July 1, 2011
Thanks again everyone! You have no idea how awesome it is to read all your reviews and see people put this story on alert or favorites. Oh, and I should note, some contents of this chapter fits in parallel with the original series. I'm pretty sure I'm gonna get flack for it, but it's still important for the rest of the plot. Rest assured, however, this is the only chapter that will be like this. If you want to talk about it, argue with me on whatever you want, feel free to send me a message.
Entre el Corazon y la Espada
"Between Heart and Sword"
Grimmjow stared down at the neighborhood, lazily scanning the area. He knew that Shinigami bastard was around here somewhere, it was just a matter of where. It wasn't exactly a walk in the park to pinpoint, but that didn't really matter; he knew that even if he couldn't find that candy-haired boy, said boy would come looking for him anyway. They had a score to settle, and he knew Ichigo Kurosaki wasn't the type to let someone one-up him in battle.
Sure enough, it took only a couple minutes before he finally felt Ichigo's reiatsu rocket towards him. Snorting at how predictable he was, Grimmjow waited as the boy came to a screeching halt before him. He looked the same. He felt the same too. Grimmjow had thought the boy would have improved in the month they had not seen each other but it didn't seem like the case.
Scoffing, he shrugged off Ichigo's transformation into Bankai. "Did you forget? Even with Bankai you couldn't even touch me."
Ichigo sneered. "Did you forget? I gave you that wound."
The edges of Grimmjow's mouth were pinched, clearly unamused. He didn't forget. It was the first time that anyone's ever left a scar on him. Begrudgingly he had to commend Ichigo for his accomplishment. Though they were far from equal, it at least proved that Ichigo wasn't completely worthless. He was mildly entertaining, at best.
"One more thing, Grimmjow. What happened to your arm?"
Grimmjow's mouth tightened slightly before he twisted his expression into a haughty grin. "I got rid of it. I figured I don't really need two arms to kill you, so why bother?" Though he could laugh it off, it burned that he was one less of a limb. He didn't think he needed it to take care of Ichigo, but the fact that he had been stripped of his status and punished by that bastard Tousen was what really irked him. He always hated Tousen.
He was truly a blind and faithful dog. He thought he knew everything, that it was in his right to dole out punishment like he was some sort of knight in shining armor when really he wasn't any better than the rest of them. Aizen didn't care for him any more than he cared for the rest of them. Only idiots thought they could even stand in that man's shadow. No, the only one who really deserved that was Gin. And Grimmjow hated him too.
Snorting disdainfully at Ichigo who thought he could do so much better than him, Grimmjow couldn't help but taunt, "Go ahead and show me what you got! If you don't give it your all, you're gonna die!"
Ichigo glared at him so darkly, Grimmjow grinned at the sight of it. He was angry, beyond pissed, and even though Ichigo was no better than a talking punching bag, that was good enough to help him vent. "I'll show you what I've got!" the boy snapped back.
Ichigo brought his hand over his face and pulled down. The energy that wrapped around him was dark and stank of rot. Grimmjow hesitated for a second as he recognized the taint that filtered in the boy's reiatsu. It was just like his own. It was the reiatsu of an Arrancar. Startled enough to stop and stare, Grimmjow's eyes widened at the unmistakable mask that covered Ichigo's face. Even the color of his eyes were inverted, reminiscing that of a Hollow's.
Something sparked in Grimmjow just then as he looked at the boy. The smell of darkness was so thick and concentrated around Ichigo it was almost suffocating. Never before had he seen a Shinigami with so bright a reiatsu become so utterly poisoned with the reiatsu of an Arrancar. It was as if two impossible opposites melded together, but instead of blending into a soft grey, they twined about each other like a spiral.
It was as if Ichigo had become the epitome of the term fallen angel. A creature of light and good shrouded by darkness and evil.
Grimmjow didn't know what to do. Ichigo had turned into something so unfathomable that he wasn't sure whether to tear him apart or keep him at a cautious distance. The spark that had started in the center of his chest twined its way down to the pit of his stomach and for a moment he couldn't think of anything but how frighteningly fascinating this boy was.
It took him by surprise when Ichigo suddenly surged forward, and bringing up his sword was just about all he could do to stop himself from being sliced in half. He wouldn't quite stay focused on the battle as he stared into those copper and gold-flecked eyes, so cold that it was almost alike he was staring at a different person.
