Disclaimer: One day… *shakes fist menacingly in Tite Kubo's general direction*

Well, probably not, but a girl can dream.

Listening to: The Cure – 'Lovesong' and Blink 182 (they used to be good!) – 'Rollercoaster'.

Chapter 14

Everything sodding well hurt. And, while he was occasionally prone to the odd exaggeration, this time that statement was all too accurate. Mentally tallying up his injuries - extensive kido burns, residual muscle damage from Akon's attacks and three broken ribs (or so he'd gathered from Captain Unohana in a brief lucid moment) – Grimmjow decided that perhaps he'd stick with just opening his eyes for the moment, rather than attempting anything too strenuous.

Like, for example, getting up.

Slowly letting consciousness return, Grimmjow opened his eyes and realised that he was in considerably less pain than he should have been, a sign that the Fourth Division had done a damn fine job. Unfortunately, given that he was clearly still in the Fourth (the clean white screens, various medical implements and the motivational poster preaching avoidance of the Eleventh Division in order to prolong your un-life were all fairly strong indicators of this), he wasn't exactly out of the woods yet. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he sat up just as Lieutenant Isane Kotetsu entered the room, clipboard in hand.

Flashing him a quick smile, she walked over to the foot of his bed to check his chart, briskly flicking through the pages and nodding. Grimmjow, never patient to begin with, shifted in his bed and realised he had more mobility than he had expected.

Damn, when these guys heal, they really do it right. Almost put Orihime to shame. Leas' they're better then – wait, what the fuck am I on about? Anyone was better than Szayel. Creepy little shit. Fucken pink hair…

Huh. There is a distinct possibility that they've loaded me up with painkillers.

Awesome.

"So, Lieutenant Jeagerjacques, how do you feel?"

Isane's question brought Grimmjow back out of his thoughts. "Pretty fucken sweet, actually. Course, some o' that's probably just the meds, but all the same, I should be able to be let out soon, eh?"

His hopeful inquiry was met with a raised eyebrow and a shake of Isane's head. "Grimmjow, one of your broken ribs managed to graze your lung. We've fixed it so that you're out of any immediate danger, but you still can't do anything strenuous for another few days."

"Yeah, but you can let me out, right? I mean, I'm sure Captain Mommy Dearest won't mind, and I promise to be a good boy and relax. C'mon Isane – please?" Grimmjow attempted to look simultaneously piteous and stir crazy.

Shooting him a stern look, Isane shook her head firmly. Isane Kotetsu was generally known as shy and quiet, but woe betide anyone who tried to get in the way of her doing her job. "I am not going behind Captain Unohana's back. And as for you and your promises to relax, you have got to be kidding me! You pick regular fights with Captains Kurosaki, Abarai and Zaraki just for the sheer amusement, you drink like a fish and you hang out with Lieutenant Matsumoto. Now, I love Rangiku as much as the next shinigami, but you cannot deny that she's hardly relaxing! We already had to refuse her and your friend from the Seventh entry after that last incident…"

Holding up his hands in defeat, Grimmjow replied, "Okay, I get it. So, Maiko and Ran came to visit? Why'd you throw 'em out?"

Isane rolled her eyes and sighed. "They had 'appropriated' IV equipment and filled the bags with sake in order to, and I quote, 'get drunk that much more efficiently'."

Chuckling to himself, Grimmjow had to concede, "Yeah, that sounds like them. So, uh, anyone else come to visit?"

Isane considered this, thinking back. "Well, Captain Kurosaki and Captain Abarai dropped by. Nel sat with you for a bit with Lieutenant Schiffer. And then Lieutenant Schiffer came back, muttering something about being in the area."

While his drinking buddies, his partners in crime, Nel and Ulquiorra were all welcome, it wasn't exactly them that he'd been hoping to hear about when he'd asked his question.

Still, got some blackmail material on Ulqui now. 'In the area' my ass – he clearly missed me. Heh, the Emospada has feelings…

These are some damn good meds.

As nonchalantly as he could, Grimmjow decided to clarify, "So no one kinda petite, dark haired an' potentially lethal-looking swing by?"

Isane had raised an eyebrow once more. "No, your Captain hasn't come in. She was only discharged about a week ago herself."

"Uh, I didn't mean her", Grimmjow muttered. "I meant anyone of the general kinda descrip – wait, a week? How the fuck long have I been in here?"

"Two weeks, from tomorrow."

"Shit, really? Well, Captain's out? Good. Didn't mean her though. Just, you know, anyone like that." Grimmjow cursed the pain medication for his sudden inarticulacy.

