Part 1: Tia in Wonderland
Tia Harribel felt her body surge with adrenaline--this couldn't be happening!--as she raced down the halls of Las Noches towards Szayel's lab. What the hell is going on? How did something like this happen?
She burst into the room, practically out of breath.
Szayel Aporro Granz was hunched over his desk, peicing a strange box together with confusing parts. Aizen Souske, ex-shinigami, was standing beside the examination table with Lilyentte Gingerback at his side.
"Bel-Bel!" Lilynette leapt into Harribel's arms, sobbing lightly, "He won't wake up! I tried everything!"
Coyote Starrk was still on the table, laid out and fast asleep. In a deep, never ending dreamland of his own.
"How long has he been like this?" Harribel questioned.
"24 hours exactly," Aizen replied matter-of-factly, "That's why I called you down here, Harribel. Szayel is almost finished constructing a devise that will let you inside his mind--"
"Hold up!" She barked, "I didn't agree to this! Why are you suddenly recruiting me out of the blue?"
"Because," He remarked, "Lilynette is afraid she might get trapped, being that she is Starrk's second half. Actually, she asked if you could go in her stead," Lilynette stared up at the Espada with a tear-soaked expression of 'sorry', "Seeing as you two are close."
"Not that close..." Harribel mentioned briskly. It was true--they had only known each other for about a year now. "And why can't you get Ulquiorra to do it? Don't you think he'll handle this a bit better than me?"
"I have faith in you," He reassured.
Lilynette buried her face in Harribel's chest, "I'm sorry... I just didn't want anyone else to do it..."
"It's alright..." The Espada felt herself growning anxious, "Does...anyone know what happened to him?"
"Nope!" Szayel chirped and spun around, showing off his pocket-sized equipment for all to see, "That's what you're going to find out! Aizen-sama, get me the second--" Aizen tapped the table that was now next to Starrk. "--nevermind..."
Lilynette studied them curiously. Come on, Harribel. Don't let Starrk leave me alone...
Harribel unzipped her jacket, revealing her mask, and Aizen tossed her Zanpakuto into Lilynette's arms, "Are you ready?"
"Yeah..." Harribel replied as she laid down on the ice-cold metal table, chilling her blood.
"Alright. Aporro-san, do it."
"Yes, sir," Szayel attatched two small sensors to her forehead and then two onto Starrk's brow--and switched on his small electronic box. The lights blinked red, then green and Szayel gestured to Harribel, "Now, close your eyes and relax..."
After a few seconds, Harribel felt herself slipping off from reality--into a dark and parallel world otherwise known as Starrk's Dreams.
A tumbleweed skipped by, chased by the dry south wind. Harribel stared around, wondering just where the hell she was. In the distance, not a half mile away, was a small western town. "So this is what goes on in Starrk's head..."
She had two lightning bolt tattoos--one on either of her cheeks. Her clevage was rather...large...and she had on a red turtle-neck shirt that ended just above her belt-line, a cream long-sleeved vest that went just below her rib cage, and matching jeans. Her hat matched her outfit color-wise, but her sea-green eyes clashed with everything.
Somewhere off in the background, a coyote howled.
The town itself was silent as a grave, but there was music coming from a pool-parlor nearby. Was she seriously in the old west? Harribel stalked inside, pushing the doors open. They swung shut, creaking with each stroke. "Starrk? You in here?"
A shady man sat at a table in the back corner. He wore a dark shade of brown outfit with blue padding along his sides and thighs, and his overcoat was a nice touch-up. He adjusted his hat to avoid her gaze.
"Tia Harribel? That's strange... normally Lilynette is in here with me..."
"Starrk... I'm the real Harribel inside your dreams. You fell into a deep slumber and no one can wake you up--let alone figure out how this happened."
"How long have I been asleep for?"
"24 and a half hours."
"Damn... How'd you get in here, then?"
"Take a guess."
He gave his slight nod of approval and gestured to the man standing at the bar, spiffing up glasses with a rag, "Agustin here is always keeping me company when I'm here. This is a ghost town. No joke--its deserted. So I'm always a bit lonely now and again. Right, Agustin?"
Harribel stared around, "Is this all you ever do when you're asleep?"
"Nope. Lilynette is normally with me, so I've developed a sense for various...dreamscapes. Though... Lilynette isn't here right now."
"She can't make contact with you, Starrk. She's worried sick about your condition... If you don't wake up, you're going to leave her all alone."
