My current obsession is drooling over Kokuto from Bleach's Hell Verse. He has the same voice actor as Mugen from Samurai Champloo. Damn if his voice isn't sexy.
Little by little, the end of the chocolate covered Pocky stick gradually disappeared into his mouth, and slender fingers quickly reached for another in the red rectangular box conveniently placed nearby. Nibbling on the tip of the new Pocky stick, he peeked into the box to check how many he had left. With a small frown of disappointment, Ichigo noted he was out of the tasty treat. Waggling the last chocolate stick up and down between his teeth – gently, so it wouldn't snap too fast – Ichigo looked out of his window to the blue skies up ahead. It was a sunny afternoon, and the heat, though welcome, was making him drowsy. That wasn't a good sign; he wanted more Pocky and was too lazy to even consider slipping on his shoes to procure some more. Ichigo imagine the walk to the store with the familiar route mapped out in his head, but even picturing it made him feel lazier than before.
It was the start of summer break, and attempting the given assignments his teachers had instructed was not an option. Ichigo had vowed not to touch his school backpack until the last week of summer, knowing full well he would be sluggish and listless when the time rolled around, but he figured he'd cross that bridge when he came to it. Finals were still quite a long way off and he'd managed fairly well during midterms. He'd earned this break, anyway. Sleeping late, shoving thoughts about school aside, eating four boxes of Pocky in a row while reading comics, and lolling about on his bed with only his underwear on felt mysteriously gratifying. The holidays were here and he was determined to enjoy it until school started again.
Yuzu's shrill voice interrupted his musing as she called him down for lunch. Slowly rolling off his bed, Ichigo slid into a thin cotton shirt and shorts before sauntering his way downstairs. He joined his family at the dining table and slid into his usual seat across his younger sister Karin. She barely spared him a glance as she flipped through a sports magazine on her lap, surreptitiously placed under the table so her father wouldn't see. Ichigo took the proffered bowl of rice from his other sister with a smile and a word of thanks before starting to eat.
Halfway through his meal, Ichigo's father swaggered in with his usual loud entrance, slinging his white doctor's coat over his shoulder. Isshin sat across his son and beamed around at his children. Ichigo tuned out his family's inane chatter and sat chewing on a particularly crunchy piece of fried fish until he distinctly felt Karin's foot collide with his shin.
"Ow." He said around his mouthful of rice, shooting her a disgruntled look. "What was that for?"
"Dad asked you something." Karin replied, spooning some more vegetables onto her bowl. "What's wrong with you? You've been spacing out since you started staying home."
Ichigo grinned. "Summer break is here! I'm entitled to act a little strange."
"Well, that's good and all, but I don't think I want you leeching around the house for the entire break." Isshin set down his chopsticks on the side of his bowl. "So I'm giving you three choices."
The orange haired teen choked on his soup. When his father spoke in that carefree tone, it usually meant he had already planned something Ichigo was guaranteed to hate.
"I just started summer break, dad!" Ichigo swallowed a clump of rice with some difficulty. "Cut me some slack."
"No." Isshin replied with one of his notorious grins. "Like I said, you have three choices. Work with me in the clinic, or work with Urahara-san for two months of your summer break."
Ichigo tried to piece things together as he watched his father eat. "And what's the third choice?"
"Find a job on your own. I'll give you week or so, I'm not going to force you to do something you won't like for the rest of summer. What kind of father would I be?"
"That's exactly what you're doing now, dad." Ichigo made an effort not to roll his eyes.
Isshin didn't reply, merely giving his eldest child a triumphant smile and a gleeful wink.
Ichigo sighed. Maybe there was something against firstborns having to work their asses off during the last year of their high school life. He'd really been looking forward to having time off by himself, though. Hours of playing video games, waking up in the afternoon, lazing around in his underwear, doing whatever he wanted until summer break ended – all his hopes were dashed. Still, if he was going to get a job, then he wanted to work someplace where there wouldn't be any distractions, and if the workplace didn't have anyone he knew, all the better. Honestly though, the beginning of summer heat was hot enough as it was, and Ichigo knew it was only going to get hotter. His father's clinic had air conditioning, but Urahara-san's store didn't. Ichigo wanted to work at neither if he could help it, especially not when he could be spending time loafing around at the beach.
