Grimmjow could not believe the position he was in. He was literally right back where he began, staring across the width of an obnoxiously long table at the dead eyes of Ulquiorra and resisting the urge to shove his chair back and storm away from the leader to his left, spouting pointless drivel to the table-length of followers.
He had nearly lost everything when he'd first seen the Fourth. Shuren seemed to want him around though– for the moment anyway– and had intervened before he'd been able to instigate anything with his former rival-ally and pulled him promptly to his seat at the table and introduced him to all the other creatures here.
Grimmjow had just started to notice a second fashion trend in this place. The first was the shackles, but the second was the wrappings each wore. The one who'd been named Gunjo even had them across his eyes. Indeed, the three who'd escorted them back wore only shackles and bandages. Looking around, though most had other garments, they were also bound extensively. Ulquiorra had the least, he still wore his espada outfit but the jacket was open, revealing white bandages all up his torso.
He wasn't sure what that meant, but he was sure he would find out in time. There were different types of beings here. Some were hollows. A few were more advanced like himself, a number of vastal lordes. And then others were simply human souls, but all of them deformed in some way. He managed not to shudder. No one seemed lucky enough to remain the way they had been in their previous lives, not even Shuren. He didn't want to think about himself being deformed, or how it might be done.
But just like in Aizen's meetings he couldn't pay attention until the topic in which he was interested was addressed. Back then it had been Ichigo. Now, well, he realized that hadn't changed and his self-esteem sunk lower as he realized his existence was an endless loop of being controlled by powerful beings and hunting down a single human boy.
Shuren's voice cut through his thoughts. "Uluqiorra, what have you to report?"
Grimmjow tuned back in now, realizing the Fourth must have the information he desired.
"Aizen–" Grimmjow noted that Ulquiorra did not refer to him as his "master" or "Lord"– "has indeed breached the walls of this universe."
"So he is here." Shuren confirmed.
"Through one called Ichigo Kurosaki."
There was a loud bang and Shuren's fists slammed against the table.
"Kurosaki is here?" There was silence. Mixed emotions flooded Shuren's face then he slowly turned to Grimmjow. "Did you know?"
"Y-yes." Grimmjow answered apprehensively.
He wasn't really even surprised this time when he felt the hand around his throat. He knew the other was going to move from the look in his eyes but he was resigned to the fact that he could never track that speed.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Grimmjow's mind raced. He had, hadn't he? No, he had said two people had come here, and that one was Aizen. He hadn't actually mentioned Ichigo's name. There wasn't really any way out of the situation so he did his best to reply past the pressue, "You didn't ask."
Shuren's grip tightened for a monochrome of a second before he released Grimmjow and burst into laughter. Grimmjow did his best not to cough and gasp as he fell back in his chair and watched Shuren's mania subside.
"You know what? You're right, I didn't."
"Is the human important?" Grimmjow asked when his breath had steadied, choosing his words carefully.
"Important? Oh Grimmjow, you have no idea. But I don't have time to explain, Ulquiorra can fill you in later. What is the rest of the report?" He asked the Fourth.
"The moment of their arrival, Aizen shielded their spiritual pressure. But they appeared quite some distance from here, in the Western plains."
Shuren glanced up at Gunjo and the other two. "Go ahead and scout. The rest of you, find out what you can. Ulquiorra, catch Grimmjow up to speed and be ready. I want you and your team ready to go when I say." With that he and the others left. Grimmjow remained where he was, staring across the table at Ulquiorra.
"What the Hell is going on?" he finally shouted when they were alone. "Since when do you take orders from this guy and why the fuck are you so calm about Aizen being down here?"
"Grimmjow, you seem different."
"What? Answer my questions, dammit!"
"You want to find Ichigo Kurosaki more than you want to find Sosuke Aizen."
Grimmjow froze at this. No espada had ever referred to Aizen by his full name, like he was nothing more than a human, or they were somehow on equal grounds. And secondly, he did want to find Ichigo but he wanted to find Aizen more... right? But the words unsettled him and started to realize that more than quest for vengeance this was a rescue mission.
"Ah ha. So I was right."
"But you don't want to find him to kill him do you?"
"I told you to shut up!"
"No Grimmjow. I see it in you now. You don't want the human to die."
"I don't care what you think you know about me, I want you to do what Shuren said and tell me what the hell is going on!"
"How were you killed?"
Grimmjow clenched his fist, "I said Shut–"
And just like that he was flat on his back. He didn't even know where his chair went, he was just on the floor, and he knew that this was not the same Ulquiorra from above. This was a much faster, stronger creature. An espada with Hell's powers. He'd had enough time to learn some secrets of this place to make himself stronger.
And if Ulquiorra could learn, Aizen could too, and then they'd all be doomed.
These thoughts passed through Grimmjow's mind as he lay stunned on the floor. He thought he actually felt blood from his head, and just lay there, feeling totally helpless: helpless against the powers of Hell, against the inevitability that Aizen would win. He shut his eyes.
"What's wrong, Grimmjow?" Ulquiorra was standing over him. His voice was as dead as ever, at least there was no taunt. "Why won't you answer my questions?"
"Why did you fucking hit me?"