The look of disbelief Isane shot him made him realise that she had perhaps picked up some of Captain Unohana's all-knowing aura in her time as lieutenant. Either that or he was being a little obvious about this. He sincerely hoped it was the former…

"Well, neither Captain Soi Fon or any of her body doubles have visited", Isane drawled. "Then again, she's probably had her mind on the meeting with the Captain-Commander today. I mean, things didn't exactly go to plan on that mission of yours and rumour has it that heads may roll."

Grimmjow blinked at this new piece of information. "Well, shit."

Isane nodded. "Indeed. Look, we'll probably only keep you in another day or two as a precaution. You'll be out soon enough. Now, I have other patients to see. Do try to rest and, failing that, for the love of Kami at least keep to this room."

As she slipped from the room, Grimmjow slipped into thought.

You sure as hell don't fool me, Shaolin. If the Captain-Commander's gonna crack the shits with anyone, it'll be me or Nel, not you, so that's hardly what's keepin' you away. Back to avoiding me again, Bee? Well, this time I ain't gonna stand for it. Soon as I'm out of here, we're gonna have us a little talk, you and I.

Time to put an end to all this 'emotionally uninvolved' crap.

xXx

Soi Fon stood next to a rather tense Ulquiorra and watched Nel emerge with a limp from the Captain-Commander's meeting room, with a faint smile on her face as she nodded to them both.

Ulquiorra visibly relaxed. "We're not to be reprimanded for any offences, then?"

Nel shook her head, her smile widening. "Nope. The General wasn't exactly pleased that we'd disobeyed him, but you can tell he's grateful not to be another captain short, even if he won't admit that we did the right thing. We're officially off the hook!"

Lips twitching into a faint smile, Ulquiorra remarked dryly, "Well, that will be a relief to Grimmjow, certainly. He has always cared so very deeply about the judgements of those in authority. Or authority figures in general."

Soi Fon snorted at that, all the while trying to suppress the thought that insisted that 'Grimmjow cared about her, didn't he?' "All too true, I'm afraid. Still, someone ought to go inform him of this latest development. Maybe he's finally woken up properly."

Nel looked decidedly confused. "So, you aren't going in to tell him yourself?"

"Ah, no. Things at the division have been too busy now that we're short a lieutenant and I simply can't get away." That may have been slightly untruthful. The last week had given Soi Fon some chance to think about the interesting relationship she shared with her wayward lieutenant or, more importantly, her own feelings for Grimmjow. Unfortunately this was a direct result of her inability to stop thinking about him, but at least she could manipulate that weakness into her rather necessary soul-searching. She had come up with several fairly strong conclusions, too. Firstly, while she was in love with Grimmjow, she was sure that, with time, she could forget that and let go of her feelings. After all, if you fell in, logic dictated that there had to be a way to fall back out again, right? Kami, she really hoped she was right. At least then she could try to work with him until all this blew over.

In the meantime, though, their little agreement was off. She needed some sort of distance and, since she'd be working with him every day, this seemed to be the only way to achieve that. It needed to be done to salvage their working relationship, she told herself firmly. She couldn't just continue to let things go the way they had and risk informing Grimmjow of the way she felt. They'd both made it clear from the start that this affair was casual and he clearly wasn't the sort to settle in any way, shape or form. Distance was easier, necessary, as she kept telling herself.

"Have you even visited him at all?" Ulquiorra's gaze could be very disconcerting when he attempted to look right through a person.

"Like I said, haven't had the chance." That one was actually entirely untruthful. Despite all her best efforts to do otherwise, she had slipped into his room after visiting hours when she was absolutely sure he was doped up (there were some advantages in this situation to being the captain of what was, essentially, a squad of ninjas). She had remained undetected, or so she thought, though Captain Unohana kept giving her looks that suggested that she knew something. Then again, Captain Unohana always seemed to know something. There was a reason that, out of the Retsu Unohana – Kenpachi Zaraki relationship, she was the more feared partner (and that was saying something).

Apparently, even when compared to the powerhouse of strength and bloodlust that was Captain Zaraki, knowledge was still power in the Seireitei.

All this aside, Soi Fon had paid Grimmjow a visit, staying pressed back into a shadowed corner of the room and watching the steady rise and fall of his breath, the moonlight playing across his chiselled features as the night dragged on. She'd slipped out before dawn, finally able to content herself with the knowledge that he was alive and well, despite his virtually suicidal attempt to rescue her. That should have been the end of it – she certainly shouldn't have felt the need to return to confirm her findings.

Except she had returned to watch the next night, and had continued to do so every night since her discharge from the care of the Fourth Division.

Something inside her seemed to twist harshly at the thought of staying away. It was that same something that made her feel sick at the thought of walking away from what they had, but then she was forced to acknowledge that all they had was a prolonged one night stand.