Wait. The beach sounded great right about now, it being summer and all. And Karakura's East Beach was a whole lot less of a destination any high schooler he knew would go to than Karakura's West Beach. Usually, both beaches would need extra hands to do all sorts of odd jobs here and there around the tourist area. Things clicked into place as his mind put two and two together.
"Fine, I'll take the last choice, then."
"That's a shitty line if I've ever heard one." Nnoitra plastered one of his mocking grins on his face.
"Yeah, that's coming from the shittiest shithole ever to walk these sands." Grimmjow snarled back, one hand on Pantera's hilt. "If you wanna fight, I say cut the damn talk and get on with it already."
"Touché." Swinging Santa Teresa before him, Nnoitra stood with his legs apart, oozing testosterone left, right and center. "Bring it, Kitty boy."
The battle was on. With one quick lunge, Grimmjow dived for Nnoitra, whipping Pantera out against his chest. Nnoitra effectively blocked his attack with one fluid movement of Santa Teresa. He cackled gleefully as Grimmjow swung his sword, feeling the thrill of the fight flood through his veins. Apparently Grimmjow was feeling it too. Adrenaline was coursing beneath the thick layer of hostility in both Espada. Slash after slash, their weapons collided with clangs and sparks flew every time their blades scraped against each other's. Small desert animals were startled into fleeing the loud commotion they were creating.
Unfortunately, both were heading too close to the buildings they were housed in. Neither seemed to care as they fought with a raging passion, intent on showing the other who was the stronger, more superior one. Nnoitra used both hands to stop Grimmjow's Pantera from slicing into his chest – though that was highly unlikely because of his incredible Hierro, one of his strongest attributes – and the force of stopping Grimmjow's strength pushed him backward into a wall. The wall belonged to a building, and soon they were crashing through, scattering rubble here and there in their frenzied wake.
There were shouts and yells commanding them to stop what they were doing, but they were too caught up in the whirling excitement of the battle to even register what the hollering around them were even about. Nnoitra aimed a hard kick at Grimmjow's stomach, missing only by half an inch. He grinned and stuck out his tongue, displaying his number five straight in the Sexta's face. It was a direct taunt; Grimmjow caught the bait and bristled accordingly. There were more yells as they continued slashing at each other, getting further into the building. Grimmjow managed a quick blast of Cero and detonated Nnoitra into a matching set of steel doors, the entrance to Szayel's laboratory.
Nnoitra crashed through with a spectacular show of cracked marble and the tinkling of glass apparatus colliding with the floor. More rubble fell through from the ceiling, effectively covering the entrance with broken stones and pieces of marble. Grimmjow waited outside, slightly shocked at the vast amount of destruction he'd created from one blast. The heat from the battle was slowly wearing off as realization dawned on him. There were subdued whispers from the lesser Arrancar gathering around him as they surveyed the damage done. Several of them were wearing stained laboratory coats. Grimmjow supposed they were part of Szayel's experiment assistants.
"Nnoitra?" He ventured, keeping a good grip on Pantera as he stayed alert for any movement within the rubble.
There was no reply. Grimmjow wondered if he had somehow killed the Quinto Espada, but brushed that thought away. As if Nnoitra would die from a bit of building crashing down on him. Didn't he use to boast about his unbreakable armor?
Grimmjow stole a glance at the trembling Arrancar who were now inching away from him. They looked terrified and one faintly smelled of urine. He spat in their direction just to watch them scramble over a heap of rubble in their haste to run away from him. A scythe came swinging out of the cracked wall beside the entrance, nearly catching him in the face. Nnoitra's aim was good. Grimmjow swerved to the side in time, flicking Pantera's blade expertly to avoid getting sliced by Santa Teresa.
"You're not bad, Jeagerjacques, I'll give you that." Nnoitra cackled from the other side of the wall. "But you're not good enough!"
The scythe vanished as it was retracted back on its black chain into the laboratory, whipping up clouds of dust and sand in its trail. Grimmjow cursed and darted in after it, hoping to catch Nnoitra unawares before he swung the long, lethal weapon in his direction once more. The laboratory was dark; the light bulbs above fizzling out of their fixtures. Sand was pouring through some cracks in all the walls, and even from the ceiling. There were broken shards of glass everywhere, with a variety of colored liquids pooling on the floor. The crackling blue flame of a burner was busy setting a small wooden table alight.
