Disclaimer: I would give anything to make Byakuya-sama and Ulqui-chan mine. My heart. My soul. My life. Hell, even my laptop. If only, if only….Alas, neither they nor their fellow Bleach characters belong to me. Tite Kubo takes credit for all (like Senbonzakura on my dreams…tears them to pieces…-sniff-).
Hola, amigos. These will be a series of humorous short stories dealing with both the Espada and the Soul Reapers. Pairings will be included, so be warned!
All that out of the way, enjoy! XD
Tales of the Arrancar: One
Summary: Baraggan calls the Arrancar to a special "secret" meeting to teach them to be "true" Espada. Then Gin and Kaname had to show up. Chaos ensues.
Main cast: Espada, Gin, Kaname.
Pairings: None. Well, little hints of Ulquihime and Nnoitra/Nel.
Overall warnings: Towards the end it gets all crack-ish, so beware. A few innuendoes here and there. A touch of violence, as well. All directed at Baraggan, of course. For the forces of justice!
BANG. CRASH. BOOM.
A series of deafening explosions rocked the grand, colorless edifice of Las Noches to its very foundation. Within a spacious chamber deep inside the confines of the palace, Baraggan Luisenbarn, who had been dozing in his conveniently portable throne, jolted awake with such force he knocked his chair down flat. The back of his skull struck unyielding stone, and black flowers bloomed across his field of vision. He blinked, disoriented, momentarily blinded by the cold phosphorescence of the walls. A cacophony of familiar yet alien sounds assaulted his ears: overlapping voices so loud it was impossible to distinguish between them; a stampede of footsteps which seemed to reverberate throughout the entire world. There was another detonation, closer and smaller than the first, perhaps the blast of a Cero or Bala.
That returned Baraggan to his senses. "Ggio!" he roared. "Findor! Poww!"
At once, the three loyal Fraccion hurried to their fallen master's side. "Lord Baraggan?" Ggio said anxiously. "Are you all right?"
"I would be fine," Baraggan breathed, "if you would help me off this damn floor!"
"Yes, Master," they chorused dutifully. Findor and Ggio positioned themselves on either side of the throne and slipped their hands beneath the twisted spikes on its back. After several moments of strenuous, fruitless pulling, a shrill cry of "Watch what you're doing, Findor!" and a grunted reply of "We're going to have a serious talk about the concept of 'working out' after this, Vega," the two surrendered their efforts and allowed the much larger Poww to take over. The enormous Fraccion lifted the throne, with his master seated comfortably within it, with such ease it might have weighed no more than a feather. He placed the chair carefully back down and bowed low to Baraggan, who nodded briskly in acknowledgement.
"I could have done that," Ggio muttered. Findor snorted.
Baraggan looked up. The reason for all the commotion quickly became clear. The elegant double doors had been blown to pieces. They now lay in a smoking heap of rubble at the entrance. Surmounted upon the ruin was none other than Grimmjow, elbow propped on one knee, chin rested in his palm. His startling blue eyes scanned the room without much interest. Beside him was, of course, Ulquiorra. Pale and beautiful and emotionless, he stood with his hands in his pockets, feline emerald orbs locked on Baraggan. Szayel was on Ulquiorra's other side, an arm wrapped around the shorter Espada. His usual smile, sly and full of the promise of oblivion, curved his lush, deceptively gentle lips. He appeared to anticipate some forthcoming entertainment. Nnoitra stood in the doorway, his massive sword across his shoulders. He was trying to avoid Nel, who kept pouncing on him at unexpected instants. Aaroniero and Zommari observed this silent two-way struggle from opposite ends of the entrance. Yammy loomed above them all, half-concealed by the shadows of the outside hall, Harribel by his side. Starrk had his head on her shoulder, apparently asleep on his feet, mouth open. A thin stream of drool trickled down his chin. Luppi was stretched out on top of the rubble near Grimmjow, expression as bright and mindless as the glow which emanated from the walls.
"Are you finally up?" Szayel inquired casually, flicking a strand of rose-colored hair from his brow.
"So," Baraggan said, ignoring him, "you all made it, I see. Excellent. Now we can commence."
"Commence with what, exactly?" Grimmjow attempted to keep his visage noncommittal, but there was a hint of trepidation in his tone.
"Ggio," Baraggan said.
"Yes, Master." Ggio pulled a small black object from his robes. Upon closer inspection, this little device could be identified as a remote of some kind. Nel, who had the most experience in the Living World and therefore the most extensive knowledge of such technology—if anything Nel possessed could be accurately termed 'knowledge'—ceased her endeavors to glomp Nnoitra in order to devote her attention to the proceedings. She was not the only one. Szayel gazed raptly at the object in Ggio's grasp. A million ways to disassemble the device and study its inner workings flashed through his mind at once. He secretly resolved to steal it later when opportunity arose—which with Baraggan, who had a tendency to be distracted by the simplest of things, was quite frequently.
Ggio raised the remote and, with a theatrical air, pressed the large red button at its center. Immediately, the walls began to move, or so the surprised onlookers initially believed.
"What the hell?" Grimmjow, Yammy, and Nnoitra exclaimed in unison.
"Oooh…" Nel and Szayel said. "Ahhh…"
The stone behind Baraggan split down its middle and slid apart in two sections. When the dust settled, a giant blackboard was revealed. It towered above them all, reached to the tenebrous ceiling and stretched to the walls in either direction. The nine Espada crowded in the entryway—except for Starrk, who slept undisturbed—gaped disbelievingly. Baraggan smirked at their expressions.