He shot her a cold glare, and the sky outside began to darken, "You act like I'm doing this off my own free will. Why would I ever want to leave Lilynette by herself? So she can go through the same pain as me?"
"I didn't say that."
"I didn't say that you did say that... But to me, you implied it. So if you don't mind, get out of my head."
"I forgot to ask Szayel how to get the hell out of this place!" Harribel slapped her hand over her face, "Damn it all...!"
Starrk stood and unholstered his revolver, toying with it on his fingers, letting it dance and spin with lightning quick change in direction every few seconds. "That is very unlike you, Tia. To barge into something without an escape plan... Seeing as we won't be waking up for a long time, why don't you stay a while? I won't be as lonely."
"What about Agustin?"
"He's just a figment of my imagenation, remember? It's not exactly the same thing..."
"How do you get from place to place? You know... Skip from 'Dreamscape' to 'Dreamscape'?"
"Simple," Starrk reholstered his gun and went over to her, gradually taking his sweet time, "I simply will myself to be where I want to be. This old western town here is both mine and Lilynette's personal favorite--but we do have some...nightmares."
"Nightmares? Does it end?"
"Nope," He snapped his fingers, and Harribel's eyes filled with blinding white light. All that remained was his voice, like an echo in the air, "I don't want to take you to such places, so let's go somewhere much more diverse..."
Harribel blinked away the brightness.
She was standing in an open meadow, nothing but rolling hills and blue skies with pathetic whispers of vapor trails for clouds. Not a single more. But, now she was wearing a white tear-drop dress with a white flower in her hair, white elbow-length gloves, and white heels and pearl necklace like she was getting married.
Starrk stood in front of her, his tuxedo and gloves also white. "This should do, don't you think? Lilynette helped me design this one. She suggested a relaxing place where she could run around and explore and I could snooze and study the movements of the clouds..."
"How did you do all this?" Harribel questioned in awe.
"Creativity has no boundaries--all you need is a mind of your own."
"What about...Forget it. Starrk... Do you know how you wound up like this?"
"Asleep? Uhm... I was on a mission and..." His voice faultered as he searched for a clear image of what had happened. Nothing came to mind, "I can't remember what happened after leaving Las Noches. Oh well."
"No oh wells!" Harribel snapped, "We need to get out of here! You can't stay asleep forever..."
"You know something, Bel... I would love to stay asleep forever... But Lilynette isn't here. And if worse comes to worse," he gently took her chin between his thumb and forefinger, "I still have you to kill my loneliness."
A wind picked up, carrying the faint smell of oranges.
She couldn't help but stare into his eyes, lost in a void of wonder, "I wish I could stay, too. But we have priorities as Espada--"
There was another flash of light.
I wish he would stop doing that... "And this is a nightmare."
Harribel was encircled by fire, blazing and clouded with dense smoke. Burning flesh. That was the strongest smell that she could actually find a name for... "What...What is this?!"
"Welcome to Aizen's Wish," Starrk said. He was beside her suddenly, and both were in their releases, "This is only one of many nightmares. I created this one to show Lilynette what we were serving... A monster with a hole for a heart larger than anything I've ever seen. This is the result of our 'priorities as Espada'."
"I..." Harribel saw burning golden eyes through the flames--studying them carefully. "Who's here?"
"Aizen... or what is supposed to be him..."
"Starrk...!" Harribel clutched his sleeve--which instantly wasn't there. "Starrk! Where'd you go?!" She frantically searched for him, but all there was was a sea of churning destruction. "Starrk! Don't leave me here!"
"Loneliness... It's a funny thing..." His voice rang out, "When you have nothing, or just loose everything, you are capable of anything... so many things... I envy the weak. They can move on to a better life--without loneliness... Yet... I'm stuck here, with all the power in the world and I don't want it. Why me?"
Harribel jumped when he appeared behind her, "Why did it have to be me?"
"Get us out of here, Starrk! I don't--"
"I know you hate it. But this is the path we, as Espada, have chosen. I've made a dreamscape for every aspect of death, Tia. This is... Desperation..."
She closed her eyes--tight--hoping it would all be over soon.
Part 2: Ominous
There was a rustling of leaves, and Harribel's eyes forced themselves open. She was standing in the middle of a forest halfway through the Autumn season. No more fire... Desperation? It looked slightly more like...Destruction...
"Did you ever think dying of old age could actually be beautiful?" Starrk asked from the branch above where he was reclined, "Leaves never think about death--they weren't made to understand it. They only do what they do best: Live, and keep growing until their energy fades and they wither away..."