Grimmjow's sharp ears picked up the quiet jingle of Santa Teresa's chains, somewhere from behind a tall water tank that housed a live monster – most likely one of Szayel's atrocious creations. That was all the warning he had before the scythe caught him in the chest, sending him reeling back into a glass shelf full of carefully stored beakers and test tubes in their holders. The effect was immediate; the fragile apparatus needed only a few seconds to teeter on the edge of the rack before crashing down to the marble floor. Grimmjow didn't spare that much thought, except for swiftly getting out of the way of the falling chemicals. No telling how much trouble he would inflict on himself if he allowed the vile liquids to splash on his person.
He slashed his sword out at Nnoitra, who had reappeared from behind the tank, and the battle continued on. Grimmjow used a sneaky tactic by getting close to the tank, looping Nnoitra's scythe around the shockproof glass as he dodged each swinging attack from the grinning Quinto. Finally, he jumped backwards out of harm's way as Nnoitra sent his crescent shaped scythe in Grimmjow's direction. The force of the swinging weapon made the black chains contract around the tank, cracking the glass. The entire tank collapsed inward. The chains caught around the floating monster within, instantly killing it as Nnoitra yanked on Santa Teresa, hoping to get a good hit on the elusive Sexta.
"Ah." Grimmjow skillfully leapt out of the way, surveying the extra demolition done. "You killed that thing."
"Doesn't matter." Nnoitra replied with a disgusted curl of his upper lip. "It was grotesque, anyway."
"I'm surprised you know that word."
"You're in no place to make fun of me, Sexta."
"What . . ." Pink hair came into view as Szayel clacked into his destroyed laboratory. "My . . . work . . ."
Grimmjow stopped in mid-fight as a tiny part of him felt a spike a guilt. "We shouldn't have come in here, Nnoitra."
"You're the one who pushed me through the damn wall, bastard." Nnoitra hissed back. "Too late now, Kitty; the damage is done and we're getting out of here."
"You're letting me get the blame?"
"No, that's why I said we're getting out of here, didn't I?"
"Neither of you are leaving my laboratory." Szayel ground out through gritted teeth. "At least, not until you give me a proper explanation, an apology, and help clean up the whole place."
Grimmjow took one look at Nnoitra and nodded. "We're getting out of here."
Szayel blocked the doorway, though was rubble was left of it was hardly enough to be called one. "Didn't you hear me? I said you're both not leaving."
With that, he swallowed his sword.
"All three of you are to stop fighting right this moment." Ulquiorra called from below, watching the battle commence above. "Aizen-sama has ordered me to put an end to this."
"Shut up, idiot!" Nnoitra hollered as he deftly swung Santa Teresa to block Grimmjow's raging attack. "Can't you see we're busy?"
"I should kill the two of you, I really should." Szayel was saying, stretching out his purple tipped nails to the back of Nnoitra's neck. "There's nothing stopping me now."
Ulquiorra used Sonido to step up to Szayel's position and grip his wrist. "Enough. There will be a new laboratory constructed just for you."
"I'm not finished with them yet." Szayel struggled to wrench his arm back. "Let go of me!"
Nnoitra cackled gleefully as he smoothly avoided slash after slash of Pantera's blade. "Come and get me then, scientist freak!"
The battle persisted, causing even more rubble to fly about than the damage usually gained during the time Shinigami infiltrated Hueco Mundo. It ground to a halt only when Szayel managed to snap Nnoitra's wrist bone, rendering the use of his left hand. Grimmjow gave Szayel a scratch with Pantera across his cheek.
"I hate all of you." Nnoitra decided, tentatively feeling his broken bone with a malicious glint in his eye.
"So do I." Szayel replied smoothly, wiping away the blood trickling down his cheek. "And so does Grimmjow. Now that we've sorted that out, can we get back to being at each other's throats?"
"First sentence you've said that ever made sense to me." Grimmjow snickered, tasting blood on his lip where Nnoitra had punched him.
"There will be punishment for the three of you." Ulquiorra said as he crossed his arms over his chest. "If you do not wish to anger Aizen-sama further, you will stop this nonsense immediately."