"Do you like it? I set it up myself."
No one answered. No one seemed able.
"Then I'll tell you the reason why I have called you here today. Lately, ever since we began our campaign against the Soul Society and its pesky Soul Reapers, you all have proved yourselves…absolutely pathetic." He accentuated these last two words by slamming his fist on the arm of the chair with each syllable. "They have beaten us at every turn! None of you has managed to attain so much as a single victory, and what are we up against? A bunch of pansies in black dresses, that's what!"
"Does that make us pansies in white dresses?" Ulquiorra murmured to Szayel. Szayel shrugged.
"It's pathetic!" Baraggan cried, his voice rising as his ardor culminated. "It's shameful! It's unseemly! You have all put the title of Espada to shame! This is not what we Espada were meant for! Defeat must not be tolerated any longer!" He paused for effect, and then continued in a calmer tone, "Therefore, I intend to teach you exactly what it means to be Espada."
Silence greeted this little speech. No one seemed to know how to react. Even Szayel appeared nonplussed. Finally, Grimmjow said, "What the hell are you rambling about, old man?"
Baraggan snapped his fingers meaningfully. Ggio and Findor rose from the floor twenty feet into the air, close to the top of the board. As Baraggan spoke again, they wrote his words in bold colossal letters with white chalk.
"I present A Guide on How to Be an Espada, as instructed by me, Baraggan Luisenbarn, the one and only KING OF—"
"Idiots," Grimmjow interjected abruptly.
Ggio accidently went on and recorded this comment. Hastily, when he realized his mistake, he erased it before Baraggan noticed.
"Hey!" Baraggan said, indignant. "Don't interrupt!" He cleared his throat, glanced up at his aloft Fraccion, and resumed in the same rumbling, imposing voice, "As I was saying, this is presented to you by me, Baraggan Luisenbarn, the one and only KING OF—"
"Old geezers," Yammy interrupted.
"Hey! What did I just say? Anyway…it is by Baraggan, the one and only KING OF—"
"Cripples," Harribel put in.
"Hey!" A vein had begun to pulse dangerously in Baraggan's temple. "For the last time, I am not crippled! I just…don't like to get up." He hesitated. "Plus, I have a feeling my ass is stuck to the chair, at any rate…" He cleared his throat again. "Anyway, it is by Baraggan, the one and only KING OF—"
"Blood!" Nnoitra, evidently quite pleased he had had a whole five minutes in which Nel had not harassed him, chimed.
"Shut it! It's by Baraggan, the one and only KING OF—"
"Love!" Zommari exclaimed, and made the peace sign. Everyone face-faulted simultaneously.
"Shut…up! This is brought to you by Baraggan, the one and only KING OF—"
"Lazy?" Aaroniero suggested.
The vein in the elderly Espada's forehead was now more prominent than ever. "By Baraggan, the one and only KING OF—"
"Lazy-ass crippled senile idiots," Szayel said cheerfully.
By this point, Baraggan had had it. His eyes burning with rage so intense it almost seemed the heat would be enough to incinerate them all, he bellowed across the room, "ARGGGG! IF YOU DO NOT SHUT THE HELL UP I WILL RIP OFF ALL YOUR LIMBS AND HANG YOU FROM A POLE AND SET YOU ON FIRE AND EAT YOUR ROASTED INSIDES!"
Everyone promptly shut up.
Baraggan smiled serenely. "Thank you. Now, without further ado…I present to you…"
"Hey, you rhymed!" Nnoitra cried excitedly. His fellow Arrancar stared at him. He grinned. The others sweatdropped.
Baraggan's eye twitched. "As I was saying," he said through gritted teeth, "I now present to you the official guide on how to be an Espada, as instructed by me, your one and only KING OF HUECO MUNDO."
He glanced upward. "Ggio?"
Vega nodded vigorously, chalk pressed against the board preparatory to write. Baraggan averted his attention back to the group at the entrance.
Tip One: Always wear really tight white clothing.
Grimmjow scoffed. "How the hell is that supposed to make you a good Espada?"
Baraggan wagged a reproving finger at him. "One word, Grimmy: style! You cannot be a good Espada without style!"
Szayel sighed and looked at Yammy with what appeared to be genuine sympathy and regret. "Sorry, Yammy, but there go your chances of ever being a good Espada."
They proceeded to have a surprisingly anticlimactic fistfight where one bumped into a wall and the other fell down a hole.
"Hey, now!" Aaroniero spoke up, affronted. "I'm an excellent Espada and I could actually go into public without being arrested!"
"Tch," Ulquiorra said, "no wonder the midget Soul Reaper who always needs to be rescued kicked your boogery ass."
Aaroniero rounded on him. "I kicked her ass, too! Damn near killed her!"
"Only because she thought you were her boyfriend," Ulquiorra pointed out. The others nodded their agreement.
"I still would've kicked her ass good had I been given the chance."
Ulquiorra shook his head. "She would have destroyed you in three seconds flat if she had not thought you were an old flame who looks creepily like her newest flame. In fact, that was exactly what she did when she saw through that lame trick of yours. You'd still be mush if Lord Aizen hadn't decided to have Szayel revive you because he drank too much sake." He paused briefly, and then mused, "Though where he got the sake, I can't figure out…"
Behind him, Nel coughed surreptitiously into her hand.
"Hey!" Aaroniero snapped. "Whose side are you on?"