Who was he? Who was this person standing before him? Where did he come from? Where was he hiding till now? The spark blossomed in Grimmjow's gut and even though he was caught face first with one of the boy's attacks, he just had to grin. He couldn't quite explain what it was he was feeling, but if he had to choose the closest word would be excitement. Though he knew it was more complicated than that.
As blood dripped down his face, he panted harshly. Even the attack wasn't the same. It wasn't like the regular Getsuga Tenshou that had marred his chest a month go. This new little trick that Ichigo was so strangely familiar and yet so foreign, Grimmjow wanted to see what else it could do. "What is this, Shinigami? What the fuck is this?"
Ichigo sighed. Even his voice was different. It really was like facing a whole different person, despite the fact that it wasn't. "I don't have time to explain."
Irritated that he might be denied an answer, denied a name for whatever it was he was staring at, for whatever it was he was feeling, Grimmjow's lips curled into an unhappy snarl. Though he managed to get caught off guard by Ichigo's speed, he swung around and fired a Cero in retaliation. Without missing a beat, he soared above the boy while he was distracted and came down hard with his sword.
Ichigo snarled something about it being useless to fight him in his condition, but Grimmjow wasn't paying attention because just then, the white mask that covered the boy's face shattered into countless pieces. Just as suddenly as it had appeared, it vanished. The darkness that called to him disappeared like a puff of smoke. And once again Grimmjow was shocked.
But instead of being excited, a great wave of disappointment washed over him. How dare Ichigo fall so short of meeting his expectations. How dare he ruin this wonderful feeling inside him. Grinning, though it wasn't out of joy but malice, Grimmjow pushed through the boy's defenses and sent him plummeting back to earth with a single hard swing of his sword.
How pitiful. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Ichigo had raised his expectations, got him hoping, wanting, but then he stumbled and fell and only gave him disappointing results. Seeing him like this, seeing how far he still was from being on equal grounds with him... it was disgusting. Grimmjow lost his appetite. It was time to finish this. If Ichigo wasn't going to be entertaining, then there was no point in keeping him around.
"D-Do you have some business with me?" Orihime trembled, but despite her fear of the one who stood before her, she couldn't budge. Not when there were two Shinigami next to her. She had to stand firm and protect them. If at all possible, she wanted to avoid any needless bloodshed.
"That's right. I do," Ulquiorra replied smoothly and flicked his hand. Without warning, the Shinigami to her right suddenly spurted blood. With a terrified, painful scream, he collapsed to the ground at the lost of the left side of his body.
Sucking in a sharp breath at the sight of the man's mangled body, Orihime quickly touched the pins in her hair. "Souten Kishun!" A light flashed and a pale yellow dome formed over the injured Shinigami, reverting the damage that had been done. This was exactly what she didn't want to happen. Quickly turning to the other Shinigami who had accompanied her on this trip, she shouted at him desperately, "Run away! Please get away from here!"
But the man hesitated. Despite the obvious danger that faced them, he couldn't just abandon his job.
Orihime only grew more desperate to save his life. "I'll be fine, so please go!"
It didn't really matter how much she pleaded or wanted to save him, nothing could stop Ulquiorra from slicing him down too. Gasping in horror, she extended the dome over both of them and curled her hands into fists as she watched her magic slowly go to work. Every part of her body trembled with fear, and her mind screamed at her to run far, far away, but her heart and her loyalty to those around her kept her standing firm.
She turned around to face Ulquiorra, glaring at him for the despicable act he had just committed. Ulquiorra stared back at her impassively, his gaze slowly traveling from her to the dome and back again. "Impressive," he commented. "Your powers extend even that far?" Though he worded it like a question, he wasn't looking for an answer. Staring straight at her, Ulquiorra issued his first command. "You will do something for me."
Orihime tensed, her fright escalating at the thought of being forced to do something she might not like. Who knew what Ulquiorra would have her do, be it kill someone or lure them into a trap or worse. Ready to say no and back away, Orihime was cut off before she even opened her mouth as Ulquiorra spoke again.
