"What do you think you're doing?"
Ichigo dropped the stick in his hand like it was a fistful of hot coals. "Drawing on your lawn."
He received some odd looks and felt obliged to explain himself.
"It's not really your lawn, per se, but yeah, if there were some grass here it'd be lawn-like."
Ulquiorra stared down at him, taking in the teen's crouched position and funny, squiggly lines in the sand below. Behind him, Grimmjow stood looking mildly curious, hands stuffed deep into his pockets.
"You know, designing something new, because I thought having something cool to look at would be way better than just throwing pebbles off into the horizon. . ." Ichigo trailed off with a sigh, deciding it would be better to just keep his mouth shut.
"You are bored." Ulquiorra noted matter-of-factly, the knowing look in his emerald eyes giving him a look not unlike a hungry sort of bird from the dinosaur era. "It has been seven days."
Ichigo sat down on the sand and fiddled with the edge of his white uniform – similar garb to the Espada clothing. He ran a hand through his spikes and muttered something about a haircut. His eyes flicked nervously between the two Espada, as if afraid they would try something while he was defenceless – which he totally was anyway, sitting down or standing up. Zangetsu had been taken from him, and somehow he felt totally drained of any power he used to have.
"Sure it's been seven days? Seems like a hundred." Ichigo rubbed an eye with the back of his hand tiredly.
"The time frame in Hueco Mundo is slower than most other realms." Ulquiorra held out a hand. "Come. You must be hungry."
The teen looked slightly cheered at the prospect of food. "What's for lunch?"
Grimmjow smirked from behind Ulquiorra's smaller frame as the Quarto helped the boy to his feet.
"Anything we can hunt down."
Approximately twenty minutes later found Ichigo cringing with every stab Ulquiorra made at the roaring beast before them.
"I really, really can't get used to this." Ichigo winced and covered his eyes with one hand, shoulders raising upward as the purple furred, white boned, slavering beast of a Hollow sank to the sand in defeat, one of its many horns protruding through its chest. "That thing didn't even stand a chance."
"You're a wuss." Grimmjow stood next to the boy, one hand on his shoulder. "Or maybe you're just pretending to be one."
Cracking open one eye to give the Sexta an angry eyeball, Ichigo shook his head. "Dude, I mean, you guys eat stuff like that?"
That – the beast – was bleeding onto the sandy dunes, taking its last breaths as it bled its life force out from its many wounds.
"Make a clean cut." Grimmjow called out to Ulquiorra, who was wiping his sword on the inside of his sleeve. "Orange here can't handle all the gore."
Ichigo screwed his eyes shut tight and clamped his hands over his ears to muffle the pained scream of the beast as Ulquiorra yanked its head off its neck.
And then there was silence.
"God." Ichigo didn't even realize he was trembling until Grimmjow held him steady with both hands.
"There aren't any here." Grimmjow replied snidely, but the tone of his voice told Ichigo he was only half-teasing. "Except you, of course."
Sure, like he could be a Death God without his powers. Ichigo bit back a disappointed whine and averted his gaze. Better to look elsewhere than face knowing blue eyes, emotionless green eyes or the still, dead body of the newly deceased Hollow.
"Come." Ulquiorra beckoned his fellow Espada and their charge. "We eat now."
It was nightfall before Ichigo managed to calm the violent upheavals in his stomach. Evidently his stomach did not take too well to consuming raw, fresh Hollow meat.
"It turns to ashes inside, in most cases." Szayel leaned over him and patted the teen's hair with a gloved hand. "However, it seems that your digestive system is finding this change of diet sudden and unworthy of being consumed. I can't think why, though. Fresh, warm Hollow meat is something to crave for. Especially their still beating hearts."
Ichigo turned to the steel basin filled with his vomit and hurled more of what he'd been forced to eat earlier.
Standing outside the small white tiled bathroom, Ulquiorra held out a small towel, damp with warm water. Ichigo took it with a weak nod of thanks and pressed it to his lips. The teen's eyes were swollen, nose slightly pink, and throat hurting with the force of his throwing up session.
