disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: coketalk.
notes: so it's official. i have a problem. you should see my tumblr. you'd be horrified.
notes2: writing this on the plane. also, Nnoitra is more fun to write than Nel is. ack.

title: arsenic, actually
summary: AU. No one ever expects the girl to have the gun. — Nnoitra/Neliel.

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This was not okay.

Nel hadn't thought anything of the assignment when the chief's second assistant had tossed it at her. He'd been smirking a little, but then, when didn't Renji smirk at the sight of her?

(Asshole.)

So Nel hadn't thought anything of it. She'd shoved the assignment sheet in the back pocket of her jeans and flipped him off as she left, teal hair dancing behind her as she turned. As she'd closed the door, she'd heard him roaring with laughter.

That should have been the first hint that whatever he'd just thrown at her was only going to be bad luck.

Ichigo had been standing outside the building, leaning against the black marble wall and smirking in the exact same way Renji had been. There was a reason they were near best friends, but at the same time…

Nel eyed him. "What's put you in such a good mood? Rukia finally agree to date you?"

(Nel couldn't resist poking at his weaknesses. He always got so squirrely about the Kuchiki girl. It would never cease to amuse her and thus she would never cease to tease him about him. No, Nel was not cruel.)

He snorted. "Not yet."

A smile passed Nel's lips. "Then what? C'mon, I need caffeine. You're buying."

Ichigo did not look pleased, but he pushed off the wall and Nel took this as acquiescence. He fell into step beside her, hands shoved into his pockets as he grumbled about being abused.

"You didn't answer my question. What were you giggling about?" Nel asked as they walked.

He looked deeply offended. "I don't giggle."

Nel sent him a flat look. "You were giggling, Kurosaki. What were you giggling about?"

Ichigo rolled his eyes up to the sky, grinning with closed lips. He looked like a five-year-old with a secret, and Nel couldn't help but be suspicious. Nothing good in the world could make Kurosaki Ichigo grin like that. Nel didn't trust it. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

"You haven't looked at that assignment, have you?"

Nel stopped abruptly, hair flying around her face. "No, I haven't—what did you do."

Ichigo chuckled, and kept walking. "You might want to sit down before you read it."

"WHAT DID YOU DO?" Nel screeched over the roar of traffic. She had to jog to catch up to his long strides as they crossed the street to Nel's favourite roadside café (they had the best scones, and Nel had a feeling she was going to need that and a gigantic mocha stat when Ichigo told her whatever it was that he was giggling about).

"I didn't do shit!" he called over his shoulder.

Nel steamed, and followed him.

She stomped in to the café after him. How he always managed to snag the cushy chairs in the back right during mid-morning rush would always mystify her. Nel toddled over to him, his bright orange head sticking out from among the throng of dark haired businesspeople, all of who seemed grumbling incoherently about work.

"I despise you," she told him conversationally. "Go get me a coffee."

Ichigo stared at her. "It'll make you sick. It always you sick, Nel."

Nel's eye twitched. "Kurosaki, I will end you. Get me my coffee."

He held his hands up, snorting laughter. "Alright, but don't hate me if it's not exactly the way you want it."

Nel sent him such a death stare that he shuddered, rubbed his arms, and went to the counter. When he was gone (read: at the counter ordering her coffee [read: shamelessly flirting with the barista]), she pulled the already-crumpled assignment sheet out of her back pocket.

It was folded in the complex origami dragon that spoke of the more complex missions—Nel would never know who had dreamed up the idea of folding the assignment statements up into the beautiful designs that gave most agents so much fury that they ended up tearing the assignment sheet to shreds—and Nel frowned down at it as she began picking apart the creases.

By the time she had begun to smooth it out, Ichigo was back, holding a ridiculously large steaming to-go cup of creamy caffeinated goodness. He set it down on the low table in front of her and flopped down in the other cushy chair, groaning as he drank dark bitter coffee.

(Nel would never understand how he could drink that shit.)

"Don't hate me," Ichigo said, almost snickering.

Nel eyeballed him dangerously, and went back to examining the paper.

It seemed like a standard infiltration—

And then she saw who she was partnered with. Scrawled along the bottom in almost unintelligible cursive, Nnoitra Jiruga.

Nel let out an incoherent scream of rage at the flash of memories; the touch of lips and heat and lust flashed through her mind, and Nel couldn't help the fury. It had the café silent, and Ichigo chortling.

She steamed.

This was so not okay.

