Intermission Deux

Kaori was, by all accounts, a pain in the ass. There were times when she was quiet and demure and did everything she was asked to without questioning it. And then there were the times where she questioned every little tiny thing and refused to do anything unless it could potentially benefit her.

And then, of course, there was Usagi, who was just a somewhat bigger pain in his ass than Kaori was. She was loud, opinionated, and tended to jump quickly to conclusions and act upon them; her conclusions were often false.

Having the both of them in the same room? It was nearly unbearable. But on the occasions that Usagi would tear into him and Kaori was there, the human girl would stand up for him. And even though he didn't really want to admit it (out loud, at least), he appreciated it.

Although, he was thought he was so masculine that no one should have to stand up for him in the first place.

And, okay, so maybe locking Usagi in her room hadn't been the brightest idea; but he had known that when he had done it. It had been the catalyst for all of the disaster that had followed, and if anyone asked, he would always claim that that one single event started everything.

Of course, he hadn't been frightened when she had pinned him to the ground with a zanpaktou at his throat, Kaori standing and watching and freaking out.

The weapon at his throat wasn't hers, however—he knew her weapon, had seen it a number of times up close. The one pressing into his throat was definitely not hers.

Then she had gotten up, sheathing her zanpaktou and stepping away, attention focused on Kaori. The two had exchanged words, and then Usagi had left, coolly telling him that they "would talk later."

He hated that idea.

And then it was just he and Kaori, with blood on her face and a swollen nose. He thought he might have broken it, but he wasn't entirely sure—humans were different from arrancar, though he wasn't sure how different and in what ways. But even after he told her that there was a large possibility that he had broken her nose, she still had a positive attitude.

And oh, shit, she was looking at him. Actually looking at him, which he was sure she would never do again because, hello, he punched her in the face.

He couldn't handle it, though he didn't know why; her hair, which, he noticed, was about an inch or two of brown at the roots before transitioning into the blond, was sticking out this way and that, tumbling in a large wave over half of her face and over her narrow shoulders. Even under the mass that hid a majority of her face, her green eyes were still piercing.

Don't look at her, don't look at her, don't look at her.

Fuck, it was hard to not look at her.


As it turned out, when Usagi had meant by "later" turned out to be "after you put Kaori back in her room and track me down" because apparently the arrancar couldn't seem to keep track of anything, when normally she was the one who kept track of everything that happened in Las Noches.

She had never had that problem before.

He found her just outside the door to her quarters, preparing to enter. The zanpaktou that was not hers still hung at her waist.

"Where's your zanpaktou?"

She wouldn't turn to face him, one hand on her door and the other hanging loosely at her side. Her shoulders slumped when she heard his voice, almost like she was hoping he would just pass her by and not acknowledge her existence.

She should have known better.

"Usagi. Where. Is. Your. Fucking. Weapon."

"He broke it," was her simple answer. Her voice was distant; cold. "I refused to become the Sexta Espada, and he broke it, because no one disobeys an order, even if it is disguised as a simple question." She shrugged, narrow shoulders eventually ending in another defeated slouch. "I didn't need it, anyways. I was never meant for this life of violence."

And then she was gone, opening the door quietly and shutting it in his face.

After staring at her door for a few moments in an attempt to ascertain and process what it was she just gave him for an answer, he shrugged and left.

Women were weird.


She looked calm and peaceful when she was resting. He had noticed it before, but it had never really registered until that moment. He probably would have noticed it sooner, but the last time he had seen her face resting, she had been covered in blood because he punched her out of reflex.

They hadn't had a repeat of that incident, thankfully.

She was also far easier to handle when she was sleeping, especially since she couldn't talk back (although she did mumble in her sleep).

Of course, he tended to get indignant when she wasn't actually sleeping and he thought she was.

Like when he kicked the couch to wake her up—he knew the second she started talking that she hadn't been asleep in the first place, even though he had asked her to wake up. Okay, so maybe he didn't know how to wake people up—it wasn't like there was some kind of protocol or handbook on it, so he just had to wing it and hope it worked.