"You will drink water and sleep this off." Ulquiorra told him quietly. "In the morning, we will find a better substitute for your daily meals."
Too feeble to say anything, Ichigo could only stand – with the help of Szayel – and stumble his way onto the bed prepared for him.
"Shower." He murmured to Szayel, who shook his head.
"No need for that. Grimmjow here will wipe you down with a damp cloth."
Okay, no way was that gonna happen – not while he was still conscious. Ichigo made to stand up and head for the bathroom again when hands previously on his shoulders pushed him down with inhuman force, making him lie down on the soft mattress firmly.
Szayel smiled a hungry sort of smile down at him. "You will rest now."
Ichigo realized there would be no way out of this. He was at the mercy of all Espada at the moment.
Over at the entrance into his quarters, Grimmjow was looking enraged and incredulous, while Ulquiorra looked stern and commanding. It was clear the Sexta had qualms about giving the teen a rub-down when he had better things to do with his time. Ichigo himself wasn't up for something as embarrassing as that; especially not when he was fully capable of having a shower on his own. Well, half-capable.
Szayel packed up all medical things he had brought along with him and left with Ulquiorra, shutting the door behind them with a quiet click.
Having lost the argument, Grimmjow disappeared into the bathroom with a morose expression on his face. Ichigo buried his face into a pillow; breathing in the minty smell of the detergent Aizen had his laundry Arrancar use. He lay there for quite some time, listening to the crickets outside play their little violins, accompanied with the splashing of water inside the bathroom. Looked like Grimmjow was taking his time, too.
"What are you doing?"
Ichigo pushed the pillow aside. "I kinda like the softener smell."
Grimmjow looked purely baffled. Earth stuff were something of a Martian thing to him.
"Aizen has people do his laundry for him, right? I'm guessing they get some sort of softener from flowers or something. Just that this smells like peppermint. Or toothpaste." Ichigo bit his lip as he studied Grimmjow's confused, quizzical expression. "Never mind. I just like it, is all."
Setting down the basin of water on the floor, Grimmjow unfolded a face towel and dipped it into the water. "What's to like about my pillow?"
Ichigo's face flamed. "This . . . this is your pillow?"
Grimmjow waved a hand, indicating the space around them. "This is my room."
If it were possible, Ichigo felt like diving into quicksand. "Oh. Okay. Cool."
Lame cover up, but it would have to do. He hoped Grimmjow wouldn't notice the crimson blush spreading all over his body.
"Take off your clothes." Grimmjow squeezed the towel.
Things could not get any worse.
Ichigo dived onto the sand, rolling behind a large piece of rock. His heart was hammering in his chest, and his eyes were wide open in shock and terror.
There were shrieks of pain and defeat as monsters behind him went down in the sand, beaten by the Quarto, Quinto and Sexta Espada.
He'd seen too much blood and cruelty for one day.
"Aww, is the little Shinigami already wetting his pants?" Nnoitra slashed three more Hollows dead and jumped down from the head of one, followed swiftly by Ulquiorra. "Didn't 'cha use to kill them every day?"
"Yeah, but not without a weapon!" Ichigo squeaked as a lump of bloodied meat dropped onto the sand between his quivering knees. "Fucking hell."
"That's dinner." Ulquiorra frowned reproachfully. "Don't throw food around."
Nnoitra chuckled. "Breathe, Shinigami. Smell that fresh, tasty morsel right in front of ya."
Already inhaling a deep breath – not to smell the 'food' but to calm his jumping nerves – the teenager choked, coughed and wheezed. His eyes grew teary as he coughed, in an effort not to dry heave onto the sand. Apparently they – meaning Aizen and his Espada – couldn't find better alternatives to replace the usual food sources in Hueco Mundo, hence Ichigo was forced to consume Hollow meat for the remainder of the time it took Halibel and Stark to collect food from various Earth towns.
It was definitely a revolting choice of food. Ichigo debated eating sand lizards and decided he liked it much better than still-warm, raw, dripping-with-blood-and-juices Hollow meat.