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She'd done a good bit of stomping over the next few days. She'd stomped into Yamamoto's office—he'd just laughed, and shooed her out. She'd stomped into Byakuya's office—he'd stared, bored, and waited until she ran out of words before ordering her out. She'd stomped into Renji's office—Renji was Renji. Nel screamed and swore and no, she did not care that this was childish, thank you very much.

In the end, she was reduced to stomping around her apartment.

This was both ineffective and did nothing to quell the anger that continued to lurk inside her stomach, grumbly and disgusted.

It wasn't that Nel hated Nnoitra. Nnoitra wasn't worth her hatred, and Nel didn't have the time or the energy to hate him.

It was just that he made her angry.

And they didn't work together well.

(Nel would forever stick to her primary assessment; that he didn't have a soul. Nel did not work with soulless people on principle. Nel was not friends with soulless people on principle.

…Ichigo did not count.)

Nel sighed, and looked over the assignment sheet again. What on earth was Yamamoto thinking? He knew that she reacted like oil to water when she was in Nnoitra's presence. He knew that!

But it looked like the old man had finally snapped, and there was nothing Nel could do about it at present.

The usual list of required items was scribbled on the backside of the assignment sheet; evening gown, slacks, guns, guns, guns. Well, she had those things.

Time to pack.

And it would give her enough time to calm down, and not stab Nnoitra when he showed up (if only because there was no way to make it look like an accident, and Yamamoto would be all disappointed in her and Nel didn't like the thought of that).

Besides. She had more control then that.

(Really.)

She pushed her hair out of her face, and reached blindly into her closet. She pulled out a dress, something slinky and black and barely there; appropriate for either killing someone or attending a funeral. Nel tilted her head at it.

She could work it.

As she packed, Nel felt the rage draining away, leaving only slight annoyance and disgust warring with that empty sense of indifference. Well. It was better than nothing.

Nnoitra was Nnoitra.

Nel was not going to let him get to her.

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"Well, well, lookit what th' cat dragged in. How are ya, princess?"

Nel realized that her previous plan of simply ignoring him was not going to work. He was Nnoitra, and he was never one to be ignored—Nel sometimes wondered if he was annoying just for the sake of being annoying. She calmed herself, counted to ten, and then turned to face him.

"Nnoitra. Hello," she said, if not pleasant, than certainly civil. Nel inclined her head. The flash of lust was completely unwelcome, and Nel quashed it.

He sneered down at her in that Nnoitra way of his, eyes burning and lips pulled back off his teeth in a too-wide grin that made her clench her hands to stop them from shaking. Nel would never admit how angry he could make her.

No. Angry wasn't the right word.

Furious? Annoyed? Maybe a little frightened?

…No, it wasn't any of those, either.

"Ya ready 'ta go, then?"

"I suppose," Nel sighed out through her nose. She picked up her suitcase and almost out of habit, slammed it against his stomach. He let out a grunt, and Nel couldn't help the smile that etched itself across her face.

Her voice was sickly sweet when she spoke. "You can take care of that, can't you?"

Nnoitra grunted again, and it was with a silent, mad inner cackle of glee that Nel strut outside of her apartment. She didn't even care that he was behind her. He was following and being a packhorse, and all was as it should be.

Nel smiled to herself, and slipped into the waiting sedan. She settled into the driver's seat, tossed her hair over her shoulder, and prepared for a very long, very mentally taxing trip.

But at the end, Nel was sure that Nnoitra would be the one about to have a severe heart attack, and that was good enough for her.

Nel was not a violent person.

But she could be cruel.

Nel smiled smugly, and gunned the engine.

"Are you coming?"

"Yer not drivin', princess," he growled.

Nel continued to smile. "Says you. Hurry up and get in, we have to go."

Nnoitra did not look at all pleased.

Actually, he looked like he was about to open the driver's side door, and force her out.

Nel was having none of that. She gunned the engine again, and let her foot press down on the gas for a split second. The sedan shot forward, and Nel listened through the open window as Nnoitra cursed like a sailor.

Vengeance, she smiled.

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They only bickered for half the drive.

Eventually, Nel gave in and let him take the wheel.

It would be her most deeply regretted decision of the next sixth months.

When they finally stopped (two and a half hours early, she might add), Nel tumbled out of the passenger seat, white-knuckled and shaking.

"You are never driving again," she told him, still trembling.

"Whatever ya say, princess," he snorted as he popped the trunk. Nel was sure that the luggage had probably opened and there were probably clothes everywhere, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She was alive. She'd survived Nnoitra's driving.

Didn't that count for something?

Apparently not, as Nnoitra stood over her, snickering. "Geddup."

Nel didn't move, if only to be stubborn. She liked the ground. The ground didn't go spinning out from under her feet as the pavement raced away. The ground didn't lose control. Nel liked the ground.

