Discloser: Ben 10 and Bleach do not belong to me.
As I said before, this chapter will be more focused around Ben and Harribel. It also includes insight on Harribel's thoughts and feelings. There is a little BenxNelliel mixed in but the rest is Ben and Harribel.
This is the final bonus chapter for Bleach: Ultimate Alien Volume I
Ben 10 Bleach Beach Bash
"Tia?" Sandra quietly asked the sleeping Arrancar who was lying on her air mattress. "Tia?"
Harribel was a light sleeper, which came from all those nights back when she was a Vasto Lorde in Hueco Mundo and had to be on guard. She opened both eyes to see Carl and Sandra Tennyson standing in front of her.
"Mr. and Mrs. Tennyson?" Harribel asked. "Is something wrong?"
"Oh, nothing's wrong," Sandra reassured her. "We just wanted to let you know that we're gonna be out of town for the weekend."
Harribel looked at her in surprise. "You are…trusting us with your son, alone?" She knew that Carl and Sandra were still uncomfortable with having five girls living in the same house with Ben. Mainly because they feared Ben would do something that he would later regret. During her stay, Harribel had learned of many teenagers who gave into lustful urges and suffered the consequences greatly. Harribel knew well enough that Ben was not that type of boy but she couldn't blame his parents for worrying. However, she had been bothered because Carl and Sandra were always afraid that the she and the other girls might try to take advantage of Ben. So, to hear that they were leaving Ben alone with the five girls, it was unexpected.
Carl and Sandra looked at each other before looking back at Harribel. "Well," Carl said. "Sandra said that you can be trusted."
Harribel raised an eyebrow. "Me?"
"We mean no disrespect to the others," Sandra told her. "But you're the most responsible. We're willing to trust you."
Harribel slowly sat up. Personally, she was touched that Ben's parents thought this of her. She wanted them to trust her but thought that it would take much time before they did.
"Will you take good care of our son?" Sandra asked.
"Yes," Harribel said with a nod. "I will."
"Thank you," Sandra smiled.
"We're trusting you, Tia," Carl told the former Third Espada with a hint of firmness in his voice. Sandra had become trusting to Harribel but he was still a little bit doubtful. The woman said she was in love with Ben and Ben was a sixteen year old boy. Carl knew what it was like being sixteen. Ben was a good boy, but he was still a teenager and Tia Harribel was a beauty. However, Sandra was willing to trust Harribel so he was going to give her the benefit of a doubt too.
Harribel sighed. Slowly she got up. The parents had been very uncomfortable when they first saw Harribel's nightwear, but said nothing of it, in case they had possibly made the wrong assumption.
"Mr. Tennyson," she said softly, so she wouldn't wake up Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun. "What must I do so that I may fully earn your trust?"
Carl scratched the back of his head now.
"I understand your concern but you can trust me," Harribel told them. "I love your son, but you both fear that all the girls, including myself, want him just for sex."
Both parents flinched for two reasons. One; the rather accurate accusation and two; she had used the word they had hoped to avoid.
"It's…it's not that…" Sandra tried to say, although Harribel had hit the nail on the head. "It's just that…for you to say that you love my son…"
"You do not believe that we know what love is," Harribel finished but kept her voice calm. She did not mean to sound rude or disrespectful, but she wasn't very fond of the accusations against her and the other girls. "Forgive me for saying this but if I had truly wanted Ben merely for lustful desires, I would have taken him and do whatever I wished to him back when he was in Hueco Mundo."
Sandra's face paled while Carl's eyes hardened.
"But upon my entire existence and honor," Harribel went on, "I have not and will never treat Ben in such a way. Neither would the other girls. We will protect your son at the cost of our own lives. Does that not show you how important Ben is to us?" To me? Harribel added to herself.
Carl and Sandra looked at each other before looking back at Harribel.
"Very well, Tia," Carl said, feeling guilty now for still distrusting the girls. "I'm sorry."
"There's nothing wrong if being concerned for your boy," Harribel told him. "But you can trust us."
Sandra gave a sheepish smile at Harribel. "It's just…it's just gonna take some getting used to."
"I understand," Harribel told her. "But I will make sure that everything is taken care of."
"Thank you," both Tennysons said. "We let Ben sleep in on the weekends so we won't wake him up. Be sure to let him know."
"I will," Harribel replied.
Nodding one more thank you, Carl and Sandra headed out the door. Once they were gone, Harribel decided that she might as well wake Ben up. As she headed towards his room, she noticed something was missing, or rather someone.
"Where is Nelliel?" she asked herself. She looked up the stairs where Ben's door stood. Was it possible?
Well, a whole week had passed since Ben returned from Hueco Mundo. Ben was really glad it was summer break; otherwise he would have been in big trouble at school. But personally, Ben was surprised that he even lasted the week. Everywhere he went, the newshounds were ready to start pelting him with questions. Not in the mood to reveal the powers he'd gained from the Hogyoku, Ben would simply turn into one of his many aliens to escape the paparazzi. But that wasn't so bad. After all, Ben had gotten used to it way before he ever landed in Hueco Mundo.
Now, what really got to him was the new angle the reporters were going for. Rumors of Ben with five beautiful girls had naturally reached the ears of all the news people in Bellwood. Ben was used to just about any alien that specialized in stealth just so that he could get by.
Jimmy had been relentless in trying to find out where Ben had gone for a whole month. Ben didn't give him many details though, as Ben had a feeling that not even a devoted fan like Jimmy would have believed him. So he simply told Jimmy that he was off fighting a war in a different dimension. He left out the names Hueco Mundo and Soul Society, however. Ben also kept his mouth shut about Shinigami, Arrancar, Hollows, and other else in between. When Jimmy saw that he couldn't get any more information about Ben's whereabouts, he went for the second biggest topic concerning Ben Tennyson.: the five mystery girls.
Much to Ben's discomfort, there was already a blog about who the girls were and what the five girls were to Ben. Some believed that they were his biggest fan girls. That idea was instantly hated by those who declared themselves as Ben's biggest fan girls. The vast majority believed that, to Ben's chagrin, Ben had become a playboy. When Ben found that out, he was smacking his head on his desk until Jimmy begged Ben to stop. Ben did stop, only to start hitting himself again when Jimmy told him there was an online poll to see which girl was Ben's favorite. Most money was between Nelliel and Harribel. That resulted in Ben banging his head on the wall. On the plus side, however, many doubted that Ben Tennyson would do such a thing and many did not even believe the five girls existed. Ben had Jimmy do whatever he could to help settle the rumors but Jimmy warned him that things would not be easy due to the belief that Ben had become a playboy. Gwen and Kevin had mixed thoughts about this development. Gwen was outraged while Kevin just had a good laugh. Ben wondered if it was a matter of time before his enemy turned friend would die of laughter.
"Gonna have to pick, Tennyson," Kevin said to him one day after learning about the blog. "Can't keep leading them on."
It wasn't like he was trying to lead them on. He just didn't know what to do. He had never stopped to see the girls in a romantic way, mainly because he had been trying to get home and because of…Julie.
There was actually a much deeper reason why the two had fallen out of it. The whole thing about the two of them drifting apart was only something he told himself so that he wouldn't feel so bad. But it wasn't what really happened. It all began during a battle with the Forever Knights. Julie had gotten hurt bad, really bad, as in hospital bad. He remembered it well. Julie had come along with him, Kevin, and Gwen during a bust on the Forever Knights. Due to all the times they had beaten the Knights before, Ben thought that this mission was gonna be another walk in the park. In the beginning, it was. Gwen would throw her mana blasts, Kevin would become stone, and then Julie would have Ship turn into her battle armor to use. Julie had proven to be a valuable teammate, but it wasn't to last.
The Forever Knights had dished out some new weapon. It was small and looked like a satellite dish with a gun handle. The name was rather garbled in Ben's opinion but judging from the fact that the very sight of it made Kevin squeamish convinced him it had to be bad. Ben thought the Knights were going to use it on him, but this time they decided to think outside the box. They had attacked Julie instead. The weapon fired strange waves that caused Julie immense pain. Kevin had told him the device was made to release vibrations capable of damaging one's internal system. Ben remembered how angry he was and how the Forever Knights had cowered in fear of him. He had gone Ultimate Humongousaur and trashed everything in sight. He probably would've destroyed the Forever Knights along with their base if Julie, in her weakened form, hadn't begged him to stop. He remembered Julie weakly begging him to stop, so that he wouldn't become the very thing he fought against. It was only then that Ben stopped his assault. But he made it loud and clear that if the Forever Knights or anyone else hurt his friends again, he would make them pay.
Julie had been rushed to the hospital. But it was useless for Earth technology to heal her. Ben had been on his knees crying and begging Azmuth to use Galvan technology to fix Julie like they had for his grandpa. Azmuth was touched by the caring and love Ben had for Julie and immediately agreed. As Ben waited for Julie to recover, he received the wrath of her parents for putting Julie in danger. They said many hurtful things to him, saying that Harangue had been right about him all along for allowing Julie to get hurt like that instead of protecting her. When Julie finally recovered, she had been outraged by what her parents said to Ben. Despite her protests, her parents decided that a person like Ben would only lead her to her death. All of Julie's efforts were in vain as she was forced to leave Bellwood, by her parents' attempts to keep as much distance between them and Ben Tennyson as possible. Julie still kept in touch, but it looked like their chance of a relationship was not going to be.
Ever since then, girls had been doing everything they could to be Ben's girlfriend, unaware of what really happened to Julie. She had managed to prevent her parents from telling Will Harangue the whole story, not wanting her (now former) boyfriend to be slandered anymore. But the memory of Julie suffering like that had echoed in Ben's memories for a good amount of time. He wondered if this was to be the real life for the girlfriend of Ben Tennyson. Would any girl in his life suffer the way Julie had suffered? First Grandpa Max, then Kevin, now Julie. People close to him were getting hurt all the time and each time was much worse than the last. Who could stand to love a guy whose life hung by a thread every day? Nobody, in Ben's opinion. That was why he had become certain that he would be alone…probably for a very long time, if not forever.
That's why he had been so angry against those like Nnoitra and Szayel, who had hurt his friends. He thought that after what happened to Julie, he would never allow that to happen to anyone else ever again. Every time he saw one of his teammates get hurt by one of those Espada, it reminded Ben of Julie lying in that hospital bed. And little by little, every time a new friend got hurt, Ben would hate himself even more.
Now, being a boy his age, he was not about to deny that Harribel was attractive. But Ben had never been the type to chase after older women. He had morals and limits after all. When he first met Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun, he saw them as teammates and that quickly grew into a strong friendship. Then came Nelliel. Naturally, he had seen the adorable little girl as a sister, albeit a rather clingy and possessive one at times. To know that she was this, and he'd be an idiot to deny, beautiful woman made him all the more nervous, especially due to Nelliel's previous declarations of love as a child. But now here he was, five girls all in love with him and he was stuck with no place to go.
Sure he knew a lot about them and he thought, while hoping Kevin never found out, that they were all very attractive. But he didn't ever think that they would become interested in him for a relationship. And thus, Ben was caught between a rock and a hard place. Those girls would eventually want him to make a choice. His problems were that, if he decided to get back into a relationship, whom would he be with, and what about the four remaining girls who would be heartbroken?
Aside from that, Ben had pretty much forbidden the girls from leaving the house. He explained about tabloids and wasn't in the mood to put up with any. Especially if Will Harangue ever found out and used the material to continue slandering him. The girls weren't particularly pleased with this. They had been hoping to look for jobs so they wouldn't be freeloaders to Ben's family. That, unfortunately, didn't seem likely. So instead, the girls had to help clean around the house. Carl and Sandra didn't mind. They had never seen the house look so clean. Not that Ben was messy, but the house was now beyond clean.
Surprisingly, the girls were adapting very well to living in human society. To be honest, Ben thought there would be things that they wouldn't understand and be really confused about. While they didn't understand some things like TV shows and video games, they fit right in. Personally, Ben was relieved. He was afraid of what would happen if he had introduced them into the human world as complete strangers.
Starrk and Lilynette were also adapting well. At first Frank and Lili, Gwen's parents, had been uncertain in letting the two stay. Surprisingly, it was Lilynette who convinced Gwen's parents to let them stay. Much to Gwen and Starrk's surprise, she had done an adorable little act in begging for them so that she and her "brother" Starrk had a place to stay. It wasn't really Lilynette that worried them. In fact, Frank and Lili positively loved Lilynette, as long as the child-like Arrancar behaved herself. Now they had nothing against Starrk personally, they were just a little worried about having a grown man in the same house as their teenage daughter. But in Lilynette's words: "Starrk may be useless but he's a good guy at heart." And so, Frank and Lili decided to give Starrk the benefit of a doubt and allowed them to stay.
Starrk was mostly seen sleeping on the couch, but it looked like Lilynette and Gwen were bonding rather well, but Starrk's other half wasn't really interested in things like meditating or reading books. Lilynette had been briefly interested in magic and tried to learn it. But because she didn't possess the right powers, she couldn't do it. One day, Gwen had come upon a sad Lilynette. The little Arrancar opened up to Gwen. She told Gwen about how she and Starrk used to be one being before separating out of loneliness. Lilynette revealed that deep down, she had been jealous that Starrk got all the stronger powers while she was left to be the weak one. Touched by how inferior Lilynette really felt, Gwen decided to teach her martial arts. Ben had seen them practice and would laugh his head off when he saw Gwen knock down Lilynette and she'd throw a big temper tantrum. It was even funnier to see her try and call on her Zanpakuto or shoot a Cero, only to remember that she couldn't now. But Gwen was always kind and patient with Lilynette, encouraging her whenever she had difficulty. In time, Lilynette had come to see Gwen as a big sister, even though she was the older one.
As for the guys, they were adapting rather well. Ben would always drop by when he had time to help fix Los Soledad up so that it was home worthy. True to his word, Kevin had Cooper take care of the alien tech so it couldn't backfire or be used by the Arrancar. Ben was not a fool when it came to Vega. He saw clearly that Vega still despised him. While Ben didn't despise Vega, he knew better than to just simply hand his trust over on a silver platter. He asked Gantenbainne, Redder, Charlotte, Pesche, and Dondochakka to keep an eye on him. Findor seemed trustworthy though so there were no problems there. It was hard to tell with Poww but it looked like the big guy didn't want to cause trouble. Nirgge, well, it was really hard to tell with him. So Ben decided to have the gang keep an eye on him as well. Ulquiorra kept to himself if he could. He and Ben barely talked to each other. In fact, whenever they'd meet up, it was Ben who did all the talking. Aside from fixing things up, Ulquiorra was mostly in the library, reading books to pass the time. He had also taken an interest in Professor Paradox and was reading his files on the Los Soledad computers.
It was Saturday morning today and Ben found himself walking up to something soft touching his cheek. Groaning inwardly, he said, "Good morning Nelliel," for it was her hair that was resting on his cheek.
