduction, the boys sitting around Uriya began to launch their whispered questions.
"Psst! Hey, Ishida! That really your sister?!" one asked in disbelief.
"Yeah, she looks nothing like you!" another added.
"Why are you in the same grade?" a third one inquired. "You twins or something?"
"Neliel is my adoptive sister," Uriya said simply. That was the story they were going with. And if anyone should ask why she didn't come to Karakura the same time he and his father did, they would give the handy all-purpose response that would generally stop people from prying any further: family reasons.
"Ohhh…" one of them said as he nodded in understanding. "Guess that explains the different names... But man, I can't believe you never said anything about having such a drop dead gorgeous sister! You wouldn't mind if I asked her to the dance, would you? Ishida, ol' buddy, ol' pal?"
"Oh! Can I ask her out on a date?" the second one jumped in, not wanting to be left out.
"You guys are wimps," the third one stated. "I'm gonna flat out ask her to be my girl," he said with a confident smirk.
Uriya closed his eyes, not sure why these questions were being directed at him. "It's not my concern. However, I don't think it would be wise."
Before the love-struck trio could get Uriya to explain what he meant by that, Nel had wrapped up her little speech and was instructed by the teacher to sit in the empty desk behind her 'brother'.
When he felt a light poke from behind, the young Quincy looked over his shoulder expectantly.
"Why can't I be in the same class as Grimm?" Nel asked, leaning over her desk.
"I told you. If you were, he'd never learn anything." Ginjo would probably find a way to get her to do all of his assignments for him.
She pouted a bit, seemingly unsatisfied with that response. "But I'm older. It makes more sense for me to be in a class with older students."
"Yes, you're older…much older. Therefore, it makes little difference whether you're posing as a sixteen-year-old or a seventeen-year-old," he retorted.
She frowned. She had lost this argument five times already and decided that it was probably time to give in. "Fine," she said with resignation. She supposed it wasn't all that bad. She could still sense Ginjo's reiatsu nearby.
Uriya directed his attention out the window. It felt almost unreal for them to be discussing which class Nel should be in when only two weeks ago they weren't even sure which plane of existence she would be living in.
As he had thought, Soul Society had come for Nel the very next day after their return from Hueco Mundo. However, instead of Abarai Renji, it was Soi Fon, the strict and no-nonsense captain, who had come this time, along with a team from the Onmitsukidou in case they should meet with any resistance. Fortunately, Nel had Yoruichi on her side; the one person who could sway the captain of the Second Division in any way. Thanks to her, Nel didn't get arrested or eliminated on the spot.
Instead, a group of individuals had accompanied Nel and followed the shinigami back to Soul Society to have a nice long meeting with the captains of the Gotei Thirteen. Uriya and Himeko had gone to testify to the fact that Nel was the one who had defeated Nnoitora, the former quinta Espada, and had only shattered Soul Society's reiatsu monitor in order to do so. Shinji, who was there as leader and representative of all the vizards, Rukia, and Uryuu had gone to vouch for Nel, and Renji had voiced his support as well. Then there was the Kurosaki father and son duo that had gone to not-too-subtly imply that there would surely be hell to be paid should there be an unfavorable outcome.
It certainly wasn't Soul Society's style to bend their rules, especially where hollows were concerned. However, when practically every war hero who had played a major role in the defeat of Aizen Sousuke was speaking on Nel's behalf, even the soutaichou had to take that into careful consideration before making any decisions. In the end, after much deliberation, Nel had been granted the right to remain in the living world. In exchange, she had to swear loyalty to Soul Society and vow that she would never harm the living or the souls of pluses.
Uriya wasn't fool enough to believe that it was all done as a result of good faith. The shinigami had now gained themselves a powerful arrancar as an ally, someone with in-depth knowledge about hollows and the ability to use Garganta. And to top it all off, there was still the permanent tracking device as insurance. If Nel should ever betray, she won't be able to escape. Allowing her to stay in the living world was highly beneficial with minimal risks. It was simply good strategy on Soul Society's part, but since things turned out in everyone's favor, nobody had any complaints.
Himeko darted out of the classroom as soon as the lunch bell rang, her jar of red bean paste in one hand, her loaf of bread in the other. Once she got out into the school yard, it didn't take long for her to spot the people she was looking for. Nel was practically surrounded by a group of vulture-like boys while Uriya stood aloof, observing from a safe distance.
The orange-haired girl went over to the Quincy's side. "What's going on?" She had to ask even though it was quite obvious.
"Ambush," Uriya replied without tearing his eyes away.
Himeko gave him a questioning look. "Aren't you going to help?"
"I'd rather not get caught in the middle when the inevitable happens," he answered honestly as he placed his hands in his pockets. "Neliel will be fine."
"I'm more worried about the boys."
Although Uriya would like to say that they'd be fine as well…the truth was, he couldn't guarantee their safety.