"You will say yes. If you do not, your friends will die." He called up an image to show her the battles that took place in Karakura's skies. The struggle they each faced. Seeing the shift in her expression, he continued, "The decision to determine whether they live or not rests on your head. This is not a negotiation, this is an order."
Orihime's mouth pulled into a thin, grim line at the serious look he gave her. He wasn't joking. And frankly, he wasn't really threatening either because she believed he could really do it. She didn't have to guess to see he would really kill them. Daring to look away to stare up at the images of her friends caught in battle, she paused at the sight of Ichigo as he was being tossed down. He was covered in blood and he looked so terribly tired. She didn't know how he got that way, but she feared what might happen to him if this continued.
"Aizen-sama desires your assistance and I am to assure he has it," Ulquiorra said, interrupting her thoughts. "You will do what I tell you."
Closing her eyes, a bitter, aching feeling twisting her heart, Orihime weighed her choices. When she opened them again, she saw Ichigo lying there, unable to defend himself. Squeezing her eyes shut again, unable to look at such a picture, unable to see him hurt again and again and again, she bowed her head and gave a small nod.
Ulquiorra stared at her a moment before stepping forward and continuing with the mission that Aizen had set out for him to do. He pulled his hand from his pocket and held out a simple bracelet. "I will give this to you. As long as you wear this, there will be a special reimaku that will form around you. Your existence will only be recognized by us Arrancar. At the same time, it will allow you the ability to pass through matter. Do not take it off until told."
He put his hand back in his pocket and pulled something else out, this time it was the tube that Aizen had handed him. He held it out to her. "You are to give this to the Shinigami called Ichigo Kurosaki orally. The bracelet will ensure no one will see you, no hear you, but do not get caught regardless. If he realizes what you have done, I will return to permanently amend your mistake." And as if to reassure her, he added, "He will not die from consuming its contents."
Orihime wasn't convinced, but she hesitantly held out her hand so that he could place the tube in her palm. She stared down at it before looking up at him again as he turned around and headed towards the gaping mouth of the Garganta. He didn't even look back at her as he left, as if she wasn't worth worrying about until later, but he did give her a few parting words. "When you are done, you will find somewhere else to stay. You will not go home nor will you visit your friends or any of the Shinigami while you wear that bracelet. You will be told when you can return to your normal life." And with that, he left.
Curling her hand around the tube, she turned to face the two Shinigami who had been injured because of her. The extent of their injuries horrified her and made her exceedingly sad. To think that so much effort would be put into cornering her. She didn't doubt that Ulquiorra would do more than what he already did just to complete his mission. Squeezing her eyes shut, hot tears trailed down her cheeks as she considered the betrayal of her actions.
Ichigo wheezed as he remained crouched on the ground. He stared up at Shinji Hirako who stood over him, his sword braced against his shoulder. The blond Vaizard clicked his tongue, the corner of his mouth turned up in a half sneer. "I told you, didn't I?" With a shake of his head he put his sword away before reaching over to help him up.
He was taken back to his body and immediately told to rest. No more training would commence for the rest of the day. After an attack like that, Ichigo was in no position to continue stressing himself out. Hours passed by as things were put back into order around Karakura. Too exhausted to stay conscious anymore, he passed out soon after returning to the Vaizard hideout. He didn't wake up after that.
Rukia Kuchiki sat down in his room, occupying a space on the floor by the closet to watch over him. She held a cell phone in her hand, frowning slightly. She was a little bothered by the fact that she couldn't reach Orihime at all. Not her house phone, not even her cell phone. She wondered if perhaps Orihime was still in Soul Society and that the reception between the two worlds was a little fuzzy.
She glanced over at Ichigo as he slept in his bed and sighed softly. It bothered her to see the sort of people that Ichigo was training with. Their abilities, even their reiatsu was strange. Almost frightening. It reminded her too much of their enemies. But because Ichigo had trusted them, she forced herself to push aside whatever doubts she had in favor of his health and safety.
But something still bothered her. Why had the Arrancar pulled back when it seemed so certain they would win? What exactly did they accomplish by coming here? Shaking her head, Rukia just leaned back against the wall and banished that answerless thought. When she heard a soft clatter and knock at Ichigo's door, she got up and opened it to see what was going on. There stood Ichigo's sisters, Yuzu and Karin, holding a tray of food and wearing sheepish smiles. They asked if they could eat in the room and watch over Ichigo. Rukia couldn't possibly deny them and so invited them inside to eat by his bed.