Just like Nelliel had predicted, she had been sleepwalking all week over to his bed. It was sheer luck that prevented the two from being caught by Ben's parents or by one of the other girls. Every morning, Ben would wake up to find Nelliel cuddled up next to him. Sometimes she would just sleep near him while other times she was too close for comfort. Nelliel would always be embarrassed, constantly promising Ben that she didn't mean to. For Ben, he was caught between a rock and a hard place. The day after that first morning, he had locked his door, thinking that it would help. Boy was he wrong, in more ways than one.
Ben was sleeping soundly that night. He had to admit that he had been really freaked out when Nelliel first appeared in his bed and it was made worse when Nelliel said that she sleepwalked to be with him. But now he was ready and simply locked his door. Ben didn't know how to handle a sleepwalker, so he hoped that if Nelliel saw that the door was locked and that she couldn't get to him, she would give up and go back to her own bed. Ben knew it had to be done. If his parents saw Nelliel in his bed, they would freak out and start jumping to conclusions and make accusations. And if the others ever found out…well he didn't want to think of it.
Ben's peaceful slumber was disturbed when he heard a rattling sound. It took him a minute to realize that it was his door handle. Confused, Ben walked to his door and opened it. Much to his horror, it was Nelliel. Her eyes were closed but she had a smile on her face.
"Ne…" Ben started to say before Nelliel suddenly threw herself at him. Ben could nothing as the two of them fell to the floor. Ben had to bite his lip to keep himself from screaming out in pain. Then he froze as he felt Nelliel's arms wrap around his waist and pull him closer to her body. With a sigh of content, Nellie nuzzled her face in Ben's chest, causing his own face to light up like a Christmas tree. Her body was warm and he was trying very hard to ignore how soft her body felt next to his.
"Nelliel," he hissed. "Nelliel, get off me!" He put his hand on her shoulder and began to push her off. Frowning, Nelliel shook her head and pulled Ben closer. As she did, a smile was on her face like a little girl cuddling with her teddy bear. Ben groaned. How in the world was he supposed to wake her up without waking everyone else up? He tried sliding out of her arms but she tightened her already tight grip on him.
"Nel loves Ben," she whined in a voice that sounded like her kid voice. Gulping, Ben tried his best to wake her up again.
"Nelliel," Ben called, "Nelliel please wake up!" He grabbed her shoulders again and started shaking her to wake her up. Nelliel's eyes slowly fluttered open. Hazel eyes looked into green eyes.
"Ben?" Nelliel asked, confused. She looked down and immediately blushed when she realized what was going on. She immediately leaped back off Ben, waving her hands in front of her. "I'm sorry Ben!" she said. At the moment, Ben was just glad it was a whisper.
And so that's how it went. Ben never locked the door again. He feared that if he did, Nelliel would shake the door handle to much that it would wake the others. Or worse, she'd break the door down. Then they'd really be in for the whole week, Ben was forced to endure waking up to Nelliel cuddling with him. But he couldn't help but wonder; was she really sleepwalking or was that an excuse for her to get close to him. And did she have any idea what it was doing to him?
As for right now, Nelliel had woken up and realized that she had done it again.
"Oh no," she groaned. She looked up at Ben and he could see sincerity in her eyes. "I'm really sorry about this, Ben. I'm not doing it on purpose. I promise"
Ben softened. He could tell she was telling the truth and that she was really feeling bad. Still didn't make him feel comfortable with having a girl in bed with him. Feeling his cheeks redden, Ben got up out of bed.
"No offense," he said kindly. "But we really need to do something about this, Nelliel."
Nelliel sat up and looked down at the ground. "I know," she said quietly. But the truth was, even though she would never take advantage of Ben, she…kind of liked waking up next to Ben each morning. Granted, she wasn't sneaking into his room on purpose. But it felt really nice to wake up and see him in her arms, close to her body. She had missed those times when she and Ben used to be so close. Now…now she was hoping to experience that again.
"What are you two doing?"
Ben spun around to see Harribel standing in the doorway. She was looking back and forth between Ben and Nelliel. A suspicious look was in her eyes. Ben gulped, wondering how in the world he was going to get out of this one. Taking a deep breath, Ben was about to explain when…
"I came to wake Ben up," Nelliel lied to Harribel. Harribel looked at Nelliel as she said this, which was a good thing as Ben's reaction would have blown their cover.
But Harribel was not convinced. She was looking at the way the blanket and could tell from the way it was arranged that Nelliel had pulled it off of her. And the only reason she would have pulled the blanket off of her was if she'd slept in Ben's bed. Although Harribel could see that the two had not done anything, it didn't help the situation. Had Ben allowed Nelliel to sleep next to him? Harribel felt something heavy in her chest. Truth be told, even though she said that she would accept Ben's decision with any of the girls, she never said that she would be happy about it. Well that wasn't entirely true. She would be happy if one of her Fraccion got to experience happiness with Ben. It was Nelliel that she was worried about. Harribel was surprised to see that she was actually jealous. She was all too aware of the closeness Ben and Nelliel shared. Frankly, her jealously came from the thought that Ben would never look at her like that. Always Ben seemed intimidated or merely polite to her. She would never force him to accept her feelings but…she didn't want to be ignored either.
"You are lying," she told Nelliel. "You were in his bed with him."
Nelliel looked down at the floor. "It's my fault," she explained. "I was so used to sleeping next to Ben as a kid that I sleepwalk to his bed now."
Harribel's eyes narrowed. "You have done this before." It was not a question, but an observation.
Feeling sheepish under the spotlight, Nelliel nodded. "It's been going on this entire week."
"And Ben allowed this?" Harribel asked. She felt another pang of jealousy. Not because of the sleeping next to Ben, but the fact that Ben would allow Nelliel to be near him so casually while he was always nervous and uncomfortable while so much as hugging Harribel herself. Did Ben find her too intimidating to be around despite her feelings? What more did she have to do to convince him that she wanted and even welcomed the chance for him to be close to her?
Cringing, Ben looked at the ground. "I was afraid of what Nelliel would do in her sleep. I tried locking my door once and she nearly woke up everyone by rattling the handle. So I thought I might as well let her. I was afraid something like this was gonna happen."
Harribel looked back and forth between them. There was no deceit from either of them.
"I understand," she said evenly. "But something must be done. You both are lucky that it was me who caught you and no one else."
Ben's face paled. "Where are my mom and dad?"
"They said they would be out of town for the weekend," Harribel answered. "They also told me that they allow you to sleep in weekends. It was lucky that they do."
Ben nodded in agreement. After that there was nothing but silence for a while. "Um…" Ben said. "I'm gonna go wake up the others." With that, he walked out the door, leaving Nelliel and Harribel alone in the room. With a sigh, Nelliel looked up at Harribel.
"You know I would never do anything to Ben," Nelliel told her successor.
"I am aware," Harribel said. "But something will be done."
Nelliel couldn't help but narrow her eyes. "I hope you do not believe I am using my sleepwalking as an excuse to get closer with Ben."
"I did not say that," Harribel replied. "But if we do not do something about this situation, Ben's parents will eventually find out and assume the worst. They still do not trust us, fearing that we see Ben as nothing more than a toy."
Nelliel sighed again. "It's strange," she said as she looked down at the ground. "We both love the same person but we're willing to help each other."
"The final decision is for Ben to decide," Harribel said. "If he does choose you, I will accept it. But I do not intend to lose to you."
And so the challenge was laid bare. Harribel loved Ben dearly, and she did not want to lose him to Nelliel and she was very certain that Nelliel felt the same way.
Nelliel looked back up at Harribel. "I do not intend to lose to you either," she replied before softening. "But we both know that Ben would not want us fighting over him."
"I know," Harribel agreed.
With that, Nelliel got up and started walking out the door. "I'll go make breakfast," she said. "I want to try that pancake recipe that Mrs. Tennyson taught me."
And so, Nelliel walked out the room, leaving Harribel as the sole occupant at the moment. She simply stood there, her arms folded underneath her chest.
"Ben," she whispered to herself. "What must I do so that you'll notice me?"
Just then, that strange flicker came back into her mind. Unlike the first two times, it lingered longer. It looked like an area of some sort. Some place familiar. But where? And why was she even having these flickers in the first place?
Harribel had spent a long time contemplating the reason for the strange flickers but without any success. With no other choice, she went back downstairs to get her clothes for today. She could smell food cooking and knew that Nelliel was working on her pancakes. Harribel had still found it rather unusual to be taken care of by the Tennyson family, but she also found it rather…touching. After changing in the bathroom, Harribel looked into the dining room where she saw Ben and the other girls already dressed and eating.
"Don't hog all the syrup, Mila Rose!" Apacci yelled. Mila Rose, who had been pouring the syrup on her own stack of pancakes, stopped to look at Apacci.
"Like you need anymore," she retorted. "You're gonna get fat eating that load on your plate." She indicated Apacci's plate of pancakes with a tilt of her head.
"What did you just say?" Apacci snapped, causing her and Mila Rose to glare at each other.
Ben, who had been happily drinking some orange juice, sighed. "Do you guys have to do this now?" he complained. "I just started eating."
"Pay them no mind, Ben," Sung-Sun said comfortingly. "I supposed it can't be helped that they have such low standards of maturity."
"Shut up, Sung-Sun!" Apacci and Mila Rose yelled.
"You got to admit," Ben said. "She does have a point. The last time you guys argued, you nearly broke the table. In fact, I'm surprised the thing's still standing."
Apacci and Mila Rose's faces of anger evaporated and were replaced of faces of shame instead. Both mumbled apologies.
"It's alright," Ben reassured them. "But you nearly gave my mom a heart attack."
That only made the two's heads droop.
"So, Ben," Nelliel said, hoping to lighten the mood. "What do you think of my pancakes?"
Ben, who had just swallowed a piece, smiled at her. "They're delicious, Nelliel." This caused her to beam with happiness. She was tempted to run over and hug him but quickly fought the urge.
Then Ben frowned a little. "Where's Harribel anyway?"
"I'm here," Harribel said, walking into the room. Ben looked up at her and smiled, as if the events earlier had never happened. He picked up a plate of pancakes.
"Here you are, Harribel," He said. "We saved you some pancakes too."
Harribel walked over and took the plate. However, she touched Ben's fingers with her own as she pulled the plate out of his hands. While she wasn't going to force him to accept her feelings, that didn't mean she couldn't give him affection. Harribel had felt the way Ben's fingers had been stiff when they touched hers. As that happened, Harribel wondered to herself if Ben would have acted like that if Nelliel had been the one to touch him. She wanted Ben to be comfortable in her presence, because if he wasn't even comfortable around her….then her love would never be returned. Personally she hated it, having Ben so close yet so far away.
Can't you see that you're the only one who makes me feel like this, Ben? Harribel thought as she sat down. That you've changed everything that I believed in back when I was a Vasto Lorde? If there is only one thing that I can thank Aizen for, it's making me an Arrancar so I could meet you. And now…now it feels like there is a wall between us.
And then it happened. It was the flicker again. And this time, Harribel could remember some of it. It looked like a desert in the night. Hueco Mundo? Why was she thinking about Hueco Mundo? What significance did it have to the flickers?
Just then, there was a knock at the door. "I'll get it!" Ben said quickly as he got up. A big rule with the girls staying was that none of them were allowed to answer the door unless it was Kevin, Gwen, or one of the Arrancar. The reason being was, as usual, fear that the media would find out and jump to conclusions. Too afraid to see the reactions, Ben had kept mum about the internet saying Ben was a playboy and the five girls were his mistresses. And he hoped it would stay that way. Taking a deep breath and praying that it wasn't paparazzi or Kevin, Ben opened the door. Standing in the doorway was an elderly man with a somewhat large belly and wearing a red Hawaiian shirt.
"Grandpa!" Ben shouted happily as he hugged the older man. Sure enough, it was Grandpa Max. Galactic, if not universally, renowned Plumber and one of the greatest people in Ben's life.
"Hey, Ben," Max said warmly. "Just came to check up on you and see how you've been. I haven't seen you in over a month after all."
Back in the kitchen, the girls overheard everything with interest. They had heard Ben talk about his grandpa many times. He said that Max was a Plumber, whatever that was, and always spoke highly and admiringly of him. Not wanting to put Ben in an awkward situation, the girls slowly peeked as they saw Ben and Max hug each other. Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun looked at each other in confusion before looking at Max again. He didn't seem all that impressive as they thought he would be. Nelliel was too busy smiling at the warm moment between grandfather and grandson. She was happy to see Ben have such a loving family, a family that she hoped she would someday be a part of. Harribel was studying Max. She could see that there was more to him that met the eye. Even though he had a happy look on his face, she could see that this man had experience in terms of battle. Despite his appearance, this Max Tennyson had been a warrior, possibly still one now.
Max had stopped hugging Ben and was looking at him now. "Ben," he said with a good natured shake of his head. "You have no idea how worried we all were when you disappeared."
Ben scratched the back of his head. "Well…you see…I…"
"No need," Max smiled at his grandson. "Gwen already told me."
Ben's eyes became wide as he paled. "She did?"
Max nodded. "She told me about Hueco Mundo and the war between Soul Society along with Paradox dumping you there to help end the war."
"Really?" Ben asked in a very small voice. "Did she mention anything else?"
Max smiled teasingly at his grandson. "You mean other than the fact that you drew other kinds of attention while you were there?"
Gwen, you sold me out! Ben screamed in his head. Back in the real world, he did absolutely nothing.
"Don't hold it against your cousin, Ben," Max told him gently. "She's just concerned for your wellbeing. After all the stuff that's happened to us before, can you really blame her?"
Ben sighed as he looked at the ground. No, he guessed he couldn't blame her. But how long would it be before Gwen would stop being such a worry wart?
"So," Max said loudly so that his voice could be heard all over the house. "Where are the ladies who've taken a liking to my grandson?"
"Grandpa!" Ben groaned loudly.
Max chuckled at him. "I think I've earned the right to embarrass my grandson after a month of him going missing."
Ben's arms drooped. "You've been talking with my mom, haven't you?"
"She was concerned," Max admitted. "But I have a feeling that these girls really do care about you."
Ben nodded sheepishly. "Yeah," he replied. "They do."
"So," Max said. "Where are they?"
"Greetings, Max Tennyson."
Max saw the five girls coming out of the dining room now. While he was expecting five rather lovely girls, he was still taken aback by the two most likely oldest girls. He knew from Gwen's descriptions who each of the girls were. But now that he met them, he was rather curious about Nelliel and Harribel. He had been told about Arrancar from the little knowledge Gwen knew about them. Needless to say, Max had been fascinated by these spirits known as Hollows, Shinigami, and Arrancar. But it wasn't that which really concerned Max. Having loved and even married a female alien, he remarkably had no problem with Ben dating a non-human female. The only problem he had was the most likely difference in age. Harribel looked like a woman in her twenties with the body of a model. It was a little harder for him to guess Nelliel's age since she seemed to be a cross between a late teenager and her twenties. And her figure was as much of an eye catcher as Harribel's was. Unlike Carl and Sandra, however, Max knew not to judge a book by its cover and decided to find out more about the girls.