"Because you were about to hit me."
It was true, he would have if he was fast enough.
"How are you so fast?"
"Aizen will too."
"Ahh. So you really do want to stop him. You really did die just to come down here and fight him."
Grimmjow opened his eyes. He couldn't tell if the other was being condescending. "So what if I did?"
"Then I was always wrong about you. You really do have a brain."
"What?" Grimmjow sat up at the insult then winced and clutched his head. It was bleeding, rather badly.
"Oh, I made you bleed." Ulquiorra didn't say anything further but moved away to get something from a drawer. He returned with a white bandage. In silence, he knelt and wrapped it around Grimmjow's head. "Your first."
"My first what?" Grimmjow said, attempting to stand but feeling a wave of dizziness. He fell against the table until Ulquiorra guided him into a chair.
"Your first bandage. They don't go away down here."
"What? Bandages? The Hell, take it off then."
"No. Wounds. They don't go away down here."
Grimmjow eyed him and then swallowed. "But Shuren says you can never die in this world."
"Yes Grimmjow, even if you are turned to a pile of ashes you'll still be conscious, and you'll still feel every foot that steps on you. This is Hell."
There was silence. Grimmjow realized the implications. Now he understood the bandages. Now he understood his fate. If he faced Aizen, he would surely be badly wounded, and apparently he would remain that way forever.
"I do apologize." Grimmjow grit his teeth. His head throbbed, and now because of Ulquiorra it would throb for eternity. Then his eyes fell curiously to Ulquiorra's torso.
"What about you?"
Wordlessly, the other began to unwind his bandages. Beneath were deep, raw gashes, Grimmjow could even see bone poking out around his ribs. He winced.
"How do you walk around like that?"
"You will learn."
Again, grim silence. But then a sneer began to form on Grimmjow's lips and he met Ulquiorra's eyes.
"What is it?" The Fourth asked.
"I can't wait until Aizen is dead and I can teach him all of this myself, cut after cut, bruise after bruise."
"So you haven't changed entirely."
They regarded each other for some time. It was strange. This was not the reunion Grimmjow had envisioned with the Fourth.
"Because I saw no reason not to and because he will certainly die at Shuren's hands." Ulquiorra stated abruptly and Grimmjow stared back at him utterly confused.
"What are you talking about?"
"You asked me why I followed Shuren. Because I could see he was powerful and, unlike you, I have no reason to defy everyone that presents superior strength to me. And you asked me why I was so calm that Aizen is among us. And my answer is that I know Shuren will kill him."
"He's that powerful?"
"I am surprised you decided to follow Shuren."
"I wanted to find Aizen, he seemed like the best way. What happened to the others?"
"They didn't listen. They learned about the bandages in much harsher circumstances. You might not even recognize them if you saw them now."
Grimmjow lowered his head. It was really an awful fate. His mind was creating horrible images of what his former comrades might have suffered– be suffering.
"You don't feel bad for them do you?"
"Geeze, you're a cold one Ulquiorra. This place is disgusting, why shouldn't I have a little pity for those poor assholes."
"Hmm. Pity. Yes, I suppose pity is the right word. But really, in this place, no one spares pity for anyone but themselves."
"Well dammit I don't plan on sitting here feeling sorry for myself."
"But you do."
"You'll learn soon, Grimmjow, how to see other people's feelings clearly. Another power of Hell, another way to experience suffering."
"What? You can read my mind?"
"I can sense your feelings and the truth, that is all."
"Then you know what I intend?"
"Yes, you want to save Ichigo Kurosaki and you want to kill Sosuke Aizen."
"Then Shuren knows as well!"
"No. At least I doubt it. He does not know you Grimmjow. He will sense that you feel strong emotions towards both but he will take that as anger or hatred. Only when you know another can you begin to interpret the feelings they cast."
"You sound like a damn philosopher."
"My point is, that only I know your secret."
Grimmjow tensed. "So what, you going to blackmail me or something?"
"No Grimmjow, I am going to help you."
The sixth stared back at him blankly. "What?"
"I will help you destroy Aizen. He made us only to dispose of us by throwing us to the enemy. And even still, he ultimately failed. He is unworthy of the power he possesses. He has crossed into the world in which he belongs so I will ensure that he never leaves it."
Grimmjow raised and eyebrow. "You've never let your emotions decide anything but that sounds like vengeance to me."
"You have changed since we last met, and so have I."
"What about Ichigo? Will you help me send him back?"
Ulquiorra raised a hand and lowered his voice. "Ichigo is very important."
"He's always friggin' important." Grimmjow hissed back, looking around paranoid, now that Ulquiorra seemed to be trying to keep their conversation secret.
"Because of the unique composition of his soul– being human, soul reaper and hollow all in one– he is the only being capable of opening the only universe that accepts each of those types of souls."
"You mean here?"
"Yes. Shuren intends to use him to escape Hell. He was attempting to get forces in the worlds above to capture or trick him here. But now Aizen has brought him here himself, not knowing of Shuren's plans."
"Wait, so Shuren could get into the World of the Living?"
"Or Hueco Mundo, or the Soul Society. Once he gets out of here he can go anywhere he desires."