"The winning side," Ulquiorra replied coolly. "Which certainly is not yours…"
Aaroniero's expression was murderous. "Why, you…zombie-ghost-freak…thing, you…"
"Uh…can I continue?" Baraggan asked, not without a hint of tentativeness.
"Go on," Ulquiorra said, ostensibly unconcerned with the fact Aaroniero was now glaring daggers at him.
Szayel, who had managed after a bit of effort to climb out of the crater Grimmjow had created when he blasted the door apart, approached the enraged Espada. "Hey, Aaroniero," he whispered in the other man's ear.
"What?" Aaroniero asked grumpily.
"Your Soul Reaper is showing."
Aaroniero appeared at once to forget his fury at Ulquiorra. "What? Where?" He spun around, hands flying frantically across his torso.
Baraggan resumed, taking no notice of them.
Tip Two: Surround yourself with a harem…er…army of kickass sex slaves…er…Fraccion who fight all your battles.
"Way ahead of you," Harribel said.
"Hell yeah!" chorused the Fraccion present.
Ulquiorra scoffed. "Who needs Fraccion?"
Baraggan gasped. "Ulquiorra! Do you not recognize the prudence of having an army of subservient morons who fight all your battles for you?"
"Hey!" Ggio cried indignantly. "That was a total fluke!"
"Yeah!" Tesla, who had evidently followed Nnoitra, agreed.
"Yeah, a fluke!" Sun-Sun, Apache, and Mila-Rose said from behind Harribel.
"Whatever," Ulquiorra said, indifferent.
"Isn't Yammy basically your Fraccion?" Grimmjow inquired with a glance at the much larger Espada.
Yammy started. "Wha—?"
"Nah," Ulquiorra said, "he's just my bitch. There is a difference."
Yammy's mouth fell open. "Hey, wha—? Huh?"
"There is?" Nnoitra said. An image flashed before him of himself standing over a bent Tesla, whacking him with a leather whip. "Oh…oops." He reached into his robes, pulled out that same whip, and passed it to Ulquiorra. "Guess I won't be needing this anymore, then."
Tesla looked rather disappointed.
"Uh…anyway…" Baraggan tapped the board to indicate Ggio to continue.
Tip Three: Never, EVER eat human food.
Zommari was in the midst of shoving slices of pizza into his mouth from a stack of boxes he had brought with him, but when Grimmjow read aloud this next tip, he stopped suddenly. "Huh?"
Grimmjow raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong with human food?"
Baraggan scrutinized the blue-haired Espada suspiciously. "Grimmjow…have you recently indulged in human food?"
"Well…yeah." Grimmjow was unabashed. "I had a couple burgers last time I went to the human world to kill a few Soul Reapers and some weaker Hollow. What about it?"
Baraggan could not believe his ears. "Food is a horrid, infernal contraption invented by an evil human scientist as a diabolical plot to take over the world and will deteriorate your fighting skills until you are worse than Aaroniero and Zommari!"
Aaroniero and Zommari looked scandalized.
"What about your Twinkies, then?" Grimmjow asked. "Aren't they human food?" He gestured to the twenty-foot-high mountain of little cream-filled cakes stacked beside the self-proclaimed Hueco Mundo King.
Baraggan paused. "I…have no idea what you're talking about." He scooted his throne over in a vain attempt to conceal the ample cache of Twinkies.
Szayel whistled. "Wow. No wonder you never get off that chair." The others nodded.
Baraggan's face turned from crimson to violent purple with alarming speed. His fingers clenched. His body shook with the force of the barely contained emotion so his very throne vibrated as if full of electricity. His words were a savage, animalistic bellow which would have scared the Cero out of the oldest and most experienced Espada. Indeed, if Hollow could wet their pants, a certain few of those currently present—namely Aaroniero, Zommari, and Nnoitra—would have done so in that instant.
"WHO ARE YOU CALLING SO FAT I HAVE MY OWN GRAVITATIONAL ATTRACTION?"
Yammy, Harribel, Nel, Ulquiorra, Nnoitra, Grimmjow, Zommari, Aaroniero, and Luppi merely stared, wide-eyed, totally speechless. No one quite dared respond, either to confirm or refute this challenge. Szayel alone appeared unperturbed. In fact, he looked intrigued, an expression any who had known him for longer than five minutes would have understood to mean trouble.
"Hm…" He glanced around at each of his companions. After a moment of debate, he maneuvered through the motionless assembly toward Luppi's prostrate form. Luppi, too appalled by Baraggan's accusation, did not recognize the bespectacled Espada's presence until Szayel stooped and picked him up by the shoulders as effortlessly as Poww had hoisted up his master's fallen throne earlier. Before Luppi could so much as register his sudden new change in perspective, Szayel, with graceful ease, flung him at Baraggan like a highly effeminate missile. Baraggan did not see Luppi coming in time to duck. Instead of colliding into the elder Espada, however, Luppi froze abruptly in midair a couple feet above Baraggan's torso, as though caught in an invisible net. He hung there for a second, and then he began to orbit around Baraggan's head like an oddly-shaped moon captured by the gravitational pull of an equally peculiar planet.
"I KNEW IT!" Szayel cried in half-crazed triumph. "Science wins again! HA!"
The other Espada watched Luppi spin several feet off the ground, dumbfounded. In contrast, Luppi did not seem to mind this inexplicable turn of events. He stretched out and laced his hands behind his head like a man relaxing on a fine summer afternoon. He even started to hum.
Finally, Baraggan, despite how he became more and more disturbed by his so-called 'subjects' by the minute, decided to plunge onward. "Uh…anyway…" He ducked to avoid Luppi's legs as they floated inches from his face. "Moving on…" He gestured for Ggio to resume.