Nnoitra answered for the three of them by swinging Santa Teresa in Ulquiorra's direction. "Fuck if that's gonna happen."
Stark was asleep when Lilinette clambered up the rocky precipice where he was lying on. Her foot slipped on the rock and she scrambled for balance, finally regaining composure when she managed to latch onto his arm. Pulling herself up, she dived for his chest when a loud bang sounded, blasting shards of rock and debris all around. The sounds of Grimmjow growling and Nnoitra cackling sounded like a nightmare to her ears, and comfort was what she strived for in Stark's arms.
"Wake up!" She shook Stark's shoulders impatiently. "They're coming closer, and it's dangerous."
Stark snored in response, irking her further. Lilinette thumped on his chest, anxious to get him out of harm's way. The fighting was scaring her, and the destruction of the buildings she called home was increasing her tension. Stark was the only one who would take her to safety, and he wouldn't wake up. She was almost in tears.
"Please wake up!" Gripping the edge of his Hollow mask, she shook him until he stirred and blinked up at her blearily.
"It's still morning, Lilinette." Stark murmured, oblivious to the crashing sounds of falling rubble. "Let me sleep."
"Something crazy is happening." Lilinette gripped at his white Espada jacket. "We've got to get away!"
Stark watched Lilinette carefully and only sat up when a flying yellow Cero shot above her head, narrowly missing her hair. She let out a panicked wail and huddled closer for comfort. Brushing some strands of hair away from her face, he shushed her with a kiss to her forehead before swinging himself over the slab of rock, Lilinette in his arms.
"Has Nnoitra been bullying you?" He checked her for injuries. "No, that can't be. He's not stupid enough to try that."
"They're all fighting!" Lilinette shivered against his chest. "Even the Espada quarters were destroyed."
Stark deposited her on a small rock just big enough for Lilinette to sit on and lifted her arm, where there was a nicely blooming purplish bruise on her pale skin. A dull throb of anger spiked through him and he frowned down at her.
"Who hurt you?"
"No one!" Lilinette said a little too quickly, shielding her face with her hands as Stark towered above her. "It's just a small accident. Let's get out of here, please . . ."
"Tell me the truth."
Scared into babbling, Lilinette peeked up at Stark through the holes her fingers made across her face. "G-Grimmjow and Nnoitra are duking it out with Szayel and Ulquiorra came to stop the fight but he didn't get to because they didn't bother listening."
"And the bruise?"
"I got hit by a bit of flying wall."
"How did that happen?"
"Like I said, they wanted to go at each other and destroyed all of our quarters. I was in our bathroom when it caved in on me."
Stark dropped a chaste kiss on the top of her head before straightening up. "Time to join the fray."
I'm a genius.
Ichigo hummed to himself as he slid his sunglasses on and leaned back in his tall white chair. The bright green whistle lolled against his chest as he stretched his arms up and allowed himself one soft whoop of joy. The sea breeze felt great as it skimmed across his bare chest and face. Sounds of children and adults enjoying their time on the beach mingled together to form a comforting atmosphere.
Someone tapped the tall chair and cleared his throat. Ichigo looked down at his working partner, Takeshi. The black haired baseball freak was beaming up at him and waving a chilled can of juice in his direction.
"Thanks." Ichigo gave him a mock salute. "I'll treat you to lunch later."
"No worries." Takeshi winked. "Next is my shift, Mr. Lifeguard."
"Like you'd let me forget that." Ichigo shot him a grin.
His working partner sauntered away and Ichigo opened his juice can with a fizzling snap before taking a long swig. It was hot out on the beach, even with the white umbrella that had the lifeguard sign on it shielding him from the sun. There weren't many people swimming; most of them would only venture out during the late afternoon and early evening when the waters weren't too hot.
A little boy dragged his younger sister out into the shallow part of the sea, determined to teach her how to swim. Judging by the blond hair they sported, it was clear they were tourists. Ichigo smirked as he recalled memories of beach trips with his twin sisters. He watched them play around in the water for a bit, splashing about and searching for pretty stones and shells. To the far left, there were a group of guys about Ichigo's age walking on the beach with a large piece of paper that looked suspiciously like a map of sorts. They were a bit too far for him to have a good look at their faces, but from their raised voices and flailing fists, it was obvious that they were having some sort of argument. There was a high possibility they were foreigners who were lost or at the very least, in need of a bit of pointing in the right direction. Ichigo scanned the sea in his area once more. It was noon time now, and the sun was high in the sky. There weren't any more people heading out to play in the water; the two children were already racing back up the beach to their parents.