Harribel bit her lip. They were both clad in pitch black clothing, like they were attending a funeral... "Is...this Barragan's nightmare stage of the twisted sorts?"
"Yes... but not all nightmares have to be frightening... Most disguise themselves as dreams, but when they have a darker meaning behind them, then it becomes a downhill spiral...! Just the thought of it makes me nervous to be here..."
"Starrk... Can you show me loneliness?"
"Why the hell would I want to do that? Trust me--you don't want to know!" He sat up abruptly, scowling down at her, "I refuse to let you go through what I had to!"
"Please, Starrk! I...I want to know what you really had to go through most of your life...!"
"I...Are you sure?"
"Yes," Harribel clutched her shirt where her heart was supposed to be, "I want to know what you were forced to endure. I'm asking this as a friend, Starrk! Please, let me see..."
Seemingly relunctant, Starrk studied her eyes for a moment, "Alright... But its just for a quick second!"
With that, she was engulfed in another abyss of white.
Nothing. There was nothing. She was just falling on forever... Completely forgotten in the blankness of time and space itself.
"Starrk!" Harribel called, aware he might not hear her.
Harribel slipped back into reality--well, anything BUT that loneliness. They were now standing in a snowy embankment--frost drifting to the white mounded ground from the groggy sky above. It was so sickly gray...where...?
"How was it?" Starrk questioned.
"You didn't answer when I called you."
"I know... try that for more than 5 years..." He turned away from her and focused up at the sky, "Nihily... A depressing outlook on life. Doesn't the sky fit Ulquiorra's personality? Sure, snow is a beautiful thing...but the cold, and the dark... its so lonely..."
Harribel began to wonder just how lonely Starrk actually was--and why he wasn't smart enough to kill himself. Most people couldn't stand being this lonesome!
"Starrk... You need to wake up now... I don't think we can stay here any longer. I mean... I'm not even sure how long we've been at this for! Is...there anything you do to wake up?"
"Lilynette always wakes me up... Or fear."
"Fear of what?"
"Fear...No, nevermind. You'll find it stupid..."
"Am I really the kind of person to find things stupid?"
"...Fear of losing you."
Harribel didn't know how to reply to that. "That...was way off mark... I figured you'd say something totally different."
"See? It's stupid... I sometimes wake up because I have this fear that you'll die while I'm asleep and... GAH! IT'S JUST A FEAR, OK?!" It randomly stopped snowing, "You're my best friend and you get rid of my loneliness! Yes, you Bel! And I love you, so I worry about you everyday!"
A strange light started dancing across the sky, which had cleared up now, in rays of greens, blues, and yellows.
"And I don't know what I'll do if I lose you! Lilynette is one thing--but you're the closet I've ever been to someone without killing them! I'm lonely because of my power! But you just seem to defy all these factors like they never existed!"
Harribel pressed a single finger against his lips, "You're too loud. Keep it down... Even if we are the only ones here..."
He jerked away from her, his mouth dry, "Maybe you should wake up now..."
"I can't. I'm not waking up unless you wake up, too." She pressed a soft kiss on his nose, "Please Starrk?"
"Only if you don't miss the next time..."
She pulled him into a passionate kiss, and after a few moments broke away, "Is that better?"
Part 3: Dreamscape
Harribel's eyes snapped open. Her vision doubled for quick moment, then blurred, and adjusted correctly. Szayel was leaning over her, pounding on his box panel, "Stupid thing! Work! Turn off!"
"Oh...it seems it's defective..."
Harribel painfully struggled to sit up--the two sensors were gone form her forehead--and Lilynette dashed over to help her, "Bel Bel! We figured out what happened while you were asleep for the last four days! Starrk hit his head! So he wasn't asleep--he was in a coma!"
The Espada was instantly alert, "Come again?"
At the same moment, Starrk strode into the room, looking just as bored as ever, "It's true. My head has a life-sized bumb like you wouldn't believe... Probably from that Hollow we were sent to kill... Anyway, I woke up just a few hours ago. I'm surprised you were out longer than me."
"Well, you know," Szayel mentioned, "She doesn't get a lot of sleep..."
"Shuddup, Strawberry Shortcake," Harribel barked and swung her legs over the side of the table.
"You still owe me that--" Starrk paused, "Well, you actually don't...but even if you did you would have to find someway to get rid of the mask..."
"You really need to get yourself a hobby..."
"And why not?"
He shrugged, "I'm tired..."