All it had done was succeed to make her just a little angry and him just a lot umbrageous.

And then there was the fact that her hood was tangled up, tossed over her shoulder and almost wound about her neck, like it was a noose that was threatening to choke the life out of her. Before he knew what he was doing—before he could stop what he was doing—he reached out and fixed her hood, putting it back over her shoulder and straightening it out.

Of course, that had been just a little awkward once all was said and done, so he smacked her on the back of the head, which led to an argument.

Their fight hadn't been at all heated, but when Usagi had suggested that the two of them stop "flirting", everything in his mind had short circuited and he couldn't seem to make his mind work in a proper fashion.

By the time he could think properly, they were already halfway to their destination, and he had had to sonido to catch up with them.

Why had he volunteered to go with Usagi into Aizen's throne room with Kaori again? He couldn't quite seem to recall. The meetings between the human girl and the ex-shinigami captain were always confusing; it hurt his head when he tried to work out what they were talking about, so most of the time he just blocked everything out and stared straight ahead.

It wasn't like he was missing anything, right?


The few times he saw Kaori over the next few days, there was something terribly, terribly off. He wasn't going to point it out to her, though, or even Usagi, because he wasn't sure if either of them had noticed it or had even wanted to notice it.

The first thing he had noticed, of course, was the reiatsu. She had two of them, sure, but the one that grated across his skin and felt like a rusty nail through the hand was growing stronger, slowly becoming increasingly predominant as the hours and days slipped by.

She ate slowly and less, too—only taking a bite or two before pushing around the contents of her meal before declaring herself "full." And when she talked, she would never look him straight in the eye like she used too. Instead, she would look a bare centimeter to the left or the right, as if to give the illusion that she was looking. And then there were the tremors that seemed to constantly course through her body, small and nearly undetectable but there nonetheless.

He knew something wasn't right, but he didn't press for answers. He couldn't help but recall the time he had first brought her food, when she had taken those little white capsules and he had asked what they were for. Instead of an actual answer, he hit a wall a handful of times and only got a partial response.

When he wasn't with Kaori, he was sulking because there was something definitely wrong with her, and he couldn't figure out how to ask her about it. She was a defensive person, and there was a chance that she wouldn't answer him and instead tell Usagi that he had asked, and then Usagi would tear into him and nope, no way did he really want to go through that.

Ever since he had realized that her zanpaktou was gone, she had been moody and grouchy and overall unpredictable. Avoiding her, he had decided, was better for his health.


When he found Kaori wandering in the halls on her own, he was in a stormy mood. Plots were hatching in his head, ideas that Aizen would kill him for.

If he ever found out, that is.

There was no way Aizen was ever going to find out—Grimmjow was sure that as far as Aizen was concerned, Kurosaki Ichigo would just drop off of the map. Once Grimmjow killed him, of course—and that would be so, so easy.

Just to get out of Hueco Mundo without Aizen noticing, though—that was really the only problem. He and his fraccion would simply have to be very, very stealthy and Usagi would have to never, ever find out until after the job was done.

Kaori was so distracted that she walked straight past him. He nearly missed her walk by, too, so caught up in his thoughts like a fly in honey. It had been that strange reiatsu that had tipped him off.

So he grabbed her by the hood—he was reaching for her shoulder and he missed, but it was too late for him to readjust because, whoops, he had already pulled her back and up off of the ground. Admittedly, it was almost hysterical to watch her spin slowly in a circle, and seeing her disgruntled face once in came into view lightened his mood a little.

When she had done a full rotation, he decided that he had had his fun and set her very, very carefully down on her feet before setting to work on her hood, which had twisted around her neck in a terrible fashion. It was difficult, however, to figure out what part of the hood went where because, fuck, what was with the ridiculousness of the fabric?

