New Year's…Resolution?

-Los Noches, Several Years Ago-

The view from the top of the great dome of Los Noches was unparalleled by anything else in Hueco Mundo, offering a 360° view of the never-ending desert and as close-up a view of the stars as was possible. It was breathtakingly beautiful in its own way, but Tia Halibel hadn't come for the view.

Not originally, at least.

She reached over and scratched the itch on her right breast, growling; the ink from her tattoo, still fresh, was irritating her skin to no end. She knew that in time the feeling of the ink and the needle would fade, and that time couldn't come soon enough for her tastes.

God, why did that creep Gin have to talk Lord Aizen into putting the tattoo there of all places?

When Aizen had brought Halibel into the palace and she'd seen some of his first arrancars, she had been hopeful of losing most of her mask and regaining an almost-human appearance. To lose the bulk of that cumbersome mask would be a dream come true…instead, most of the mask had remained and only her body had resumed a human-like appearance.

Halibel tried not to fall prey to ego and vanity, knowing full well the pitfalls of such misplaced pride, but she was an imperfect creature and could never suppress such feelings completely. Her face, a face she knew to be beautiful was still hidden away behind the damnedable mask from the nose down, even to the point of covering most of her upper torso.

And on one of the few patches of skin that the mask didn't cover was where Gin and Lord Aizen had decided to put her Espada tattoo.

Tia growled again, looking down at the black four on her breast. Why the hell couldn't it have gone on her arm, or maybe on her back like Neliel's tattoo?

She scratched the itchy patch of skin again as she looked up at the stars twinkling in the night sky, exhaling slowly as she drank in the view. It was so peaceful up here, so hauntingly beautiful and serene… It was a far cry from the madness she had walked away from down below in the palace, with her three fracción squabbling amongst themselves like children vying for a mother's attention.

Sung-Sun, Apacci, and Mila Rose…her companions, her three best friends, her only three friends.

Even so, their antics could be annoying beyond words some days and the best cure was to simply get away from them for a little while.

She sensed movement coming from behind her and knew that she was no longer alone on the roof. The newcomer's spiritual pressure didn't feel like her fracción or anyone else she had already met down in the palace, and that set her on edge; she hadn't survived long enough to evolve into a Vasto Lorde by being careless. She reached a hand back to grab the hilt of Tiburon in anticipation of a fight.

"Take it easy…" soothed a decidedly male voice, "I'm not looking for a fight."

"Then you shouldn't be slinking around and sneaking up on people," warned Halibel as she turned to face the visitor crouched low behind her, never removing her hand from the hilt of the zanpaktou strapped to her back.

"You make it sound like I'm stalking you…" remarked the male, idly resting his forearms on his knees as he looked up at her. "If I had meant to do you harm, I'd have been at your throat before you even knew I was here."

The newcomer had hair the color of blood, short and spiking out wildly, and piercing yellow eyes that seemed more animal than human, a sign that predatory instincts probably filled his very being. The remnants of his mask ran along his lower jaw and up around his ear, fading into his hair. The bone-like mask was lined with a row of sharp, savage-looking teeth that culminated with two large fangs on his chin that nearly reached up to his bottom lip. A red line began underneath each eye and raced back and down across his cheek before finally fading away as they neared the back of his jaw.

Halibel eyed the zanpaktou at his hip, noting that his hand was nowhere near the hilt despite her own aggressive stance. The sheath was the same shade of crimson as his hair, as was the cord wrapped around the hilt. A tassel composed entirely of red feathers dangled down from the pommel, dancing about on the arid breeze wafting in from the desert. Gold accents added more life and color to the sheath and hilt, although the guard itself was a dark, almost antique-looking color, with the design itself resembling two strange, wicked-looking sickle-shaped claws placed end to end to form a circle.

She also saw him eyeing her chest, his amber eyes focused on the black four that stood out against the golden tan of her flesh and the white of her mask. She had yet to find a top that was large enough to accommodate her…assets, and as such had been wandering around with a jacket that hung open and revealed her rank to the world. Her sense of modesty didn't much like the fact he was staring at her chest, but at least now he should see her rank and learn his proper place.

"So you're the cuarta…" mused the redhead casually, as if he were unimpressed by her number. "I thought the only female we had among the Espada was that other girl, Nel."