And I was stupid enough to fall in love, despite all my carefully constructed walls.

Not that Grimmjow is a bad choice, she amended in her mind, on the contrary, he's everything a sane woman could ever want and no one's ever questioned my sanity. My sexuality, maybe… But no, Grimm is fierce, intelligent, determined, funny, oddly sweet –

No, the last thing I need to do is dwell on what attracts me to him. The things I love about him…

Damn this! The main point is that I am not what he wants, not in that sense. How long could I maintain this charade knowing that he does not love me as I love him? How much pain can I endure? Physically, plenty, but emotionally? I've done that enough – Yoruichi leaving, Yoruichi coming back, the betrayal. I'm done. This needs to end, and I need to be strong enough to do it.

I have to start now.

Ignoring her restless mind, she flashed a smile that was more grimace to Nel and Ulquiorra. "That reminds me, I have to get back to the division. I'm glad you're not going to have to face punishment for rescuing me – I've had a very stressful week and don't feel like busting you all out of the Maggot's Nest and going renegade today. Next week perhaps?"

Nel smiled at her attempt at humour, but her grey eyes indicated that she wasn't fooled. "Soi Fon, if you wish to speak to anyone - " The expression she was greeted with by her fellow captain indicated that this wasn't likely. Nel sighed. "Well, the offer's there."

With a nod, Soi Fon turned on her heel and flashed away, leaving two arrancar to exchange glances.

"This", Nel pointed out dryly, "is not exactly what you'd call a positive development. Time for an intervention of some sort, perhaps? I'm sure we could get Maiko and Ran to - "

"No", Ulquiorra cut her off gently. "This is one instance – and believe me, such things are rare – where Grimmjow is more than capable of handling things himself. Unlike you and I, he simply cannot keep his mouth shut, so we shouldn't be faced with an awkward stalemate as they tiptoe around one another. He'll straighten things out with Captain Soi Fon soon, I can guarantee that."

Laughing softly, Nel acknowledged the truth of this. "That's probably a good thing. If they were on the outs with one another, we'd probably have to evacuate the dimension. Still, I hope they sort themselves out soon."

Staring off in the direction Soi Fon had disappeared in, Ulquiorra muttered, "I'll say. I do not feel like having to deal with Grimmjow in a mood and I'm damned if he convinces me to take him drinking ever again."

Nel smirked. "Indeed. Did you ever manage to recover any of your memories from that night out with the boys?"

"Neither memories nor dignity have returned", Ulquiorra scowled. "And apparently Maiko has pictures that she occasionally attempts to blackmail me with." Glaring at his companion as she began to giggle, he added, "Neliel, remind me why I keep you around."

She smiled slyly. "I'm your captain. It's the other way around. Not to mention…" Slinking forward, she hooked her fingers around the belt of his hakama, pulling him against her as she stared up at him mischievously. He blinked, staring down at the seductive smile of his lover and attempting to gather his thoughts.

"Uh, that isn't the only reason."

Nel's smile widened. "I know. It's not even one of the main ones. Still… See you back home." Retracting her hands, she grinned at him, before flitting away in a rush of sonido. Green eyes wide, he stood there, a matching smile spreading across his face as he finished the thought she had left open.

Still, it's certainly a damn good one.

Soi Fon, Grimmjow and imminent war forgotten for the moment, Ulquiorra chased after Neliel.

I'll take what moments of happiness I can before this begins. Once war hits the Seireitei, I'll have to slip into a very dangerous role and such things will be almost unobtainable. At least, though, Nel will be safe.

So long as that is the case, I can live with anything.

xXx

In her quarters that night, Soi Fon sat up in her bed with the lamp burning brightly beside her, and accepted that sleep was going to elude her. She had decided to test herself, to stay away from Grimmjow in his temporary home at the Fourth, as her spies had informed her that he was awake now, and such a visit would be far too risky if that were the case. If Captain Unohana had noticed her squad members lingering (unlikely, but still…) then Soi Fon would be having an interesting conversation or two tomorrow, but this was a matter of preserving her sanity and she'd rather have to deal with that than, say, Grimmjow in person.

Because as hard as it is to think these days without my thoughts automatically turning to him, it's infinitely harder to think when he's right there in front of me. Or touching me. Or –

Damn it, I should have asked the Fourth for a sleeping draught.

A faint breeze ruffled her hair, making her frown.

I could've sworn I closed the –

Of course.

With a resigned sigh, she sat up further in her bed, peering over the edge to glare at the black cat licking its paw in front of her.

"Figures. How long have you been there, Lady Yoruichi?" Soi Fon muttered, throwing her dressing gown at the transforming cat.

