My entry for Black Storm's Grimmjow violence-themed contest. Grimmjow's final days in the Vietnamese jungle before he died and became a hollow.
Warnings: Violence, language, character death, AU-ish, historical (takes place during the Vietnam War.)
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. The quote at the beginning is from Grimmjow himself. Danse Macabre refers to the ancient "dance of the dead." Also 'hump it' means to travel by foot while carrying a rucksack.
"Who you are has nothing to do with killing you."
"It feels like death here."
A few heads capped with identical, hunter green helmets turned to face the speaker, expressions uniformly apathetic. Their movements were involuntary, instinctual (if they thought too much about what they were doing it wouldn't be long before they'd take their M14's to their respective temples.)
The soldier who'd spoken had the same faded, weary air about him as the rest of his platoon. His voice was only loud enough to be heard over the distant sounds of gunfire and chopper wings miles and miles away.
"This jungle... it's-"
"Hell on Earth."
"Tch, more like just a godforsaken shithole."
The soldier was silent for a few seconds before shaking his head (though all of the others had already faced forward again, continuing their trek through the dense flora.) The suggestions were close, but not quite right.
He paused to look up to where the sky was supposed to be. Instead of clear blue or dark midnight sky there was only the canopy of interweaved, monstrous branches and countless leaves of green. It was almost impossible to even tell if it was day or night, making one feel as if they were completely cut off from civilization (which they may as well have been considering their only form of communication to the modern world was a single walkie-talkie their platoon leader barely used.)
Their small party was now so deep into unclaimed territory that they hadn't crossed paths with allies and enemies alike in days, and in their solitude it was even more apparent that humans didn't belong in the kind of savage, ancient world this jungle was, a horror of war right along with the blood, fear, and death. Any man, no matter his constitution, would be disturbed by its evil, suffocating atmosphere mixed with the gore and terror of wartime.
"Get moving, you pussies!" a gravelly voice said then, its owner whipping his head over his shoulder to look down on the rest of the platoon with a wicked grin that flashed all of his blindingly white teeth, ultramarine eyes gleaming in an angular, attractive face. "No one gets a fucking drop of water until we hump it another five."
No one said a thing to that; they didn't even groan or make a face at the harsh sentence. They knew better because they knew their platoon leader and what he was capable of (they'd seen it firsthand in the few skirmishes they'd been in to date.) They also knew that he was not an exception to the rule that all men were disturbed by the jungle and the awful things that happened in its verdant domain.
He was not an exception because while Grimmjow Jaegerjaques looked the part of a man just like any other, it was evident that on the inside he wasn't human at all. He was an animal, a predator, a beast.
Grimmjow was sick of the color green.
Seriously, everything around him was some variant of it; not to mention his clothes and almost everything strapped onto him were green as well, giving the illusion that he was swimming, drowning in the color.
He took some of his irritation out on the thick, mossy vines he was cutting down with a bowie knife in order to clear something resembling a path for he and the others to walk through. However, Grimmjow still itched to cover his camouflaged uniform and gear with some vivid, brilliant color, like a bright scarlet red the exact shade of freshly spilled blood. He hated to be subdued, muted in any way, especially when he was somewhere that made him feel so... alive.
This place to him was like an amusement park to a child, full of thrilling entertainment and, dare he say, fun.
This wasn't the usual response to the Vietnamese jungle littered with fanatical enemies carrying machine guns and high octane explosives and land mines no one knew were there until they'd triggered one to blow their body into a thousand little pieces. Grimmjow knew that, but he didn't very much care, and he was long used to having a 'skewed' (their words, not his) perspective.
Since their deployment from the American base several weeks ago the other soldiers under his command had grown weary and bleak, their eyes dulling, bruise-like shadows appearing underneath, and lips thinning into a permanent frown, but not Grimmjow. It would seem as if he'd sucked the life out of them, rarely seen without that manic gleam in his lightning blue orbs and vicious, wide grin, coming across like he was having the time of his life (he was.)
He was aware his attitude spooked his subordinates (he took pleasure in the fact often) because they'd witnessed him in action and recognized that his enthusiasm was not purely for the adrenaline rush danger gave him, but rather it was derived from something a little more... menacing.
Inside of Grimmjow Jaegerjaques, in his self-admitted savage soul, there resided a feral bloodlust, a desire to hunt, maim, kill that could only be satiated without much ado on the battlefield. It was why he'd enlisted in the first place, wanting just a taste of bloodshed but soon finding himself addicted to the rapturous feeling that wracked his entire being when he held someone's life in his hands, that sense of power.
After all, killers simplified are really just control freaks with a taste for carnage.