"Are you implying that women aren't as strong as men?" asked Halibel, gritting her teeth behind her mask as she tightened her grip on Tiburon. Too many males had made the mistake of trying to prey on her in the past, thinking that she would be an easy target, and if this fool dared to think the same thing…

"Don't be so touchy; I'm not trying to offend you," said the man, giving an oh-so-slight bow of his head. "It's just that most of the others I met in the desert were males, and most of those I've met in the palace so far are also male. I'm guessing you encountered some sexism out in the desert, didn't you?"

"Who are you?" asked Halibel irritably, ignoring the question.

"Tyn Tethis, Espada number Six," he said, finally standing up. He stood taller than she did by a few inches, but as one of the few Vasto Lordes, Halibel knew full well that size didn't mean anything in this place.

"The sexta, and you think you could be at my throat before I even knew you were here?" scoffed Tia, finally removing her hand from her zanpaktou as she realized he was no threat to her, not with his lower rank. It was almost laughable—

Tyn vanished abruptly, a blur of movement that she could scarcely see for only a fraction of a second before he disappeared entirely.

"I'm fast," he whispered into her ear from behind, and she could almost hear Tyn grinning in a playful manner as he spoke.

Halibel spun around with a snarl, curling her right hand into a tight fist as she prepared to tear his insolent head off, but Tyn had already moved back several meters out of harm's way.

"You're a lot stronger than I am…" the redhead was saying from behind her, showing the Tyn she was facing to be but an afterimage, "but my speed is unmatched by anything in Hueco Mundo."

"Speed alone won't be enough to save you in a fight," hissed the cuarta as she turned back around to face the real arrancar, and Tyn nodded in agreement.

"All the more reason I'm not looking for one," he said. "So, you come up here to escape all the noise, too?"

"What noise?" asked Tia, silently pleading her fracción wouldn't be involved.

"Well, there's three women down there who are being more than a little loud and obnoxious with their arguing. One of the numeros went to tell them to shut up, and they did…long enough to put him through a wall. Then they went back to arguing."

"My fracción…" sighed Halibel, feeling slightly embarassed to know it was indeed them. "I had hoped that if I left them alone for a while, they would get the bickering out of their system."

"Fracción…" said Tyn, inviting himself to come stand beside the blonde and look out at the desert with her. "I don't have any…haven't had any companions in a long time. How long have they been with you?"

"I don't know…a couple of years, perhaps? Time is impossible to tell here," said Tia, keeping a watchful eye on the sexta in case he tried anything.

"Lucky you…" he sighed, a touch of genuine jealousy shining through in his voice, "I have strong pack instincts… I don't just want to be in the company of others, I need it to stay sane. A raptor without a pack is a disgraceful thing."

"Then why don't you have any friends of your own?"

"And you can safely call them your friends, too…" said the redhead wistfully. "I have been through many packs since first coming to Hueco Mundo, and each one has ended up turning on me whenever the hunting gets scarce. They attack me in hunger, I kill them, feast, and move on to the next pack, and the cycle begins again."

Halibel could feel a small amount of pity for the other creature, but she didn't know anything to say that could ease his pain without making herself appear weak, and so she opted to remain silent and gaze up at the twinkling stars that dotted the night sky.

"I had been without a pack too long when Aizen found me…" he continued softly after a long pause. "I thought I would go mad wandering the desert alone, but Aizen appeared and told me that he could show me to others…that I could be part of a group again. He offered me the one thing I craved most, and so I followed him."

"Is it everything you wanted?" she asked him quietly.

"So far, it's not quite what I was promised…" Tyn admitted. "He said that unlike my past experiences, I would be able to trust this pack…but I don't. Espada number eight, Nnoitra, for example; I wouldn't trust him at my back for anything. And the number nine, Grimmjow…I honestly think he's insane."

"And the others?"

"You and Neliel are the only others I've met so far… I trust her, at least; she was there for me when I woke up following the transformation. I don't think she has the capacity to lie, and she said she hates unnecessary conflict. I think she'd sooner die than betray someone."

"I see… And what are your impressions of me, then?" asked Halibel, folding her arms over her chest.

"I don't think we're really that different, you and I…" he said, rubbing the tattoo on the back of his neck. "We both want a pack of our own to belong to, people we can trust… The difference is that you had better luck than I did and managed to find three you can depend on."

"So you're saying you think you can trust me?"

"I want to," said Tyn, idling resting his left hand on the hilt of his zanpaktou. There was nothing threatening about his posture, but Halibel took a step away from him all the same and kept her eyes locked on his sword.

"I don't trust you," she pointed out.

"You can, though…" Tyn said sincerely. "I will never betray my pack."

"Unless they betray you, right?" asked Tia, never tearing her eyes from his hand.