Nnoitra stared down at her for another minute. There was a lovely twitch in his right eye that Nel had never seen before—had he always reacted to her indifference like this?

Yes, now that she thought about it.

Well. That was interesting.

"Nel," he growled. "Get up."

"Make me," Nel replied. "I am perfectly happy where I am."

Nnoitra snorted again, and bent down. Nel let out a shriek as he scooped her up off the ground and tossed her over his shoulder. She kicked at him, determined to get him off.

It didn't work the way she'd thought it would.

Nnoitra carried her in to the hotel, kicking and snarling and seething fire and fury. He shrugged at the doorman, as if to say "eh, women". The doorman nodded with a knowing smile.

Nel steamed.

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"What are we even doing?" Nel asked, looking up at Nnoitra from where she was seated, cross-legged, on the bed. Blue-green hair curled around her face, and she stared at him with wide eyes.

Nel was such a child, Nnoitra thought. "Dunno. Gettin' in."

She sighed. "Tonight?"

He grunted his answer, and Nel rolled hazel eyes to the ceiling.

Because that made so much sense.

She balled her hair up in her fist and tied it back. Throat exposed, she stood up and went to the closet. Her clothes were dumped across the floor, and she knelt, fingers searching for the silky fabric of her dress.

"Where did—where did you throw my dress?"

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Nel regretted them. She didn't even look up, because she could already hear him snickering.

"Where'd ya think I threw it, princess?"

Nel took a deep breath in through her nose to keep from either strangling him or going off on a tangent and then strangling him. She exhaled very slowly, and managed to keep her calm. "Where did you put my dress?"

He was still snickering. "Look up, idiot."

Nel glanced up into the closet.

Her dress hung there, unrumpled and untouched.

Had he been anyone else, she would have thanked him.

As it was, she stood and pulled it off the hanger, the slinky fabric pooling in her hands. Without thinking about it, she pulled the hem of her shirt up.

She heard Nnoitra choke.

Nel smiled to herself, and pulled the shirt off. She stepped out of her jeans, unsnapped her bra, stretched, and slipped the inky dress up her legs. She pulled the thin straps up, and looked over her bare shoulder at him. "Zip me up?"

The look on his face was priceless.

He seemed shocked and frozen, and then Nel looked straight ahead.

(If you're going to play, play to win.)

His hands were like ice; his fingertips ghosting down along her spine had gooseflesh erupting across her skin. Nel shivered. The lust flared.

"Yer gonna be the death of me, princess," he breathed.

"Mmm, maybe," she replied.

And then she jammed her elbow back into his stomach.

He grunted and hit the floor, and Nel smiled.

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The champagne fizzed in her throat, bubbling happily in her nose. She stood in the crook of Nnoitra's arm, and pretended that the feel of his arms around her waist made her giddy instead of dirty.

"What are we looking for, again?" Nel breathed in his ear, looking for all the world like some ditz in the first stages of infatuation.

"Anythin' to incriminat'em, princess," he breathed back, lips close, body close.

Nel felt the damnably familiar thrill, and remembered why she and Nnoitra weren't allowed to work together.

Rather, why she had not allowed herself to work with him.

Feelings.

Ugh.

Acting like a twitterpated teenager was disgusting and Nel wasn't the sort of girl to fake that sort of thing. She was not a twitterpated teenager. She had never been a twitterpated teenager.

She had a sick feeling that if Ichigo saw her like this, he would laugh himself sick.

Nel silently cursed him, and let her body go concave against Nnoitra's, against her better judgement.

She could feel him smirking.

"Stop sneering, they'll think we're up to something!" Nel murmured as she batted her eyelashes at the men in suits across the room.

"Stop flirtin', they'll think yer up to somethin'," he replied, the arm curving around her waist tightening like a possessive boyfriend.

Sometimes, Nel thought Nnoitra enjoyed playing his part far too much.

(Another reason she hated working with him.)

Nel hummed brokenly to the symphony in the background, hair stubbornly in her eyes. She pushed it over her shoulder in a cascade of blue-green waves that caught the light, and Nel was sure that she could every eye on her.

"Oi, yer hair's bein' annoyin'," Nnoitra grumbled, and shepherded her towards the center of the room. The entire room seemed to be congregating there, and it would not do to stick out so. He draped a possessive arm over Nel's shoulders. Nel fought not to shove him off.

"Ladies and gents," a voice announced. "The tour will now begin. Aizen-sama will meet you at the end. Please follow the man in white at the door."