Before he could finish, though, she had reached back and one of his hands landed atop of his, and their other hands bumped into each other. He froze; what was he supposed to do in this situation? It wasn't like he knew much about how to react to interaction, especially where it concerned a human girl. Any girl in general, really. Her skin was soft, and her hands were trembling, too, trembling a ridiculous amount for her small body. But why?

However, before he could put much thought into it, Kaori had jerked her hand out of his grip, readjusted the hood herself, and turned to face him. She was biting her lip, he noticed a little flustered. Why he was flustered, he didn't quite know himself, so instead of thinking about it any farther he simply pointed out that she was trembling far more than she had in the past few days, and then told her to follow him.

There was no way he was going to leave her alone in the halls.

So he led and she followed, surprisingly enough. Then again, she did seem a little frightened of the halls they trekked through, but it wasn't like he knew why.

He was too busy thinking about how in the fuck he was going to get out of Hueco Mundo without Aizen noticing until he got back and Kurosaki Ichigo was dead.

But then he was face down on the floor, two bodies on top of him and Kaori's bony limbs digging into his backside. After a few moments, both of them were off of him, and he felt like he could breathe again.

Instead of thinking anything through, though, he jumped up and tore into Usagi verbally, because landing on the floor under Kaori had to be her fault—she had been on the very top, after all.

And then she had said something that had shocked him: Kaori, it seemed, would be out of the room he was taking her to and staying in his room instead.

With him.

Alone.

Without supervision.

But why? He knew full well that Aizen didn't trust him—sure, he was the Sexta Espada, but a position didn't necessarily garner Aizen's trust. Grimmjow highly doubted that anyone had Aizen's trust. Something was going on, and he didn't quite like it.

Except, Usagi wouldn't tell him why unless Kaori wasn't present. Since he was already in a stormy mood and was in no mindset to play any kind of games, he grabbed Kaori by the upper arm—he did his best not to touch her skin, because fuck it felt nice to touch her skin—and sonido'd to his room, telling the human girl to stay put before kicking her in the ass, which sent her toppling over the threshold.

He locked the door behind him.


Usagi was pacing the hallway by the time he got back to her, nibbling worriedly on her finger nails with her freaky sharp teeth.

"Why?" he demanded, commandeering his fellow arrancar's attention. She stopped her pacing and lowered her hands; blood was welling at her finger tips. For such a smart person, she thought very little about the repercussions of her actions.

But who was he to talk?

"Leverage. I'm not sure what he's thinking, Grimmjow, but whatever it is, it is so far down the alleyway from good that we may already be fucked over. Bad. I mean, the man is a manipulative devil—what does he have to gain by taking Kaori out of her enviornment and putting her into your room?" The words were tumbling out of her mouth at a rampant rate, so quickly he almost couldn't see her mouth move.

Not that he wanted to, anyways; her teeth probably had flesh and blood on them from her finger nail nibbling escapade.

"Nothing, Grimmjow. The answer is nothing. Nothing that's obvious, anyway. I mean, have you listened in on their meetings? They're quick, but he's so charged with energy when he talks to her that it's scary. He thinks she's lying to him, though, and he thinks that putting her with you might influence her to tell the truth. But that's just what he told me, and you know as well as I do just how manipulative he is."

"Lying about what?" He could easily see Kaori lying, the words slipping off of her tongue like honey. But he couldn't imagine what she could possibly have to lie about.

"Hearing the voice in her head. For a while there, she insisted that it didn't exist, and then she came out today and said that there were two. Which is weird, because I think it might have caught Aizen off guard. And nothing catches that man off guard, so he must have been acting; trying to manipulate her into telling the truth, maybe. It might have something to do with why he wants her wants her here, but there is no getting into that man's head, no matter how hard you try."


He returned to his room in a swift and punctual manner, storming inside. Usagi had told him not only about their little foray with Aizen, but also about the fact that she had had to defend herself against Kaori because Kaori had gone off the wall.