"Greetings," he finally said politely. "I'm Max Tennyson, Ben's grandfather."
"Hello, Mr. Tennyson," the girls said before they each introduced themselves in turn. Although Max already knew who they were, he said nothing out of politeness for the girls.
"It's a pleasure to meet each of you," he said once the girls were done introducing themselves. "I'm grateful to you for taking care of my grandson. I'm pretty sure he was a handful."
Ben pouted and grumbled a little while rolling his eyes. Apacci and Mila Rose snickered while Sung-Sun and Nelliel giggled.
"You should proud of your grandson," Harribel told the elder Plumber. "He's a fine man."
Max beamed happily. "I think so too," he agreed. "Mind if I sit down, Ben?"
"Of course not, Grandpa," Ben said.
Nodding in thanks, Max sat himself down upon the couch. "Even though Gwen told me all she could," he said. "I think it might be best if I get the story straight from the source."
Ben scratched the back of his head as he sat down in his dad's armchair. He had a feeling that sooner or later, his grandpa would find out about his adventures in Hueco Mundo. Now he had some explaining to do. So that was exactly what he did. He told his grandpa the whole story. Max listened as Ben recounted waking up in Hueco Mundo, heading towards Las Noches, battling Runuganga and Dordonii before being brought before Aizen and impressing him after fighting Yammy. He then went on to describe his other adventures in Hueco Mundo. He talked about the different Espada and how Baraggan made him battle Charlotte and Redder and then choosing to be Harribel's Fraccion. Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun added their own parts to the conflict between Nnoitra and Ben while Nelliel told Max about her first encounter with Ben and all the things they did afterwards. Next, Ben explained how he first came to Karakura Town. When Ben said that name, Max's eyes flashed in recognition for a moment before he returned to listening to Ben's story. Ben was recalling his battle with Captain Hitsugaya, Matsumoto, Yumichika, and Ikkaku. Next came the important parts like Nelliel regaining her true form, Ben learning the truth about Aizen, the battles with Nnoitra, Szayel, Ulquiorra and Yammy, and then the dramatic showdown in Karakura Town, concluding with the aftermath. What Ben didn't notice was Max's eyes flashing again when Ben had mentioned Ichigo and Isshin Kurosaki.
"Wow," Max chuckled. "I've had lots of adventures in my day but nothing even close to what you've been through this past month. Although, my time helping in the Null Void might count. Almost."
"So Mr. Tennyson," Nelliel started to ask.
Max smiled warmly at her. "You can just call me Max, Nelliel," he said kindly.
"Oh, okay," Nelliel smiled now. "Um…what do you do exactly? Ben said you were a plumber but…"
"Well," Max said. "The Plumbers that I'm part of is an order force dedicated to preserving peace in the universe. Basically, we're like Shinigami but on a much larger scale."
"I see," Harribel noted. In her opinion, that was a bad comparison. Despite being allies with them, Harribel was still not fond of Shinigami due to the strong hatred between them and Hollows. But…she had to admit that she was willing to make some exceptions.
"I tell ya," Max said. "I never would have predicted during that summer vacation six years ago."
"Six years?" Sung-sun asked. She counted the numbers in her head and she gasped in comprehension. "Oh, that was the year Ben found that predecessor to his Ultimatrix. I believe it was called the…Omnitrix, was it?"
Max nodded. "The Omnitrix was originally created by Azmuth to preserve the DNA of the numerous life forms out there in the far regions of space and so that those who used the Omnitrix would know what it was like being in another being's shoes. Unfortunately, there are many so saw the incredible power the Omnitrix granted and sought to use it as a weapon of war. One such person was my old enemy, Vilgax. In fact, it was thanks to him that Ben even got the Omnitrix in the first place."
"Really?" Apacci asked Max.
"Really," Max answered. "Vilgax was after the Omnitrix, so an old friend of mine, Xylene, had sent it to Earth so he wouldn't get his hands on it. She originally meant to send the Omnitrix to me, but it went to Ben instead because of our similar DNA.
"I found the Omnitrix and couldn't get it off my wrist," Ben said. He remembered his ridiculous attempts at trying to get the Omnitrix off.
"Since then," Max continued. "Ben began using the Omntirx to help people in need. I will admit, there were times when Ben used the Omntrix more for mischief more than he should have."
"I was only ten!" Ben whined, trying to defend himself. Nelliel, Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun all laughed at Ben's whining, causing him to blush and look down at the ground sheepishly.
"But I am proud of you, Ben," Max told his grandson. "You did good."
Ben smiled, happy to hear that praise. Just then, there was a knock at the door. Max raised an eyebrow. "Were you expecting anyone?"
Shaking his head, Ben went over to the door to see what was going on. He opened it and saw Kevin and the Arrancar all standing in the doorway.
"What's up, Tennyson?" Kevin said with a smirk. "Enjoying your weekend?"
Ben scowled, not sure if Kevin was being honest or just trying to tease him again.
"Hello, Kevin," Max said. "I see you've brought some friends."
"Who's the old guy?" Redder asked Kevin. Kevin's smirk grew.
"That old man happens to be Ben's grandpa," Kevin told him. Redder gulped when he realized his slip up.
"It's alright," Max said with a smile. "I'm not young anymore."
And so, Max went off to introduce himself to all the other men. Like everyone else, he was rather uncomfortable around Charlotte but saw past it. When he introduced himself to Findor and Poww, they were both polite with him. Nirgge and Vega seemed more hesitant. Ulquiorra saw this and his eyes narrowed. Pesche and Dondochakka threw themselves at Nelliel, comical tears pouring out of their eyes. They really missed her.
"So, Kevin," Max said once introductions were finished. "What brings you here?"
"We received a message saying that we were to meet at Ben's house," Ulquiorra answered.
"Message?" Ben asked. "What message?"
Kevin looked at him now. "You mean you didn't send it?"
"I didn't send anything," Ben said. He looked over at the girls. "Did you?"
The girls shook their heads.
"Then who…?" Kevin was about to ask before he was interrupted by a knock at the door. Curious, he opened the door. Gwen stood outside the door along with Starrk and Lilynette.
"Hey guys," Lilynette said with a smile. "How's it going?"
"Hey," Ben replied, confused. He wasn't bothered about everyone being over, but they always planned things out due to how many people they had. This was too sudden.
"Say, Gwen," Kevin said. "Did you get a message saying that we needed to meet up at Ben's?"
Gwen nodded. "I thought one of you guys sent it."
"It wasn't us," Kevin replied.
"Not us," Ben agreed. The girls nodded their heads to confirm it.
Max chuckled, "I promise, I didn't plan this."
Starrk raised an eyebrow at everyone, "If no one here sent the message, then who?"
That's when another knock came at the door. By now really confused, Ben walked over to the door and opened it. The next thing he knew, he was caught up in a hug that sent his face flaming.
"Ben!" Rangiku Matsumoto cooed as she hugged Ben, pressing his face into her cleavage. "It's so nice to see you again!"
"You again, Cow-chest?" Mila Rose snarled. "Let go of Ben!"
She and Apacci immediately ran over to Ben and pulled him away from Matsumoto. Ben fell on the floor with a horrified look on his flaming red face. He didn't attempt to speak or move. He just sat there in frozen horror.
"Now look what you did!" Apacci yelled. "What is your problem?"
"But I was so happy to see Ben again," Matsumoto whined. "You're all so mean, not letting me hug him."
"You were trying to suffocate him!" Mila Rose roared.
Kevin and Lilynette both burst out laughing and most of the guys snickered while Ben curled up into a ball, wishing the floor would just eat him up. Max got up from the couch and walked over to Matsumoto. "You seem to be a friend of my grandson," he said politely, holding out his hand. "I'm his grandfather, Max Tennyson."
Matsumoto shook his hand warmly. "Rangiku Matsumoto," she said. "And let me just say that your grandson is absolutely adorable!"
Ben tried to compact himself even more as Kevin and Lilynette snickered at him. Gwen rolled her eyes in annoyance.
"You should have seen him when he fell into the Fountain of Youth and turned into a five year old," Max said with a chuckle. "You would have really called him adorable."
"Grandpa!" Ben cried out in indignation.
"Even more adorable?" Matsumoto gushed. "Oooh~ I wish I could have been there!"
Ben groaned. Just when he thought this day was going to be fine.
"What brings you here, Matsumoto?" Harribel asked, curious as to why a person from Soul Society would be here.
Matsumoto was all smiles. "I'm so glad you asked." She said. "Soul Society is celebrating the end of the war by having…a beach party!"
"A party?" Ben asked curiously.
"Uh-huh," Matsumoto answered. "Our last beach party didn't go so well, but this one's sure to be a hit. And guess what? You're all invited!"
"Seriously?" Kevin asked, grinning. "Where's the beach at?"
"Don't worry," Matsumoto told him. "Paradox made sure to leave instructions for us in case we ever needed to contact you guys. He mentioned you have a jet that we can use to fly to the beach."
"Sounds nice," Gwen said.
Starrk scratched the back of his head. "I don't know," he said. "That stuff's not really my thing." That earned himself a kick from Lilynette.
"Nothing's your thing, Starrk," she grumbled.
"No problems there," Matsumoto said. "There will be plenty of places for you to sleep at, Starrk." Then she playfully added. "You lousy party pooper."
Ulquiorra gave her a deadpanned look. "I do not see the point in me wasting my time playing around in water and sand. I will not be going."
"Aw, come on, Ulquiorra," Matsumoto pleaded. "You'll enjoy it. I know so. Besides…Orihime will be there and she'd really like it if you were there too."
Much to Ben's surprise, Ulquiorra was looking at the ground in thought. Was he actually considering going just because Orihime was there. Ben grinned to himself.
"I'll go," he said finally.
Matsumoto beamed. "Wonderful!" She looked over at the others. "Are you coming?" she asked.
"Sure!" Pesche and Dondochakka said.
"I'd love to go," Nelliel replied.
Apacci and Mila Rose exchanged uncertain glances at each other, wondering what to do.
"We might as well give it a try," Sung-Sun admitted to them. "How can we enjoy the human world if we don't partake in some of their activities?"
"That's the spirit, Sung-Sun!" Matsumoto chirped.
"…Fine," Mila Rose relented.
"We'll…go," Apacci said.
Matsumoto then turned to look at Harribel. "Are you coming?" she asked sweetly.
Harribel thought about it. She was uncertain if she would actually go to a beach. But…she decided that this might be her chance where she could finally become closer to Ben.
"I'll go too," she said.
Matsumoto's smile could put a solar flare to shame. Then it turned sly. "But first…we need to go shopping!"
"Shopping?" Ben asked as he raised an eyebrow. "For what?"
Kevin deadpanned at his friend. "Tell me you're joking," he mumbled.
"Why, Ben," Matusmoto said in surprise. "We need to get them all swimsuits of course." Then she added coyly. "And we need to get the girls some bikinis."
Ben paled. B…b…bikinis? Gulping, he got up. "You know, guys," he said in a shaky voice, "I…I'm not…feeling well. It's….probably b…best if….I….stay home today."
Nelliel looked at Ben in concern. Kevin on the other hand had a nasty grin on his face. "What's the matter, Ben?" he teased.
Paling even further, Ben continued. "Well…I'm….I'm just feeling weird all of a sudden."
"You sure that ain't anticipation?" Kevin taunted.
Ben's once pale face was now a lovely shade of red.
"Odd," Nelliel said, looking at Ben. "You were just fine this morning."
Ben resisted the urge to smack his own forehead.
"I think the sun will be just good for you," Kevin told him. "Nothing like good ole' Vitamin D to perk you right up."
"That's a good idea," Max agreed. "Say, you don't mind if an old crab like me comes along do you?"
"Of course not!" Matsumoto replied. "Any friend or family of Ben's is welcomed any time. Now, how about we go shopping and getting some swimsuits! Where's your mall at?"
"I know where it is," Gwen said. "I can take you there."
"Good," Matusmoto said with a nod. "No while we go and get everyone their swim cloths, Ben can stay here and get ready." She smiled mischievously. "Besides, it gets to be a surprise when Ben sees what the girls buy."
Ben groaned, curling back up into a ball again.
"Come on, everyone!" Matsumoto said as she punched the air. "It's shopping time."
One by one, everyone filed out until Ben and his grandpa were the only ones left.
"It looks like you've got quite a handful, Ben," Max chuckled.
"Don't remind me," Ben mumbled.
"Gwen told how those five are in love with you," Max continued, causing Ben to look up at him. "Guess the ole' Tennyson charm worked well for you."
"Tennyson charm?" Ben asked incredulously. "We actually have something like that?"
"We do," Max said before jokingly adding. "But I don't think any Tennyson in history won the hearts of five girls at once."
"Boy, lucky me," Ben mumbled dryly.
"But, Ben," Max now said with a serious tone. "Have you…"
Ben shook his head. "I haven't. I know they'll want me to choose one of them in the end but…is that really fair for them?"
Max walked over and put a hand on his grandson's shoulder. "I know you care about them, Ben. But you have to realize that you might be hurting just as badly by not choosing."
Ben looked at his grandpa in shock. "Really?" he asked.
"Ben," Max said. "By not choosing, the girls might start to think that they're not good enough for you and that you don't care about them."
"But I do care about them," Ben pointed out. "I just never thought that I…"
"Is there something wrong about those girls that would make you not want to be with them?" Max asked.
"Of course not," Ben said. "It's just that…five girls liking me at once is…"
"I know that it's gonna be hard," Max told him. "But you can't keep leading them on like this."
"I know," Ben muttered as he looked down at the ground. "I know."
Max had seen how depressed Ben had become when Julie's parents had made her leave. When Gwen first told him that five girls were in love with his grandson, he was more than shocked. But now that he had the chance to meet them in person, he saw that they truly cared about Ben and could be the ones to take that secret pain Ben had been feeling since Julie had gotten hurt.
I know you girls would take good care of Ben, all five of you. Whichever of you Ben chooses, you have my blessing. Just please make sure to help my grandson.
"Now let's see," Matsumoto said with a look of sheer glee on her face. "What should we buy you?"
Gwen and Kevin had led the Arrancar to the local mall. Naturally they attracted quite a crowd of onlookers. Unlike the oblivious Nelliel or the uncaring Harribel, Matsumoto practically drank in the attention, doing everything she could that would cause heads to turn her way. The crowd of onlookers had different opinions. The boys enjoyed seeing the girls with the figures of models but found themselves self conscious about the guys, namely Ulquiorra and Starrk, who had gained a lot of attention from the females. Now, they had reached a store in the mall that sold swimsuits. Needless to say, many guys followed them into the store, hoping to see even more of those gorgeous bodies.
"Get lost!" Apacci yelled, nearly breaking the arm off of some guy that had tried to hit on her. Naturally the guy ran as fast as he could. That caused the boys to back off, but some of them were still very bold, believing their suave nature could sooth the savage beast. Apacci was sick and tired of those guys following them around, acting like the girls were defenseless lambs for the slaughter and she was also ticked because Matsumoto had recommended that she wear a one piece instead of a bikini.