The guests around them chattered excitedly. Nnoitra and Nel shared a glance.

Mob bosses.

(Nel would always find it funny that Nnoitra was ex-Yakuza. Well, if there was one thing he was good for, it was figuring out what went on in those men's minds.

She didn't know if he'd ever killed anyone.

Honestly, she didn't really want to know.)

They stuck to the center of the crowd. Nel quietly murmured "There are cameras everywhere. This man trusts no one."

Nnoitra said nothing; the sneer etched on his face conveyed his absolute disgust with the place better than words ever could.

And he really had no right to talk.

"In here," he murmured, and dragged her into the shadow of one of the walls. No one was looking, already busily moving on to the next room. Nnoitra shoved Nel fiercely against the wall, curving over her to keep that damnable blue head of hers hidden.

They both stayed very still for a moment.

"Now where?" Nel whispered.

"Don' speak, princess," Nnoitra growled into her hair. Nel stayed frozen in his grip for another few seconds before her common sense kicked in, and she extricated herself from his arms.

"You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think you liked me, Nnoitra," she teased softly. They raced down the hallway, Nel's bare feet making no sound against the carpet.

Nnoitra snorted, and Nel could have sworn that it sounded something along the lines of "I hate ya, princess," but she would never know for sure, because he grabbed her and ducked into the shadow of a doorway.

"Here?"

He grunted.

Nel took that as a yes, and went about picking the lock. It wasn't very complicated, even with only hairpins to work with. It made no sense, until Nel thought of the ventilation system. "Tell me we're not—"

But he was smirking, lips pulled back over his teeth in the widest shit-eating grin she had ever seen on his face.

"Ladies first," he bowed as they skidded into the room, hastily locking the door behind them. The vent was in the far corner of the room.

"Fine. You are a coward anyway," Nel announced, and reached for the vent. She pulled her dress up to the tops of her thighs (the low wolf-whistle that came from Nnoitra's general direction had her contemplating murder again), and peered inside.

"Got a light?" she asked him.

He tossed a pen at her. A pen.

Because that was helpful.

Nel clicked it, and the LSD light nearly blinded her. She ignored his chuckling, and shone it into the recesses of the vent, lighting up yards of silver tinny metal. "I have no idea where I'm going," she told him cheerfully.

"Not surprised," he replied, as deadpan as she was cheerful. "Jus' go, I'll let'cha know when 'ta turn."

Nel eyed him suspiciously. "How do you know?"

"Don' ask," he replied, and there was something almost grim in the way his lips stretched. "Jus' go."

And wasn't that just the littlest bit odd. Nel ran her fingers through her bangs and lowered herself into the duct. It was cramped and claustrophobic, and Nel gritted her teeth as she started to move. She hated small places.

She thought of the open plain, took a deep breath, and started to move.

Left, right, right, straight through, left, right again, left, left, and right; they moved silently, crawling through the ducts like thieves in the night.

(It was funny, because that was exactly what they were.)

Nel froze at the sound of voices.

"They're gone?"

"Yes, sir."

"Szayel. Find them. Tousen, guard the door. I must greet the other guests."

The sound of scuffling was loud in her ears and at the slam of the door, Nel nearly allowed herself a sigh.

But only nearly.

She crawled towards the vent-cover, and peeked out through the slats. She was aware of Nnoitra, nearly on top of her with his fingers in her hair. She forced herself to cringe. "Anyone out there?"

"I don't know," Nel murmured.

"Move," he ordered, softly.

Nel gnashed her teeth, but pressed herself against the wall. Nnoitra was in her personal space, working at the vent-cover, and Nel nearly couldn't control the urge to press against him.

But then she heard the clink of the vent-cover, and Nnoitra moved away. Nel breathed a sigh of relief to herself, and slipped out after him.

The room was luxurious in its simplicity. Mahogany desk, thick carpet, cream walls, red accents. Nel looked around the room, and thought that while Aizen might have been sleaze, he did have good taste. It was a pity.

"Start lookin', Nnoitra murmured.

Nel rolled her eyes, and headed for the desk. She knocked against the wood—solid. Solid. Solid. Sol—there was what she was looking for. Nel pulled out the drawer, and touched the false bottom. The latch was at the back, and she snapped it open with a viciously satisfied grin.

Nnoitra might have been able to navigate a vent system, but Nel could break into anything she felt like.

In the shallow space between the false bottom and the actual bottom were blueprints.

"Jackpot," she breathed, and gathered them up. "Jiruga, look."

He was there in a second, looming over her shoulder, close enough to touch. Nel ignored it and swallowed the lump in her throat. This wasn't the time. She smoothed the blueprints out.

