Bare feet padded down the damp corridor. Walls dripped from water that should never have touched them. Puddles formed in the uneven surfaces of hard concrete and not a soldiers was left between them and their destination.
"Your water canon really did a number on them." Grimmjow grunted to Halibel, as he pushed his aching body forward. "But I don't understand why Pantera was not with your zanpakuto."
He was weaponless, shirtless and drained from torture from the Vandenreich, but with her at his side, he knew the last of the espada would not be defeated.
"We'll find Pantera once we're out of this shit hole and healed."
He glanced at her. He hated the thought of leaving half of his soul behind, but if she said she would do something, she would keep to her word.
"Fine." They heard a noise, and pressed up against a door. "What was that?" He was looking farther down the corridor but she was focused on the door at his back. "What is it?"
He turned slowly and grasped the handle. It turned. They moved silently into the chamber. Grimmjow had been in many since his capture but none like this. If he had been from earth, he might have been reminded of old science fiction novels featuring Tesla coils and Halloweenish vapours rising from machines and bubbling vials. And hooked up in the centre of it all, was a mostly naked boy, strapped into a heavy chair. Tubes led into his veins, sticky pads monitored heart and breathing, something was strapped around his head and beeping intermittently. Oxygen pumped into his nostrils through clear tubes.
Grimmjow stood a long time staring at the orange haired teen he'd once fought. Brown eyes were open, his head lolled to the side, but Ichigo stared straight back at him, pain vividly etched in his features. Nothing in him seemed capable of speaking but everything he wanted to say was in those eyes.
"What should we do?" Grimmjow took a step back from his enemy and looked to Halibel.
"Our enemy is the Vandenreich now. Kurosaki could help us, and besides," she turned to the teen who's eyes never left Grimmjow, "he's just a child, and look what they're doing to him."
"Grimmjow, if he'd found you like this, do you really think he'd just keep walking?"
"Probably not. Fine."
"I'll watch the door, you get him."
He moved forward, looking over all the machines, trying to figure out how to shut things off, but it seemed easiest just to start pulling needles and cathodes from skin.
A noise escaped the teen when he removed an IV of some purplish liquid. He could sense the spiritual properties to all these machines and substances. They were trying to infuse his body with something, maybe their own powers. Whatever it was, it was almost killing the teen and the agony in his eyes was unmistakable. When Grimmjow pulled the last sticky pad from his chest and moved to unhook the oxygen he was shocked to see a tear roll from one eye. For a moment he simply beheld the sight of his enemy so wasted by what had been done to him, so weak and helpless and in so much pain.
And it gave him no pleasure.
All he could see was what Halibel had said, a boy being treated so cruelly. He couldn't find one trace of that arrogance he had hated in Ichigo all that time ago. It had been washed from them both in their reeducation.
"Fuck." He swore when he undid the straps and found wrists and ankles chaffed to bleeding. The kid had fought this as hard as he could until his body just gave up. Though his own body was in no great shape, he eased Ichigo forward against him and lifted him up, surprised to find his burden so light.
"I've got him." Grimmjow announced turning back to the door.
"Good. I know he was your enemy, Grimmjow, but we're going to need him before the end. He might be the only one who can defeat these bastards."
Grimmjow hated to agree, but he had been suffering under their power for longer than he wanted to admit. "Yeah, well, assuming he snaps out of it again."
She glanced at the boy in his arms, a reprimanding look in her eyes at his callousness. "Swear to me you'll protect him, Grimmjow."
"Halibel, what's gotten into you?"
"Just don't abandon him, Grimmjow."
"Good. Then stay behind me." He nodded. The two of them had been together in this place for a long time, and before that, it had just been them who had survived Aizen's war. He had his pride, but he also knew she was strong and honourable, and he had learned to respect her. So he did just what she said, and kept the boy close against him and followed her from the room.
They weaved down many halls, he had no idea how she knew where she was going, but he followed her with confidence. From time to time she abruptly changed their direction and he would hear soldiers running nearby. There were shouts, he guessed they had discovered Ichigo was gone.
"Grimm..j-jow?" He barely heard the voice against his shoulder but he shifted his grip around Ichigo and looked down on him. Blood dribbled from one nostril, that couldn't be good.
"Shh." He warned the teen. They were currently crouched in a narrow space, waiting for Halibel to give the go ahead. "We're escaping." He added, hoping it would be enough to keep him quiet.
He felt Ichigo's head sag back against him. His spiritual pressure was all over the place, wavering weakly, but shifting from pure soul reaper, to dark as his own hollow powers and then to something else, something disturbingly close to quincy. He regarded the pale teen again, trying to see with his eyes what his spiritual sense were telling him. But there was nothing on his shuddering form that could tell him if he had indeed been turned quincy. "Just tell me they haven't reeducated you yet."
He didn't get an answer, but if Ichigo woke up and started fighting on behalf of the Vandenreich, that would be a serious problem.
"Grimmjow." Halibel warned. He stood and they moved as fast as they could through the facility. Lights wavered, shouts and spiritual pressures increased all around them. They were getting closed in. They ran with everything they had but when they rounded the next corner they were met with a wall of stone faces. Halibel raised her sword, but a voice at their back made them freeze.