"I don't see what the problem is," Sung-Sun said. She stepped out of the changing room wearing a lavender one piece. The boys who chose to stay were practically drooling at her. "I don't mind this." Apacci couldn't tell if she meant that she didn't mind wearing the one piece or didn't mind the attention.
"Apacci's just jealous because she doesn't have the body for a bikini," Mila Rose said as she stepped out of the changing room next to Sung-Sun's. She was wearing an orange bikini and now the boys had their tongues drooping out of their mouths. Mila Rose gave them a look of disgust.
"Here you go, Nelliel!" Matsumoto said, running up to the green haired woman. "The perfect outfit! It matches your hair."
Nelliel raised an eyebrow of confusion as she looked at the bikini Matsumoto was holding for her. "Um…isn't it a size small?" she asked. The eavesdropping boys nearly had heart attacks.
"Nonsense," Matsumoto replied with a wave of her hand before handing the bikini over to Nelliel. "Besides, there's nothing wrong with showing off that figure of yours."
Nelliel looked down at the bikini. "Well…alright," she said as she walked over to the changing rooms. The boys were looking at her eagerly as she went into one of the stalls.
By now, Harribel had enough. She calmly walked to the crowd of boys. Instantly, their cheeks were red, their eyes were wide, and their jaws hung open as they saw that one of those gorgeous beauties was actually right in front of them. Maybe she was offering to go on a date with one of them. Heck, even if it was one date, they'd be more than happy to have just one with an exotic woman like that.
"Get out," Harribel said in a low and cold voice. This stunned the boys, who simply stood there and blinked dumbfounded. "Get out now."
"What?" one of the boys asked. "We're just shopping for clothes."
"You are not," Harribel said. "You have come here merely to stare at us as simple objects of your sexual urges. We do not appreciate that, so leave."
"We're not doing anything wrong," another guy said. "We're just enjoying the view."
"I do not doubt that," Harribel replied dryly. "But if all you're going to do is stare at us, then leave."
"I don't hear them complaining," a third boy said before he looked over at Apacci, "Except that one."
Apacci became so angry that she grabbed a clothes rack and was about to chuck it at the guy.
"Apacci," Harribel said sternly. "That won't help."
"Harribel-sama!" Apacci cried, for one pervert tried to touch Harribel's backside.
While she no longer had the speed she wielded when she was an Espada while in a Gigai, Harribel was still pretty fast. Before the guy could lay a hand on her, she turned back around and twisted the pervert's arm so bad that he cried out in pain and fell to his knees.
"Do not touch me," Harribel said in a voice so cold it would have put Big Chill to shame. She released the guy's arm and he quickly crawled away from Harribel. She looked over at the other boys and saw that they were shocked speechless. "The same thing will happen to any of you who land a hand on me or the other girls. Now leave."
The boys didn't need telling twice, so they cleared out of the place as fast as they could.
"Whether it is Hollows or humans," Harribel said in that icy tone even after the boys had left. "Most men are disgusting."
"Not Ben," Nelliel said, sticking her head out of the changing room. "Um…Mastumoto? I'm gonna get something else. This is a little tight."
"Let me guess," Gwen said as she walked over to them. "Matsumoto's at it again?"
Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun nodded.
"What?" Matsumoto asked. "That girl's got a great figure. She should show it off more."
"But…" Nelliel said hesitantly from the changing room as she put her normal clothes back on. "What if…Ben's uncomfortable about it?"
"Why should he be?" Matsumoto asked her. "Boys love a girl with a good figure and great chest. Yours is as big as mine, Nelliel." Matsumoto then folded her arms under chest and started pushing it up with them.
"Ben is not some pervert," Gwen told her with a shake of her head. "He doesn't care what girls look like. He always cared about what was inside your heart instead of how your body looks."
"Awww," Matsumoto gushed. "That is so sweet!" She sighed. "Why can't guys be more like Ben?"
Harribel ignored Matsumoto as she began looking down the aisle of swimwear. That is, until the female Shinigami was right next to her.
"By the way, Harribel," Matsumoto said. "What was that back there? You never struck me as the type of girl to be modest. After all, I've seen your sealed and unsealed state. You seemed fine with showing off your body before." Then her eyes widened before becoming coy. "I get it. You've decided your body is for Ben's eyes only." She squealed. "You must really love him!"
Harribel ignored her, trying to also ignore the feeling inside of her. Many believed that Hollows didn't have hearts. But now, Harribel felt as if something was hurting. A flicker of emotion must have slipped because Matsumoto was looking at her in concern. "What's wrong, Harribel?" Matsumoto asked, all teasing gone from her face. Harribel still said nothing but Matsumoto was persistent. "It's about Ben isn't it? Has he done something wrong?"
"No," Harribel replied quietly, "He's done nothing wrong."
"But it is about Ben," Matsumoto figured. "And maybe it's not something he's done wrong. Maybe…it's something he's not doing at all."
Harribel was impressed by Matsumoto's deduction. Despite the woman's outgoing personality and lack of modesty in herself, Matsumoto did seem worthy of being a lieutenant of the Gotei 13.
"Harribel," Matsumoto said in a tone that was all but serious. "I know that Shinigami and Hollows don't get along. But I'd really like to be your friend. Please tell me what's wrong."
Harribel looked over at the other girls, who were too busy looking through swimsuits with Gwen giving them advice. She looked back at Matsumoto and spoke in a low voice.
"All my life as Hollow, I had to keep my guard up, refusing to allow myself to become prey to any man who would merely look down on me for being a female. Even when I became an Arrancar, I kept my guard up. I could trust no one but my own Fraccion and, at the time, Aizen. The only two of the Espada I had any respect for was Ulquiorra and Starrk, but only because they were not like the other males of Hueco Mundo. Then, one day, this one boy comes along and changes everything. He's the side of man that I never believed would exist, even among humans. The things he did in Hueco Mundo. The things he did before he and I met. I found myself falling in love with him but….but now…"
"He doesn't even notice you, does he?" Matsumoto asked softly. Harribel shook her head.
"The one man I am more than willing to share my life with does not even care," she said quietly. "I intimidate him. The two of us have only shared a few tender moments, and each time it was because I initiated them. In fact, if it hadn't been for me, Ben would have never considered sharing a moment with me."
"Oh, Harribel," Matsumoto said. "Don't think like that. You have to remember that there are five of you. Ben, being the type of guy he is, must still need time to accept all of this."
"It's more than that," Harribel admitted, wondering why she was opening her heart to this woman that she barely knew. "Am I too intimidating for him to love me? Will he always look on me with unease and nervousness? He does this with me far more than he does the other girls."
Matusmoto tapped her chin. "Well," she said. "He was your Fraccion, right? Maybe he thinks that makes a relationship with you off limits."
"I don't want Ben to think that," Harribel told her. "I don't want him to be afraid of me. I don't want anything like that. I want his love. But it seems that I will never have it."
"It's not your fault."
Matsumoto and Harribel both turned to see Kevin standing behind them.
"How long were you listening?" Harribel asked.
"Long enough," Kevin told her. "It looks like you really want Tennyson to like you." He saw the look Harribel was giving him. "Okay, love you. The thing is it's never really easy with Ben. What were you like before you met Ben?"
"I was a warrior," Harribel answered. "Back then, I was honored to be placed as the third most powerful of Aizen's Espada. I cared for Ben and protected him whenever I could."
"That's your problem!" Kevin said. "Ben's too used to the warrior inside you. You need to make him realized that there's more to you than that. Ben's probably intimidated, fearing what you might do to him if he screws up or something like that."
"I would never…"
"Open your heart to Ben," Kevin told her. "Show him that you honestly love him and do something that can show him much he means to you."
"Even if I do," Harribel said. "Would he love me then?"
Kevin smiled. "You'd be surprised by Tennyson. He's always willing to give people a chance. I'm sure he'll give you one too." Then with a shrug, he said, "Well then, I'd better get back to helping the guys pick out their swimsuits. Pesche nearly got a speedo."
"Don't worry, everyone," Matsumoto said. "Soul Society gave me loads of money to spend so I'll be paying for the outfits." She looked at Harribel. "I know it's not right for me to take sides in this, but I see that you love this boy bad. Come with me, I think we need to find you some outfits."
Before Harribel could say anything, Matsumoto grabbed Harribel and dragged her off to see some more swimsuits. As she did, Harribel only had one thought in mind.
Ben. She thought. I hope I can open your eyes.
Just then, a song began to play from the music speakers in the store. Ben had introduced the girls to music before, but Harribel had not found anything interesting about singing and dancing. Maybe…if Ben was interested in it, she might give it a try. Usually when she heard music, she would just ignore it. But this song…this song caught her interest.
It seemed to be like the perfect thing for you and me
It's so ironic you're what I had pictured you to be
But there are facts in our lives
We can never change
Just tell me that you understand and feel the same
Yes. Harribel thought as she heard this song. The fact is that I love Ben. Why can't he understand that and feel the same way I feel about him?
This perfect romance that I've created in my mind
I'd live a thousand lives
Each one with you right by my side
But yet we find ourselves in a less than perfect circumstance
And so it seems like we'll never have the chance
That's how Harribel was feeling inside. Ben was close but so far away, always acting comfortable around other girls but nervous around her. What was it about her that he didn't like? Why didn't he see her as someone more?
Ain't it funny how some feelings you just can't deny
And you can't move on even though you try
Ain't it strange when you're feeling things you shouldn't feel
Oh, I wish this could be real
Oh, how Harribel wished it could be real. Ben and her together? Was it so impossible for her to ask that such a thing to exist?
Ain't it funny how a moment could just change your life
And you don't wanna face what's wrong or right
Ain't it strange how fate can play a part
In the story of your heart
It was as if this song had taken her feelings and was blasting them out for the world to hear. She didn't care if it was wrong or right for an Arrancar to fall in love. She loved Ben and she didn't care what the rest of the world thought.
Sometimes I think that a true love can never be
I just believe that somehow it wasn't meant for me
Life can be cruel in a way that I can't explain
And I don't think that I could face it all again
Harribel nodded her head as if agreeing with the song. After meeting Ben and seeing that there was so much more than Hueco Mundo for her, she couldn't bear to go back. She just couldn't.
I barely know you but somehow I know what you're about
A deeper love I've found in you
And I no longer doubt
You've touched my heart and it altered every plan I've made
And now I feel that I don't have to be afraid
How true. Harribel had barely known Ben when he first came to Las Noches but found herself falling in love with this human boy. He had touched her in a way that turned how she saw the world upside down. Thanks to him, she saw things in a whole new light and she didn't need to always have her guard up anymore.
Ain't it funny how some feelings you just can't deny
And you can't move on even though you try
Ain't it strange when you're feeling things you shouldn't feel
Oh, I wish this could be real
Ain't it funny how a moment could just change your life
And you don't wanna face what's wrong or right
Ain't it strange how fate can play a part
In the story of your heart
I locked away my heart
But you just set it free
Emotions I felt
Held me back from what my life should be
I pushed you far away
And yet you stayed with me
I guess this means
That you and me were meant to be...
Yes! Harribel cried in her head as the song began to end. Ben had restored to her the emotions she thought she had lost long ago when she had become a Hollow. Even when he learned the truth about Aizen's plans, he stayed with her to the end. He had given her a better life. How could they not be together?
Even if I am reduced to sharing him, I will not lose the most important person in my life. Harribel thought with determination unlike any she had ever felt before. Ben, I will open your eyes and show you that I can make you happy. Please let me show you, Ben. Allow me one chance, that's all I ask.
Next to her, Matsumoto could see the fierce determination in her eyes. It was the only emotion on her otherwise calm face. She smiled softly to herself.
Back at the house, Grandpa Max had returned with a bag for the beach. He was standing outside Ben's house with Ben, who was wearing a white t-shirt and green swim trunks while carrying a duffel bag that had his beach stuff in it. The wielder of the Ultimarix looked a little green around the gills. Max chuckled when he saw his grandson's state.
"You look a little green around the gills, Ben," Max said. That caused Ben's blushing face to become red now.
"I really don't know if I should go," he mumbled.
Max chuckled again. "In my day, the boys were eager to be on the beach and see girls in their swimsuits." Ben's blush deepened. Max smiled kindly at his grandson and put a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, Ben. I know you feel awkward about all of this, but cheer up. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time."
Ben tried to grin but it came out rather small. Just then, the two heard the roar of engines and looked up to see Kevin's jet hovering over the yard. The hatch opened and Ben could see Gwen looking down at them. She waved her hands and a mana tile appeared in front of them.
"I guess that's our ride," Max said as he stepped onto the tile. Taking a deep breath, Ben got on too. The tile floated all the way up to the hatch, which the two stepped onto and walked into the jet.
Inside, Ben could see that the gang was already there. He noticed that the guys were all wearing their swimming trunks as well. Redder was wearing (typical) red. Ulquiorra actually managed to find trunks that were black with a hint of green in it. Starrk was wearing grey ones. Dondochakka was wearing yellow swimming trunks while Pesche was wearing purple ones. Nirgge had a khanki color pair which didn't really suit him while Poww was wearing pure white trunks. Ben looked over at Charlotte and immediately blanched. Charlotte was wearing one with the same color as his hair. Ben didn't think that they made those for boys.
Kevin groaned. "We tried everything, Tennyson, but he wouldn't listen. You should grateful he didn't buy a one piece."
Ben cringed and shivered at the mere thought as he tried to banish it from his head. Then he noticed that the girls were still in the regular wear. "You guys didn't change?" But he was kind of relieved, worried about what would happen if they had been wearing their swimsuits.
Matsutmoto gave him a playful wink. "Now, now, Ben," she teased. "No spoilers until we get there."
Kevin chuckled. "Ben would probably have a heart attack anyway." Ben glared at Kevin, who ignored him as he then asked Matsumoto. "Are you sure you gave me the right directions?"
"Of course I did," Matsumoto huffed at Kevin. "Let's just hope your plane is fast enough."
Ben slapped his forehead while Kevin had a devious grin on his face. "You just had to say something didn't you?" he muttered to Matsumoto.
"What?" She asked. "What'd I do?"
"You want fast?" Kevin asked in a sadistic tone. "You've got fast!" He pressed a button and suddenly the jet shot forward like a Cero blast. Gwen, who had been sitting in the passenger seat, was pushed up against it. The others, who had been standing up, weren't as lucky. Ben felt himself struggling to prevent himself from flying into the wall. Everyone managed to grab onto something or other but it looked like they were struggling to keep themselves from flying backwards. He then saw Lilynette holding onto a chair but her grip was slipping. He quickly activated the Ultimatrix, turned the dial, and slammed it down.
"Spidermonkey!" he yelled after transforming. He put his upper arms on the floor, using his spider like feelers to hold himself in place. He aimed with his tail and fired a stream of webbing towards the chair Lilynette was gripping. "Grab on!" he yelled to her.