Slipping her arms through the robe, Yoruichi shrugged. "Long enough to guess that something's bothering you. What's up, Bee?"

Fighting the urge to flinch, Soi Fon decided to stick to business. "Impending doom."

The noblewoman raised an eyebrow. "Again? I thought we'd dealt with that. It seemed to go so well last time. Aizen's left over troops?"

"Are impressive", Soi Fon finished. "Not as powerful… Yoruichi, we run a very real risk of being overrun this time. We relied on Captain Kurosaki last time, but now - "

"Even the most impressive of us can only deal with so many opponents at once", Yoruichi finished. "All it takes is one lucky strike… Shit. Kisuke said he thought it could be that bad, but I didn't want to believe him."

"More fool you", Soi Fon bluntly returned. "Kisuke may not be my favourite person, but even I know better than to ignore his theories. He's right an alarming percentage of the time."

Pacing back and forward across the room, Yoruichi nodded. "I realise that. It wasn't that I thought he was wrong, I just - " The older woman sighed, sitting down on the bed. "We'd only just recovered."

Slumping back onto her pillows, Soi Fon sighed. "I know, I know. At least we've already taken care of two of the new Espada."

"Hmmm." Deep in thought Yoruichi frowned. "There's bound to be a meeting soon. Let me know how that goes."

"Very well." Soi Fon bit her lip, trying to figure out how to phrase her next question. "Lady Yoruichi, do you plan to fight?"

"Yes, myself and the family guard too, if you need them."

"But who will you fight alongside? You've made it clear that the Soul Society will never have your loyalty again."

Yoruichi smiled tiredly. "The Soul Society as a whole may not have my loyalty, but plenty of its inhabitants do. I'll fight beside Kisuke, beside you, beside Byakuya, Ichigo, Shunsui and Jyuushiro. Any one of you is worth my loyalty, Soul Society be damned. I'm not going to abandon you."

"Glad to hear it", Soi Fon sighed. "We're going to need all the help we can get."

"Quite." Shaking her head, Yoruichi sighed. "On to happier topics, how are things with you and Grimmjow?"

Soi Fon froze, her face stricken, and Yoruichi got the answer she'd been looking for. "Oh, Bee. I'm so sorry." Crawling up onto the bed beside her old lieutenant, Yoruichi slung an arm around the younger woman's shoulders, pulling her into a hug. "What happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it", Soi Fon murmured, resolutely holding back the tears that were threatening to make an appearance. "Really, Lady Yoruichi, it's nothing. It's better like this. Our working relationship can't be compromised this way. We'll both be better off like this."

Drawing back, Yoruichi sighed. "Convincing. You're in love with him, aren't you?"

This got a reluctant nod.

"Have you talked to Grimmjow about this?"

A shake of the head.

"Oh Bee, you really need to explain things to him, just so he understands. He at least deserves that, doesn't he?"

This time, Yoruichi's response was a reproachful glare. "Not to be rude, Lady Yoruichi, but taking your relationship advice was what got me into this mess in the first place."

Playing the guilt card got a wince out of her former mentor, but the former Second Division Captain was not to be put off. "Look, I just think it might be worth coming clean about this. If you don't, I suspect you'll regret it."

Scowling, Soi Fon muttered, "What, have you and Suzumebachi decided to team up on this or something?"

"She agrees with me?"

"She's been even more vocal about this situation from the start than you have", Soi Fon growled. Her sword spirit had spent the last week in particular calling her a variety of names, all of which indicated that she lacked wits, which was hardly helping her mood.

"Bee", Yoruichi began, "if your zanpakuto feels that strongly about your current situation, don't you - "

"No."

"Not even a - "

"No."

Recognising a battle lost (at least, for tonight), Yoruichi sighed. "Very well, we'll agree to disagree." Regretting that she'd sworn to keep Grimmjow's feelings secret, the noblewoman made one final effort. "Bee, I really do think he cares for you. If you just push him away like this, you'll never get the chance to find out." Letting this sink in, she disentangled herself and got up off the bed, walking toward the window. Swiftly transforming, she leapt up onto the sill and stared at her charge.

Soi Fon had curled up in the bed, facing away from Yoruichi and giving her no clue as to whether what she'd just said had made any impact.

"Just think it over, Shaolin. Please."

xXx

Bright and early the next morning, all the usual suspects and their lieutenants were assembled in the meeting room, wait for the General to enter. All of them, that is, except the lieutenant that typically filled the space next to Second Division Captain Soi Fon. She was still trying to figure out whether she was worried about his health, given that the Fourth had yet to discharge him, or just relieved that she wouldn't have to face him so soon and have the talk she was dreading.