"Good source of protein." Nnoitra snickered as Ichigo forced himself not to cough at the acrid smell of the dead Hollows behind him, fried by the Quinto's cero.
Clamping one hand over his nose, Ichigo could feel himself growing slightly barmy. This was only his second week in Las Noches, and living with the Espada was making his brain slowly drip IQ out through his pores. He needed to escape, and fast.
But not without Zangetsu.
And he was stripped of all his powers, anyway. There was no chance of him getting through a time portal and heading home, much less venturing through the desert without being detected.
"Get up." Ulquiorra nudged Ichigo on the shoulder with the tip of his sheathed sword. "We have to gather with the rest before the sun sets."
Somehow the last bit made Ichigo think of the sun setting over Karakura's beach, and his heart gave a painful ache at the memory of his home. The teen bit his lower lip to stop the emotions from spreading onto his face and giving his thoughts away. Home was safe right now because he had sacrificed himself. This was the price he would pay to keep his dear friends and family safe for good.
Standing near the teen with his hands shoved down his pockets, Grimmjow watched a flicker of sadness and something else he could not define on the young man's face. He flicked his stern blue gaze to Ulquiorra and Nnoitra, both Espada oblivious to the captured Shinigami's emotions.
"Bring him along." Ulquiorra ordered as he swept past the Sexta soundlessly, Nnoitra in tow.
Grimmjow sighed. "Yeah."
To Ichigo, he held out a hand, a scowl marring his handsome features. "C'mon."
The teen swallowed the words on the tip of his tongue and got up on his own. "You don't have to baby me. I'll be eighteen in a few more days."
So there was this thing called birthdays that Halibel had reported to Aizen about. Grimmjow brightened up considerably, shooting the teen a smile that could smash ice.
"We're going to celebrate then!"
Ichigo blinked at the Espada questioningly, but didn't trust himself to say a word.
"We're going to be celibate?" Nnoitra looked frighteningly disappointed. "What the fuck for?"
Ulquiorra jabbed him with two fingers down his back. "Humans celebrate their days of aging, for reasons unknown to us. On the day they die, they celebrate as well."
"Um, no, that's not really a celebration . . ." Ichigo held out a hand, only to have it clasped by Grimmjow, who was on one knee.
"Happy Valentine's Day." Grimmjow growled out, squeezing his hand more tightly than it was necessary. "Many happy returns of the day."
Nnoitra tucked his scythe under an arm so he could clap. After a few seconds of pondering, Ulquiorra followed suit.
"No, no! You couldn't be more wrong. You don't have to be on one knee to wish someone." Ichigo tried in vain to inch his hand out from Grimmjow's hold. "It's totally mixed up. What have you been smoking? Valentine's has passed; it's in February, and it's early July right now."
Grimmjow pouted with a matching frown. "I thought time passed faster in the human realm."
"Yeah, but . . ."
Ulquiorra sighed. "Age does not matter here. We have all lived through more than a thousand years."
"Which is what makes it cool to hang with you guys, but I . . ."
"He's different!" Grimmjow got to his feet, dusting off his pants. "He's a human spirit boy. He's got life in him!"
"Like you don't?" Nnoitra raised an eyebrow so high it was lost in his black fringe.
Grimmjow grunted. "We must celebrate."
"I know they wear things called party hats, and dance around a round cake."
Ichigo watched a little sand lizard burrow into the sand, and wished upon all of his lucky stars for a less complicated life.
"Don't point it at me!"
"If you wave it around like that, it's only going to go down your arm."
Darkness, but there was enough commotion down the hall – loud enough to wake the dead.
Ichigo slid out of Grimmjow's bed, feeling around the cool marble floor for his boots, which had magically disappeared. It didn't matter; they were three sizes too big for him anyway. Apparently the Arrancar couldn't find any that would fit him at the moment, which meant he had to flounder around barefoot and catlike. Except when he had to walk over hot pebbles. Then he would have to dance.
"Grimm . . .?" He called out uncertainly, patting the bed around him. "Are you here? It's too dark, I . . ."