Grimmjow didn't mind that his platoon had figured his love of violence out. It wasn't as if he'd been trying to hide it and afterwards they'd followed his orders much more readily, obviously unnerved of what the man may do to them if they stepped out of line.
The men hadn't even questioned why they'd strayed off the route laid out for them, heading deeper into the jungle than any other American forces had ventured before then. Smirking, Grimmjow patted the map inside of his breast pocket absentmindedly.
They would find out soon enough.
Grimmjow had them set up camp after six miles instead of five when the group of men finally came across a clearing. He was pleased when every one of his platoon members waited until after everything was situated as it should be, sleeping bags and rucksacks arranged in a circle, before they reached for their canteens, gulping down the water they had been aching for.
As the minuscule patches of sky visible through the jungle canopy darkened, they figured it was safe to make a small fire over which they could heat up their rations of canned beans (if Grimmjow was sick of the color green then he was positively cancerous at the thought of eating them for the twenty-third night in a row, but it was either eat them or starve.)
Everyone was silent for the most part as they ate, only a few murmurs of "can you pass that?" and "you fix your helmet strap?" breaking the quiet once in a while. Grimmjow sat where his sleeping bag was located, noting that everyone else was gathered on the opposite end and grinned to himself as he scarfed down the lukewarm beans, trying not to gag . He thought of all the things he would do to eat a prime rib steak, medium-rare, just then and by the time half of the party settled down to try and sleep while the others took the first watch, the list was fairly long.
At night, there was always a symphony of noises that seemed to travels throughout the entire jungle. The humming and buzzing of insects, the greenery rustling in the breeze and as various nocturnal animals moved about through shrubs and tall grass, and of course the ever-present sound of helicopter wings far away to the west and the occasional explosive detonating. While most of the platoon (aka everyone except Grimmjow) had difficulty falling asleep due to the clamor and the nightmares that plagued them even before their eyes had closed, their leader drifted off within ten minutes. Well, usually, that is.
That night, just as Grimmjow was about to succumb to sleep, the soft murmurs of one of his subordinates that should've been lost within the jungle cacophony sounded like thunder in his ears. His ultramarine eyes snapped open with irritation clear in their depths, swiveling over to locate the source who turned out to be a russet-haired man whose name Grimmjow had never bothered to learn (just like the rest of the platoon.)
"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I shall die-"
"Shut the fuck up before I come over there and rip your tongue out."
The russet-haired man, laying on his back in his sleeping bag, started, gasping the slightest bit as he was surprised by his superior's voice. He'd clearly thought Grimmjow had been fast asleep. Turning his head to face the other, startled expression fading into something more serious as one hand clutched a rosary to his chest.
"I take it you're not a religious man, Lieutenant," he said more statement than question.
Grimmjow scoffed, one longer than average incisor peeking through his lips as he rolled onto his side away from the rosary rattler and the curious glances from the others that were still wide awake. Blindsiding the entire camp, he actually dignified the accusation dripping with perceived moral superiority with a response.
"Shit's all a load of bull, but if there's an afterlife when I die I'm going to turn into a demon and drag you to hell if you don't fucking shut up and let me sleep."
This time when he heard prayers being muttered under the man's breath in rapid-fire Grimmjow smirked contentedly and swiftly fell under sleep's spell just as a familiar roar made the ground hum with vibrations, signaling another land mine a good distance away had just claimed its victim.
That night, Grimmjow dreamed he was a panther, stalking through the jungle he was presently slumbering in, the twisted maze of moss-covered trees and vines appearing just as it did thousands of years ago, ancient, wild,... powerful.
It only took a few moments for him to realize being there in that bestial form felt incredibly right. The jungle was just as untamed as he was, no longer bound to the imposed morals of humanity that deemed him sinful, evil for the desire to follow his instincts that screamed at him to fight, to dominate, to crush anyone that stood in his way.
Grimmjow loped through the dense foliage with feline grace, unsure of where he was headed but not really caring. This was the world's current epicenter for death and destruction; it was his home.
Without seeing his reflection, Grimmjow somehow knew that his muzzle and paws were red with blood, leaving scarlet stains on the emerald-carpeted ground. He didn't know whose it was but he couldn't stop the swell of pride in his chest that formed at the realization he'd come out the victor against whoever it had been.
He continued through the jungle, trying to hold onto the dream for as long as he could. Treading around on all fours, cherry red elixir clinging to his fur, was natural like breathing, like fighting, and Grimmjow had to wonder if what his subordinates said in whispers when they thought he couldn't hear was really true.
Maybe he really was nothing more than a bloodthirsty beast.