Hopping off his lifeguard seat, Ichigo carefully stepped down from the tall chair and tugged his tank over his head. He made his way over to the confused looking tourists, who were grouped together with the large map spread out on a wide slab of mossy rock.
"S'cuse me, you guys need some help?"
The shortest one turned around and faced him. He looked incredibly familiar, even without the green streaks down his cheeks. His pale skin gave him a ghostly appearance as he practically glowed in the afternoon sun.
"Ah! You're Ulquiorra!" Ichigo pointed with a finger, mouth agape in shock.
The others turned around as well, confirming Ichigo's suspicions. His quick mind calculated five Espada in total, but they didn't seem to have any weapons with them. Still, that didn't mean he should just take his chances and let loose. There were Espada here on Karakura East beach wearing gigai and garbed in human beach wear, which meant Aizen had sent them here for a reason. Ichigo itched to find out.
"No, what are you on about?" A tall man with black hair up to his shoulders – easily a six-footer and possibly taller – swaggered up to the front, pushing Ulquiorra back. "We don't know you, go away."
"Stop lying!" Ichigo made a face. "You're obviously Nnoitra! You think I wouldn't recognize who I've fought against before?"
"No. We do not need help." Ulquiorra pushed Nnoitra aside before a brawl could transpire. "We are perfectly fine here by ourselves."
Ichigo's eyes flicked between him and the map. "Then what the hell's that?"
Grimmjow quickly stood behind Ulquiorra, shielding the map from Ichigo's line of view. He shot the orange haired teen a cocky grin and folded his arms across his chest.
"Fuck off, Strawberry. We're not doing anything bad here." Blue eyes glinted dangerously. "At least, not yet."
Ichigo bristled. "Like hell I'd believe that kinda shit."
"You must be blind, we don't even know who you are." Nnoitra said in a singsong voice. "Kurosaki Ichigo? Never heard of him."
"What's with that blatant lie?" Ichigo scoffed, refusing to back down. "You just gave yourself away by saying my full name, idiot."
"Bastard!" Nnoitra lunged forward, only to be stopped by Ulquiorra. "The kid can see right through our protection shield! Aizen told us a lie."
Ulquiorra pushed him back with a necessary amount of force. "Aizen-sama would not lie to us. Control yourself, Nnoitra. We are in a sticky situation here."
Grimmjow sighed and leaned back against the rock, using the map as a cover. "It amazes me how calm you can be when the rest of us are freaking out."
"We weren't thrown out, whatever you're thinking!" Nnoitra brandished a short stick he had found in the sand at Ichigo. "We're not outcasts or anything like that. We're going home soon, I just know it."
Narrowing his eyes, Ichigo tried to make sense of the situation. He gathered enough from what Nnoitra had unintentionally given away.
"Did something happen in Hueco Mundo?"
Ulquiorra shook his head. "We are not allowed to give away information regarding our home."
Nnoitra gave Ichigo his best sneer. "It's none of your business anyway, Shinigami. We're on a truce right now with Soul Society, so fuck away and leave us alone."
Grimmjow nudged Stark, who was dozing off and leaning onto his shoulder. "Hey, don't sleep at random places, you idiot. We're going to leave you behind."
Szayel resurfaced from behind the others, holding up a small piece of transparent stone. "This is lovely. I want to take it back with me."
"That's just colored glass." Ichigo shrugged. "From a beer bottle or something like that. The edges are sharp."
"Oh, just like my apparatus." Szayel said, and promptly cut his finger. "Oh no."
"I did warn you." Ichigo muttered, watching Szayel break out in a panic. "Weren't you listening?"
"He never does." Ulquiorra said quietly. "And neither do you. We said we don't need your help. However, thank you for offering. We are leaving now."
He gestured to the others, and they obediently followed suit. Szayel remained where he was standing, however, watching the blood trickling down his finger onto his bare chest. Ichigo watched him warily.