Lilynette didn't need telling twice as she grabbed onto the webbing with one hand before grabbing it with the other. Spidermonkey then used his lower arms to start pulling Lilynette over to him. Once she was next to him, Spidermonkey held her close.
"Are you an idiot?" Vega yelled at Kevin, who was laughing his head off at the controls.
"What? You're not enjoying this?" Kevin asked him before laughing again.
"Just because you think it's funny, Levin," Mila Rose called to him. "Doesn't mean we all do!"
"Kevin," Gwen said as she tried to push herself off her chair. "Maybe you could slow it down a bit?"
Kevin groaned. "Spoilsports," he muttered as he slowed down. Most of the team let out sighs of relief and glared daggers at Kevin.
"I thought I was about to lose my lunch," Pesche mumbled, looking green.
"I think I did," Dondochakka mumbled.
"Hey!" Kevin yelled. "Any of you hurl and I'm throwing you off, you understand?"
"Strange that you would seem so concerned for the sake of a mere mode of transportation," Ulquiorra commented.
Kevin was about to retort when the control console began beeping. "Oh look," he said. "We're here."
"Already?" Apacci asked. "How did we get here so fast?"
Kevin grinned at her. "There's a lot about this baby that you have no clue about."
Gwen raised an eyebrow at him. "Kevin," she asked him, "Have you been making modifications again?"
Kevin shrugged playfully. "I'd say I've been tweaking her a bit."
"Well," Max said as he gave Kevin a playful yet somehow stern look. "I just hope you didn't tweak it with anything illegal."
Kevin let out a mock grunt of pain. "That hurts," he said, feigning hurt. "Do you really think I would still do that?"
"Yes," Ben said without hesitation and a straight face, causing Kevin to give him an annoyed look while Apacci, Mila Rose, Sung-Sun, Nelliel, Lilynette, Nelliel, and Gwen all laughed at him.
"Why are we even here?" Vega asked. "I didn't even want to come."
"No way were we leaving you at Los Soledad," Kevin retorted at him. Vega growled at him but then he realized that Ulquiorra was right behind him.
"Even if I don't have my powers at the moment, Vega," he said in a low voice so that only Vega could hear him, "I am more than a match for you. You think I do not see the obvious contempt you have for Ben Tennyson and those aligned to him? If you harm any of them, then I will not hesitate to end you."
Vega felt as if his body had been dunked in ice as Ulquiorra walked away from him. He looked over at Nirgge, who must have figured out what Ulquiorra had confronted Vega about. The two looked at each other. Apparently their plan for revenge would not come as easy as they had thought.
The majority had come to the windows and began looking out. The jet was hovering over a large ocean with a sandy beach nearby.
"There they are!" Matsumoto cried, point at large black dots on the beach. "The others are waiting!"
"I'll just park this thing and we'll enjoy some fun in the sun," Kevin said. Then with a grin, he looked at Ulquiorra. "And maybe we can get you a tan."
Apacci, Mila Rose, Lilynette, and Ben snickered but Ulquiorra was unaffected as Kevin brought the jet down for a landing. He landed the plane a good foot away before opening the hatch. No sooner had he gotten off his feet did he find himself being pushed alongside the other boys by Matsumoto. The one exception was Max, who was walking out anyway.
"What is the meaning of this?" Ulquiorra asked a little frustrated that he couldn't resist as easily as he could outside of a Gigai.
"We girls need to change now," Matsumoto said. "Can't do in front of a bunch of boys now can we?"
"Change?" Pesche asked interested.
"Oh no you don't," Ben warned him. Soon, all the boys were pushed out the jet.
"Now you boys just go outside and wait for us," Matsumoto said. "We'll come out when we're done."
And so, the boys all walked down the hatch and stood outside. The hatch closed behind them, no doubt Gwen's doing since she was the only one among them who knew how the buttons worked. Ben couldn't help but smile as he took in the ocean view and felt the sand beneath his feet as he took off his shoes. It was nice to feel sand that didn't have to do with Hueco Mundo. He pulled out the sun-screen and began applying it to his skin while the others passed around the sun block. They weren't sure if Gigai could get sun burnt or not but they didn't want to take a chance.
"Tennyson-san!" a voice called. "We're glad you could make it!"
Ben and the other guys turned to see Captain Ukitake walking towards them, but he didn't seem all that well.
"Hello, Captain Ukitake," Ben said politely. "Um…are you okay?"
"Hm? Oh yes," Ukitake replied. "I think it's just the sun."
"Captain!" two voices screamed. Suddenly a short girl with short blonde hair and a man with black appeared next to him.
"Here you are, Captain!" the girl said, holding a cup out to Ukitake. "I brought you a drink."
"Yeah?" asked the black haired guy. "Well, I brought him shade!" he raised a large beach umbrella over Ukitake's head.
"Both of you," Ukitake said with sigh. "You're being very rude, not introducing yourselves to our guests."
The man and girl looked at their captain in confusion before noticing that Ben and her others were standing in front of them.
"I apologize," the girl said to Ben with a bow. "My name is Kiyou Kotetsu. I'm the co-3rd Seat of the Thirteenth Division. Captain Ukitake has told me so much about you, Tennyson-san."
"Well he told me more!" the black haired guy said. He bowed to Ben. "My name is Sentaro Kotsubaki. I'm co-3rd seat of the Thirteenth Division."
"What do you mean he told you more?" Kiyone demanded. She and Sentaro were about to yell at each other when…
"Ah, Tennyson-san you made it!" Kyoraku walked up to them. "My, quite a fancy piece of machinery you've got there. So tell me, where are the girls at?"
"They're in the jet getting ready," Ben explained. "How's everyone been?"
"Very well, actually," Kyoraku replied with a smile. "So, how have the ladies been?"
"I don't know," Kevin said with a grin. "Ben's been hogging them all to himself, so I couldn't tell you."
Ben growled at Kevin but Kyoraku noticed Max standing there.
"Hi," Max said friendly. "I'm Max Tennyson, Ben's grandpa."
Kyoraku and Ukitake both smiled. "Pleased to meet you," Ukitake said. "You should be proud of your grandson. He's a fine young man."
Max nodded. "That he is."
Ben smiled brightly, happy at hearing his grandfather's praise. Then he noticed Kyoraku had turned around and seemed to be looking for something. "Um…Captain Kyoraku," Ben said. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm just wondering where my Nanao-chan is at?" Kyoraku whined. "I wanted her to meet the hero of Soul Society."
"Hero of Soul Society?" Ben repeated in surprise.
"Of course, Tennyson-san," Kiyone said warmly. "All of Soul Society's been talking about you."
"You are the only one who managed to bring down the traitor Aizen and save us all," Sentaro explained.
"Ah!" Kyoraku cried. "There she is. Along with everyone else. Hey, everyone! Tennyson-san's here!"
Ben saw that a whole bunch of people were running towards them now. There was Ichigo, Uryu, and Chad in the lead.
"Yo," Ichigo said once the group caught up to them. "We were wondering if you were gonna make it."
"Of course we would," Kevin said, pointing at the jet behind him. "With this baby, there's no way we wouldn't."
"A jet plane?" Uryu asked as he looked up at the jet in wonder. "Where did you get a jet from?"
"What you don't know can't hurt you,"Kevin said cryptically, causing everyone to look at him in suspicion.
"Nanao-chan," Kyoraku said to a girl wearing a red bikini whose black hair was pinned back and wore glasses. "I'd like you to meet Ben Tennyson, the one who defeated Aizen."
Nanao looked at Ben with a calculating look, as if she was sizing him up. Then she said formally. "I am honored to meet the one who defeated Aizen. Greetings, Ben Tennyson."
"Er," Ben was thrown off by her by-the-book manners, "The same to you."
Kevin scoffed. "Stiff much?" he asked.
Nanao adjusted her glasses at Kevin. "You must be Kevin Levin," she said. "The others have spoken of you."
Kevin grinned and chuckled, "Probably nothing good about me."
The gang saw Orihime running up to Ulquiorra. Ben saw Ulquiorra actually fidget and avert his eyes from Orihime. Kevin's eyebrow shot up as he saw Orihime in her bikini.
"It's good to see you, Ulquiorra-kun!" Orihime chirped happily. "Have you been well?"
"I've been…sufficient," Ulquiorra said quietly. Ben tried so hard not to burst out laughing at him.
"Man," Kevin said, noticing how all the girls had very attractive figures. "Are all your girls like this? Ow!" A pink mana blast had hit him in the back of the head.
"I heard that!" Gwen called. Somehow the latch had opened and nobody had noticed. Gwen was wearing a white bikini with black stripes on it as she walked down the hatch. Kevin purred when he saw her, causing Gwen's face to turn deep red.
"Come on, everyone!" she called to the jet.
"I'm not coming out!" Lilynette yelled out from the jet. "You wouldn't let me wear the suit I wanted."
"Lilynette, you look just fine," Gwen said sweetly. "Come on out."
"No!" Lilynette yelled stubbornly.
Gwen gave the jet a playful smirk. "Don't make me come up there and get you."
"Alright, fine," Lilynette came out wearing a white one piece. She didn't look happy about it.
"See, Lilynette," Gwen said. "You look so adorable."
"I don't care about looking adorable!" Lilynette snapped. "I wanted to wear the swimsuit I picked out."
"Lilynette, you wanted to wear a bikini," Gwen reminded her.
"So what?" she asked. "It's just like my old Arrancar outfit."
"You just don't have the figure for it," Matsumoto said as she now walked down the hatch. Much to Gwen's annoyance, Matsumoto's bikini was a size too small and caused the bikini to appear tight against her skin. With a playful wink, she said. "How do I look, Ben?"
Ben gulped and quickly turned around to stare up at the sky. Matsumoto giggled as she bounced down the walkway of the hatch.
"Hey, Ben," a sultry voice said. "Did you miss me?"
Ben looked in the direction of the voice and immediately wished he hadn't. Standing in front of him was Yoruichi, who was wearing an orange bikini. She had a playful grin on her face. "I missed you," she said huskily.
"Yoruichi-sama!" protested Suì-Fēng who was unexpectedly wearing a pink one piece outfit. Kevin snorted when he saw her, causing Suì-Fēng to glare at him. "What's so funny?"
Kevin tried covering his mouth with his hands but it didn't work. "Pink is definitely not your color," he said before laughing. Suì-Fēng's face was red with both embarrassment and fury.
"Well what are we just standing around here for?" Max asked. "You all invited my grandson to have fun at the beach, so let's go."
Ichigo and the others who hadn't been introduced to Max looked at him in surprise.
"That's Grandpa Max," Gwen said. "He knows about what's going on."
"Don't forget about us!" Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun were walking down the latch now. Apacci was wearing a red bikini, Mila Rose was wearing a dark orange bikini, and Sung-Sun was wearing a lavender one piece.
"How do we look, Ben?" Sung-Sun asked, holding a towel in front of her mouth like how she usually used her sleeve.
Ben gulped again. He had been afraid of this. They looked really good in swimsuits and Ben was really grateful that they weren't like Matsumoto or Yoruichi.
"How do I look, Ben?"
Ben looked back at the jet. Instantly his body froze and his face reddened when he saw Nelliel walking down to them. Sure her bikini was the right size, unlike Matsumoto's, but the fact that she was still in a bikini really made him nervous. It showed off the curves of her body really well and it allowed Ben to get a better look at her smooth, finely shaped legs, and it was more than enough for him to see…hold up! Did Ben really just think that? Instantly all the color drained from his face.
Nelliel on the other hand, giggled. She had seen Ben's reaction and she really liked it when he noticed her. She didn't want a relationship that dealt simply with physical attraction, but it was nice to know that Ben found her attractive
"Hey," Matsumoto said to Nelliel. "Where's Harribel?"
"She'll be out," Nelliel answered. "Well, aren't we going to have some fun?"
"You said it!" Matusmoto said. "Let's party!"
With that, the gang went down to the beach to enjoy the sun. When they got there, they saw that more of the others were waiting, including the Vizards.
"Hey, Ben!" Shinji called over to him. "Glad you could make it."
"Y…yeah," Ben said nervously.
"What troubles you, Ben?" the large Hachi asked, noticing Ben's nervous state.
"He's probably shy of all of us girls in bikinis," Lisa said. She was lying on a blanket in the sand, apparently trying to catch a tan.
"Is that it?" Hiyori asked, annoyed. "That's pathetic. You've got five girls living with you now. Shouldn't you be used to it?"
Ben glared at her before bringing his attention to Shinji, "Where are the others?"
"Komamura decided to stay behind and spend some time with Tōsen," Shinji explained. "Thanks to some previous work from Paradox, Tōsen is being kept under surveillance. Komamura and Hisagi are watching over him."
"What about Wonderweiss?"
"Wonderweiss has gained full mental capacity," Yoruichi said, overhearing the conversation. "Tōsen decided to adopt him as his own son."
"Really?" Ben asked happily. "That's great!"
"Ben-chan! It's Ben-chan!"
Ben saw Yachiru and Nemu walking to him.
"Hi, Ben-chan!" Yachiru said happily, reminding Ben of Nelliel's kid form.
"Greetings, Tennyson-san," Nemu said politely. "I trust you are well."
Ben felt a little awkward around Nemu. Not because of her, though. He just didn't know how to act around her.
"Ten-chan!" Suddenly Ben was caught up in a hug from none other than Mashiro. "I missed you, Ten-chan!"
"Oi," Kensei snapped at her. "He just got here and already you're trying to kill him."
Mashiro stuck her tongue out at him. "Ten-chan's too cool for that," she said.
"Now, now, Mashiro," Rose said. "Kensei's right. You need to let Ben go now. No need to suffocate him."
Mashiro pouted as she let go of Ben.
"Now that we're all here," Matsumoto said. "Let's play some games."
And so the fun began. Some went out into the water to splash around and do nothing while others watched them on the beach. Starrk had fallen asleep on the ground, trying to catch some sleep. Only Lilynette ruined that by dumping a bucket of sand on his face. Kevin had then suggested burying him alive as a joke. Needless to say, Starrk decided to stay awake for once. Love was busy listening to some music while Gwen and Rose were having a conversations about different arts. Kevin then walked to the side where Ulquiorra was just standing by, watching everyone else go. The two just kept silent, not really interacting with each other and they were content with that. But then, Kevin noticed that Ulquiorra was actually focused on something. Something he was watching with a good amount of intent. He followed Ulquiorra's line of vision and saw that he was looking at Orihime. A smirk donned on his face.
"You like her don't you?" Kevin asked.
Ulquiorra looked at him with that poker face of his. "What?" he asked.
"You like that Orihime girl, don't you?" Kevin teased.
Ulquiorra just straight ahead, not looking at Orihime. "You are foolish," he told Kevin, which only made the Osmosian laugh.
"Dude," He said. "You are so crushing on her."