Tip Four: Always be nice to lazy pedophiles, pimps, emo-zombies, bug freaks, power whores, hippie lunatics, gender-confused mad scientists, oversized purple boogers, steroid freaks, girly-men, and bestiality-jailbait-big-melons-fantasies-packages.
This latest tip proved more effective for the rapid convalescence of the nine Espada than Inoue Orihime's best healing powers. It was even enough to awaken Starrk for a whole three seconds.
"Lazy pedophiles!" he cried, Sonidoed across the room, and punched Baraggan square in the jaw.
Then he fell down flat and went right back to sleep.
Baraggan was rocked back in his chair, but before he had a chance to recover, Harribel followed Starrk's example.
"Pimps!" She slapped Baraggan across the face with enough ferocity to shatter a human jaw.
"Emo-zombies!" Ulquiorra drove his fist into Baraggan's nose.
"Bug freaks!" Nnoitra whammed him outside the head.
"Power whores!" Grimmjow kicked him hard in the shin.
"Hippie lunatics!" Zommari elbowed him in the gut.
"Gender-confused mad scientists!" Szayel raised a fist, then stopped, considered, and shrugged. "Oh, well…yeah."
"Oversized purple boogers!" Aaroniero almost decapitated the elderly Espada with a vicious uppercut to the chin.
"Steroid freaks!" Yammy delivered a mega-steroid-pumped punch right to the back of Baraggan's skull.
"Girly-men!" Luppi smacked Baraggan as he continued to circle slowly over the dark-skinned Arrancar.
"Bestiality-jailbait-big-melons-fantasies-packages!" Nel delivered the final blow in Baraggan's already pounded-in face to further rearrange his features.
Baraggan lay limp upon his throne, thoroughly knocked out. Satisfied, the nine Espada resumed their places by the doorway, Harribel dragging Starrk along.
Ggio gazed, horrified, at his unconscious and bloody master. Findor cleared his throat and swooped down to record the fifth tip on the blackboard.
Tip Five: Always have your Hollow hole in suggestive or symbolic places.
Grimmjow regarded this message dubiously. "Why would that make you a good Espada?" he questioned as Baraggan regained his senses.
"Tsk, tsk," Baraggan admonished, wiping the blood from his nose. "Don't you know? A Hollow's hole is the Hollow! A Hollow is nothing without their hole! And we Arrancar are the greatest and most potent of all Hollow. Our holes must reflect our prominence. Therefore, they must be bigger and better than all other Hollow holes. The more powerful the Hollow, the grander the hole. Get it? That is why my hole is so much larger and more magnificent than yours!"
"Somehow I doubt that," Ulquiorra murmured.
Grimmjow looked down and inspected the hole in his midsection. "I think my hole is normal-sized…"
"Because you suck," Nnoitra jeered.
"Well, what does that say for you?" Grimmjow retorted. "Your hole is the smallest of all the Espada! And it's in your head!"
"Your hole is in your head?" Ulquiorra asked, faintly startled. "Well, that explains everything…"
Nnoitra sulked. "Oh, you can both suck my Cero."
Nel immediately perked. "Ooooh…can I suck your Cero?"
Nnoitra's eyes widened in unspeakable terror as the green-haired Arrancar began to advance on him like the hunter closing in on her chosen prey. "NO! GET AWAY FROM ME, CRAZY LADY!" He dove behind Yammy and cowered there, trembling like a frightened rabbit. Nel appeared quite hurt by his reaction.
"All I wanted to do was swallow his Cero," she said dejectedly to Ulquiorra, who patted her shoulder with sympathy.
He thought of something then. It was something which had, naturally, occurred to him many a time before, but he had never found occasion to mention it. Now he did. "Hey, Szayel. Where is your hole?"
"My hole?" Szayel echoed, surprised.
Grimmjow turned, interested. So did Nel, Yammy, Harribel, Aaroniero, and Zommari. Starrk did not stir.
Szayel read their rapt expressions, and his lips curved in a mischievous, almost malicious smile. "You really want to know?"
"Yes," Ulquiorra said, and though his visage was perfectly calm, it could not be doubted there was a hint of eagerness in his tone. This seemed to fuel Szayel's own devious enthusiasm.
"You really, really want to know?"
"Yes," Ulquiorra repeated.
"You really, really, really want to know?"
"You really, really, really, really want to know?"
"You really, really, really, really, really—"
Grimmjow's patience snapped. "JUST SHOW US ALREADY!"
"Fine, fine…bossy, bossy…well, here it is!"
For a split second, nothing moved. Then, quite abruptly, Grimmjow shouted, "MY EYES!" He staggered backward and threw his hands over his face as if blinded by a brilliant light.
"Whoa," was Harribel's sole comment.
Yammy gaped. He had obviously been traumatized.
Ulquiorra shook his head and turned away.
Zommari shrieked like a little girl and fainted. He hit the floor with a rending crash no one noticed.
Aaroniero was disturbed.
Nel suffered a sudden nosebleed.
Baraggan, unable to handle the knowledge, promptly died.
Nnoitra wished he had a Smoothie.
Szayel beamed around. "So? What do you think?"
"They put…" Ulquiorra began.
"…your hole…" Grimmjow continued.
"…there?" Yammy finished.
Luppi, who had observed everything from his position above the now-deceased Baraggan, spoke up then. "Ah, so they took that from you too, hm?"
"So," Szayel said jocundly. "Shall we go on?"