They chatted a little, softly talking to each other as they ate. Rukia watched them, smiling softly at the bond these siblings had for each other. When their energies ran low and ushering them to their own beds seemed like an impossible thing to do, she left them there to stay with their brother. Gathering blankets from the closet, she bundled them up and let them be, leaving the room to take care of other matters.
The girls fell sound asleep, the worry that had seemed permanent on their faces now finally gone as they slumbered deeply and peacefully by the brother they cared for so dearly. Minutes passed, then an hour, and all three Kurosaki children were sound asleep in the quiet of a single room. But soon enough, the curtain of Ichigo's window shifted a little, as if disturbed.
First a hand, then a head, then the rest of a body passed into the room as if the wall and glass weren't even there. Orihime blinked behind herself, rather surprised at how easily she had come through. Looking ahead, she spotted Ichigo in bed, sleeping and recovering. The silly grin she normally wore was gone from her face as she stared down at him, covered in bandages.
"To be honest," she said softly, though Ichigo couldn't hear her anyway, "I didn't want to do it." She looked around the room, the place that Ichigo called his home. She'd never really been here before, never really had the privilege to step inside. There was something sacred about this place. "But..."
Her lips pulled into a tight line as they started to quiver. It hurt her to think that she would have to betray him like this. To follow the orders of their enemy for the sake of saving his life. She didn't know how long she would have to keep the bracelet on, but she had a feeling it wasn't for a short period. She only hoped that by the time she could take it off, the others would have forgiven her for her transgression.
Lightly touching Ichigo's hand, almost afraid of him waking up, she sighed softly when he didn't even twitch. Quietly, she studied his face. It seemed that only in sleep was he really at peace. He always seemed to carry some sort of burden, and he never let anyone else take some of the load off his shoulders. She wished he would share a bit, relax a little, let himself rely on them a little more, but he never did. Despite being the center of attention, the leader of the pack, their greatest friend, he always had this lone wolf attitude. It pained her to see him get hurt again and again because they weren't strong enough to support him, because he always took their share of the pain on himself. How selfish and caring he was. How utterly kind and heartfelt.
Pressing her lips together, she leaned back as tears started to blur her vision. She sniffled and wiped them away. To think, she was going to do something against his will. She didn't want to hurt him, didn't want to put more weight on his shoulders or make him suffer, but she had to do this to save him.
"I'm sorry. I'm terrible, I know." She pressed back against the window by his bed, putting space between them as if she feared what might happen if she touched him again. It was already bad enough that she was here. "I only wanted to save you. I only wanted to save everyone. I'm kinda useless. I'm always getting in the way..."
She sniffled and reached into her pocket, holding the tube Ulquiorra had given her. Uncapping it, she stepped up to Ichigo's bed and lightly touched the sides of his mouth so that it opened. Carefully, she tipped the contents inside until everything slipped past his lips. Once it was gone, she pulled away and pocketed the empty tube in her pocket.
With a weak, trembling smile, she looked at him still sleeping there so peacefully, memorizing his face, his smell, before leaning back. "Please forgive me..." she whispered, though it pained her to say it.
Ichigo groaned and turned over onto his side. The blanket got caught somewhere, forcing him to stop before he could finish the move. Scowling, he reached for it and gave a tug, but it still wouldn't give. With a sleepy grumble, he tugged harder, until it finally snapped free. The force of his tugging sent him rolling forward, toppling off the side of the bed. He crashed onto the floor in an ungraceful heap, face first.
"Ugh..." he grumbled and untangled himself from the sheets. He sat up and rubbed the side of his head where he smacked into the floor. "Was it a dream? Damn, I even fell out of bed. How lame." He lowered his hand and sighed, rolling his shoulders back. He expected himself to be full of kinks and sores and aches, but to his surprise, he was pain free.
Looking down at himself, he lifted his hand and flexed it. It was as good as new. He unraveled the bandage and didn't even see a scar from where Grimmjow had stabbed him. "I'm healed?" Frowning, he closed his eyes and searched for the signature of whoever it was that had made him better again. The soft peach colored glow that enveloped him was undoubtedly Orihime's. But... that wasn't all. Something else was there. He couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. "This...?"