Yoruichi is right, much as I hate to admit it. Grimmjow deserves to know why I'm ending this and keeping our relationship within the bounds of a proper bond between captain and lieutenant. With everything that's happened since this began, he's ended up more than a lieutenant or an unattached lover – he's become my friend. I want to salvage that, maybe not immediately, but at some point in the future. I have enough self-control for us to remain friends, surely…

Hmmm. Perhaps civil, then, rather than friendly. I can handle that much. I think. Damn him! Somehow that bastard wormed his way into my head and – no, I'm leaving my heart out of this. These last couple of weeks have been bad enough. And I can't damn him, either. This is entirely my fault. I was so sure, so fucking certain that staying detached would be a simple affair that I left myself wide open. Maybe if I'd gotten to know him in those first six months rather than just throwing him out of the office whenever he annoyed me… Well, either way, I have no one to blame but myself. If I'd gotten to know him, the real him and not just the lazy tease who inhabits the office, I would have realised the danger I was in.

Hell, what's the first rule of dealing with a target? Obtain all the information possible and then act, not the other way around. I forgot myself and now I get to reap the benefits.

Though I've got to say, for a while those were some pretty sweet benefits.

She couldn't help but smile to herself, thinking of Grimmjow, watchful and wary in Hueco Mundo, wreaking havoc in Las Noches, and suddenly a gentleman after Kami-knows how many bottles of sake.

It was a damn good run until I got stupid and fell in love…

Soi Fon was jolted out of her reverie by the realisations that she was still smiling and that Captain Kurosaki, standing across from her, was staring at her looking confused. She couldn't blame him – she'd never been one for excess displays of mirth. Or, come to think of it, any displays whatsoever. She let the smile slip off her face and glared at the Gotei 13's newest captain, who in turn looked rather pale and made a noise that, if she'd been close enough to hear it, would probably have been classified as a whimper.

Even Ichigo Kurosaki knew that survivors of Captain Soi Fon's wrath were few and far between.

Satisfied that she had convinced the world at large that she was completely normal (well, as normal as she had ever been), Soi Fon turned her attention to the Captain-Commander as he entered, Lieutenant Sasakibe by his side. Silence fell across the room as heads turned, every shinigami in the room stilled as though waiting for a blow to fall. Well, almost every shinigami. Soi Fon, Nel and Ulquiorra (And Grimmjow, her mind supplied helpfully) were all too aware of what was about to be announced, and the black cat attempting to sit unobtrusively by Captain Kisuke Urahara's feet undoubtedly knew a thing or two. Still, the information lockdown about their mission had left the Soul Society's inhabitants full of foreboding and curiosity. No one dared bombard Soi Fon with questions (there was no telling if your body would ever be found again if she took offence), and Ulquiorra had a tendency to stare all questioners down until they were left there fidgeting uncomfortably and wishing they were anywhere else. Nel, on the other hand, with her open and friendly personality, was far too easy a target, and had virtually been stalked by lackeys of all divisions in various attempts to find out what she knew.

Soi Fon tried not to sigh. They all knew deep down what was about to be announced, but it was one thing to suspect, and another thing entirely to have to face it and begin preparing for a battle that they had all thought was over. The General's solemn face gazing out at all of them was indication enough that the news was not good, and even Soi Fon found herself bracing to receive the information that she herself had uncovered.

The deep voice of their leader rang out. "There has been much speculation over the result of the mission from which the leaders of the Second and Seventh squads returned two weeks ago. Indeed, the manner in which they returned, hurriedly and rather destructively, is indicative enough of what I have to impart to you all today, and - "

The doors swung open, as Grimmjow slowly strode in, still moving slightly stiffly but with his customary devil-may-care smirk in place. "Sorry I'm late. Only jus' got discharged an' I didn't feel like wearing one o' them hospital gowns. Figured you wouldn' wanna see that much of me."

Torn between laughter and flash stepping over to him to smack him over the head, Soi Fon froze, trying to shove away the feeling of elation that rushed through her just from seeing him there and focussing on the one coherent thought she had left.

For someone in the Stealth Force, he sure does enjoy making an entrance.

A resigned look on his face, the Captain-Commander nodded to him, and simply ground out, "Take your place then, Lieutenant Jeagerjacques, and do make an attempt to be less of a disruption than you typically are at these gatherings."

"Will do", Grimmjow threw over his shoulder as he slipped over to stand beside Soi Fon, who tensed as he leaned forward to whisper in her ear. "Hey Bee. What'd I miss?"

She could feel his warmth right beside, could smell him as he shifted beside her, and it was all going straight to her head. Clearing her suddenly dry throat, she replied softly, "Nothing yet. Meeting hasn't really started."