He knew how hard Usagi hit—he was mildly surprised Kaori wasn't dead or dying from internal hemorrhaging.

He immediately headed towards his sparse bedroom, fully expecting the girl to be in there, curled up on the bed sound asleep.

Except she wasn't, and it took him a few minutes to process the fact that she was not sleeping in the bed. She wasn't even in the bed room! How could she have gotten out of the room, though? She wasn't anywhere in the other room, he was sure—he couldn't have passed her on his way in without noticing.

But the door was locked, so unless she was Houdini he hadn't actually locked the door and she had slipped out. She had done it before, and although he doubted that she would do it again, there was always an off chance.

He was nearly to the door again when he spotted her sitting in the corner of the main room, legs folded up underneath her body and hands folded into her lap. Her stupid, stupid bag still hung cross wise across her body, the bulk of it resting on the ground.

There was a far away look in her eyes, one he wasn't too sure he could name. It was nearly like she wasn't aware he was there at all, like she was lost in her own head. He had seen the same look on her face a few times over the past few days, but she had gotten rid of it quickly.

This time, it didn't disappear.

Without thinking the action through, he sat down on the ground next to her, one knee pulled up to his chest and barely an inch of ground between their two bodies. Then he started talking, when all he really wanted to do was shut his stupid mouth.

After a few minutes, he noticed that she was playing with her hands. They were small, petite, thin yet long fingered. With the way that she was pushing the skin around, kneading her knuckles and hands with her fingers, it pulled her pale skin taunt and made the bones look like they were trying to burst through her skin.

So he ignored what he had told himself earlier and set one of his hands on both of hers. The wringing action stopped immediately, and he told her that if she continued the action, she would break her hands. Of course, she probably wouldn't break her hands, but there was always the possibility.

Then he left, because he had things to do.


Ow.


Kaori was sound asleep in his bed, back to the entrance and curled up in a ball.

He collapsed on the edge of the bed, blood streaming from his amputated limb and the various burn marks left by Kurosaki Ichigo. None of them really hurt, but he knew he was in danger from blood loss. He would have killed Kurosaki Ichigo and still had his arm if it hadn't been for stupid fucking Tosen.

She was still in his room, still alive, and generally alright. Usagi had warned him about leaving Kaori alone, and since Aizen had known he was going to leave, he wouldn't have been surprised if Kaori was already out of his room.

But she wasn't, so he woke her up.

He did not expect, though, for her to stomp on his foot in order to help him out a little. Hell, he hadn't expected her to help at all; he was somewhat taken aback (although all together fading in and out of consciousness) when she actually woke up and started helping him, although she obviously had no idea what to do.

Most of it was a blur. A big, bloody blur of pain.


When he came to, he was very, very far from being pain free. And, fuck, the stump where his arm used to be attached to his shoulder hurt and his muscles kept thinking it was there when he knew full well that it wasn't, and twinges of nerve-wracking pain shot through his body when his shoulder even attempted to twitch where his arm used to be.

He just kept in mind how freaking awesome it would be when he killed Kurosaki Ichigo with only one arm instead of two, and show that asshole Ulquiorra up.

Except, when he came fully to consciousness, he realized that he was in his bed. Alone. Without Kaori.

He bolted up, looking around, wondering where the fuck she could have gotten to while he had been in a short, pain-induced coma. The burns hurt, his stump hurt—every inch of his body hurt, but it didn't rightly matter. Pain was pain was pain, and he was going to have to grow a pair and toughen his way through it because there was no way he was going to complain about it.

He had gotten himself into that mess, and he was going to be damned if he didn't get himself out of it.

He spotted her almost immediately, sleeping fitfully upright in the corner farthest away from the bed. Her hair was over her face, mouth hanging slightly agape. Her messenger bag sat on the floor next to her, purple sneakers still on her feet. For whatever damn reason, she always had those two items with her, almost like they were her life line.