"Are we supposed to be going this far in, Lieutenant?"
Grimmjow stopped dead in his tracks, spinning around on a booted heel to face the soldier who'd finally asked what he was sure the rest of them wanted to but didn't have the nerve. The inquirer was standing a few feet behind the platoon leader, making direct contact with those ever so slightly deranged, incredibly blue eyes, his lips set into a firm line as he made to stand his ground.
"You questioning my sense of direction?" Grimmjow asked, mouth stretching into an amused smirk. Oh how he hated the honorable stench his subordinate reeked of and the hand that wasn't gripping his M14 twitched in anticipation of the man giving him a reason to pounce.
"No, sir." The outspoken soldier let his gaze drop in a sign of submission, clearly unwilling to go up against the man he and his fellow infantrymen were convinced was not entirely human, the only serviceman ever to seem to not only not be freaked out by the jungle that acted as their battlefield but actually like it, as if he were at home in the chaos.
Grimmjow's smirk widened into a villainous grin and he scanned his eyes over the six other platoon members.
"Any of the rest of you shitheads got something to say to me?" he said. The men all shook their heads and for a second he was disappointed. If they were this weak now, would they be even more pitiful when they finally reached their destination later on that day? "Pathetic," Grimmjow spat before resuming his hike through the increasingly dense foliage, bowie knife out to sever low-lying vines per usual.
It wasn't for another hour or so before he picked up the strains of a conversation between his subordinates that caught his attention.
"Did you clean them?"
"No, I thought you did."
"But it was your turn."
Whoever had been about to respond to that was effectively cut off when Grimmjow's rough velvet voice traveled back the ten foot distance he and the others maintained whilst traveling.
"I did it. Can't expect any of you fuckers to actually do your damn job," he said, shaking his head.
None of the men said anything, though Grimmjow spotted with his peripheral vision the same soldier who'd questioned him earlier looking at him with narrowed eyes. It made the lieutenant chuckle quietly to himself, the sound so low that only he could hear it.
He was pleased to know that there was at least one brain cell among his platoon.
They trudged on until it was well past noon and they were so deep inside of the jungle the greenery nearly formed solid walls of flora and for the first time since they'd stepped foot onto the air base they couldn't hear gunfire or helicopters or bombs or land mines. In fact the area was incredibly silent, and Grimmjow didn't care for it but he reassured himself that soon it wouldn't be so quiet.
As the lieutenant paused in front of a thick, massive tree covered in moss he was reminded that soon he could paint over all the sickening green with his beloved red and his ensuing smile was so very wicked it would've made the Devil himself cower in fear.
"Uh, Lieutenant, are we taking a break?"
Grimmjow reigned in his expression to an irreverent one before turning to his subordinates.
"No, we're here," he said.
The confusion that made itself known on every one of the lower ranking soldiers' faces was perfection, exactly like how he'd pictured. They immediately started asking him questions, insisting that it couldn't possibly be true.
"But we're in the middle of nowhere."
"I don't even think anyone has been in this area besides us."
"Yeah, why would they send us all the way out here?"
"They didn't," Grimmjow said. "This was my own little personal detour." He leaned against the trunk of the tree behind him, folding his arms across his fatigue-clothed chest. Upon his lips a condescending sneer appeared, ocean water colored eyes radiating the disdain he held for all seven of the men before him.
"You've gotta be fucking with me."
"Are you saying we've busted our asses to get here for no reason?"
"Why the hell would you make us walk all this way?"
Their faces were all purple with outrage, their anger enough that they forgot their unease towards their commanding officer and spurring them on to shout at the man who'd apparently led them on a wild goose chase.
"I planned this detour about a week ago, after I overheard you pussies plotting behind my back to get assigned another platoon leader and me demoted," Grimmjow said casually, though the memory of when he'd inadvertently eavesdropped on his subordinates' plans to get rid of him because he was 'obviously psychotic' made his jaw clench, teeth grinding together just as they always did whenever something really pissed him off.
The men immediately fell silent, some looking ashamed while others still glared at him in fury.
He'd save those angry ones for last; they would definitely put up the biggest fight and would therefore automatically more fun.
"Lieutenant, we were just-"
"Shut up," Grimmjow said, still as cool and casual as if he were talking with someone about the weather. "I don't give a rat's ass what you have to say, because truly I'm fucking ecstatic that you little worms gave me a reason to bring you out here."
All were regarding him with heavy trepidation except for the one who'd questioned him beforehand and then gave him a suspicious look after he'd told the platoon he was the one who'd cleaned the guns before they'd headed out that morning. That one's jaw dropped and in a move that was all instinct, he backed up a few steps before spinning around and running full speed the way they'd come.