As for Nel, there were so many people talking to her all at once, she wasn't sure who she should respond to. People were asking her where she was from, which class she was in, whether or not they could buy her lunch, and so on and so forth. It was all a bit overwhelming.
After a while, one of the boys pushed his way through the crowd and draped an arm over Nel's shoulder. It was one of the love-struck trios from earlier…the one who said he was going to flat out ask her to be his girl. "Nel-chan, since you're new here, why don't I show you around the school?" he asked casually.
"Mmm…I already know my way around the school pretty well," Nel said thoughtfully. She'd followed Ginjo to class many times before after all.
"Oh, really? Well then…how about I show you around town?" the boy continued, not ready to give up. "I know where all the happening places are." By now, all of the other boys were backing off, so he figured he'd won the competition. "I can take you to a nice restaurant," he continued, confidence building. "I know where the best arcades are, if you're into that. Dance clubs…parks…"
"Do you know where the hospital is?"
"Of course! It's—" The boy faltered. That didn't sound right. "What?"
"I said, do you know where the hospital is?"
Just as the boy had thought, it wasn't Nel who had asked the question. It was someone else from somewhere behind him. A male voice that sounded familiar…but not in a good way. Turning around, he came face to chest with none other than the Blue-Haired Devil himself.
"…because that's where you'll be headed next if you don't get your hands off of her," Ginjo finished as he loomed over the boy who was by now frozen with fear. "Now!"
The boy nearly jumped out of his skin. "Y-yes, sir!" Then he blurted a quick "Nel-chanI'llseeyoulaterinclass!" and zoomed off.
With a crack of Ginjo's knuckles, all other bystanders dispersed as well.
"Why did you make him leave?" Nel asked, perplexed. "He seems helpful. I was going to ask him where's a good place to go buy chocolate."
Ginjo rolled his eyes. "Open your mouth." She did and he tossed in a piece of chocolate. "Here's your damn chocolate. Notice when stupid punks are hitting on you, would ya?! I swear, you're even worse than princess over there," he said as he jabbed a thumb towards his sister. When Nel just gave him that I-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about frown, he felt like ramming his head into a tree. That was when his ears picked up the not-so-private conversation Uriya and Himeko were having.
"Wow, Gin-chan ended that a lot more quickly than I thought he would!" Himeko commented.
"With only a mild threat and no bloodshed," Uriya added. "I'm rather impressed."
Ginjo threw a glare their way, but all that did was amuse them more than anything. "Whatever," he grumbled with discontent. "I'm leaving," he announced before walking off, ignoring Nel's calls from behind. This seemed like a perfect day to skip out. In fact, he needed to get away.
After that whole deal with Nnoitora and then that whole other deal with Soul Society, Ginjo had thought that life would just go back to normal. However, he had forgotten to take into account that, with the addition of Nel in his life, the definition of 'normal' had changed. He had no regrets about everything that had happened, and if he had to do it all over again, he would still make all the same choices. There was just a lot that he had to get used to.
Ginjo's muscles tensed as his eyes widened. …oh, hell no…
After running at full tilt, Nel launched herself towards Ginjo's back and tackled him to the ground, face first. "Where're you going? Didn't you hear me calling you?"
He growled with frustration. "Get off of me, squirt!!"
"We haven't even had lunch, yet! I brought something for you!" she continued in high spirits as though she hadn't heard his complaint.
"Damn it! Listen when I'm talking to you!"
"Let's see…there's a sandwich…a cookie…pudding…"
He heaved a sigh of resignation as she continued to list out all the things she made for him, trying not to think about the fact that the world had just witnessed him being taken down by this happy girl. Yes, there was a lot that he had to get used to, and he would need some time to adjust to it all. But it definitely wasn't anything he couldn't handle. After all, he was merely taking the next step in life.
A/N: And that's how our trio became a foursome.
Sorry for the super long wait. I was busy…then I got sick…then I had writer's block. Ugh. The second half of the chapter gave me so much trouble. I rewrote and edited it sooooo many times. I'm still not that happy with it, but…I kinda got tired of trying to fix it. Heh. Hope it still turned out ok.
"Searching" was sort of about things remaining the same over time and trials, so I wanted the sequel to be about change. Not a big sudden change, but the gradual change that happens over time, hence "Evolve".
Uryuu finally gets to make an actual appearance and not just in essence via phone conversations! But Uriya…you kinda have to wonder how much of his decision to bring Nel home was for her benefit and how much of it was for his own. Haha! XD
Where to go from here… Well, as far as this story goes, things will probably go back to "Glimpses" for a while, and it will take into account the events that took place in "Evolve". There's another multi-chaptered story that I would like to write after this one, but the current status of that story is "seriously half baked", so…I'm not sure if it will happen or not. There are a couple of non-Bleach projects I'd like to work on, too, so it may be a while before the next update on "Glimpses".
Many thanks for reading and for sticking with the story!
To my silent readers, you've reached the end. I'd love to hear from you. =D
That's all for now! Till next time!