[Víspera de la Guerra]

When Neliel opened her eyes again, her vision of the desert was clouded with twilight. She remembered being small, and she felt small, and she knew that she was little Nel Tu again. And the fact that she could look at her chubby toddler hands and remember when those hands grasped her Gamuza, slicing and murdering in the name of Aizen, made her feel even more of an alien in her current body. Where there had been the oblivious mind of small Nel, there was now the sharp-witted, quick-thinking mind of a woman warrior, and all her haunting memories.


Her cartoonish little kid eyes strained to see through the twilight. In the middle of white sand bronzed by setting sun, she saw white and black sprawled on the ground, and the sand around the shape colored black.

She ran and it seemed like it took forever to get to him on those stubby legs. But she got there, and it felt so eerie walking on that bloodstained sand in bare feet. She was only vaguely aware of Tesla laying nearby, covered in blood himself, as she looked at Nnoitra. He was face down and completely immobile, and she could just barely see the reddish tint in the black stains all over his white uniform. It had been hours since he was struck down. She couldn't believe she'd been out that long.

"Nnoitra-san," she murmured, and felt alien all over again hearing her own high-pitched voice. She took him by the shoulder and nudged him. "Nnoitra-san. Nnoitra."

She shook him and shook him, but he didn't respond.

"Or'hime-chan!" she shouted. "Itsygo-chan!" Orihime, the healer, and Ichigo, the hero – of course they could help her fix this. She became increasingly desperate as she called their names repeatedly. Finally, she stopped for a moment, to look down at the head of disheveled jet black hair, and said, "I'm goin' to find Or'hime and Itsygo. I'll bring 'em back to help you!"

She searched for any indication of a response and found none. Adult Nel knew, deep down. But little Nel went scampering across the desert, screaming "Or'hime-chan! Itsygo-chan!"

As she ran, Neliel encountered Grimmjow's unconscious body too. He lay just as if he were torn into shreds, just the way Ichigo and Nnoitra had left him. Despite his unpleasant short-tempered ways, despite the way he treated Orihime and the fact he fought to kill Ichigo, Nel inevitably felt that pang of empathy for this fellow Arrancar.

Now she'd found three people that needed help. It was a good thing she managed to find that Shinigami - a nice Shinigami, with silvery-blue hair and kind eyes. She was a healer.

She looked at Grimmjow, and she seemed a bit scared - Neliel knew she was contemplating the consequences of helping an Arrancar. But Neliel found herself begging to help him, and the Shinigami found herself tending to his wounds. He would be fine, despite his entire body being scratched and cut and bruised.

Nel led the Shinigami to Nnoitra, and contented herself with sitting atop a boulder and watching from a fair distance. After examining his injuries for a time, the Shinigami gave her a sideways glance, and then moved from Nnoitra to Tesla. Nel forced herself to be calm and watched the movements of the woman's hands healing Tesla with kidou. She hadn't used any kidou on Nnoitra.

When the Shinigami finished with Tesla and approached her again, she told Nel why.

Neliel hung her head. The Shinigami woman expected to see tears, but instead Neliel looked up at her and asked if she might be able to heal the crack in her mask. Seeing as how it was similar to a broken bone, she complied, placing her hands gently on the face of the skull antelope. The kidou flowed from her hands in shades of gossamer white and blue. As the waves of warm spiritual energy washed over her, she thought of Nnoitra, and of Ichigo and Orihime, and her as-of-yet missing brothers, and began to build the shield around her soul that would keep her from falling apart.

As dawn broke, Neliel returned to where Nnoitra lay in the desert.

Grimmjow and Tesla were "sleeping it off" in Las Noches. So far Neliel had not found any other surviving Arrancar. The Shinigami healer had left in the evening. Grimmjow and Tesla might possibly live, and Nel was once again in her true form, yet she couldn't bring herself to be grateful to her, after pronouncing Nnoitra dead.

Waking up in the eerily empty Las Noches, she donned a surplus pair of white hakama and a white jacket. She stopped in the adjacent rooms to be check on Grimmjow and Tesla. After concluding that they were alright, she left. On the bleached white sands under the unforgiving morning sun of Hueco Mundo, she walked alone.

She'd been his keeper, and she should be the one to bury him, even though she was a failed keeper.

She took him up in her arms, thinking she didn't remember dead bodies being so heavy, and she carried him to the part of Las Noches where he'd always sparred with her. She couldn't look at his empty face, so she didn't, if she could help it. But once she'd dug the hole, and she laid him in the ground, she caught a glimpse of the motionless eyelids. She shivered and averted her gaze and buried him quickly, all the while half panting at the labor and half sobbing dryly. The desert began to sizzle as the sun climbed further and further to its zenith. She retrieved his zanpakutou and stuck the shaft into the sand at the head of his grave so that the crescent blades stood high overhead like a grandiose talisman.

His blade made an appropriate grave marker.

Unfortunately, she did not know any prayers. So instead she said goodbye, swallowed her sadness, and went to look for more survivors.

A/N: Yep, the actual story's in English. Sorry Spanish-speakers, me no habla. :( Mais je parle en Francais un peu!... J'adore le fromage! Tu aimes le fromage?...

I am honest to God writing this on Publisher and copying and pasting because I don't have Word on this laptop and Wordpad drives me frigging insane, not having a spellcheck or anything. It's just weird.

If anyone has any idea how you can get Publisher to spell check in English and Spanish and possibly also romaji, or even just how to add accented letters without clicking "Insert" and "Symbols" every flippin' time, I will give you so. many. imaginary virtual Darkside cookies.

CC is welcome! Hit me! xO

Edit: If you noticed some changes, it's because I did in fact do some editing, though I usually really try not to make changes after it's been published... (But the title was supposed to have "Las", not "Les"... *gets hit with a tube sock full of wood screws*) (And I maybe sort of forgot Tesla?)

There's so many characters in Bleach and so many of the Arrancar alone, it's difficult to write about. But I think that's partly why I like this, is because it's so challenging to juggle so many characters. :]

Did I say CC is welcome?