Ulquiorra did not say anything. Having been forced to watch the Arrancar guys for a week, Kevin had gotten used to Ulquiorra's personality. "Give me the silent treatment all you want but I know you like her," Kevin said with an even wider smirk.
Ulquiorra merely continued to ignore him but Kevin just kept grinning. Oh yeah. This boy had it bad. Now if only there was a way to use it against him.
"I have an idea," Matsumoto said suddenly. "Let's have a sand sculpture contest!"
"I think that's a splendid idea," Ukitake said, rubbing his sweating forehead.
"How about we have the same exact sand sculpture contest like we did last time?" suggested Unohana, who was walking up to them with a rather nervous looking Isane. "Greetings, Tennyson-san."
"Hello Captain Unohana," Ben said politely. "Lieutenant Isane."
"He…hello, Tennyson-san," Isane said shyly.
"A sculpture competition?" Kevin asked with an eyebrow raised. "What do we get if we win?"
"The prize will be cash," Nanao told Kevin. "Don't worry. We made sure that the money would be usable in America."
"I'm in!" Kevin said automatically.
Apacci snorted. "No thanks,"
"Same here," Mila Rose agreed. "There's no way I'm doing something like that."
"You two are merely refusing to join because you have no artistic abilities whatsoever," Sung-Sun said snidely.
"Shut up, Sung-Sun!" they both yelled. "Nobody was talking to you."
"I will compete."
Everyone turned to see Byakuya and Rukia standing next to them. Max introduced himself to them and they greeted him politely or formally, in Byakuya's case.
"Well, well," a voice said. Ben turned to see Ikkaku and tried to ignore the fact that he was wearing a loincloth. "Ben Tennyson is here. About time. Now I can get back at you for our last fight."
Ben grinned at him. "You mean the fight where I kicked your butt as Rath?"
Ikkaku grinned back at him. "Got to admit, I didn't take your form seriously at the time. But now I'm ready. I plan on beating you in this sand sculpturing competition."
"We'll see about that," Ben said with a grin. "When does the competition start?"
Unohana smiled at them. "It starts right now."
Immediately all those competing ran to the sand to start making sculptures. Before Ben could do anything, Nelliel walked up to him. "Ben?" she asked. "Can I work with you?"
Trying his best to ignore his pounding heart at Nelliel being so close to him, Ben slowly nodded his head. With a happy smile on her face, Nelliel went off to ask Matsumoto what all was needed for making sand castles. Nearby, Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun all had a sour look on their faces at the sight.
"I don't like this," Apacci said. "Nelliel's getting too close to Ben for comfort."
"And they already had a close bond to begin with ever since Ben met her when she was a child," Mila Rose pointed out. "If we don't do something soon, Ben will wind up with her instead of Harribel-sama."
Sung-Sun looked back at the jet, where Harribel had not left yet. Why was she staying in there?
Ben looked over at the ones who were participating. Renji, Ichigo, and Ikkaku were making some kind of temple. Rukia was making what appeared to be a badly made bunny that looked like it was melting. Byakuya was making…what in the world was he making? It looked like some kind of lump with arms, legs, and a face. While Ben couldn't deny that the thing was well made, he personally didn't see it winning any art contests. Redder and Charlotte were so busy arguing about how to make one that they hadn't even gotten started yet. Nirgge and Vega were off to the side while they argued. Findor and Poww were making what appeared to be a sand model of Las Noches.
"Aw, come on, Gwen," Kevin was whining at his girlfriend.
"Uh-uh, Kevin," Gwen said to him. "You're the one who wanted to win this contest, not me."
"But with your magic, you could win easily," Kevin pointed out.
"I'm not gonna use my magic to help you build a sand castle, that's cheating."
"No one said we couldn't use powers to help us," Kevin pointed out. "Besides, Ben's probably gonna use one of his aliens to help him build a castle."
Ben grinned to himself because that was exactly what he planned to do. Then he noticed that Ukitake was looking a little under the weather. He was about to comment when he noticed that Kyoraku's head was stuck in the ground. "Uh…what happened?"
"I'm afraid Lieutenant Ise was not very fond of one of Shunsui's advances," Ukitake explained. Ben looked over at a rather annoyed looking Nanao, who was holding a rather large book in her hand. Ben gulped before looking back at Ukitake. "Are you okay, Ukitake?"
"I'm afraid this heat is getting to me," the white haired captain said weakly.
"Captain!" Kiyone and Sentaro both cried. They both started grabbing anything they could like drinks, ice packs, and umbrellas to make him feel better. Ben just stood there and stared at the two's constant bickering.
"Uh," he said. "I don't think that's gonna help. Hang on, I've got something to help you out, Captain." He activated the Ultimatrix and hit the dial. In a flash of green light, he turned into Big Chill. Kiyone and Sentaro both screamed at the top of their lungs at the giant mothman standing where Ben used to be.
"Hold on, Captain Ukitake," Big Chill said in that spooky voice. He took a breath and then released a cold mist onto Ukitake.
"What are you doing to our captain?" Kiyone and Sentaro demanded, believing that Big Chill was attacking Ukitake. They were about to take action when…
"No it's okay," Gwen said, running up to them. "Big Chill has ice powers. He's just using them to cool Ukitake down."
"Ah," Ukitake sighed as the light cold mist hit his body. "That's much better. Thank you, Tennyson-san."
Big Chill stopped his ice breath. "Feeling better?" he asked. Ukitake nodded. "I'm fine now, Tennyson-san. Go back and enjoy the sand castle sculptures."
"Come on, Ben!" Nelliel called over. "The others are so far ahead and we haven't even started."
"Not even started?" Big Chill asked smugly. "Then allow me to speed things up." He touched the Ultimatrix dial and turned into XLR8, yelling out his name. "Now watch this!"
The majority who had not seen XLR8 before watched in amazement as he became a blue and black blur that began moving back and forth between the ocean to scoop water to wet the sand and the spot where he and Nelliel were making a sand sculpture. Even Byakuya and Yoruichi were impressed, and they were the two fastest people in all of Soul Society. Even though they could move faster than XLR8 could, they couldn't use their speed the way he did. In less than a minute, XLR8 already had an impressive sand castle being built.
"Ben," Nelliel breathed as she saw XLR8 move. "I didn't know anyone could move like that."
XLR8 stopped what he was doing to raise his visor and smile his reptilian face at her. "I'm just full of surprises."
Gwen smirked. "Okay," she said. "Now I'll help." She reached into her beach bag and pulled out a small, purple book. Flipping through the pages, she shouted something in Latin. Suddenly the sand moving as if it had a mind of its own. An impressive tower made of sand soon stood for all to see. Mostly everyone was impressed with how the tower was made instead of the tower itself.
"How did you do that?" Uryu asked in amazement.
"I'm can manipulate mana," Gwen explained to him. "Energy in all living things."
Hachi looked at her. "Mana?" he asked. "What of reiatsu? Spiritual energy?"
"Er," Gwen scratched her head. "There's spiritual energy?"
"Interesting," Hachi said, scratching his chin. "It would seem that you are the opposite of a Shinigami in a way. I wonder if you can use this "mana" of yours to perform Kido."
"Kido?" Gwen asked. "What's Kido?"
"Kido are the spells that Shinigami use," Nanao explained. "They are done so by saying certain incantations. There are three types of Kido; Bakudo, which is used for binding, Hado, which is used for offense, and Healing Spells. Each spell is graded from 1 to 99, with 99 being the most powerful."
"That sounds cool," Gwen said. "Do you think I can do it?"
"Well, I'm not sure," Hachi admitted. "One needs a good amount of reiatsu to use Kido. And since you rely on your mana instead, there is a chance you won't be able to use our spells."
"Oh," Gwen said, feeling bummed. She had become fascinated by the Shinigami and had wished to learn more about them. To be able to use their powers would have been amazing.
"Cheer up, Gwen," Sung-Sun said. "Ben told us about a lot of the spells you can do. I believe you're very powerful already. I'm sure that there's plenty of spells in that book you haven't used yet."
"Well, that's true," Gwen admitted. Suddenly a jet of water struck her tower and made it crumble into mud. Her jaw dropping, Gwen turned to see Water Hazard waving at her before blasting all the other sand sculptures with his water jets.
"Ben!" Rukia yelled after seeing her sand rabbit crumble. "You ruined my Chappy!"
"It was already ruined to begin with," Ichigo said, causing Rukia to turn her wrath on him.
"What did you say, fool?" Rukia demanded as she marched over to him.
"What?" Water Hazard asked. "Nobody said we couldn't sabotage."
"That's it, Tennyson!" Ikkaku yelled. "This means war!" Both he and Renji looked extremely ticked off at seeing their sand temple washed out.
"You look like you could use a drink, Ikkaku," Water Hazard said, raising his hand and blasting the two fighters with water. Both of them were sent flying backwards, causing everyone else to laugh at their soaked states.
Byakuya was too much in shock in seeing his bizarre sculpture get ruined. Suddenly the whole place seemed to be filled with killing intent as Byakuya slowly turned around to face Water Hazard, who gulped.
"Ben Tennyson," Byakuya said slowly and menacingly, "You will pay for that."
Nelliel protectively got in front of Ben. Even without her powers ready, she was still ready to defend Ben. The two then heard a crumbling sound and turned to see that the castle Ben made as XLR8 had crumbled. And they also saw the cause. It was Ichigo, lying face first in the castle.
"You decided to do a Kamikaze, Ichigo?" Water Hazard asked in confusion.
"Sorry about that, Ben," a new voice said. "I was just teaching my son a lesson for not inviting me."
Everyone turned to see Isshin Kurosaki standing there in black swim trunks. He was glaring at his son, who had just picked himself up from what had previously been Ben and Nelliel' sand castle. He looked like he was about to attack when…
"Isshin? Is that you?"
Isshin turned to see Max looking at him. Isshin's jaw dropped. "Max? Max is that you?" Then he broke out into a smile. "Max! You ole' coot, how you been?"
Max laughed. "Still fighting, Isshin. Still fighting."
"Huh?" Ben and Ichigo said simultaneously.
"Man," Isshin said, running a hand through his hair. "Sure, Ben said his last name was Tennyson but I never thought he was your grandson!"
Max chuckled. "Ben told me of an Ichigo Kurosaki but I never thought he was your son."
"You two know each other?" Ichigo and Ben asked at the same time.
"Of course," Isshin said with a grin. "We're old buddies, but I never thought I'd see you again, Max."
"Fate is a funny thing ain't it, Isshin?" Max said.
"You're telling me," Isshin said. "Your grandson has five beautiful ladies after him while my son doesn't even have one. I'm afraid that he might be…"
"What crap are you spitting out your mouth?" Ichigo yelled, landing a flying kick on his dad's face. Max stared in shock as Isshin and Ichigo began trading blows with each other.
"You get used to it, Mr. Tennyson," Rukia said politely. "Believe me, I know."
"Well," Matusmoto said with a pout. "It looks like the sand sculpture contest is no good."
"No thanks to Ben," Renji muttered.
"Hey, Ben," Nelliel said. "We can play games like the eternal tag that we did back in Hueco Mundo."
"Eternal tag?" Kevin asked. "What was that again?"
"I've got an idea," Ben suggested with a snap of his fingers. "We can play sand hunt."
"Sand hunt?" Ichigo asked. "How do you play that?"
With a grin, Ben activated the Ultimatrix, turned the dial, slammed it down, and turned into Armodrillo. "It's like tag and the game Marco Polo," Armodrillo said. "I go underground and try to attack you guys while you guys try to escape me."
"But you're underground," Hiyori argued. "How are we supposed to know where you are?"
If Armodrillo could smirk at her, he would have. "You don't," he said.
"What?" she shrieked. "Then how are we supposed to know when you'll strike?"
"You don't," Armodrillo repeated.
"Kind of unfair, don't you think, Tennyson?" Kevin asked.
"I think it sounds fun," Matsumoto said with a sigh. "Running around and waiting for Ben to pounce on me."
Apacci, Mila Rose, Sung-Sun, and Nelliel all blushed at the insinuation behind Matsumoto's words. Armodrillo panicked when he realized this. "Er…on second thought. Kevin's right. It is an unfair game so maybe we should…"
"I don't think so," Yoruichi said with a smirk. "It sounds like a fun game to me."
Armodrillo began whining. He hadn't counted on his idea to backfire on him like that.
"See it like training," Ukitake encouraged everyone. "You need to be able to fight any opponent no matter the circumstances. This sand hunt game would be a perfect example."
Redder laughed. "Or Ben was just doing it so he could get touchy feely with the ladies."
Armodrillo's blush was so deep that his armor was red.
"Oh, Ben," Yoruichi said huskily. "You don't need a game for that."
Kevin, Redder, Charlotte, Pesche, and Dondochakka began chortling and teasing poor Armodrillo, who looked like he was ready to dive underground and stay there.
"Alright, then," Shinji said with a grin. "Let the game begin!"
With a resigned sigh, Armodrillo dove underground. Immediately all those participating began running as fast as they could to avoid getting attacked by Armodrillo. Gwen had a smirk on her face as she created mana tiles for her to walk on above the sand.
"No fair, Gwen!" Mila Rose yelled. "Nobody said you could do that!"
"Nobody said I couldn't," Gwen shot back. She looked down at the others and saw that Matsumoto was running very slowly, causing her…um…herself to bounce as she ran. "What are you doing?" Gwen asked.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Matsumoto said with a mischievous smile. "I'm waiting for Ben to tag me."
As if on cue, a hand shot out of the ground and grabbed Matsumoto's leg. She did a playful squeak as Armodrillo erupted from the sand to see who he caught. He froze when he realized that he had grabbed Matsumoto, who had fallen backwards onto the sand and was looking at him with a sly look in her eyes.
"It looks like you caught me, Ben," she said coyly. "Now, aren't you going to claim your prize?"
Armodrillo reeled backwards, stumbled over his own feet and fell flat on his back. The boys, minus Starrk, Ulquiorra, Nirgge, Poww, Vega, and Byakuya laughed at Armodrillo's situation.
"Move your butt, Armodrillo," Lisa said. "We're still playing."
"Huh? Oh right," Armodrillo got himself back up. "Uh, anyway. Here I come."
"I'll be waiting for you, Ben," Yoruichi teased, causing Armodrillo to become flustered while Suì-Fēng was outraged. She glared daggers at the flushed Armodrillo.
Without saying anything else, Armodrillo dove back into the ground, causing everyone to run around trying their best to dodge. As they were running, Ichigo saw that Renji was running in zigzags. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"If I keep running like this," Renji said as he ran. "There's no way he can catch me."
"Uh, he's underground, Renji," Ichigo reminded him. "It doesn't really matter."
Ikkaku on the other hand was just standing there, his eyes closed shut in meditation. "If I concentrate," he said to himself, "I might be able to predict where he'll strike next."
Apacci shook her head. "Those idiots. Do they really think they can get Armodrillo in an area like this? Ben said that Armodrillo moves underground like we move through air."
Mila Rose noticed Sung-Sun with a troubled look on her face. "What's up, Sung-Sun?"