"Are you saying you will betray me at some point?"

"My loyalty is to my fracción and Lord Aizen first and foremost…but it's not in my nature to betray people," said Halibel, finally relaxing as he moved his hand away from his zanpaktou.

"That's a start, I guess… " said Tyn, looking away. "And as for Aizen—"

"Ah, there you two are!" said a voice from behind them, and the duo turned to see Lord Aizen's right-hand man, Gin Ichimaru, heading towards them.

Halibel gave a low hiss underneath her mask, still bitter about Gin convincing Lord Aizen to tattoo her breast. She knew Gin wouldn't be able to hear her from this distance, but Tyn had and the sexta had taken a step forward, making sure to position himself between her and Ichimaru.

She didn't need or want his "protection," but she understood what the gesture meant; it was his way of saying that a pack should look out for one another. It was his way of saying that she could trust him.

Gaining her trust wasn't going to be that easy, not by a long shot, but Tia could at least admit to herself that she found herself more willing to trust Tyn than any other male she'd met so far, excluding Lord Aizen.

Lord Aizen… She hadn't missed how Tyn had neglected to refer to him as "Lord" during their conversation. Was that meant as blatant disrespect towards their leader, or was Tyn someone who simply didn't care for titles?

She decided it would be best to ask him about it later as Gin approached.

"We've been looking all over for you two…" the ex-shinigami was saying as he neared, "Lord Aizen has called for a formal meeting for all the Espada to get acquainted with each other, but it appears that you've beaten him to the punch; I wonder what he will say when he finds out the two of you were up here making out like a couple of teenagers?"

"What?" they both sputtered, confusion and anger in their voices.

"I would never do such a thing!" spat Tia angrily, not even bothering to point out that her mask was an obvious hindrance to such acts.

"It's a rule of mine never to be intimate with something that might eat me," said Tyn, sounding almost offended by the very notion.

"Now, now, kids…" said Ichimaru, giving them his trademark creepy smile, "there's nothing to be ashamed of; I'm sure Lord Aizen will understand. Perhaps he'll even allow you two lovebirds to share quarters…"

Both arrancars were now growling angrily as Ichimaru casually turned and walked away, motioning for them to follow him to the meeting. Tyn and Tia stood for a moment, fuming as they both considered what the consequences for murdering Gin would be. They glanced at each other briefly before finally falling into step behind the former Soul Reaper, wondering if he was really going to tell Lord Aizen such a ridiculous lie.

It was of no real concern, though; surely Lord Aizen would never believe anything so foolish.

Tia decided that while she didn't necessarily mind Tyn's company, there was no way in Hell she'd ever "make out" with him.

-Karakura, Present-

It was nights like this that made her miss the serenity offered by the roof of Los Noches.

It was New Year's Eve, just a few hours from midnight, and she'd had the misfortune of being scheduled to work tonight. The already-crowded bar was only growing worse and worse with each passing hour as more people crammed themselves inside to wait for the coming of the New Year. The noise was deafening, but escape wasn't an option, not if she wanted to keep her job.

Nights like this made her question if pretending to be human was even worth it all.

She sighed and wiped the sweat off her brow as she poured another beer for a waiting customer. The heat was maddening, the heat of a hundred-plus humans crowded into a single small building and dancing about wildly in an impromptu party.

Party… The others were having a party themselves, more or less; Orihime was hosting a quaint New Year's celebration at her house for the group and all of the others would be there right about now, relaxing and enjoying the relative peace offered by such a small gathering. Halibel wouldn't really say that she wanted to attend their party, but it would certainly be preferable to the hell she was in now.

She poured another beer for a new customer at the end of the bar and slid the mug down to him, wondering why the hell humans felt the need to turn everything into a celebration. It was great to have a day to mark the beginning of a new year; in Hueco Mundo, there had been no way to discern time. Still, why couldn't people just mark the day on their calendars and go on with their miserable lives? Why did they have to make it into a stupid party?

Her preference would have been to stay home and watch a movie, just like any other night; let the humans have their meaningless little parties while she enjoyed a quiet evening with Tyn.


The memory flashed through her mind again in the span of a couple of brief seconds, bringing a small frown to her face as she moved to clean up a small pool of spilt liquor on the countertop. The raptor had said that he needed a pack to stay sane, and he'd been right; no matter how she looked at it, he hadn't been the same since returning from his exile in the desert. Every now and then she could see fragments of the old Tyn resurface, but she was beginning to doubt that he'd ever fully recover.