"Wasn't talking 'bout the meeting, Bee." His response was sharp, but his face was unreadable as she glanced back at him swiftly. "We're gonna have us a debrief as soon as this shindig is over, if that's alright with you?"

She nodded mutely, her mind racing. Of course. I was an idiot to think I could delay this. Well, it looks as though I'll be coming clean about everything sooner than I expected. This really isn't my day.

Turning her attention back to where the General stood, his face grave, she ignored the very distracting presence beside her and focussed on the substance of the meeting.

"At the close of the Winter War, our focus was on licking our wounds and re-establishing order. We gave no thought to exterminating the arrancar in Hueco Mundo, judging that we had not the need, and that such an action was unnecessary, given that many of the creatures were forced into such servitude and fought us because they had no choice, and not because of any desire to eliminate us." The Captain-Commander cleared his throat, and continued, sounding older and more exhausted than Soi Fon could ever recall hearing him.

Except, perhaps, for a rainy night over one hundred years ago when he denounced Kisuke and anyone who followed him as a traitor. How wrong we all were…

"In hindsight, this was a mistake. As we had begun to suspect, there are once more Espada in Hueco Mundo. They are, perhaps, not as powerful as their original incarnations, but they are a threat all the same, especially when coupled with the numbers they now command."

The silence that had fallen since Grimmjow's entry seemed to thicken, until Captain Kuchiki seemed to rouse himself from his thoughts.

"How many?"

It was Soi Fon who answered him. "Almost three times as many as we faced initially. Like the Captain-Commander said, not as powerful, but still potentially overwhelming."

"And the Vasto Lorde? How many of them are involved?" Lieutenant Ise called out.

"Fewer than what we'd feared. They now have seven under their command. We accounted for one in the course of our mission", Ulquiorra broke in. "However, we have an advantage that they do not possess."

"Yeah?" Captain Kurosaki frowned. "Since when?"

"Or, more to the point", added Lieutenant Izuru beside him, "what?"

Ulquiorra's reply was simple. "Me."

Grimmjow snorted from beside Soi Fon. "Hell, and people say I've got an ego."

"Allow me to clarify", Ulquiorra continued, casting a glare at Grimmjow. "During the course of my mission, I was 'recruited' by Yammy Rialgo and Wonderweiss Margera to pass information on the Soul Society in order to further the war effort in Hueco Mundo. Such a position allows me to be a very effective double agent, and my agreement at the time is part of the reason that we now have the data we do. I have spoken to the Captain-Commander about this matter and we are in agreement."

Stunned silence greeted this pronouncement, even, rather notably, from Neliel, who stood staring at him, a guarded expression on her face. She slowly cleared her throat. "You went to the Captain-Commander about this. Not me."

Her voice was quiet, all traces of her characteristic warmth gone from its tones. Ulquiorra winced, his face even paler than usual. "Neliel, I had - "

"We will discuss this later, Lieutenant."

It was the entire room's turn to wince. "Shit", Grimmjow muttered, "Someone's sleepin' outside tonight."

"An accurate but unnecessary comment, Lieutenant", Soi Fon returned, doing her best to ignore how good his deep, teasing voice could sound when he was whispering in her ear. She heard a faint growl as he pulled away, adding, "Two someones perhaps, Bee?"

"So", Captain Kyouraku's voice rang out, "we're at war once again?"

"Undoubtedly", Ulquiorra replied harshly. "However, they do not plan to attack us in full force until they have needled us a bit. They wish for us to gain small victories and become overconfident first. It will make us easier to eventually overcome."

"A plan worthy of Sousuke Aizen, then." Captain Kyouraku nodded, before turning around to face his Vice-Captain. "In that case, it appears that there's no time to lose." Sweeping back his colourful haori, he knelt before her, his trademark puppy dog eyes and pout in full force. "Nanao-chan, will you marry me?"

Nanao Ise was a woman of poise, grace and propriety. This, however, suddenly deserted her.

Once again, the occupants of the meeting hall were left to wince as a judiciously wielded fan met the face of one of the Soul Society's most celebrated captains. Nanao, it seemed, was not amused.

She was also still armed.

"You commitment shirking, lazy - "

Whack.

" – inconsiderate miscreant masquerading - "

Whack.

" – as a respectable member of the Gotei 13 - "

Whack.

At this point, Captain Ukitake decided that perhaps his best friend needed assistance. "Ah, Lieutenant Ise?"

"Not now, Jyuushiro-san", she threw over her shoulder, before continuing. " – why do you only ever make a move before impending disasters?"

Whack.

"Please, not the hat, Nanao-chan!"

"Yes, the damn hat! It took a ryoka invasion and a betrayal for you to ask me out - "

Whack.