"Where is he going?" one of the duller soldiers said, pointing in the direction the other had fled.
"He's running away," the soldier that Grimmjow recognized as the russet-haired rosary rattler from the night before said softly. He must have just begun to put the pieces together.
"Because," the lieutenant said, pushing himself off the tree to take a few predatory strides towards the six servicemen as his infamously savage smile spread across his face, so cruel, blinding, and hungry that it made a few of the other men take a subconscious step backwards. "He remembered what happened to my last platoon."
The rosary rattler wasted not a second before he was sprinting away as well, leaving the remaining five to let understanding slowly dawn on them.
It was amusing for Grimmjow to watch as the soldiers caught on to what was happening, horrified and outraged expressions alike crossing their faces.
Everyone in their division had heard about the platoon that had gone MIA in the jungle the year before, only to have one soldier from the party return to the base to tell of how they'd been attacked by enemy forces and he was the sole survivor. That survivor being the very same Grimmjow Jaegerjaques that now stood before them.
"Y-you bastard!" one of the men said, clenching his fists by his sides. "You killed them, didn't you?"
The lieutenant's grin never faltered as he shrugged his shoulders.
"Do you really want to know or do you want to use the five seconds I spend answering to get a head start?"
Two soldiers raised their M14's to take aim at Grimmjow, who shook his head at how slow on the uptake they were and a moment later when their fingers squeezed the trigger and nothing happened except for a faint clicking noise they realized that their superior had done more than just clean the guns that morning.
Another soldier came to his senses and made a break for it, closely followed by another and Grimmjow hoped they knew how to cover their tracks otherwise this day would be over all too quickly.
He arched an eyebrow at the remaining three that appeared frozen stiff from either shock or fear and snarled when they didn't move, causing all three to jump in the air, one's helmet slipping off to fall to the ground.
"It isn't fun for me if you don't try to run away," he said, stepping closer when they still didn't move. "So run!"
His barked command did the trick, spurring the last of his platoon to dart away and disappear into the rich emerald tapestry of the jungle, leaving Grimmjow completely alone and he swore if he'd been a wolf he would've howled in sadistic delight just then.
Figuring it better if he let his subordinates run for a little to put a bit of distance between them, the lieutenant turned to where his rucksack was resting against a tree trunk. He squatted down beside it and began to unstrap the one thing he'd need in the next few upcoming hours; his cherished bowie knife that consisted of a sixteen inch, lethal blade he made certain to keep so sharp just pressing one's finger lightly against the edge would guarantee a deep wound that bled like nothing else.
Grimmjow spun the knife around in his hands, the reflective blade mirroring his right eye that blazed like fire so hot it turned blue with anticipation of what was to come.
After about thirty minutes and a couple of warm-up stretches, he headed for the direction that a few of his platoon members had run towards to in their panic. His booted feet moved swiftly and silently over the greenery carpeted ground, his sprint so natural and elegant that it almost couldn't have belonged to a human. And with the powerful, lean muscles and unnatural grace he possessed, Grimmjow could have easily passed for the solitary panther he'd been in his dreams.
Despite his lack of faith in anything otherworldly, he had to wonder if perhaps he'd been meant to be born as the animal he most identified with but a mistake had been made somewhere and he'd entered the world a human. He was sure there were plenty of people that would agree he would make a far better jungle cat than man; they already thought of him as a beast and that was before they knew he enjoyed playing games of cat and mouse with fellow servicemen.
It didn't take long at all for Grimmjow to locate the trail one of the soldiers had inadvertently made while running for their life, away from him, the perfect specimen of a predator.
The boot prints in the moss-covered ground and crushed plants led him right to where one of his soon to be former subordinates was stumbling through the thick underbrush, panting heavily from sprinting full speed over such a long distance. Grimmjow smirked as a single ray of sunlight peeked through the jungle canopy overhead to illuminate the man's russet-colored hair, identifying him as the rosary rattler.
The lieutenant couldn't wait to test the man's faith, even though he himself wouldn't know the outcome.
Grimmjow was every inch the stealthy predator as he stalked the soldier from a few yards away, utterly soundless and poised to pounce at just the right moment- which came when the rosary rattler stopped walking to lean against a tree for support, chest heaving. Cat met mouse when Grimmjow darted forward silently and caught the man with one steel-like arm around the torso, pinning the other's arms to his sides. He brought up his other hand that grasped his bowie knife firmly to rest against an unprotected throat, metal biting into pale skin.