Just then, his window slid open. Looking over his shoulder, Ichigo was surprised to see Toushiro Hitsugaya crouched in his window in Shinigami form. "That reiatsu is Orihime's, isn't it? Come quickly. We have an emergency situation."
Startled, Ichigo was about to ask what was going on, but Hitsugaya was already turning around. Wasting no time, he sought for Kon and popped the soul candy in his mouth. Once in his Shinigami form, he leaped out the window and followed the white-haired Captain back to their base. More specifically, Orihime's apartment.
Upon arrival, he spotted the other Shinigami who had joined Hitsugaya in the mission of protecting Karakura from the human world side. Even Rukia was there. Ichigo gave a sweeping glance to them all and saw the grave expressions on their faces. He looked to Rukia and gave her a questioning stare. She only stared back grimly.
Hitsugaya set down his sword and looked to Rangiku Matsumoto. He asked her for an update, and she gestured to the large monitor on the far end of the room. "Then patch us through."
She nodded and made the connection with Seireitei. The monitor crackled before an image cleared up and there appeared Ukitake on the other side. Surprised that they weren't facing the Head Commander, Genryusai Shigenkuni Yamamoto, Hitsugaya was quick to question the other Captain's presence. "Why?"
Ukitake wore no smile. "I asked to switch places with him."
"Because I was the last who saw Orihime Inoue when she entered the Senkaimon on her trip back to the living world."
Rukia wore an expression of surprise. She hadn't seen Orihime since they parted ways. Even after calling her, she thought perhaps the girl was still in Seireitei and that the connection between the two worlds was too fuzzy. She thought maybe that's why they couldn't get into contact. But to hear she had left, but never showed her face here in the living world...
"Judging from your reactions, I take it she never arrived."
Ichigo was quick to interrupt, not entirely sure what was going on. "Wait. What's going on? What happened with Inoue?" It didn't make any sense to him that Orihime would be gone when he felt her presence all over him.
Ukitake exhaled softly. "From our side of the story, the two guards who had escorted her through the Senkaimon came back alive after being attacked. But according to their testimony, it is believed that Orihime Inoue has either been captured or even killed by the Arrancar." At the stricken looks he faced across the monitor, he shook his head. "I know, I don't want to believe it either, but we cannot rule out the possibility. After being attacked, the guards don't remember what happened. When they came to, Orihime was already gone."
Ichigo couldn't believe it. He couldn't accept that sort of explanation. He knew what he felt, and there was no mistake that she had been with him. "Bullshit! She can't be dead. Look at me, I don't even have a scratch on me! Her reiatsu is all over me! How can she be dead when I'm like this?"
Just then, a voice cut into his rant. "I see... Then that's a shame." Recognizing that tone, Ichigo immediately stopped as Yamamoto came into view from somewhere off screen. "If what you're saying is true... then that would certainly mean she's alive. However, that would also mean she is now a traitor."
Ichigo's eyes widened. "What?"
"Were she taken by force, she wouldn't have had the opportunity to visit you and heal your wounds. The fact that she did means she left of her own choice."
He couldn't believe it. Ichigo couldn't believe a single thing this old fart was saying. How could Orihime willingly go to the enemy's side? She was too tender for that. Too innocent. Too kind. She couldn't hurt a fly. To actually go to Hueco Mundo freely was just absurd. But then why wasn't she here? Why did she leave behind this trail of mysteries? He had to find out. She was his friend. Whatever the truth was, he was going to find out.
Just down the block, Orihime stood by a lamp post. She stared at her home where she knew everyone to gather. She couldn't return because of what Ulquiorra had told her, even though she longed to tell the truth. The people who walked down the street couldn't hear here, nor see her. Even if she said hello or called out to to them, like the owner of Mister Doughnuts, there wasn't even a twitch of recognition to show she was there.
Biting her lower lip, Orihime turned away and walked down the street. Until someone came to tell her she could take it off, Orihime was nothing more than a ghost in this town. It was as if she'd been erased. It was the appropriate punishment for a traitor like her, for putting one of her dearest friends in danger. With a bitter smile, she continued on down the road, hoping to find some way to take her mind off this torment. And maybe a way to fix the mistake she'd made.