"I'm worried about Harribel-sama," Sung-Sun replied. "She never left the jet."
"What?" Apacci and Mila Rose both asked. They looked at the jet. "Why didn't she come out?"
"I don't know," Sung-Sun said. "I'm worried."
"You do not need to worry, Sung-Sun,"
The three girls looked to see Harribel standing next to them. Much to their surprise, she was wearing a white beach robe over her body. Why was she wearing that? Didn't she like the outfit she had bought?
"Harribel-sama?" Apacci asked in confusion.
"Yes, Apacci?" Harribel asked her.
"Uh…never mind," Apacci said hesitantly.
Just then the ground began shaking violently, knocking everyone playing to the ground. "What's going on?"
"It's one of Armodrillo's powers," Nelliel explained. "He can create earthquakes."
"What?" Hiyori demanded. "What kind of cheap trick is that?"
"The only one who calls it cheap is the one being knocked down, snaggle-tooth," Shinji said. This caused Hiyori to whack him in the face with her sandal. That in turn made Shinji fall backwards as two giant yellow hands came out of the ground and grabbed both Hiyori and Shinji. Armodrillo's head then popped out of the ground.
"Got you," he said smugly. Hiyori tried punching him but only wound up hurting her hand on his metallic armor.
"Serve's you right!" Lilynette laughed at the hurting Hiyori.
Starrk, who had been rudely awoken from his sleep by Armodrillo's earthquake, grumbled. "Can't a guy get some sleep around here?"
"That does it!" Hiyori yelled. "We need to play a game that's fair! And Ben can't use his aliens in this one!"
Kevin's eyes lit up. "Oh, I've got the perfect one." He said. "Let's play Chicken Fight!"
Armodrillo looked at Kevin in horror. The look on his face screamed "Not that game! Anything but that!"
"What's Chicken Fight?" Redder asked.
"It's easy," Gwen told him. "Here, let me and Kevin show you."
Kevin got down on his knees. Gwen walked up behind him and then sat upon his shoulders. Once she was set, Kevin stood up. "You see," she said. "The object of the game is for the people on top to try and knock each other down while the people at the bottom hold them steady. You could say the players riding on top become the arms while the players under them are the legs."
"I love that game!" Matsumoto chirped happily. "Who's all playing?"
"Forget it," Ichigo said. "There's no way I'm playing that stupid game." That's when his dad's fist collided with his face. "What's that for?"
"What kind of man are you?" Isshin said. "You are playing that game now!"
"Says you!" Ichigo argued. "No way am I playing that."
"We could make it that the winner gets the cash they were supposed to receive from the sand sculpture competition," Unohana suggested.
That got mostly everyone's attention. Even Redder and Charlotte were interested in playing. Suddenly Kevin called to Ulquiorra.
"Hey, Ulquiorra! How about you play with us? Orihime can be your partner!"
"Eh?" Orihime squeaked. Even Ulquiorra was caught off guard by Kevin's suggestion.
"I think it's a great idea!" Matsumoto agreed. "And Rukia can be with Ichigo!"
"What?" Ichigo, Rukia, and Renji all demanded.
"Why do I have to get stuck with her?" Ichigo demanded the same time Rukia asked, "Why do I have to get stuck with him?"
"Could you all keep it down, please?"
At first, Armodrillo thought was Starrk. But instead he looked over at the shack that was stood nearby. Poking his head out the doorway was none other than Toshiro Hitsugaya himself, not that Armodrillo knew his name.
"Oh it's you," he said. "Er…um…uh, what's your name again?"
Hitsugaya scowled as Matsumoto burst out laughing. "It's Captain Hitsugaya to you, Ben Tennyson."
Armodrillo looked at him. "Do you really expect me to call you that?"
Hitsugaya gave Armodrillo an icy look.
"Ignore him, Ben," Matsumoto said with a smile. "He's just cranky because you were beating him with that heat form of yours."
"Matsumoto," Hitsugaya growled at his lieutenant.
"Well what are you doing indoors?" Armodrillo asked. "Come out and join the party."
"I don't like the heat," Hitsugaya said.
"Wimp," Kevin taunted, causing Matsumoto to laugh again while Hitsugaya brought his icy glare in Kevin's direction.
"Don't mind Shiro-chan, Ben," Hinamori said as she stepped out of the shack with a watermelon in her hands. "He's just cranky in the heat."
"Hello," Kevin said with a sinister smile. "Were we interrupting something?"
Hinamori looked at Kevin curiously while Hitsugaya looked like he was ready to cut Kevin down.
"Come on," Yoruichi said. "Are we playing chicken fights or what? Everyone who's playing get in the water now."
"Hold it!" Hiyori yelled before anyone could move. "One more thing; Ben can't use his aliens in this one!"
Armodrillo sighed. "Fine," he said before touching the Ultimatrix dial and turning back to normal.
"Now," Yoruichi said. "Ben just needs to pick out a partner."
"Yoruichi-sama!" Suì-Fēng cried out. She immediately regretted it when she realized that everyone had their attention on her now. "Um…can I be your partner?"
Yoruichi shook her head in amusement. "Sure," she said. Suì-Fēng had a look on her face as if she had been promised all the gold in the world.
"That woman scares me," Kevin said aloud, causing Suì-Fēng to lose her blissful happiness and glare at Kevin.
"I want to Ben's partner," Matsumoto whined. "But I think I'd crush him." She suddenly fondled her own chest. "They are pretty heavy."
"I'm staying out!" Ben said automatically.
"What? No way, Tennyson!" Kevin said with a grin. "You need to play."
"No, I don't," Ben said firmly.
Sung-Sun looked over at Harribel, wondering if she would play this game. Highly doubting it, she needed a way to secure Ben before any other girl claimed him. She winked over at Apacci and Mila Rose before walking over to Ben. She volunteered, "I'll be your partner if that's okay, Ben."
Nelliel, who was just about to ask if she could be Ben's partner, gaped in shock. Ben was blushing deeply while Kevin looked like he was enjoying himself rather well. "Then it's settled," Kevin said. "Let the chicken fights begin!"
With that, all those participating prepared to go to the water. Uryu had been taken off guard when Nemu said that she would be his partner. Ben and Kevin both snickered as Nemu leaped onto Uyru's shoulders and adjusting herself so that she wouldn't fall. All the while, Uryu's face was deep red and for some strange reason…he was pinching his nose as if trying to prevent something from coming out. What? Did he expect to sneeze?
After Ukitake kindly refused Kiyone and Sentaro's offers to be a chicken fight partner, Kiyone went to her older sister. Ben thought that things were going to be a little difficult due to Isane's really good height. Sentaro had decided not to go since the captain wouldn't be his partner. Kyoraku had tried asking either Nanao or Lisa to be his partner…and got a kick to the face and a book bashing to his head for the troubles. Shinji tried getting Orihime to change her mind and be his partner but got kicked by Hiyori, who demanded that they be partners. Shinji asked why she would want him to be her partner and got kicked in the face again.
"Kensei!" Mashiro yelled. "You're my partner!"
"What?" Kensei yelled back. "What makes you think I'm gonna play this stupid game?"
"Waaaaaah!" Mashiro whined, suddenly on her back and kicking her legs in the air. "Kensei's a big meanie and he won't play with me!"
Kensei looked like he wanted to murder her. Ben decided he needed to intervene. "It won't be so bad, Kensei," he tried to reason. "We're competing after all."
Kensei glared at Ben, annoyed that he would take Mashiro's side in all of this. "Alright, fine," he said.
"Yaaaay~" Mashiro sang happily before leaping onto Kensei's shoulders and sitting herself down on them.
Meanwhile, Ulquiorra got down on his knees. Orihime looked at him curiously. "It's to help you get on," Ulquiorra told her. Orihime's eyes widened with understanding before she nodded and sat upon his shoulders. Once she was on, Ulquiorra rose up slowly so she wouldn't fall off. Ben noticed the moment and smiled. Well who would have thought that Ulquiorra was a big softie? His amusement was interrupted by a light tapping on his shoulder. He turned to see Sung-Sun.
"I believe we…need to get ready now," she said.
Blushing when he remembered what she meant, Ben got down on his knees like Ulquiorra had done. He flinched a little as he felt Sung-Sun's legs on his shoulders and his face turned very red as he felt the back of his head come in contact with her stomach. He gulped.
"Okay, Ben," Sung-Sun's voice said from on top of him. "I'm ready."
"R…right," Ben said as he got up. Sung-Sun was actually very light. But not wanting to knock her off and get her hurt, Ben walked slowly to the water where the others were waiting for him. Mostly everyone had smirks on their faces at Ben's head, which could have been mistaken for a tomato with hair. Matsumoto, who was somehow on top of Charlotte's shoulders beamed at everyone. "Is everyone ready?" she asked.
"We're ready!" cried Pesche, who was sitting on Dondochakka's shoulders.
"So," Ben said. "Who goes first?"
Kevin gave him that sinister smirk of his. "Who said we'd be taking turns? Free for all!"
No sooner did Kevin get done saying that did the water become the most ridiculous battlefield of all. Yachiru was riding on top of Chad's shoulders, pointing at different people and telling Chad to attack them. As Ikkaku, who had been reduced to riding on Redder's shoulders, tried to knock her over, Yachiru got carried away and leaped off Chad's shoulders to chomp Ikkaku on the head. Ikkaku wigged out (despite lacking one) and fell off Redder's back and into the ocean. Redder then starting yelling his head off at Ikkaku for losing so easily.
Pesche tried going for Matsumoto next. Only the blonde haired lieutenant had fazed him by blowing him a kiss. He was so flustered that he was unprepared for Sung-Sun grabbing him and yanking him off Dondochakka.
"Help, I'm drowning!" Pesche cried, flapping his arms wildly as he splashed around. "I can't swim!"
"It's not even that deep," Ben reminded him, laughing at Pesche's ridiculous panic attack. Pesche stopped his flopping around and realized that the water wasn't that deep.
"It's okay, everyone!" he said. "I'm not drowning."
"Unfortunately," Ulquiorra muttered. He became aware of Ichigo and Rukia coming at him and Orihime.
"Sorry, Inoue," Ichigo said as he and Rukia charged the two of them but Orihime was in the zone and she and Rukia began struggling to knock each other off. Ichigo on the other hand was glaring at Ulquiorra.
"I don't trust you," he said plainly.
"You're still fixed on that?" Ulquiorra asked as he moved to make sure that Orihime didn't fall. "The woman is safe and Aizen is dead. Why can't you let it go?"
"If I found out that any of your Arrancar did something to her…" Ichigo threatened.
"We did no such thing," Ulquiorra told him. "Aizen wanted us to make sure she was well kept. Besides, we would have brought Ben's wrath down upon us and if this Alien X is as powerful as I have been told about, then his wrath is indeed something to fear."
On their shoulders, Orihime and Rukia were still struggling to knock each other off. Suddenly Nemu and Uryu crashed into them, sending the first two girls flying off their boys.
"What was that for?" Ichigo demanded.
"Don't look at me," Uryu said. He pointed at Nemu. "It was her idea."
"Being able to defeat two opponents at once is perfect for reducing the competition," Nemu explained.
"A very wise tactic," Ulquiorra complimented as he helped Orihime up. "Are you alright?" he asked her.
Orihime was taken off guard by the concern in Ulquiorra's voice. She was about to say something when Charlotte and Matsumoto tackled Nemu and Uryu into the water.
"Sorry, Nemu," Matsumoto said playfully. "But it's an all out competition now."
"You said it!" Ben yelled as he charged at Charlotte. Soon, Sung-Sun and Matsumoto were caught in a struggle just like the one Orihime and Rukia had just been in.
"I wondered when we would fight each other again, Ben," Charlotte said with a wink. Ben cringed.
"Stay focused, Ben," Sung-Sun said as she and Matsumoto struggled. Then, Sung-Sun saw something out of the corner of her eye. She quickly pushed Matsumoto back and let go. Matsumoto looked at her in confusion before a crazy Hiyori crashed into her.
"Ha!" Hiyori mocked a soaked Matsumoto. "You're out!"
"Technically," Shinji said to her. "Since you're no longer on my shoulders, we're out too."
"What?" Hiyori screamed. "Who made up that rule?"
"That's always been the rule, idiot," Shinji told her. That caused Hiyori to punch him in the face. Clutching his bleeding nose, he glared her. "I'm not the one who made the rules!"
By now, there were only five groups of people still in the game; Gwen and Kevin, Mashiro and Kensei, Kiyone and Isane, Suì-Fēng and Yoruichi, and Sung-Sun and Ben. They faced each other with fierce determination.
"Charge, Kensei!" Mashiro cried.
"What do I look like? A horse?" Kensei snapped at her. Nonetheless, he sighed and charged at the remaining teams.
"Let's go, sis!" Kiyone said to her older sister. Nodding, Isane ran as well.
"We'll crush them, Yoruichi-sama!" Suì-Fēng said.
Yoruichi sighed with a shake of her head but charged anyway.
"Shall we, Ben?" Sung-Sun asked. Ben grinned up at her. "Sure thing." He charged too.
But before anyone could do anything, purple tendrils wrapped around the pairs, lifted them up, and then dunked them underwater. The fallen fighters immediately surfaced and glared at the guilty culprit, Gwen Tennyson, who was still sitting on top of a smirking Kevin.
"No fair, Gwen!" Ben protested.
Gwen smirked at her cousin. "They said that you weren't supposed to use your powers," she pointed out. "Nobody said I couldn't use mine."
"She does have a point," Isshin admitted.
Suì-Fēng scowled. Nonetheless, she had to give the girl credit. Being able to take out her remaining opponents in one blow was very impressive.
"That girl is certainly clever," Hachi complimented Max. "You should be proud of both your grandchildren, Max Tennyson."
Max nodded. "I am," he said.
"Well," Unohana said. "No matter how they managed to win, Gwen Tennyson and Kevin Levin are the winners."
Gwen squeaked as Kevin picked her up over his head and lowered her down so that she was up against his chest. "How I told you how awesome you are lately?" he breathed into her ear. Gwen froze and her face had become pink.
"N…Not recently," she managed to get out.
Kevin's smirk turned into a soft smile. "Then let me just say…you're awesome." He gave her a short but soft kiss on her lips before wading through the water to get the cash. Gwen just stood there, as if that kiss had just taken her breath away. Maybe it had.
"Oh, wow," Matsumoto said after seeing the exchange once everyone else had made it back to shore. "Those two must really love each other." Then she turned to smile at Ben. "So…how's your love life been, Ben?"
"I believe that's personal and of no concern to you," Sung-Sun replied coolly, wanting to prevent the spotlight from being on Ben.
Matsumoto pouted for a moment. "Fine," she said. "Maybe I can loosen you up after the scavenger hunt."
"That's right," Matsumoto said happily. "Our next game is a scavenger hunt to see who can collect all the items listed on a piece of paper."