Standing, he stretched a little before deciding, no, stretching was not a good idea, not in the state that he was in because it hurt like a bitch.

With one last look at Kaori, he left the room to find bandages to re-bandage his stump himself. Kaori had done decently, but Grimmjow hadn't thought his actions through entirely and also needed a new blanket.

When he returned to his room, Kaori was still exactly where he had left her, although she had slid down the wall a little. It was a little endearing, actually, to see her still soundly sleeping. From the bags under her eyes, he would have almost gone so far as to guess that she hadn't gotten much sleep over the past few days.

Gingerly, he untied and removed her sneakers (which was much, much harder than he would have guessed at first, especially with only one hand). But the next thing he wanted to do would prove even harder, given that he wanted to move her up onto the bed without waking her up.

How was he going to manage it?


Somehow, he did. It had taken a painstakingly long time, and he wasn't even sure how he had managed to do it without waking her up in the end. But there she was, lying on his bed still sound asleep. If should could sleep through that, he figured, then she could probably sleep through anything.

He had barely managed to lie down an attempt to sleep for less than five minutes when Kaori actually stirred. He could tell because her body twitched a bit, and the temp of her breathing changed from slow to a just a little faster.

But then she sat up and began moving down the bed, as if she meant to crawl off without waking him up and sleep on the floor again.

Instead of allowing her to do so, he grabbed her by the ankle and demanded that she lay back down and sleep.

Surprisingly, she did.


Usagi yelled way too much and got her panties in a twist over nothing.

Her voice got exhausting after a while.


He couldn't explain why he had insisted Kaori bathe at the same time he did. It wasn't because he wanted to see her naked; no, he had already seen that, when she had refused to change her clothes so he had changed them for her on that very first day. It might have been because there was no telling what would happen if he left her in the hot springs alone—who would walk in, what would happen, if she would live.

Yeah. That was totally it.

He was actually surprised, though, when she dd get into the springs with him. Willingly, even, and without much prodding. He wasn't surprised when she sat far away from him—it was to be expected; she seemed a bit modest.

Bathing? It wasn't that hard with only one arm. Surprisingly easy, actually—he had expected a great many things to increase in difficulty with only one limb. Not that he would let their difficulty stop him,

Except his stupid hakama was really, really difficult to tie with one hand. Far more difficult than he had expected, actually.

So he looked up, intent on getting Kaori to help him. He figured she would already be dressed.

He was mostly right.

She was pulling her shirt on over her head, breasts and abdomen fully exposed. But it wasn't the sight of her boobs that made him stop and stare.

It was the bruises. Plural. It was pretty clear which one Usagi had left: it was large, purple-black and sickly looking, taking up a majority of her stomach and creeping up onto her ribs. He had expected that one, but what he hadn't expected were the hand-shaped bruises on her hips. From a distance, it was difficult to judge whose hands had left the bruises, but he had a pretty good feeling that it was her.

There was no filter on his mouth, and he immediately blurted out a question about them.

Of course, he immediately averted his eyes after the fact, especially at the question, "Why are you staring at me naked?"

He admitted to needed help, and was very surprised when she helped tie his hakama. He happened to look down as she did so, noticing the fading bruises Shawlong had left on her neck, as well as the very, very fresh ones in the shape of finger tips on the back of her hands.

He knew how she got those ones.

She backed up a step once she was done and he watched her closely, puling on a new jacket. His other one had been incinerated already. There was a towel on her head, holding up most of her damp hair. A few tendrils of it had escaped, damp and curling around her face.

He didn't like not being able to see her odd hair color, so he plucked the towel off of her head and tossed it to the side. Someone would be in to get it later, he was sure.

Of course, all of her hair fell in a tangle into her face. He wasn't fond of that, either, but let it be, instead asking again how she got the bruises.

A group effort, she had said. How bruises could be a group effort, he wasn't sure.