"It's blood." He announced after a few seconds, then looked up at Ichigo. "My own blood. I've never . . . it's rather fascinating, really."
Ichigo blanched. "Yeah, I'm sure. Look, could you tell me why you guys are here? Is there something Aizen planned that I should know about?"
"I'm not sure if I should tell you." Szayel said, wiping his bloodied finger on his shorts. "You are, after all, the enemy."
Ichigo decided on a different approach. He tugged out his wallet and produced a plaster. "Here. Use this for your wound."
Szayel shrank back. "I'm unarmed. That thing has germs on it."
Confused, Ichigo withdrew his hand. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm in the Human World." Szayel explained with an air of paranoia. "For a long while, because . . . well, that doesn't matter. Still, there are bacteria everywhere. I don't have my sanitizing equipment with me to keep myself safe."
"You said something about being unarmed. Why would Aizen send all of you here without your weapons?"
"I can't tell you that." Szayel said, inching away from Ichigo. "I'm not allowed to."
"What are you afraid of?" Ichigo wheedled, holding out the plaster as a peace treaty. "I'm not armed, either. Well, not yet I suppose, but I won't try to fight you unless you start something."
"That's not very comforting." Szayel muttered, avoiding Ichigo's penetrating gaze. "Look, if you really want to know, you should ask Ulquiorra. He can probably tell you the entire story. Right now, we're just looking for a proper place to stay."
Voices called for the remaining Espada, and Szayel gave Ichigo an apologetic look before he bolted. Ichigo watched him race up the beach to join his motley crew and disappear into the forest of trees surrounding the far end of the coast.
His mind in a whirl of confusion, Ichigo inhaled a deep breath to sort out his collection of thoughts. He'd managed to garner that the Espada weren't exuding any hostile aura toward his beloved Karakura, but it was still a rare – and unnerving – sight to see them on the beach, especially during his summer job. Ichigo frowned to himself as he mulled over the sheer coincidence of it all. He was curious as to why they were wearing gigai – usually Aizen sent them on missions in their Espada uniforms – and even more surprised that they didn't bring along their swords. It was too much of a shock to see them running away from him. He itched to know what the hell was going on, and why they were consulting a map of all things.
That's right, the map!
In their haste to leave, they had left it behind. Ichigo pried the damp paper off the rock and skimmed through it. The map had several notes stuck on it with something similar to glue, but gave off a faint burnt plastic smell. He scanned the notes, which were written in a sort of code, containing more pictures and icons than words.
One of the notes read: "1. Be polite to the humans by all means. Do not kick up a fuss and especially no talk about 'burning a hole through your head with my Cero' or 'I'll give you a taste of my sword.' When in doubt, always walk away."
Ichigo guffawed at that. "Whoever wrote this must be an idiot."
Another note stated in thick capital letters: "2. Absolutely no fighting in the Human Realm. This rule includes spitting, scratching, punching, pinching, hair-pulling, and kicking. Retain your control over emotional feelings and try to get along as a team. However, glaring is allowed."
The last sentence was written in small, curly print. The other five notes had pictures on them, none of which Ichigo could decipher with his skills, despite countless training with the aid of Rukia's amateur art. He could barely tell what the map was about, anyway. Its size notwithstanding, the squiggly lines in the middle of the paper spreading out to all sides could either mean roads, air waves, or a certain type of seaweed. Ichigo frowned down at the large piece of paper – crumpled and dog-eared due to slapdash handling – and heaved a sigh of frustration. It was no wonder the Espada were confused. He could barely make out what the map said as it was.
He stared at a bright yellow note at the top of the paper. It was burnt at one corner and looked like it had been dipped in water and left to dry. The ink had run and was faded, but Ichigo felt determined to make out the words.
Squinting, he read: "Karakura East Hotel, Room 318. Remember to x and act natural. Ulquiorra is in command, and Szayel is allowed to help when needed. The rest of you are to follow instructions and be good."
Chewing his bottom lip as he mulled over what the missing words were, Ichigo felt an idea pop into his head. No doubt the Espada were provided with a room in the hotel up the beach. He could always go undercover and try to find out the real reason why they were roaming around in his town.