No one replied. His comrades were all quite speechless.
"All righty, then! Big B, take it away!" He pivoted to regard Baraggan, but the ancient Arrancar only sat there, slumped in his throne, inert. His arms dangled over the sides, limp as the limbs of a doll.
No response. Grimmjow, now somewhat recovered from what Szayel had exposed to them—although not fully; he did not believe he would ever be able to fully recover from that—walked over to Baraggan and poked him hard in the ribs with a stick he appeared to have acquired out of thin air. Still, Baraggan remained motionless.
"I think he's dead," Grimmjow said.
A brief silence, and then Yammy, Harribel, Nel, Ulquiorra, Nnoitra, Zommari, and Aaroniero erupted in cheers. Nel again tried to tackle Nnoitra, but he evaded her and attempted to embrace Ulquiorra, who punched him in square in the chest and sent him reeling. Yammy tried the same with Harribel, with similar results. Both Nel and Harribel then pounced on Ulquiorra. Through all the commotion, Starrk went on sleeping, blissfully unaware of the entire proceedings. No one bothered to wake him up, even to give him the good news.
Meanwhile, Ggio, Findor, and Poww, Baraggan's most devoted sex slaves—er, Fraccion—were absolutely devastated. Ggio's lamentation could be heard even over the rejoicing of the Espada. "Noooo! Master! Don't leave us!" He and Findor burst into extremely noisy tears. Poww wept at Baraggan's feet, and the sounds of his grief shook the whole chamber.
"Oh, shut up," Grimmjow said coldly, and whacked them each in the head with the stick. They instantly quieted.
"Well, now that's over…" He stepped around Baraggan, cast the elder Espada one last repulsed and vaguely resentful glance, and delivered him a farewell smack with his weapon. Satisfied with himself, he rejoined the group.
"Hey, Grimm," Nnoitra said, curious. "Where did you get that?" He pointed to the stick.
"Pulled it out of your ass," Grimmjow answered bluntly.
Nnoitra blinked. "…"
"Oh, yeah?" Nel said. "So you found one, too, huh?"
Ulquiorra unveiled a stick identical to Grimmjow's from underneath his robes. "I found one, too."
"I found like three last time," Tesla piped up.
Nel turned to Nnoitra. "Where did you get all those sticks, anyway?"
"Hey, Mister 'Looks-like-a-giant-spoon!'" Grimmjow and waved a hand in Nnoitra's blank face. "The lady asked you a question."
"Uh…Master?" Tesla said tentatively, concerned.
Nel, Grimmjow, and Tesla blinked.
Ulquiorra, however, did not appear surprised. "Oh. That explains it."
Grimmjow looked offended. "How come he never gives me any sticks?" he demanded of no one in particular
"He obviously doesn't like you," Ulquiorra said.
"Well, no one likes you!" Grimmjow cleverly shot back.
"Orihime does," Ulquiorra replied, not without a touch of arrogance.
Grimmjow paused. "She likes me more." He flashed Ulquiorra his characteristic 'you-know-I-am-better-than-you' smirk.
"She does not," Ulquiorra said, with the air of one explaining a very simple fact to a very obstinate child.
"She does too."
During this exchange, Harribel had studied Baraggan's unmoving form and ultimately concluded Grimmjow's assessment had been correct. The Second Espada and King of Hueco Mundo had either passed away or slipped into a coma of some sort. Whatever the case, he was certainly incapable of the continuation of his 'guide.' Relieved as Harribel might have been, she did not want to have forced herself out of bed this early in the morning for nothing. If she had come all this way for a lesson, regardless of how asinine and useless it turned out to be, she would have the full thing. Even if it meant she had to do it herself.
"Well." She raised her voice to address the rest of her companions. "Since the lazy moron is now dead—"
Yammy, Nel, Nnoitra, Zommari, and Aaroniero cheered. Ggio, Findor, and Poww wailed.
"—I guess this means we'll have to find someone else to go on with the guide."
"Does not," Ulquiorra said on the other side of the room.
"Does too!" Grimmjow retorted.
Szayel stepped up. "Well, if you insist, I suppose I simply must take over—"
"She thinks I'm hot," Grimmjow said.
"She thinks I'm hotter," Ulquiorra responded.
"Hell no!" Yammy cried. "I should be the one!"
Szayel glanced over his shoulder at him with mocking exasperation. "What makes you think you qualify? You're only the tenth Espada." He tossed his hair and waved his hand dismissively at Yammy. His demeanor was as it always seemed to be, one of presumed inherent superiority.
"Does not!" Grimmjow shouted.
"Does too," Ulquiorra scoffed.
Yammy looked incensed. "Hey! Are you questioning my Espada credentials?"
Szayel chuckled condescendingly. "If you can call what you have 'credentials'…"
"Shows how much you know!" Yammy snapped. "And you call yourself a scientist." He drew himself up proudly. "I'm really the Cero Espada, most powerful of them all!"
"True," Aaroniero granted. "On the other hand, you probably don't even know how to spell credentials…"
Yammy rounded on him. "Oh, and you do?"
Aaroniero was silent a moment. "…Shut up."
Harribel's voice reverberated throughout the chamber like a clash of thunder. The room hushed at once. Everyone stared at her, shocked. None of them could recall an instance in which they had heard her shout like that. Needless to say, they were all a trifle perturbed. All, that is, save for Szayel. Rather than recoil as the rest of them did, he whistled appreciatively.
Before Harribel could respond, a different voice resonated in the air. Smooth, polite, but with an underlayer of malicious derision, it was immediately recognizable as that of Ichimaru Gin.