"I am impressed." Grimmjow turned slowly to face the King. "You made it much farther than you should have been able."
"Fuck you." Juha took a step forward and looked him up and down, eyes coming to rest on Ichigo.
"I thought he was your enemy."
"Enemy of your enemy and all." Grimmjow kept his voice steady, not betraying his real fear. It had been Hell before, but he was sure they would come up with new ways to make him suffer after his attempted escape.
"He's not my enemy, Grimmjow, he's my ally. As soon as his reeducation is complete, he'll be at my side until the day he dies."
"He's barely alive. What the Hell was all that?"
"Don't you remember, Grimmjow?" "What?"
"Your own reeducation." the espada tensed and looked back at Halibel. "Hmm, how interesting."
"What the Hell are you talking about? I've never been in that room before today. Neither of us have."
"I must say, you were more resistant than any other. That is why the process was less than successful. Hence why you remain in my care."
"No, Grimmjow, I'm not the one who's lost my mind." "Fuck this. Halibel, I'm not letting him take me back. Let's fight."
"No, Grimmjow, we can't win. It will only be worse." He looked to her hard. "What?"
"I asked you to protect Ichigo. You can't do that if they rip you apart right here."
"Then what, we just go back with them?" He glanced around, all the soldiers were staring at him. The King watched him as if amused. "No way."
But before he could ever make a move, the King was on him, sword to his throat. "Enough. Let's go back."
"You bastard." He hiked Ichigo closer despite the blade at his throat.
"It's alright, Grimmjow. Ichigo's body does need a break, you can hold onto him for a bit. It might even be helpful if he gets to talk to you."
Grimmjow narrowed his eyes suspiciously but was shoved forward from behind and he could hear Halibel being disarmed. They had been defeated so easily. But with the promise of getting to assess just how much the Vandenreich had reeducated the teen, he followed after them. Because if they had any chance of ending this, it was with Ichigo's help.
Groggy eyes parted to grey walls. Grimmjow was alerted to Ichigo coming around by a low moan of pain.
"Kurosaki?" he moved closer to the teen next to Halibel who had been watching him closely since the three of them had been put in the cell together. They had discussed why the King would chose to put them together like this, but they did not determine an answer. Maybe Ichigo would shed some light on the situation.
"Hey kid, wake up." Grimmjow gave him a shake.
"Just give him a second." Halibel warned, but brown eyes found them. "Help him sit up." Grimmjow did, pulling the boy into a sitting position and letting him lean back against the wall. He swallowed several times as if trying not to puke. His eyes shut, no doubt as nausea or dizziness assaulted him.
"What's going on...?" Ichigo asked, never opening his eyes.
"We were caught again." Halibel supplied. This only got another swallow of pain.
"The King put us in this cell together." Grimmjow added.
"I didn't...know you were here..."
"Neither did we." He answered back.
"You tried to help me..."
"Yeah, well, we couldn't just leave you like that." This got brown eyes to open. He looked hard at Grimmjow. "It was Halibel who insisted." Grimmjow defended himself to make sure the teen didn't think he'd suddenly developed a sense of compassion. Hazed eyes shifted over his shoulder to regard the female espada. He frowned and shut his eyes again.
"It's alright." Halibel intoned behind her mask. "We have decided our best chances are to work together."
"Are you still...you?" Grimmjow asked him.
"I...don't know anymore."
"What does that mean?"
The door clanked open behind them. Halibel stood on the defensive while Grimmjow remained crouched next to Ichigo. The King stared down at the two men with a sickening smile.
"It means he's seen what I've done to you, and now he knows he can't be sure the same hasn't happened to him."
"What the Hell are you talking about?" But the King pushed past him to reclaim Ichigo. "Kuroskai." Grimmjow stood now too, the King was all that was holding the teen up but he opened his eyes again.
"Look at him, Ichigo." The King whispered in his ear. "He doesn't have any idea what's happened to him."
"What are you talking about?" Grimmjow screamed.
"If I told you, I think you would lose it altogether, Grimmjow. But you have helped Ichigo understand the hopelessness of his situation."
"No." Ichigo breathed against him. "You won't win.."
"I already have, Ichigo. It's just a matter of time. Now, shall we continue?" He began to drag him back out he door, the teen struggled as much as he could. "Stop!" Grimmjow commanded.
"He's just a child." Halibel spoke next to him. "He will not survive more of your reeducation."
But the King showed no hesitancy, he just smiled deeper. "You will be served your punishment for your earlier actions, enjoy."
The door slammed shut, the last thing Grimmjow saw was the spark of raw terror in a boy who had once cut him down and brought Aizen to his knees.
"Dammit." He turned to his ally. "What was all of that about? What did the King mean?"
"Grimmjow." She took his hand and held it before him,, showing hims skin chafed by chains. "We've been here for a long time." He looked down at the scars all over him, his body no where near as strong as it once had been.
"I guess you're right." He said back. It would be a shock to Ichigo to see what his former enemy had been reduced to after so long. And he would have to realize he too was just as wasted. It made sense.
But he couldn't help but worry that there was more to it than that.
This was inspired by today's manga and I have impulsively decided to publish it right away! Oh well, let's see where it goes if you're interested!