His plan to hide their activities from Urahara had made some sense…from a slightly mad point of view. She was well-aware that he thought it to be ingenious, worthy of his old self, but she couldn't disagree more.

Urahara was a genius with a near-photographic memory; if they had simply fixed the broken lock to his shop, he still would have noticed that someone had been through there. Something accidentally knocked out of place by a half inch, a partial footprint on the floor, anything that wasn't exactly as he'd left it would raise suspicion. Forging a cover story as to why they had been there made sense, but it could have gone without all the blood.

Unfortunately, what was done was done, and while there would undoubtedly be questions, there would be no proof of anything other than the cover story of Tyn's accident at Burger World.

She and Ulquiorra had discussed other possibilities on the car ride to pick up Orihime that night, including the idea of using Urahara's memory eraser to make Hiroki forget everything, but that idea had been quickly shot down; neither of them knew where he kept it in the shop, and browsing through too many drawers would also arouse Urahara's suspicions when he came home and saw everything out of place.

Besides, the idea of Grimmjow finding out that such an item existed and where it was kept hidden was frightening; the mischief the sexta would cause with it ranged from harmless pranks to pure evil. If nothing else, she could easily imagine him using it to fry Kurosaki's brain and leave the hapless shinigami thinking he was Sailor Moon.

She couldn't help but smirk at the mental image of 'Sailor Strawberry.'

And, of course, the thought of Hiroki waking up and screaming about monsters every night for the rest of his natural life brought her a perverse sense of joy…

Tia looked out at the mass of people in the bar: some seated, some standing against the wall, others clogging the floor with dancing… She spied Kishiko and her fiancé among the dancing crowd and while the other girl was supposed to be working at the moment, Halibel supposed that she couldn't deny her a few minutes with her lover.

She looked away quickly, pouring another beer and trying to suppress the tiny bit of jealousy that she felt swelling in her gut. She was over Hiroki already; it had been easy to stop caring about the treacherous human after he'd revealed his true nature, but that didn't mean she didn't feel alone now. The memory of Los Noches resurfaced again, and she wondered if this was similar to the loneliness Tyn had felt when they'd been discussing her fracción.

Halibel wished she'd had something to say that day, something that could have reassured him back then and something that would comfort her now, but there was nothing.

At least the others were together and having a good time right about now…

"Oh, God, it burns, it burns! Pie isn't supposed to burn! Make it stop!"

Normally, Ulquiorra would have felt the need to chide Grimmjow for being overly-dramatic as the sexta thrashed about in the floor clutching at his throat, but such a reaction from Orihime's Aizen-Killer Pie had been expected, and as such Ulquiorra had yet to touch his own slice. He'd known the pie to be a virtual death trap, though morbid curiosity over just how bad it was had kept him from warning the others away from it.

Starrk had taken one bite, forcibly chewed and swallowed it, and then made a mad dash for the bathroom, bowling over both Tyn and Lilynette in his haste. Tyn had picked himself up from the floor and darted outside where he was now spitting up the poisonous pie all over the bushes, bushes that would no doubt be dead by daybreak. Lilynette had been more cautious than her elders at least, having only taken a very miniscule bite before immediately spitting it out and downing an entire can of soda to wash away the taste.

"You guys don't like my pie, do you?" asked Orihime, sounding a bit hurt.

Ulquiorra took her distraction as an opportunity to dump his own slice into the garbage as Lilynette was climbing up on the back of the couch, looking down at a now green-faced Grimmjow.

"Don't worry, fathead; I'll save you!" she called out.

The downed sexta managed to gurgle out an unintelligible reply, prompting Lilynette to jump off the couch and drive her elbow deep into the ailing Grimmjow's midsection, dislodging the cursed confectionery and sending the deadly chunk of pie flying through the air before splattering against the far wall.

"Chili powder has no place in pies, and neither does tofu, red bean paste, or fish…" wheezed Starrk as he finally emerged from the bathroom, looking haggard as he wiped his mouth off with a washrag.

"It wasn't that bad, was it?" asked Orihime, handing Starrk a drink.

"You're trying to kill us!" exclaimed Grimmjow as he finally picked himself up off the floor, his color slowly returning to normal. "What the hell, woman? I thought you were on our side!"

"That statement is uncalled for, Grimmjow," warned Ulquiorra, a little surprised to find himself taking offense at how rude the other arrancar was being towards Orihime.

"Oh, don't act all high and mighty!" sneered Grimmjow, "I saw you dump yours in the trash!"