"Did someone call for a replacement?"
The reaction was instant total chaos.
"AH! IT'S YOU!" Grimmjow cried, pointing a finger.
"AH! IT'S THE SILVER FOX!" Nel shrieked.
"AH! IT'S THE EVIL CLOWN!" Yammy screamed.
"AH! MY SMOOTHIE!" Nnoitra wailed. At his feet was a spreading puddle of a thick blue substance which seeped out of the clear plastic container he had held; Gin's abrupt appearance had caused him to jump and drop the drink.
"RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!" Aaroniero yelled, and tried to flee in the opposite direction, only to encounter solid unyielding wall.
Zommari, huddled behind the ruins of the door, covered his face with his hands and rocked back and forth, muttering to himself, "If I can't see him, he can't see me…if I can't see him, he can't see me…"
Starrk's greeting was a deafening snore.
"Oh, hello, Lord Ichimaru," Ulquiorra said calmly.
"Hello, everyone!" Gin hailed. He was apparently unaware of, or simply chose to disregard, the way the Arrancar had reacted to his presence.
Szayel's response was much different from that of his fellows. "Hey!" he said, irate. "What are you doing here? You're not an Espada!"
Gin wagged a finger in his face, whacking him a few times in the nose. "Tsk, tsk…I come all this way to answer your distress call, and this is the thanks I get? How unjust!"
Suddenly, Tousen Kaname popped up out of nowhere. "My justice senses are tingling!"
"NO!" Grimmjow howled in utter despair. "NOT HIM, TOO!"
"NO!" screeched Yammy. "NOT THE DREADLOCKS! ANYTHING BUT THE DREADLOCKS!"
"NO!" Nel cried. "IT'S CYCLOPS!"
"No more X-Men for you," Harribel murmured.
Zommari rocked harder, his mutterings increasingly frantic. "They're like pictures in a book, they can't hurt you…"
"Hey!" Nnoitra said, evidently disappointed. "Who called you? You're not the pizza man!"
"EVERYBODY RUN!" Aaroniero leaped up and once again attempted to escape, only to run into the wall a second time.
"Hello, Lord Tousen," Ulquiorra said.
Kaname appeared aghast. "Well! I daresay their reactions are most unjustified!"
Gin nodded solemnly. "Most."
"WILL YOU ALL JUST SHUT UP?" Szayel bellowed.
Assured further commotion had been at least temporarily suppressed, Szayel glared at the Soul Reapers that stood in the blasted entryway. All trace of sardonic humor had faded from his expression. There was such abhorrence and fury in his amber orbs they seemed to blaze like twin suns with heat so intense it could almost be physically felt. Yammy, Zommari, Aaroniero, and Nnoitra did not notice this drastic alteration in Szayel's ambience, too preoccupied with Gin and Kaname themselves. Nel thought little of it, although it did send a slight unexplained chill down her spine. Only Harribel, Grimmjow, and Ulquiorra, who knew Szayel best, were genuinely affected. The former two appraised him sharply. Grimmjow could not dispel a faint touch of unease. When Szayel was angry, something was likely to explode, and the prospect this something might be him did not particularly appeal to him. Ulquiorra performed a furtive Sonido and moved close to Grimmjow's side. What he experienced when he saw the look in Szayel's eyes was not fear, or even precisely the same half-instinctive wariness as Grimmjow; it simply made him uncomfortable.
Szayel walked slowly up to Gin and Kaname. His visage did not change, but his voice was pleasant. "What the hell are you two doing here? This is supposed to be a secret Espada meeting, you know."
"Set up by Lord Aizen," Kaname pointed out.
"And announced to the entirety of Hueco Mundo," Gin added.
"Wasn't very secret, then," Harribel commented dryly.
Szayel shot her a 'you-are-not-helping-things' stare.
"Cheese?" Nnoitra suggested hopefully.
Grimmjow twitched. "Who the hell said anything about cheese?"
Harribel exhaled softly. "Are we going to continue this damn thing or not? I'm starting to bore…"
Szayel perked immediately. "Well, "if you insist…"
Gin shoved him aside suddenly and Shunpoed to the monolithic blackboard on which Ggio and Findor had written the five tips Baraggan had given them. "So, where were we?"
"Hey!" Szayel cried, indignant to have been treated in such a manner.
Gin ignored him. "Ah, yes," he said.
"Wait a minute!" Szayel demanded, but again, his protest went unacknowledged.
"Now," Gin announced, "we shall continue!" He grabbed the twisted horns which constituted the back of Baraggan's throne and dragged the chair, motionless Espada and all, over to the board. Then, heedless of the appalled objections of Baraggan's Fraccion, he climbed on top of the throne itself. Balanced precariously on the horns, he wrote in large, looping letters with a piece of chalk he had found on the floor:
A Guide on How to Be an Espada, as Told by Ichimaru Gin, Aizen Sousuke's Right-Hand Man
"Yeah, I bet you are," Szayel grumbled. "I bet you do a lot for Aizen with that right hand…"
"Actually," Gin said, "I'm left-handed."
Szayel did not quite know what to say to that.
Gin only smiled.
Tip Six: Have plenty of friends/comrades to cheer you on and possibly sacrifice themselves so you can survive.
Ulquiorra raised an eyebrow at this. "Somehow, I don't think that is the meaning of friendship…or comradeship…"
"You've been spending too much time with Orihime," Harribel told him. Ulquiorra shrugged, but did not dispute the allegation.