He wanted to waste no time in getting used to fighting with one arm. Sure, it would be easy killing Kurosaki Ichigo with only one arm, but it wasn't like he was used to fighting with only one limb. The obvious answer to train was in the desert, since all of his fraccion were dead and everyone else would show him no mercy.

Not that he wanted to be shown any mercy.

Of course, he had to take Kaori out with him, since she was technically his charge and he didn't want to leave her by herself, especially after his blatant disregard of Aizen's orders. The manipulative shinigami might not have guessed how close he was to Kaori, but he was also unpredictable, so it was hard to say what would happen.

Before even leaving Las Noches, though, he had made Kaori pull her hood up. She had managed to somewhat fix her hair by that point, combing out most of the knots and tangles with her fingers. Of course, once she had acquiesced and the hood was over her head, it hung so far down into her face that she could hardly see out from under the rim of it.

When they were out in the middle of the desert, Las Noches no where in sight, but Grimmjow knew it was behind them somewhere, Kaori had begun to rant about how she was going to survive if he died out there—of course, it had been by feasting on his dead body and consuming her own urine, which was really, really weird.

What the fuck went on in her head?

And then there was the question about why they were out in the desert in the first place. He hadn't given her an answer; he had simply looked down at her, frowning, wondering why she asked so many questions that he didn't like answering.

Then, he had sensed the gillian approaching and sonido'd elsewhere, leaving Kaori where she was. A stupid, stupid thing to do, he had realized after he had done it. Immediately, Kaori began to look around wildly for him, fear evident in each of her movements.

Now, if she had only looked up . . .

The gillian appeared at that point, and Kaori started freaking out even more. He was aout to go down and kill the gillian, about to move from his position when he felt the weird, nails-on-chalkboard reiastu of Kaori's spike again.

Instead of moving, he watched her closely, fully prepared to jump in when need be. Every other time he had felt that painful reiatsu spike so high, she had attacked someone. He wasn't sure if the same would be done now, but it would have been interesting to see.

Instead of attempting to fight the ridiculously tall and imposing hollow, though, she turned and began to run away from it.

He frowned. He had fully expected her to flip out and attack the gillian.

But then she tripped and fell flat on her face, gillian following her, so he drew Pantera and attacked the lesser hollow immediately. Of course, he was off balance, so the first blow he dealt didn't do much—it didn't even deter it's path.

The second blow, however, split the fucker down the middle. It didn't feel like much of a fight to Grimmjow, but he was glad it was over so quickly. He wasn't feeling too chipper, now that he had realized that it was a little bit too soon to attempt fighting again. Stamina was one thing, but the loss of lood was another and he knew he needed to wait a couple of days before trying to fight anything, even Kaori.

Kaori.

The human girl was lying face down in the sand, arms over her head as if she were attempting to hide. She shifted only slightly when he asked her to stand up, unsurprised when she retorted that she would only do so if it was "safe." Of course, safe was a relative term that didn't really exist in his vocabulary, so he confirmed that it was okay to stand up.

And then she started with the questions again; questions he did not want to answer. So he rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath about how all the women in his life ever did was nag at him incessantly.

But Kaori had heard part of it, and he hadn't meant for her to. When she demanded to know what it was he had said under his breath, he made the mistake of repeating it louder than he had the first time. Instead of punching him (like he had expected; Usagi would have), she instead turned around and began to walk blindly in the general direction of Las Noches.

He shrugged and followed her.

Women were weird.


Okay. Here. Take it. And yes, I changed my pen name. I highly suggest you look up the definition of "querken".

Uh . . . you probably won't get another chapter until Wednesday? A week without updating, and I haven't even managed to write more than one chapter ;-;. Anyway, I still have a grad cap to decorate, and I'm super busy Friday, I have an essay to write for math, and an eight hour bus ride on Monday.

So yeah. You'll get one next Wednesday.

I love you guys so much. Your reviews are awesome, and it lights up my day when I see "so and so favorited/watched" Bruised/Queken.