"Ulqui, is that true?" asked Orihime, looking heartbroken.

He had no answer, nothing he could tell her that would mend the sense of hurt she was feeling right now, and as Grimmjow grinned triumphantly at him, Ulquiorra found himself wishing he could simply disappear.

"…is this a bad time?" asked a voice, mercifully drawing the attention away from the cuarto.

Everyone turned to see Neliel standing in the doorway, helping a frazzled-looking Tyn back inside.

"I need a beer or seven…" muttered Tyn as he stumbled over to the couch and fell down. "And if I ever see another pie again in this century, it'll be too soon."

No one paid the quinto any mind, though, as it was the unexpected appearance of the former tres Espada that had captured their attention.

She wasn't in her gigai and no one failed to notice the shinigami's black shihakushō that she was wearing, or the lieutenant's badge proudly displayed on her left arm, both of which were a sharp contrast to the remains of her hollow mask still perched atop her head. It was a far cry from the Neliel they remembered from Los Noches, but then again Nel had never displayed the same killer instinct as the other Espada, and as such the new look seemed much more appropriate for her.

"I can come back another time if that would be better…" she said slowly, her hazel eyes betraying just how nervous she felt by the awkward silence and the way everyone was staring at her.

"Oh no, you're always welcome here, Nel!" chirped Orihime happily, forgetting all about feeling hurt over everyone's opinion of her cooking as she came forward and dragged the green-haired woman into the room. "We just didn't expect to see you!"

"Well, I told Grimmy earlier this month that I'd try to come by and see everyone eventually…didn't he tell you?"

All eyes turned towards Grimmjow, who simply shrugged it off dismissively.

"So I forgot; big fucking deal."

"Nel!" cried Lilynette, flinging herself at the ex-Espada who had long been her idol and hugging her tightly. "We missed you!"

"I missed you guys, too…" she said softly, ruffling the younger girl's hair affectionately. "I would have been here sooner, but today is Yoruichi and Kisuke's birthday and I wanted to spend a little time with them first."

"I see you didn't bring your pet Soul Reaper with you…" said Grimmjow, grinning as he stepped up beside her and went to put an arm around her waist.

"Don't get any ideas…" she warned, deflecting his arm and taking a step away, "We're getting married in the spring. He just wants to spend tonight with his sister to celebrate her birthday, and I want to celebrate New Year's with my family."

"Crash and burn!" giggled Lilynette, prompting Grimmjow to swat at her angrily. The smaller arrancar easily dodged the attack, taking refuge behind Nel and sticking her tongue out at the sexta.

"Where's Halibel?" asked Neliel, making sure to keep herself between Lilynette and Grimmjow as she looked around the room, "I thought she was in Karakura, too."

"She had to work tonight…" said Starrk. "She won't get off until two in the morning."

"That's no good…" frowned Nel. "How is she doing, at least? Is she adjusting to her new life okay?"

"Ask Tyn; he lives with her."

"Really?" asked Nel, her eyes lighting up with excitement. "Feathers, I didn't know you and Halibel were together now! That's so sweet! I always knew—"

"It's not like that…" growled Tyn from his spot face-down on the couch. "We're just roommates, not a mated pair."

"Oh, come on!" said Nel, forcibly pulling Tyn up to a sitting position and pinching his cheeks playfully, "You two were always so cute together!"

"We were not!" sputtered Tyn. "We were never 'together' and never will be!"

He decided not to mention what had happened Christmas night, remembering Tia's promise of a swift death if he should ever tell a soul that they had shared a bed. It was, he thought, a one-time occurrence that was best left forgotten.

"But you two always seemed to talk and hang out a lot in Los Noches…" she pointed out, squishing Tyn's cheeks together. "Don't even try and deny it!"

"We talked, that was it," said Tyn gruffly, finally pulling free of Nel's grasp. "We had things in common, so we talked. Nothing wrong with that, is there?"

"I've always wondered if their brat would have fins or feathers…" teased Grimmjow, directing a mean-spirited grin towards the quinto.

Ulquiorra sighed as both Tyn and Grimmjow began to argue back and forth, throwing enough death threats back and forth at each other to encourage both Nel and Starrk to step between them before the inevitable brawl broke out. He wondered if the group as a whole would ever have a get-together that didn't end with Grimmjow picking a fight with someone…

The doorbell rang, and he looked over at Orihime to see if she was going to answer it, only to see that she had stepped in-between the squabbling fools as well, desperately trying to keep the peace. Seeing as she was busy, Ulquiorra decided to open the door himself, wondering who it could be at this hour…

Tatsuki Arisawa.