There was a small mew, and six glowing eyes stared at him reproachfully from the basket on the floor. Ichigo sat on the cool floor and held out his hands, making cooing sounds. The cats rubbed up against him one by one. They missed Grimmjow, too.
"I wonder where he is." Ichigo inhaled a deep breath, picking up one of the kittens and rubbing his face into its fur. "I haven't eaten a thing since breakfast yesterday."
The main reason being there were only plates of raw Hollow meat and a small bowl of gooey black sauce – which the Arrancar Chef had politely informed Ichigo "made of Hollow blood and freshly caught crushed scorpions", all of which gave Ichigo instant heartburn and a queasy stomach to match.
"Can't believe they still can't wrap their heads around the fact I don't share the same tastes as them." Ichigo nuzzled the kitten in his hands, chuckling when it batted his nose and purred. "Hollow meat doesn't even taste good when cooked."
Ichigo gagged a little at the memory of having a forkful of fried Hollow meat being stuffed into his mouth by a frustrated Nnoitra, who ended up getting dragged off shouting and yelling and kicking by Yammy, who had been hovering around looking for a playmate.
Thank goodness for that.
Either way, he'd spit it all out, but he never could quite forget having the horrid taste in his mouth. It was like crushed beetles mixed with dust and grime, stirred in with a tablespoon of dried blood and the kind of sludge you find in sewers.
Clutching his stomach, Ichigo dropped the cat and raced for the bathroom to dry heave into the toilet bowl. The sheer memory of it was still horridious enough to make him feel like hurling his organs out into the porcelain bowl, and his legs were feeling way too weak to let him stand.
His ears picked up no sound aside from the soft glugging in the bowl. That meant whoever had been making the commotion outside were already gone.
A hand on his shoulder made him jump.
"Easy." Grimmjow's voice was a calm relief in the dark. "You alright?"
Ichigo breathed out a shaky breath and turned to let Grimmjow wipe his mouth with a damp cloth. The hand on his shoulders had travelled to his back, and was now rubbing at his bare skin with slow, massaging circles. When had Grimmjow taken his shirt off?
"We got you something from the human realm." Grimmjow's low drawl held a quiver of excitement.
Ichigo prayed it wasn't anything live.
"What is it?" He rasped as he wrapped his arms around the Espada's neck, allowing Grimmjow to carry him back to bed.
"It's a scream." Grimmjow replied proudly. "You'll like it. We found a way to keep it solid in Szayel's laboratory."
Swallowing a gulp of water from the glass Grimmjow handed him, Ichigo eyed the Sexta nervously in the dark. He wasn't sure if his empty, growling, pained and tortured stomach could accept anymore foodstuffs that were clearly not made for human consumption. Especially not if they came from the Octavo's lab.
Running a hand through his hair, Ichigo felt the dip on the bed as Grimmjow sat beside him, placing his cool hand over the teen's forehead.
"You have a bit of a fever, but I think you'll get cooler with what we've gotten you."
Sounded like they really, really wanted him to like whatever they'd brought back. Ichigo couldn't help but smile at their curious sincerity.
"It's a scream, you say?"
"Yup. It's cold. And you can lick it like the humans do in the shows."
A cold scream you could lick.
Ichigo frowned and thought things through.
"An ice cream, you mean?"
Grimmjow leaned over with a hungry glint in his dimly glowing blue eyes. "Yeah. You lick it like this."
Ichigo froze, not daring to squirm as a long, rough tongue slid over his chest and under his neck. Hard, sharp teeth followed, but Grimmjow was careful not to scratch him. The teen quivered a little as Grimmjow ran his tongue over his left nipple.
He could feel it growing hard.
Well, as hard as most nipples get.
"What're you doing?" Ichigo thought his brain registered he said that, but what he really sounded like was "Hmmph, nng?"
Grimmjow's eyes glinted at him in the dim light. "You like being licked?"
Ichigo trembled like jelly, which made the Sexta smirk.
As Grimmjow leaned closer, presumably about to lick him again, Ichigo threw up in his lap.
Haha. Done for crack, because I'm so sleep deprived it's not funny.