"I agree with the asshole clown over there," Grimmjow said. "Who needs friends?" Of course, his immediate thought was of a certain orange-haired individual with whom he had fought on a numerous previous occasions.
Ulquiorra turned to him with big round puppy eyes. "But I thought I was your friend…?"
Grimmjow's bottom lip began to tremble. For a moment, it looked as if he would weep. "Oh, yes, Ulqui, you are my best friend!" he cried, and they HUGGED, not hugged but HUGGED.
Zommari sighed dreamily. "The beauty of love…"
"Man, get a room," Aaroniero said, disgusted.
"Better yet," Yammy said, likewise disturbed, "get a country."
"Or a dimension," Gin suggested cheerfully.
Harribel blinked. "Did I miss something?"
Nel automatically pulled out a camera from her robes and started taking pictures.
Nnoitra looked sad. "What happened to my Smoothie?"
Kaname stepped up beside Gin. "My turn!" he called, and all attention diverted to him. "For the forces of justice, let us commence!"
Tip Seven: Always keep your eyes shaded or closed so as to conceal them from the enemy. Or simply don a pair of glasses to make you look slightly geeky—and style your hair accordingly—so your enemies never suspect you are an evil badass seeking to destroy a thousand souls to forge a key and possibly take over the entire world. For justice!
Grimmjow seemed skeptical. "Shouldn't that be on 'A Guide on How to Scam the Soul Society' or something?"
"For once, he has a point," Ulquiorra agreed. "That tip is a bit useless for us."
"Perhaps," Kaname conceded, "but justice dictates you should still wear the shades."
"What would that do?" Grimmjow asked, more than a little aggravated. He would never have worn a pair of glasses like Kaname had if it meant Kurosaki Ichigo would finally lose a battle. Preferably to him.
"Make you look mysterious…"
"Not to mention eyeless," Gin piped up.
"Like a mole!" Nel put in.
Nnoitra gasped. "He's one of the mole people!" He picked a large stone from the pile of rubble at the doorway and promptly chucked it at Kaname's head. Kaname did not have time to duck. It struck the center of his forehead and he went down. Everyone stared, unsure what had happened.
"The mole people took my brain," Nnoitra explained.
"They put this hole in my head."
Make that double-sweatdropped.
"Always thought there was something funny about him…" Gin mused.
Luppi, still airborne and locked in perpetual, almost perfectly circular orbit in the space around Baraggan's lifeless body, pivoted toward Nnoitra with an air of startled serendipity. "Hey, I know those people! They were the ones who took my—"
"Actually," Szayel interrupted, "that was me."
Luppi said nothing for a moment. "Oh. Really?"
Szayel nodded confirmation. "Indeed."
Luppi hesitated. "Can I have it back?"
He looked a little crestfallen, but unsurprised. "Oh. OK."
Harribel nudged Kaname with the tip of her toe. He did not stir. "Is he dead?"
Gin's smile broadened. "I'm taking his wallet." He bent over, explored Kaname's robes for several seconds, and finally pulled out a small black wallet embroidered with the legend, Justice prevails! He pocketed it without so much as a glance inside and, satisfied, turned back to the board.
"So, where were we?"
Tip Eight: Kill all Soul Reapers that come your way.
Tip Nine: Use Resurreccion only in times of great emergency.
"Are you just saying these things randomly because you can't think of anything else?" Grimmjow asked.
Gin appeared aghast at the implication. "NO!" he exclaimed at once, quite unconvincingly.
Grimmjow raised his brow.
"Well," Gin amended, "sort of…"
Szayel put his hands on his hips and tilted his head slightly.
"ALL RIGHT! Yes! I am, OK? Happy now?" He burst into very loud and very fake tears.
Everyone seemed rather astonished, except for Ulquiorra, who only sighed in resignation.
"Here we go again…"
"Is he always like this?" Yammy inquired.
"Bipolar and prone to random fits of insanity? Always."
"Hey," Szayel piped, "did you know when he was a kid he killed one of his comrades?"
"Really?" Luppi said.
"Yeah, Third Seat of his own division."
"No kidding. And he actually had a girlfriend in the Soul Society."
"No!" Luppi cried incredulously.
"Yep…and according to rumor, she had some pretty ample endowments, too, if you know what I mean." Szayel grinned, not without a trace of lechery…and for some reason, his gaze strayed briefly to Harribel.
Luppi looked skeptical. "Like Orihime's?"
"Better than Orihime's." Szayel winked at Ulquiorra, who only gave him an apathetic glance at the mention of Orihime's name.
Luppi gasped. "No way!"
"Really. And his Zanpakutou elongates."
Luppi was fascinated. "Wow!"
Grimmjow scoffed. "This is stupid."
Gin automatically switched off the waterworks and whirled to face the tall blue-haired Espada. "Hey! You just wait, kitty! This next tip will KICK ALL THE OTHER TIPS' ASSES."
Ulquiorra rolled his eyes.
Szayel and Luppi continued their conversation, unaware.
Zommari watched Gin, his expression rapt.
Aaroniero nursed the bumps on his head where he had struck the wall in his panicked endeavors to flee when Kaname and Gin had arrived.
Nnoitra had started to creep his way slowly to the mountain of Twinkies behind Baraggan's throne.
Nel observed Nnoitra's progress in her peripheral vision, prepared to tackle when the opportunity arose.
Yammy tried to envision 'endowments' more ample than Orihime's.
Starrk snored away.
Grimmjow twitched. "'Kitty'?"