Oh, crap.

He saw the recognition flash in her eyes, and he knew full well that she was remembering the first and last time they'd met, back when he was still serving Lord Aizen and had come to Karakura with Yammy. Ulquiorra remembered very well referring to her and the other humans as "trash" and giving Yammy permission to kill them, and that incident had been why Orihime had taken great pains to keep Arisawa from finding out that the cuarto was now living with her.

The polite thing to do was to greet the girl and apologize for their last encounter.

How unfortunate it was that she just didn't seem to give a damn about an apology.


It was eleven o'clock, leaving only three hours left before Halibel could go home and put all the noise and drunken celebrations behind her, and she couldn't wait; the bar was filled to its max capacity, and the heat was unbearable, and the excessive noise was enough to push any sane individual to the very brink of madness.

"You doing okay, Tia?" asked Kishi cheerfully as she loaded up her serving tray with longneck bottles to take out to the floor.

"Not exactly…" sighed the blonde, running a hand through her sweat-soaked hair as she began to seriously consider ditching the bar and escaping.

"I understand… You're still not over Hiroki, and you have to be here to deal with all of this…" said Kishi, patting Tia on the shoulder. "Where's your roommate? I thought he would be here for you, at least."

"No, I'm definitely over that worm…" spat Tia angrily, scowling at the mere mention of Hiroki's name. "And as for Tyn, he's probably with our other…friends right now, at their party."

"Says a lot about them if they couldn't be bothered to come by and see you tonight," said Sachi bitterly, leaning on the bar heavily. "Sometimes I think we're the only decent people you know, Tia."

"It's not like that; my niece is there, and so is…" Halibel fumbled for what to call Orihime as she quickly cleaned out a mug for a waiting customer, "…and so is my cousin. They're both underage, so they can't come in here."

"At least you have us!" said Kishiko with a reassuring grin as she finished loading up her tray and made her way back out onto the floor.

"Yeah, right…" sighed Tia under her breath as she watched both women disappear into the writhing mass of bodies in the bar, leaving her to tend the bar all by herself.

"I think I love you."

Tatsuki stared at the blue-haired stranger in irritation as she sat with an icepack on her bruised knuckles, with the pale bastard on the other side of the room holding an icepack to his own jaw. She'd come to spend some time with Orihime, not to find herself surrounded by a bunch of strangers that included that murderous thing from the park and her new 'admirer.'

"Leave her alone, Grimmy," chided Nel. "I think the poor girl has enough to deal with right now without you coming on to her."

"Oh, come on!" protested Grimmjow. "She punched Ulquiorra in the head as soon as she saw him, and I'm not allowed to respect that? Am I the only one who found it funny?"

"I thought it was pretty funny…" giggled Lilynette, poking at the pale man sitting in the corner.

"Grimmjow, telling her that you love her for hitting me is not the same as respecting her," pointed out Ulquiorra, and Tatsuki snarled at the mere sound of his voice.

"Calm down, Tatsuki…" pleaded Orihime, having already told her the story of the Espada and why they were in Karakura now. "I promise, he's not a bad guy anymore."

"He's still a prick, though," added Grimmjow with a grin. "You should really hit him again."

"Keep it up and I'll hit you next," Tatsuki growled at him, eliciting a cheer from Lilynette and a grin from Starrk. "Jeez, why didn't you tell me, Orihime? Don't you think I deserved to know?"

"Well, I was kind of afraid this would happen if you found out…" said the other teen, chewing on her lip nervously. "And I really didn't want you two to fight, so I thought it might be better to just keep it a secret and make sure you never met each other."

"And the others here?" asked Tatsuki warily, "They all served that Aizen guy, too? They were all evil?"

"Well…kinda, I guess…" said Orihime, "But I think the word 'evil' is a little strong…"

"I'm fine with it," said Grimmjow. "Unlike the rest of these poor bastards, I take pride in what I am."

"And you wonder why I refused to be your mate…" muttered Neliel, shaking her head slowly as she browsed the food selections sitting out on the dining room table. "Ooh, pie!"

"No!" cried the other Espada in unison, with Grimmjow diving across the table and snatching the entire pie pan away from her roughly.

"Hey!" called Nel as Grimmjow ran outside and flung the so-called Aizen-Killer far into the distance, pan and all.

"Trust me, he just did you a favor," said Starrk, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"But I like pie…"

"Not that pie…" said Lilynette. "I mean, why do you think Tyn was outside throwing up earlier? Right, Tyn? …Tyn?"