" – you only asked me to move in after you had your first near-death experience in over a millennia – "

Lieutenant Nemu Kurotsuchi watched this debacle of a proposal with curiosity in her murky green eyes, before turning to remark to Captain Ukitake, "She is making a good point."

"Maybe", he returned distractedly, "but for once, she's wrong. Nanao-san!"

Whack.

"Busy!"

Whack.

"Damn, everyone's gettin' fucked over today", Grimmjow murmured. "Please tell me you ain't gonna pull moves like that during our little conversation, Bee."

"Depends on the topic", she returned, her eyes on the spectacle before them.

Whack.

" – what'll it take to set a date for the actual wedding? All of Hell breaking loose? Kenpachi summoning his zanpakuto? - "

Whack.

"It could happen", muttered the behemoth captain of the Eleventh Division.

" – there's nothing romantic about feeling like you're helping someone stave off their fear of mortality, I can assure you - "

Whack.

"Oh for Kami's sake, Shunsui, just spit it out", groaned Captain Ukitake. "Nanao!"

"NANAO-SAN!"

Everyone in the meeting hall was left shaking their heads to stop the ringing in their ears, as they turned as one to stare at Nemu Kurotsuchi.

"My father chose to include amplifiers in my design", she explained simply, before nodding to Captain Ukitake. "You can continue now."

He blinked at her, before nodding. "Right. Well, Nanao, what the idiot cowering behind the hat hasn't mentioned is that he bought the ring months ago and has been waiting for the right moment. Apparently, his idea of the right moment and any sane person's differ widely."

Nanao froze, taking in her captain as he peeked out from behind the hat hopefully. "Shunsui, is this true?"

A hand emerged from behind the hat, clasping a small jewellery box. Nanao sighed, lowering her fan and raising her other hand to push up her glasses and pinch the bridge of her nose.

"You'll be the death of me, I swear."

Perking up at this, her captain asked, "Is that a yes?"

A faint smile on her face, Nanao shook her head. "That's a 'we'll discuss this at home'."

"Is that a yes and a euphemism?"

"Don't push your luck. May I be excused, General?"

Looking both pleased and resigned, the Head Captain replied, "I don't see why not. We can reconvene tomorrow once the news has sunk in and begin our battle plans then. Dismissed."

The members of the Gotei 13, lead by a bruised Shunsui and a somewhat repentant looking Nanao, ambled toward the doors of the hall, mingling and discussing the latest developments. The General himself and his lieutenant joined them, congratulating the leaders of the Eighth Division and answering the questions they were bombarded with. Nel stalked off, a miserable Ulquiorra staring after her.

In all of this, however, no one noticed that two shinigami in particular had remained in their positions in the hall.

Grimmjow was not known for his dexterity in conversations, which, he reflected, was a crying shame, because it meant that he was now left racking his brains for something to say. He was clearly going to be one to break the oppressive silence, since Soi Fon was currently studying her feet with the sort of intensity she typically reserved for surveillance missions.

Exhaling slowly, he finally said, "So… That was an interesting bit o' insanity we jus' got to witness there."

She looked up, staring at the doors everyone had just left through, the strangest smile faint on her face. "Fairly typical of the Eighth Division, actually. Those two have been dancing around each other for years. Kami only knows how anything gets done in those offices."

Grimmjow shrugged, his eyes still fixed on her. "I dunno about that. We seem to manage alright."

She flinched at that, before turning to him, her face set and resolute. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that."

It was Grimmjow's turn to flinch, his face now carefully blank. This did not bode well.

Damn it Bee, I thought we were getting somewhere. Don't start fucken shutting me out again…

"You have? Alright – what's up?"

He was so damn cavalier about the whole thing, and the careless way he tossed the question at her made her want to delay this conversation for as long as possible.

Of course, that's the very reason I need to do this. He doesn't care, not the way I want him to. I really need to remember that.

Taking a deep breath, Soi Fon felt her fists involuntarily clench and her nails dig into her palms as she started to speak, her eyes trained on him waiting for his reaction. "Our… 'arrangement' - it needs to end. Now. One of the initial conditions of our affair was that it was strictly physical, that we weren't to get our emotions involved, and, well, that just doesn't seem to be the case anymore."

Whatever response she might have expected from him after her confession, it was not forthcoming. Instead, Grimmjow had the oddest look on his face as he rushed to interrupt her.

"Look Bee, I know this thing hasn't really conformed to all those rules you came up with. Hell, I've known it for a while. And I know I shoulda pointed that out to you the second I figured that shit out, but I just didn't wanna. In spite o' everything, we had a great thing goin', you know, an' I didn't want to be the one to mess it up."