He felt an incredible rush right then, getting off on the fact that he held another human being's life in his hands and had absolute control. It was better than any drug, that high, and Grimmjow knew that others wouldn't judge him so harshly if they could only get a taste of it.
"P-please," a weak voice said and the lieutenant's attention was drawn to the rosary rattler's downright terrified, tear-stained face.
"What's the matter, you don't wanna meet that gent you got on your necklace there?" Grimmjow chuckled darkly as he gestured with his knife to the rosary that was entwined in the man's fingers. He really despised people who begged for mercy, but couldn't deny he found it entertaining.
"Please, just don't kill me! I told the others that it was a bad idea, I wasn't in on it!"
Grimmjow laughed again, this time a bit louder as he sneered at the rosary rattler.
"You can't be that stupid, can you?" he said. "I don't give a shit about that." At the bewildered expression on the soldier's face, he further elaborated. "I do this because I like it," he said, pressing the blade further into the yielding flesh and calling droplets of blood to the surface. "It's fun."
Grimmjow was surprised when the other didn't continue to plead for his life, but instead his face twisted in rage.
"Rot in hell, asshole," was all the rosary rattler could say before the lieutenant dug the bowie knife's blade into the jugular vein, slicing it open horizontally so that crimson poured out of the wound like a waterfall of blood. A couple of gurgles escaped the dying man's lips before Grimmjow brought one hand to grasp the chin before snapping the other's head to the side, effectively severing the spinal cord. He released his former subordinate who dropped like a stone, dead before he even hit the ground.
The rush this time was even greater, just like Grimmjow knew it would be. The knowledge that he'd snuffed out someone's life was just incredible. It made him feel powerful, invincible, like a king.
His manic laughter rang out throughout the jungle as he revelled in his first kill of the day, barking and deranged it met the ears of the six remaining soldiers like the ringing of funeral bells.
Grimmjow brought the blade of his adored knife to his mouth, tongue flicking out to taste the still warm, sticky blood that stained the once pristine metal. The flavor of it, metallic and tangy, wasn't pleasant in the traditional sense, but it further excited the roaring beast inside of him that reminded him that there was still prey out there waiting to be butchered.
If he'd been able to see himself as he looked at that very moment, blood coating his lips and dying his phosphorescent white teeth a cherry red as his eyes burned with the desire to hunt, Grimmjow would never again question that he was anything than an animal, all instinct and hunger.
Needless to say, the platoon under the command of Lieutenant Grimmjow Jaegerjaques went missing in action that night. It was only when the sole survivor, the lieutenant himself returned to the base that everyone learned of the other soldiers' heroic deaths battling the enemy.
Of course, only Grimmjow himself knew the truth and while he hated not being able to boast about his superior abilities as a predator, he had no desire to go to prison or the electric chair.
However, though he'd never believed in anything he couldn't see with his own two eyes, he may have been convinced of the reality of karma.
Still serving in Vietnam a month later, Grimmjow was on the front lines of a battle with the opposing forces and having the time of his life as he threw hand grenades left and right and blasted enemy soldiers away in a hail of bullets.
It was the perfect way for him to die, he believed. Man, beast, it doesn't matter. They all die the same way; like a fucking dog. And he was no exception.
In a reckless move that cost him everything Grimmjow, too ecstatic at that moment when he saw a swell of Northern Vietnamese soldiers appear on the battlefield just waiting to be blown away, darted out into open space letting his gun spew bullets rapid fire. He didn't notice the grenade being thrown his way until it was too late, the thing exploding in the air to propel fatally sharp shrapnel in his direction.
One piece grazed the right side of his jaw, taking the skin with it to expose his beautifully white teeth and rather unluckily several shards ended up piercing his abdomen, ripping their way clean through and taking a good size chunk of his gut with them.
Grimmjow landed on his back, the battle still going on full force around him and as his vision started to blur and fade, the sounds of gunfire and helicopters muting, he surmised that if this was karma then reincarnation must exist too.
His last conscious thought was that he wanted to be born a panther the next time around and be free to make his home in the jungle that housed death and destruction and live as the killer, hunter, predator he was intended to be.
Of course, as we all know he didn't quite get what he wished for.
A/N: Yes, I know, this is quite different than what I usually write, but I wanted to broaden my horizons and write this for Black Storm's contest because while there are like twenty or something art entries there was only two literature pieces. I had to help represent the writers out there. ;P
This was inspired by the memoir/fictional novel The Things They Carried which is an amazing book that you should all go read if you're interested in the Vietnam War or excellent literature in general.
Ugh, writing 'serious' pieces are so mentally exhausting... but it was fun to write Grimm as his normal, psychotic, bloodthirsty self. :3