Everyone in the room looked at each other, noticing for the first time that the redhead had vanished.

"Where the hell did he go?" asked Lilynette in a huff. "He can't just leave without telling us goodbye!"

"I wonder if my sweet, sweet Ikkaku is thinking of me right now…"

Keigo Asano looked over at his elder sister Mizuho as if she were legitimately insane at that, knowing that there was no possible way the bald man in question was thinking of her. In fact, he was pretty sure that Ikkaku also thought she was insane, only speaking to her in order to ensure he always had a free place to stay whenever he was in town.

"That guy scares me sometimes…" Keigo said instead, thinking it to be a lesser evil than saying exactly what was on his mind.

"What was that?" roared Mizuho, grabbing Keigo by the front of his coat and shaking it violently, the very fires of Hell burning in her eyes. "How dare you speak about your future brother-in-law like that!"

"I'm sorry!" whimpered Keigo, shaking. "I didn't mean it, honest! I love him like a brother! He's a great guy!"

"I know!" Mizuho agreed cheerfully, giving a dreamy smile as she released her hold on Keigo and let him fall back into the snow. "He's so strong and ruggedly handsome!"

Keigo picked himself up as his psychotic and quite possibly bi-polar sister danced about in the snow, babbling about how perfect Ikkaku was and how she wanted their eventual wedding to be. Man, why couldn't she have just stayed home? He'd intentionally forgot to pick up the juice today so he'd have an excuse to leave the house later and get away from her, but she'd decided to tag along! It just wasn't fair!

A small sliver of movement across the night sky interrupted his sulking, demanding that he focus his attention on the bizarre phenomenon. Karakura had no shortage of strange occurrences, that was for sure, and he wondered if this was yet another 'end of the world' event he was witnessing.

"Mizuho…" he began, squinting his eyes to try and get a better focus on the object flying through the night sky, "I think I see a UFO!"

"Don't be a moron!" snapped his sister, angered at having her daydreams of Ikkaku interrupted by her brother's insane ramblings. "There's no such things as UFOs, dumbass!"

"No, really!" Keigo protested. "I see a flying saucer, and it's getting closer! I think it's coming right for—"


The UFO, now identifiable as a pie-pan complete with pie, smacked Keigo in the face hard, sending him to the ground and knocking him out cold. The dish wobbled a bit on the concrete before finally coming to a complete halt, the pie itself miraculously unharmed even if the pan itself did have a face-shaped imprint stuck in its underside now.

"Ooh, pie!"

Midnight was only a few short minutes away and Tia was anxious for the dawn of the new year, if for no other reason than many patrons would finally leave shortly after midnight and hopefully reduce the noise level to a dull roar. All eyes were focused on the wall-mounted televisions scattered throughout The Oasis, the anticipation palpable. Halibel sighed as she walked around the bar out to the floor to get a better view of one of the televisions herself, wondering exactly how much time was left.

A few feet to her right, Kishiko was leaning against her fiancé, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist, and Tia looked away as she rolled her eyes in disgust. Ugh, humans and their incessant need for public displays of affection!

"I think we're the only two women in here without a man tonight, Tia…" said Sachi, leaning against the bar.

"No, just you…" corrected a voice, and both women turned to see Tyn standing behind Tia, sipping on a longneck bottle. "Couldn't leave you here all by yourself, could I?"

"Tyn…" said Halibel softly, not sure what to say as a soft smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Sachi, however, knew exactly what to say.

"Get out of here, you abusive psychopath!" she yelled. "She doesn't need you hanging around! Dunc! Dunc, come throw this loser out!"

The crowd parted as the muscular bouncer made his way over to see what the commotion was and Tia suppressed a groan, knowing that Tyn was likely to give that mad little grin of his and just dare Dunc to touch him. She didn't want them to fight, not here, not now, not ever—

"There a problem here?" asked the big man, peering down at Tyn.

"Doesn't have to be…" said the raptor calmly, finishing his beer and placing the empty bottle on the bar as he looked up at Dunc with cold eyes, his face impassive.

It was a response more like the old Tyn she remembered from Hueco Mundo, the former sexta who didn't let every little nuisance get under his skin and didn't go about daring people to try him. Halibel couldn't stop the grin spreading across her face as Dunc backed down first and broke eye contact with Tyn, looking in her direction for guidance with a small glimmer of trepidation showing in his eyes.