He looked almost panicked, Soi Fon decided. Which was somewhat depressing. Did he honestly think that she was going to attack him for trying to let her down gently?

"I mean, fuck, Bee you're smart, badass, damn fun to tease and have a laugh with - "

Does he really need to lay it on so thick? I mean, I get it. Really. He knew all along, I'm being rejected and I now have to face him every Kami-damned day, so –

" – and sexy as hell, just to make it even harder. Shit, how the hell was I not supposed to like you?"

Wait. What?

Stunned, Soi Fon properly took in the sight of her lieutenant as he stared at his shoes, running one hand though his already messy hair and gesticulating wildly with the other in order to punctuate his ramblings.

" – I know I went a bit crazy in Hueco Mundo but it's like you've got no fucken sense of self preservation sometimes. Almost had a damn heart attack when you decided to un-poison yourself with your fucken zanpakuto, an' I swear you aged me by a good millennia gettin' yourself kidnapped - "

This… really isn't sounding like a rejection speech…

" – wanted to flay that bastard Akon alive for makin' you bleed like that. I mean, hell, no one hurts my girl an' lives - "

…at all in fact. I - hang on. His girl.

Suddenly, Grimmjow found that all speech function was a thing of the past and that he had his arms full of a very affectionate captain, who seemed set upon kissing him until he lost all breathing function too. Baffled, he eventually brought himself to come up for air and unravel what was going on here. Staring down at Soi Fon and tucking her bangs behind her ears, he made an attempt to piece things together.

"Huh. Well, don't get me wrong – I'm happy. Seriously fucken confused, but happy. Weren't you just ditchin' me in order to look for someone suitably detached?"

Of the two of them, it was Soi Fon, for once, who looked more like a cat (in particular, a cat which had just been given a cream factory). Her lips still bruised red and her dark eyes alight, she bit her lip as she began to smile.

"It wasn't actually you I thought was attached in the first place. You - " She broke off, continuing hesitantly. "You really care for me? I know I can be difficult to get along with and stubborn, and completely lousy at opening up to people an - "

It was Grimmjow's turn to interrupt her with a kiss, one that was at once languid, suggesting that they had all the time in the world, and smouldering, suggesting that, while that may be the case, it'd be a good idea if they were alone, and soon. Pulling away, she stared up at him reproachfully.

"You know, that really isn't an answer - "

"Yes." His reply came without a second of hesitation. "Damn, Bee. It may've escaped your notice, but I've gotta bit of an issue with authority. You think I followed you back into Las Noches jus' because you're my captain? As for the rest…" His grin was back. "Well, I like a challenge. Seriously though, Shaolin – I wouldn' have you any other way than you are now."

It was so damn hard to breathe when he looked at her like that. "Really?"

His smirk widened. "Perhaps less clothed."

"Bastard." Soi Fon smacked him over the head, trying not to laugh.

"Your bastard", he returned. "Now, anyway Bee, what's this I hear about you bein' the attached one?"

"I still don't like you", she blurted out.

Grimmjow raised an eyebrow.

Sheepishly, she continued, "It's sort of gone beyond that now…"

He grinned, hearing the words she didn't say. "Well, isn't this jus' the best damn day ever? Might just petition the General, see if we can make it a holiday." He pulled her into his arms again, his hands swiftly unwrapping and releasing her braids, leaving her hair free for him to run his hands through. Leaning forward to kiss her once more, he stopped just before their lips met, his bright blue eyes fixed on her black ones. "Love you too, Bee. An' I plan on tellin' you a good deal more often, but first we really need to get back to yours. I'm already on thin ice with the General, an' I suspect that defilin' the meeting room ain't gonna fix that."

Laughing, she leant forward to close the gap, kissing him softly. "Trouble maker."

"You love me."

"Yes, but that's not the - " His lips closed over hers again, fierce and demanding, leaving her weak at the knees. Slowly, she felt all the tension and uncertainty of the last few months slip away as –

"Damn it Grimm, not in the meeting room!"

They disappeared in a combination of flash step and sonido, Soi Fon's laughing indignation and Grimmjow's mischievous chuckle echoing on in the now empty hall.

xXx

ZOMG, finished. That was rather epic, length-wise, if I do say so myself.

And this brings our little tale to an end! There will be a sequel (of sorts) that is currently in the planning stages, so the numerous loose ends in this series should be getting tied up eventually. Better yet, I'll be writing after exams and such, so I'll actually be able to update regularly, which has seemed like a thing of the past these last few months.

Anyway, I'd just like to thank all my lovely reviewers (which would be all of you, I've yet to have an unlovely reviewer) for providing me with feedback and prompting – it's always wonderful to hear from you and I hope to see some of you back for the next installment!

Stay in school, kids.

vicioux.