Hinamori came out of the hut with a pile of papers in her arms. "Here's the list," she said, passing them out to everyone. "Like with the Chicken Fight game, we're splitting everyone into teams of two."
"I shall be going with Ben."
Everyone turned to see Harribel right beside Ben. Ben, who was unaware of her presence next to him, jumped slightly when he saw how close she was. However, he was a little confused as to why she was wearing a robe over herself.
"Well," Matsumoto teased, "Looks like we got our first team down."
Ben gulped, now finding himself even more nervous than he had been before. This just couldn't be good for him. Harribel noticed this and a brief look of hurt showed on her face before she went back to her regular poker face.
Nelliel raised an eyebrow at Harribel as Hinamori continued passing out the lists to all the other participants. Lilynette, eager to have some fun this time, demanded to play too. Gwen warmly decided to be her partner this turn, much to Kevin's disappointment. Orihime was unexpectedly partnered with Kevin. Both Ulquiorra and Ichigo gave Kevin a hard look, clearly meaning that if he did anything to Orihime, it would not be pleasant for him.
"Well, Ben," Harribel said to him. "Shall we?"
Still feeling nervous, Ben merely nodded his head as Harribel walked off, apparently to find the first thing on their list. As they walked off, Matsumoto smiled at their backs.
Go for it, Harribel, she thought.
Ben was starting to suspect that Harribel wasn't really interested in participating in the scavenger hunt. They had been walking a good distance away from the others who were very far off. He looked at the list, which was actually very easy. Starfish, seashell, stuff like that. Harribel was going to the farther side of the beach, where rocks began to obscure Ben's view whenever he looked behind to see if the others were still there.
"Uh…Harribel?" he asked. "What are we…?"
"Why are you afraid of me, Ben?" Harribel suddenly asked.
That question caused Ben to halt right in his tracks. "What?"
"Why are you afraid of me?" she repeated.
"A…afraid of you?" Ben asked. "Harribel why would you…?"
"You are always nervous around me and act like I'm going to hurt you," Harribel told him. "Like what you are doing right now."
"Harribel," Ben began. "It's nothing like…"
His question died in his mouth as Harribel removed her robe. Ben felt himself freeze as he looked at Harribel's body. She was wearing a pure white bikini and it allowed Ben to see even more of her figure. He gulped when he noticed how finely shaped her legs were, the curves of her body, and how her skin suddenly made him think of chocolate. Hold on now! Was…was he really thinking this? He paled, really hoping that he wasn't turning into some kind of pervert.
"What is it about me that you do not like, Ben?" Harribel asked. "Do you…find me unattractive?"
"Uh…what?" Ben was so confused. "Harribel, what is this really about?"
"Why can't you give me the attention you give the other girls?" Harribel demanded. "Did you think that I would not mind if you completely ignored me? I'm not trying to force you to accept my feelings, but is there something about me that would cause you to believe my feelings weren't real? I may be a former Espada, but I am a woman too."
Ben looked down at the ground in utter shock. Had he really been doing that? Had he been so nervous around Harribel that he avoided her? Granted, he had been more comfortable with the others but that was because he was used to spending time with Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun because they were a team, and he had gotten along with Nelliel more because he had first met her in her child form. Suddenly, Harribel was right in front of Ben. Ben was shocked when he saw the look of hurt on Harribel's face as she slowly brought a hand up to caress his face. Seeing her in this state left Ben too stunned to even move.
"Ben, can't you see?" Harribel asked softly. "Before you came to Hueco Mundo, I never would have felt these emotions. I would have considered them a waste of time. But…but you make me feel them. Why can't you feel them too? Why can't you feel how much I love you? Why can't you feel…how much it hurts that you won't even let me get close to you? Because it does hurt, Ben. It hurts so much."
Ben's jaw dropped in shock.
"I don't want to force you to accept my feelings," Harribel said. "But I more than want you, Ben. I need you. You and only you, and for you to ignore me like this…"
Grandpa, what have I done?
"I want to spend my entire life with you," Harribel said, causing Ben to stare at her in shock. "I know you may think that I am being reckless but you do not understand what it is like to be a Hollow. To always feel empty inside no matter what we do. When I became a Vasto Lorde, I ignored the emptiness, believing in sacrifices to block out the hunger. When I became an Arrancar and joined Aizen's army, I thought I had made the emptiness go away. But it didn't go away. It was only numbed. Only when you came into my life did that emptiness finally go away. But now…now that you won't even consider me… how can I be happy when you always act like I'm going to hurt you?"
"I…I don't think you're going to hurt me, Harribel," Ben answered quietly. "I know you wouldn't hurt me."
"Then why?" Harribel asked. "Why are you always intimidated by me? I know you act nervous around the other girls but you act this way most around me. Why? Is it so impossible for me to believe that you might return my feelings?" She brought a hand to her chest. "They say Hollows have no hearts, but I disagree. I must have a heart because it's breaking."
Ben felt the guilt crushing him. The truth was Ben was mainly intimidated because an older woman liked him. Well, technically they were all older than Ben but it was Harribel who looked the part.
"I'm sorry," he muttered. "I just…it's just so hard to imagine that you would…"
"Why is it so hard to believe?" Harribel asked quietly. "Do you really see as a soldier and not a woman?"
Ben looked down at the ground in shame. "Not quite that way. Harribel, I…I…really don't know."
"Do you mean that?" Harribel asked him. "Or are you saying that to avoid the question?"
Hating himself for not realizing how bad he was hurting Harribel, Ben stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Harribel. Harribel was shocked by the gesture then her face saddened.
"Is this all I will receive, Ben?" she asked him, closing her eyes. "Pity disguised as affection?"
Ben shook his head as he closed his own eyes as well. "No, Harribel. Please forgive me. I never meant to hurt you."
"I know you didn't, Ben," Harribel whispered. "But…why?"
"The truth is," Ben said. "Whenever I look at you…I always see you as one of those "out of my league" women."
"What?" Harribel asked him in confusion.
"Women who most guys don't stand a chance of being with," Ben explained. "I just…I always feel like I'm not supposed to be the one for you. That you deserve better."
Harribel stared. "Is that why? Because you thought…you weren't good enough for me?"
Ben nodded sheepishly. "It just feels that…after all you, Nelliel, and your Fraccion have been through, that you girls deserve better guys than me."
Harribel shook her head. "No one could ever be better than you in my eyes, Ben," she said softly.
Ben smiled softly at her. Then he did something he never imagined himself doing before. He looked up at Harribel, leaned forward and planted a gentle kiss on her cheek. Harribel's eyes widened as she looked at Ben.
"Harribel," Ben said to her. "I…I still can't decide right now. But…I want you to know that you matter just as much as the other girls do. When Ulquiorra hurt both you and Nelliel, I was so angry at him that I allowed myself to be nearly corrupted by Ghostfreak just to make him pay. When I thought you, along with Starrk and Nelliel, were going to die, I was devastated. So please don't think that you matter less than they do. It's just…I can never think of the right things to say to you."
Harribel smiled, causing Ben to stare. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"You're smiling," Ben noted. "This is the first time I've ever seen you smile."
Harribel was worried. "Is there… something wrong about it?"
Ben smiled now. "No," he replied. "I like seeing you smile. I want you to be happy too, Harribel. Just like I want Nelliel, Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun to be happy. I'm so scared of choosing because I don't want to hurt any of you. And I'm not about to make all of you into some kind of harem. I will never forgive myself if I treat any of you like that."
Harribel looked at Ben and Ben was shocked by the determination in her eyes.
"If I have to share you then so be it."
"What?" Ben cried. "Harribel…"
"I need you, Ben," Harribel said and Ben was surprised because he could actually hear the need in her voice. "I know that…it may sound like some foolish human cliché but it is the truth. You fill my emptiness. If I ever lost you, that emptiness would consume me."
Ben didn't know what to say. Personally if this had been a human, he would have thought it was something out of a romance novel. But…he had been told about how Hollows lose their hearts and develop a hunger to fill the void. It led them to devour each other and ironically evolve to the next stage of Hollows. So maybe…the emptiness really would consume Harribel.
"Harribel," he said gently. "All I ask is for more time. Please?"
Harribel smiled again as she pulled him closer to her. "Arrancar do not age," she whispered in his ear. "If I must, I will wait for you for as long as it takes." Then she placed her own soft kiss upon his cheek. "I love you."
And for once in this whole mess, Ben did not feel nervous or afraid to hear those words.
Nelliel, Apacci, Mila Rose, Sung-Sun. All I ask is that each of you give me time. I'll make the right decision. I promise.
"We'd better get back," he said. "The others are probably done now."
Nodding, Harribel followed him. "Ben, One more thing."
"Yeah?" Ben asked.
"Could you…call me Tia?"
Ben smiled warmly. "You bet…Tia."
What they did not know was that their conversation had been eavesdropped upon. Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun all looked at each other with triumphant grins on their faces.
"Finally," Sung-Sun said. "I feared Ben would never notice Harribel-sama."
"I'm glad Harribel-sama told him how she felt," Mila Rose said. "There are times when Ben needs things to be shoved right in front of his face to see."
"But what about Nelliel?" Apacci asked.
"We will worry about that another time," Sung-Sun told her. "For now, let us return to the others."
But what no one knew was that Nelliel had overheard Harribel and Ben's conversation as well and she wanted to speak to Harribel about it.
"Where were you?" Ichigo asked when the group saw Harribel and Ben coming towards them.
"We got lost," Ben lied.
"Really?" Kevin teased. "Or did you decide to go and have a little private time."
Ben's face reddened at Kevin's teasing.
"Come on, Ben," Max said. "The scavenger hunt is over. Uryu and Nemu won."
"Congratulations," Harribel said politely to the group. Uryu smiled with a rather smug look while Nemu looked a little bit happy that she had received praise.
"Come on!" Matsumoto said. "It's limbo time!"
"Yeah, everybody!" Kevin said. "How low can you go?"
Laughing Kyoraku and Ukitake held up the limbo pole and everyone started getting in line to party.
"Come on, Shiro-chan!" Hinamori urged. "Let's limbo!"
"No!" Hitsugaya said stubbornly. "I'm not doing it."
"Why not?" Kevin taunted. "Should be easy for you. You can just walk right under it."
Hitsugaya glared at Kevin.
"Please, Shiro-chan," Hinamori begged. "Please?"
Hitsugaya sighed. "Fine. Hurk!" Hinamori had grabbed him and pretty much yanked him over to the line for limbo.
"I'm afraid I must decline," Hachi said. "I am rather, ahem, unsuitable to play this game."
Max chuckled. "Don't worry, Hachi. You're not alone."
Harribel knew that limbo was not her type of game, so she decided to sit this one out.
"Harribel?" Harribel turned around to see Nelliel standing behind her. "Can I speak to you?"
Immediately on guard, Harribel nodded as she and Nelliel snuck away when the others weren't paying attention. When they were a far distance away, Nelliel looked at Harribel.
"Harribel," Nelliel said. "I overheard what you and Ben were talking about."
Harribel narrowed her eyes.
"And I want you to know," Nelliel said, her voice cracking. "That I had no idea how much you were hurting."
Harribel blinked in surprise at her rival.
"I didn't know that's how you were feeling," Nelliel continued. "I want to be with Ben, yes. But I don't want anyone to be hurt either."
"Harribel," Nelliel said. "Can we…can we start over? We both love Ben and he wouldn't want us to be hurt or to hurt each other. So, may we?"
Harribel looked at Nelliel. "Yes," she said. "Yes, we can."
Nelliel smiled happily. "Thank you, Harribel. Come on, let's go watch the others."
Feeling as if the air had just been cleared, Harribel nodded as they walked back to the group. Apparently a lot of people were either very good or very bad at limbo. The line was already near the ground.
"We might as well start over," Max chuckled. "There's no way anything could fit through that."
"I beg to differ," Ben said with a grin. He activated the Ultimatrix and slammed the dial down. When the flash of light passed, nobody could see anything.
"Down here!" a voice cried. Everyone looked down to see the tiny Nanomech waving at them.
"Nanomech!" Orihime cried happily.
"Ben has a form that small?" Findor asked.
"Yeah," Kevin said. "Not really the coolest in the bunch. But he plays a mean limbo game."
"No fair!" Hiyori yelled. "Ben's got a form for everything. And what's with that retarded voice? He sounds like a chipmunk!"
Smiling, Harribel watched at the Nanomech walked right under the limbo pole and started doing some kind of victory dance. Ben…Ben was so unique.
But her thoughts were interrupted when everyone turned to see the sky begin to slowly open. It was the work of a Garganta. Nanomech looked up and groaned. "Oh no. Not now!"
The Garganta opened up to reveal a grinning Grimmjow.
"Yo," Grimmjow said to everyone.
Sighing, Nanomech turned himself back to normal. Grimmjow looked in the direction of the green light and gave Ben his predatory glare.
"It's the weekend, Ben," He smirked. "You didn't think I'd forget, did you?"
"I was kinda hoping," Ben grumbled but somehow Grimmjow as able to hear him cause he let out a wicked laugh.
"You and me have got a deal, Ben!" Grimmjow laughed. "And I hope you intend to keep it."
Ben slouched. "Like I have a choice." He straightened himself up. "Alright, Grimmjow. You asked for it." He activated the Ultimatrix. "It's Hero Time!"
Then it happened. A flicker came into Harribel's mind again. And this time…she could see it.
She was lying on the sand in Hueco Mundo's desert. She took one look at herself and saw that she looked the way she did when she was a Vasto Lorde. She looked in front of her and her eyes narrowed. Standing before her was him. It was a being that looked like a cross between a man and a blue hammerhead shark. A glowing blade of energy was held in his hands. Harribel knew him well. He was the shark Arrancar who had easily beaten her, Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sung-Sun before Aizen had come along and saved her. Then she had allowed herself to be ensnared by his false words and join his group. The only thing Harribel was grateful about that whole experience was getting to meet Ben.
Harribel saw that she was reliving her memories and already knew what was going to happen. She would make a futile attempt to beat the Arrancar while he would toss her around like a rag doll. Then Aizen would step in, kill the Arrancar, and…Harribel did not want to relive that again.
"Leave them alone!"
That voice. It…it couldn't be!
Just then a figure ran past Harribel and charged at the Arrancar. Harribel's eyes widened when she saw who the figure was. It was Ben.
"It's Hero Time!" Ben shouted as he activated the Ultimatrix.
And then it was over, Harribel was breathless and sweat was actually dripping down her forehead. That….that memory. It…it couldn't be a memory. Ben was in it.
"Ben," Harribel whispered to herself. "How are you in my memories?
Far away, in a distant world, Paradox was looking at his pocket watch with a nod of approval.
"What's wrong, Paradox?" His companion, Gin, asked him.
"Harribel's true memories have started to resurface right on schedule." Paradox replied.
End of Bleach: Ultimate Alien Volume I. Bleach: Ultimate Alien Volume II coming soon. But first, Ben 10/One Piece. The story shall begin in the Baroque Works Saga, starting in the Whiskey Peak Arc. See it soon.