Dunc was an experienced bouncer, former military, and had been in many fights throughout his career and his youth, and though he clearly recognized the quiet danger represented by the smaller man, he still had a job to do.

"Miss Halibel? Everything okay?" he asked Tia, and she could see him just hoping she'd say everything was okay.

"It's fine, Dunc; go enjoy the party," she said with a light smile, dismissing him.

"It is not fine!" yelled Sachi as the big man quickly disappeared back into the crowd, incensed that Tyn was being allowed to stay. "He's a menace—"

"Oh, shut up!" hissed Kishi, seizing the other woman by the arm and pulling her away.

"I didn't expect to see you here…" Tia said softly. "But I'm glad you came."

"Party got pretty boring after Ulquiorra got punched out, anyway…" said Tyn dismissively, scratching the back of his head. "Thought it might be more entertaining here. Besides, I figured you might be feeling a little lonely now that Hiroki is gone, and—"

"Wait…" said Halibel, her smile quickly fading. "Are you telling me that you're only here out of sympathy? Because you pity me? Because you think I'm not strong enough to get through the night without someone?"

"Wait, wait, wait! I didn't mean it like that!" said Tyn defensively.

"Then just how did you mean it?" she growled, literally getting nose to nose with him as she curled her hands into tight fists, indignant rage showing in her green eyes. "I don't need you or anyone else to pity me! I'm just fine, you hear me?"

"Jesus, why do you always have to take things the wrong way?"

"Why do you always have to say the wrong goddamned thing?" she retorted angrily.

"Because you think everything I say is wrong!"

"Because you're an idiot!"

"Ha!" laughed Sachi from her spot over near Kishi and her fiancé. "I knew she couldn't stand that jerk!"

"No, that's not it at all…" said Kishi slowly, shaking her head. "I think they're both just stubborn. Really, stupidly stubborn. I think they just need a little help…"

The crowd had already began to chant along with the countdown of the last fifteen seconds as Kishiko made a show of slowly dancing across the floor with her fiancé and 'accidentally' bumping into Tia, who was still nose to nose with Tyn. The blonde gave a short yelp as she stumbled forward into Tyn's arms and went silent as her lips went crashing into his.

"Oops…" said Kishiko, feigning innocence, "My bad."

Eight seconds left until midnight, and for a brief moment it looked as if Tyn and Tia might pull away from one another, their eyes wide with shock over what was happening, but their surprise quickly faded as Tyn gently placed his hands on Tia's hips and pulled her closer while she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Instinct and emotion had taken hold now and nothing else mattered: there was no bar, no party, no crowd, no noise; there was only the two of them and the kiss.

"And that…" Kishi told her fiancé and Sachi with a mischievous grin, "is how you have a Happy New Year."

Orihime wasn't sure how she had been talked into sneaking into the bar along with the others to find Tyn and Tia, and she suddenly found herself wishing she had followed Tatsuki's example and refused to come. A bar was no place for a girl her age! God, the smell of smoke and alcohol was gagging her and making her eyes water, and the noise, the dreadful noise! At this rate, she was pretty sure her eardrums were going to spontaneously explode!

She stood beside Ulquiorra, gripping his hand nervously as they meandered through the crowd of people. She hoped no one would spot her, that she wouldn't get caught and get into trouble. Maybe if they were all really quiet and didn't draw any attention to themselves, no one would notice her.

Thoughts of sneaking through the crowds quietly were shattered however as Grimmjow was roughly shoving people out of his way left and right, demanding that everyone step aside and let him through or else.

At least Starrk was being a bit more polite as he brushed people aside and Neliel, since she wasn't in a gigai and normal humans couldn't see or hear her, was gently pushing people out of the way as the little group made their way through the bar. Of them all, Lilynette seemed to be having the least amount of trouble navigating the sea of people as the girl used her smaller size to dart about the bar quickly, looking for their two lost members.

"I can't find them…" she whispered when she finally came back. "I don't know if they're even here."

Midnight struck and the crowd of humans erupted into a deafening cheer before bursting into drunken song, swaying back and forth as they celebrated the arrival of the new year.

"They must be here somewhere…" Ulquiorra said. "Surely Halibel did not simply abandon her job and go home."

"Well, maybe—" Orihime began, but cut herself off as the crowd parted ever so slightly, revealing a scene that neither she or the Espada had quite been expecting. Neliel clasped her hands together happily and cheered at the sight, but her excitement was easily drowned out by the noise of the singing humans.

Only Lilynette's surprised voice was loud enough to cut through all of the noise in the crowded bar.

"Holy shit, they're making out!"