After his shift, that is. He wasn't about to get fired . . . yet.
"Room 318." Ulquiorra read out from a piece of paper he had calmly extracted from his pocket. He squinted at the squiggly handwriting before adding: "Please."
The pretty receptionist smiled and tapped her fingers on the keyboard of her computer. "Suite room for five, booked yesterday evening, correct?"
Ulquiorra deadpanned, feeling a tad bit uncertain. Was the human woman testing him? Aizen had not provided him any extra information on how to deal with sudden questions from humans. Gin had personally taken the time to explain things out in his usual slippery manner, especially about stopping at the large counter that said 'Karakura East Hotel' in big gold-plated lettering instead of just barging up to find their room. After that, Gin had advised them to just 'follow along from there'. Still, it didn't make things any easier.
Taking his silence for a yes, the receptionist plastered a pleasant smile on her face and tapped some more on the keyboard before looking up.
"May I see some verification, sir?"
"Of what?" Ulquiorra asked, wondering what this lowly human woman was asking of him.
She blinked and straightened up in her swivel chair. "Your identity card, sir, or the card of your current guardian . . .?"
She peered around Ulquiorra's short frame at the taller, slightly more matured looking men behind him. Two seemed to have vividly dyed hair and were currently arguing in hushed tones behind a tall, sleepy-looking brunette. The receptionist brightened visibly when she noticed the slight stubble on the brunette's chin. Finally, an adult!
"Perhaps you should inform your parent there that we need some authentication."
Ulquiorra frowned, and turned around to look at his fellow Espada. "Who was supposed to be the parent?"
Szayel sauntered over, glad to be rid of arguing with Grimmjow. Nnoitra slung an arm over his shoulder, leering at the intimidated family at the counter next to theirs.
"We don't need parents, Aizen said. We're over the legal age in this place; just show the woman our identity cards." He ran a hand through his pink hair and gave the receptionist his best clinical smile. "You should have asked me for them, Ulquiorra. Gin gave me wallets to keep ours in."
With that, he reached into his sling bag and dug out five identical leather wallets before placing them on the counter. "Here you go, woman."
Surprised, the receptionist gingerly opened each wallet and collected their – fake, but deceiving enough for human eyes – identity cards, scanning them carefully as she checked the information provided in the computer.
Satisfied, she looked up and nodded. "Thank you, sirs. A bellboy will escort you to your suite now; if you will please follow him to the elevator."
Szayel graciously swept up the wallets and cards into his bag before ushering the others after the polite bellboy. When they exited the elevator and finally reached their rooms, Ulquiorra checked the piece of paper Gin had given him.
There was a short sentence written in red ink: "Tip your room escort adequately – not physically! With Human money."
There was a small wad of bills tied together with a bit of red string. Ulquiorra lifted it out from Szayel's bag and handed it to the bellboy, who tipped his cap and thanked him before bowing.
"Can I get you anything else, sir?"
Ulquiorra frowned. This human male was behaving like some of the other Espada's Fraccion. "You wish to be my underling?"
The bellboy stared at him, confused.
"I have no wish for Fraccion. I represent emptiness."
Grimmjow dragged him away from the door just in time as Stark took over and smiled at the bewildered bellboy and handed him a few more bills – just in case, because Aizen had told him beforehand that humans would usually keep silent with bribery – before shutting the door in his face.
"You weren't supposed to tell him that!" Grimmjow shook Ulquiorra's shoulders, exasperated. "Now what are we going to do if he tells on us?"
"I merely assumed he wished to please, like his behavior suggested. I never hesitate to reject –"
Szayel sighed and retrieved his bag from Ulquiorra, shutting him up in the process. "Let me count and separate our money. Come here and let me explain it to you like Aizen told me."
Stark collapsed onto the nearest couch available, collecting cushions as he made himself comfortable. The temperature in the suite room was a lot cooler than the stifling air outside, despite the breeze blowing in from the sea.
"Why are you sleeping so soon?" Grimmjow aimed a well-placed kick at the sofa. "We didn't come up here to rest!"
Nnoitra tossed a cushion at the Sexta. "Shut up, fool."
The cushion was heaved back with the force that threatened to crack the glass window it collided into as Nnoitra dodged, cackling with glee. Grimmjow leapt onto the next sofa, getting ready to punch the lights out of his fellow Espada.