The ULTIMATE, GREATEST, SUPER, MUST FOLLOW TIP: Always follow smexy evil mastermind Soul Reapers!
Now everyone seemed afflicted by irrepressible urges to twitch. "Smexy?"
Gin went on, blissfully ignorant. "And if you're going to scam a whole society to initiate your evil master plan, make sure you masquerade as a Captain of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads in the Soul Society!" He brandished his chalk as if it were a sword.
"Why?" Zommari asked, engrossed.
"Free lodgings, great benefits, awesome outfits, and most of all…endless free sake!"
Zommari cheered. The others face-faulted.
"That explains everything…" Ulquiorra muttered.
"And, of course…" Gin released a dreamy sigh. "My beloved Izuru and Byakuya…oh, how I still cherish them so…"
Grimmjow laughed scornfully. "That's the stupidest thing I have ever heard!"
Gin huffed and pouted at him in a sardonic dissimulation of puerile truculence. "Only because you're stupid."
"What?" Grimmjow flared at once. "You wanna say that to my face, you circus freak?"
"Threatening Lord Aizen's second-in-command?" Ulquiorra said, one eyebrow raised. "You're just proving his point…"
Grimmjow whirled. "What did you say?" he growled in a low, dangerous voice.
"You heard me," Ulquiorra replied coolly. His serene emerald eyes met Grimmjow's irate sapphires. The two Espada glared intently at each other, motionless as a pair of statues frozen in the midst of a silent bloodless battle, neither willing to avert their gaze and surrender.
Harribel slapped her forehead in exasperation. "Not again…"
"Go Ulquiorra!" Nel cheered.
"C'mon, Grimmy! Show that pretty boy what a real Espada is!" Aaroniero called.
"They're like a couple of three-year-olds," Yammy remarked.
Szayel diverted his attention from Luppi long enough to walk up to the much taller Espada. "Hey, Yammy."
"What?" Yammy asked, a bit irritably. He did not look down, too engaged in the wordless war fought between Ulquiorra and Grimmjow. Privately, his bets were on Ulquiorra as victor. Grimmjow never won against his higher-ranked comrade.
He was so absorbed in watching the two he neither saw nor felt when Szayel's hand snapped upward and tugged quickly at his nose. He did not realize the Eighth Espada had done anything at all until Szayel said in singsong, "Got your nose!"
Yammy looked down, at first bewildered. Then he saw Szayel's right hand was clenched into a fist, and from between the index and middle fingers there was a strange rounded protuberance. His initial thought was that was not natural, but it took him near thirty seconds to register what Szayel had said and what that odd bulge must be.
He shrieked. "MY NOSE! MY BEAUTIFUL NOSE! WHAT HAVE YOU DOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNEEEEEEEEE E?" He began to run around the room in circles, screaming at the top of his lungs, clutching the lower half of his face.
Kaname awoke as Gin put the chalk he had used back on the ground beneath the board. He suffered a minor headache, but otherwise had escaped Nnoitra's impromptu assault with the stone unscathed. "Has justice been served?" he asked.
"Not at all!" Gin proclaimed indignantly. "You only had twenty bucks in that wallet!" He tossed the aforementioned item at Kaname, who caught it on instinct, bemused. Gin turned away with a sigh. "Oh, why couldn't we have taken Byakuya instead of you? At least he was worth robbing…" A distant dreaminess overcame him. "Plus, he had a great ass…and such a beautiful big—"
"Robbery and lechery are violations of justice!" Kaname scolded the other man. "Besides, my ass is much better!"
Gin seemed to cough, choke, and gag all at the same time.
"You mock me!" Kaname cried. "I shall tell Lord Aizen of this injustice!" He pivoted and rushed toward the doorway.
"Hey!" Gin shouted after him, alarmed. "Wait!" He paused. "Don't tell him about his robes! I swear I meant to clean them afterwards! Kaname!" He hurried in pursuit of his errant companion, reeling off mingled half-coherent threats and admonitions and pleas for mercy.
Nel, meanwhile, had remembered Baraggan for the first time. "Um…shouldn't we do something about him?" she questioned uncertainly, but Harribel shook her head.
"Nah, leave him there. Luppi's having too much fun, anyway."
Luppi did indeed appear to be enjoying himself immensely. As he continued to orbit, he intoned, "Round and round I go, where I stop, nobody knows! Round and round, round and round, round and round, round and round…"
Nnoitra had reached the Twinkies at last and, unnoticed by any of the others except Ggio, who had been swiftly taken care of with a single casual swipe of Nnoitra's blade, now indulged in the stolen goodies with sweet gluttonous abandon. He was also singing, strangely synchronized with Luppi. "Lovely Twinkies, oh, so good, best food in the neighborhood! Nothing beats these cream-filled cakes, so let's eat a Twinkie and mutilate!"
As Szayel laughed his flawlessly sculpted hindquarters off, Yammy ran rampant, bumping into walls, tripping over scattered rocks and his own feet, still holding his presumed dismembered face. "MY NOSE! MY NOSE! SOMEONE GET ME A MIRROR! OR A PLASTIC SURGEON! MY NOSE!"
Ulquiorra and Grimmjow glared at one another, aware of nothing else. Finally, Grimmjow did the unthinkable.
Ulquiorra made an L with his thumb and forefinger and pressed it to his forehead. "You lose."
Grimmjow scowled. "One of these days I'll beat you," he vowed in undertone. "One of these days…"
Suddenly, Starrk jerked and sat up. He blinked owlishly around the room, taking in the peculiar and chaotic scenery. "What did I miss?"