"And you say he's more powerful than Aizen?"
"But he said he's not even the ruler of this place."
Ulquirra inclined his head. "You are correct. There are others like him, spread across this world, with their own domains they have created to contain and control the souls who fall near them. But even combined with them, they are not the rulers. There are creatures, you will rarely see them, that stock the skies on hollow wings. They are the native creatures to this world. They hold all the secrets of Hell. They will hurt and destroy any being that conflicts with them, but never have I seen them actively hunt down a soul. Not much is known about them, or if they in turn have a leader, but they are far more powerful than Shuren and they do not agree with all that he does. So he had this place built to remain safe."
"Okay, so what is Shuren?"
"A human soul."
"He is simply a human soul sent here millenia ago. I believe that all those like him were among the first ever to be sent here. They have learned the secrets of Hell, they have mastered its powers: the chains, the speed, the ability to read feelings. But so much more."
"Okay, fine, he's powerful. He'll kill Aizen. Great. Job done. So what about Ichigo? If he needs Ichigo to escape, why do you want to stop him?"
"Because it's wrong."
"What? You don't care about humans and what's right and wrong."
"No. But I care about meaning. I died because of Ichigo Kurosaki. Because he was stronger. You died because you chose to. You decided to make a sacrifice for the greater good. If the barrier of Hell and the rest of the universe was torn down, there would be no meaning and no justice. I could walk free, even though I was weak and have been judged to serve this fate. You would get to leave, even though you made a choice that should have been permanent. Your sacrifice would be empty."
Grimmjow was listening. He was trying to comprehend but suddenly all his thoughts were on escape. Maybe Ichigo could pull him back out of Hell. He deserved it right? He didn't care what Ulquiorra was saying about all this meaning and justice crap.
But Ulquiorra had one more thing to add. "And Aizen would win."
Grimmjow's head shot up. "What?"
"Aizen would also walk free. He may be destroyed down here, but Shuren believes once in the other realms our ability to heal would be restored. Unless he is turned to ash or torn to pieces, he will go through as well, and all who took satisfaction in his death would be left with no compensation. The worlds would fall apart because there would no longer be meaning to life and death. You and I and Aizen and the others could pass back and forth endlessly from Hell to Hueco Mundo, killing each other or fighting along side one another until we all died– it wouldn't matter, nothing would matter. Aizen would own you again, or Shuren, or some other powerful being. I will follow Shuren to escape unnecessary suffering down here. But I will not allow him to leave this realm."
"Shit Ulquiorra, as if I wasn't depressed enough." Grimmjow's voice was still low, and there was no cocky joke behind his words, he was serious. "It won't ever end will it? Whatever we do we keep getting sucked into Aizen's plans or into end of the world situations. Well Fuck it, why not let Shuren rip it all apart? He'll upset the balance right? It'll blow apart the universe and then we'll be free won't we? No more dimensions, no more realms, no more dying or living or any of it, just peace and darkness."
He stood up and stared down at Ulquiorra. The other remained with that stoic face and he was suddenly overwhelmingly angry. He raised his fist and made to slam it into the table.
Ulquiorra's quiet voice reached his ears in time. He stopped and dropped his arm. If he'd punched the table he would have broken his hand, and it would have remained that way forever. He sat back down and rested his head in his hands with his elbows on the table.
"Do you really want it to end?" Ulquiorra asked.
"Yes." Grimmjow's voice was muffled in his palms. "Do you really want to continue existing in this place? What if I stub my toe, is it going to throb for eternity? What if Shuren get's mad at me? What if I do end up a pile of ash? Then it will be too late and I won't be able to do anything about it. The only way to ensure that I won't suffer in the future is to just let the universe end."
"Stop trying to analyse me." Grimmjow moaned.
"It isn't hard."
"Why can't I just go back with Ichigo again?"
"Because the universe will end."
"But why? It wouldn't if just one soul broke the rules, right?"
"But it wouldn't just be one soul. Ichigo is the key to Hell for a soul that isn't damned here yet, like Aizen. But he is the doorway for the rest of us. For anyone with chains around their wrists like us, it won't be as simple as opening the gate and leaving. It will take a soul conversion. Like when humans pass to Soul Society, conversions and adjustments must be made. So when Shuren get's his hands on Ichigo, he will make him tear a permanent gate to the next world that the Unforgiven can walk through. Kurosaki's own life force will be the sustaining power. Then Shuren, and anything not chained down will be able to walk free from here."
"Shit. Mother fucking shit!"
"I told you, your sacrifice would have no meaning."
"I don't care if it had meaning! I wasn't aiming for meaning! You dumb f–"
The door opened, a minion shot in. "Shuren wishes for you to depart at once, in the direction of the Western Peak of Angorak."
"Understood." Ulquiorra dismissed the messenger. He turned calmly back to Grimmjow.
"Are you coming?"
"If we find Ichigo and Aizen, what do we do?"
"We finish our business before Shuren gets there. Then we suffer the consequences."
Grimmjow sighed. "Okay, I'm coming."
I apologize for the lack of Ichigo but this scene ended up being alot longer than I expected. Hope you liked anyway!