"Will you stop it?" Stark groaned, rubbing his stomach in a tired manner. "I'm exhausted from running around looking for clues on the beach today. Give me some peace and quiet."
His emphasis on the last word went amiss as Grimmjow made a lunge for Nnoitra, who caught him and ended up spiraling backwards into the glass window, producing a loud thud that reverberated throughout the entire suite for a good five seconds. Ulquiorra promptly marched over to them and knocked their heads against the wooden floorboards. The action produced another loud thunk, and each Espada stilled as the occupants in the neighboring rooms opened their doors to peek out in curiosity and alarm.
"Stark's right; we're in the Human World, remember? You can't afford to act like rabid monkeys lusting for a good fight the way you all do back in Hueco Mundo. The entire point of us being here is learning the subtleties of blending in." Szayel propped himself up on the back of a two-seater sofa. "And I believe it's safe to say we're failing horribly at that."
Grimmjow blew a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. "Shut up, you. Did you forget that you're one of those rabid monkeys, too?"
"I'm not an animal!" Annoyed, the Octavo snapped back. "The least you could call me is a mad scientist. And you've no right to talk either. You contributed to half the damage of my life's work in my laboratory!"
Nnoitra waved a hand with an air of pure nonchalance. "What's past is past; stop dredging things up like a wrinkly old lady."
Szayel spluttered at him, too furious to form coherent words, which only fueled his rage. Ulquiorra placed a hand on his shoulder to calm him down.
"Cool yourself, Szayel. There is no need to grind your teeth over two weaklings."
At this, Nnoitra and Grimmjow jumped to their feet, hackles raised and bristling.
Shoving his hands into his pockets, Grimmjow snarled. "Who're you calling weak, Shorty?"
"Go play with Aizen's dick, you suck-up!"
Nnoitra found himself face deep in the nearest wall. Grimmjow swallowed audibly as Ulquiorra brushed imaginary dust off his hands before turning to Szayel, who took in the scene with a resigned sigh.
"We've broken part of the Human building." Stark propped himself up on his elbows, surveying the outcome with an air of defeat. "Are we going to get in trouble?"
"I don't think we will. These walls are quite similar to Aizen's constructions. We just need to wait for it to rebuild itself again." Ulquiorra surmised thoughtfully.
Peeling himself out of the wall, Nnoitra slunk away to sag bonelessly into the nearest available sofa. He was finding it unfair that Grimmjow got off scot-free, but decided it was wiser to keep his lips sealed about the whole affair. He didn't want another broken nose.
They waited, fidgeting, for the wall to repair itself like Aizen's buildings usually did, thanks to Gin's smart maneuvering with the structure of Las Noches. It didn't. Grimmjow looked at Ulquiorra, who blinked slowly at Szayel, who shrugged and came up with the best possible theory he could think of.
"Maybe Human things take time to regenerate."
"I'm kind of . . . hungry." Nnoitra rolled over from his position on the sofa. "I think it's my gigai acting up again."
"We can't possibly hunt Hollows in our gigai!" Szayel snapped, clearly on edge. "We'd put ourselves in danger and defy Aizen's rules."
Stark sat up and yawned, having clearly realized that he wasn't going to be able to get a decent amount of sleep with a shared suite like this. He had listened to their ridiculous conversation and was finding things pretty absurd himself.
"Look, since we're stuck here and all, we might as well follow the guide that Gin-sama made us bring along. It's better than nothing, and we won't be as lost as we are right now." Stark reasoned logically, feeling a tad bit grumpy over the loss of much needed sleep. "So, where is it?"
"Where is what?" Grimmjow asked him, scrabbling for a seat on the sofa Nnoitra was hogging.
"The map, silly."
Ulquiorra looked over at Szayel. "We put it on the rock to read. Szayel was the last one near it. And then the Kurosaki boy came to interrupt us."
Avoiding sharp, penetrating gazes from Grimmjow, Nnoitra and Ulquiorra, Szayel flicked a lock of stray pink hair away from his face. "Um . . . about that . . ."
"We're in trouble." Stark surmised with a defeated sigh.
Now I kinda want to spend a summer vacation with Ichigo and the Espada. :D