"Whad're these of?"

Nel furrowed her forehead. "I—don't know. But the entrances and exits are circled, and…"

"Wrap'em up, princess, we gotta get th' fuck outta here."

She slipped the blueprints into the hidden compartment on her throw, but didn't comment. Silence was better. Silence was always better.

"Which way?" Nel asked.

"Door," Nnoitra grunted, and jerked his head towards it. They snuck towards it, and Nnoitra's hand was on the knob, slamming open. Nel stayed behind him, and let him deal with—

Tousen.

And suddenly everything made sense. Nel had thought nothing of it when Aizen had said it. There were lots of people named Tousen. But there was only one blind black guy named Tousen.

Nel slammed the handle of the handgun she always carried strapped to her thigh against his head.

(No one ever expected the girl to have the gun.)

Blind eyes slid out of focus as Tousen went unconscious and sunk to the floor. She looked down at him, revolted. "Traitor."

Nnoitra sneered. "C'mon, leh's go."

Nel nodded. She kicked Tousen as they were leaving for good measure.

They were racing down the hall when there was suddenly a hand around her throat, and an arm around her waist. They dragged her to the wall, and then down. Nnoitra's voice was close, low and dangerous right next to her ear. "Don' move, princess," he said, "or we're both in trouble."

Nel grit her teeth, jaw clenched. She could feel the heat of his chest against her back, burning through her blood as she shifted only the scantest inch. Nnoitra's grip on her throat was loose, but she knew that he wouldn't hesitate to cut her air supply off she made noise.

Damn him.

If they got caught, they were both dead.

Another five seconds went by, and finally, Nnoitra released her. The blueprints were still tucked into the lining of the mink wrap that Nel was wearing, and the two set off again. Sticking to the shadows was pertinent, but Nel felt exposed and paranoid, and every instinct in her body was telling her to run; run as fast and as far as she could.

But running would only get them killed, and wasn't that ironic?

Three times more did Nnoitra shove her against the wall; her hair was, apparently, causing him angst. "M'gonna chop yer hair off, princess, it's drivin' me crazy."

"Go ahead and try it," Nel replied in a whisper.

They were ten feet from the sliding glass door out to the patio, and beyond it, freedom. Nel shook as they slunk down that final hallway; shivered from the adrenaline, shivered from being too close, shivered from knowing that they would make it out alive.

"Ah, there y'are."

Nel silently fumed when Nnoitra's first reaction was to plant her firmly behind him.

(She was going to have to kick him for that, later.)

She peeked around him, to catch a glance of silver hair and a terrifying smile. Nel could feel the tenseness in her body, coiled and ready to spring. She thought it was very, very odd that Nnoitra had suddenly relaxed, lips pulling up into an amused sneer.

"Go," he muttered out of the side of his mouth.

Nel's jaw dropped as she hissed "Are you crazy?"

"Princess," he nearly snarled. "Go."

Nel stared at the silver-hair man at the end of the hall. She had never seen him before, but there was something—oddly familiar about him. He smiled at her. "Say hello to Ran-chan, for me."

Nel ran.

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The exhilaration lasted all night.

Nel ran until her legs were trembling; she ran until she physically collapsed, until she literally could not run any more.

She didn't know how she got back to the hotel.

She did know that she hadn't stopped shaking. Alienated from the rest of the populous, Nel paced the length of the room, back and forth and back and forth. She could feel her hair swishing across her back as she moved, and idly thought that maybe Nnoitra was right, and maybe she ought to cut it.

Procedure stated that she leave; that she return to headquarters with the documents, because by all technical standards, she had completed the mission.

Procedure could stuff it.

Nel had never returned without her partner, and she wasn't about to start now.

The night stretched on.

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He turned up at two AM.

Nel's first manner of business was to punch him in the face.

"Bitch!"

Nel was pretty sure she had broken his nose.

There was not a shred of regret. Nel stood in front of him, painfully calm. "I thought you were dead."

"Yer not suppose'ta be here, princess," he snarled, hand over his still-bleeding nose. That was going to leave a lovely bruise, Nel thought. She had a bizarre desire to laugh.

"And you are not supposed to take stupid risks. That was a stupid risk," she told him flatly.

"Awww, was th' princess worried 'bout lil' ol' me?"

Nel contemplated punching him again. As she was turning away, she said "No, but I have a perfect record. I refuse to allow you to screw it up. We should hurry and pack—"

He caught her around the waist, and pulled her against him. "Shut up, Nel."

As he kissed her, Nel tasted blood and didn't even register the use of her first name.

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fin.