Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, nor any of the Call of Duty franchise. I am but a humble fan (rabid yaoi-loving psychopath) who enjoys meshing products together so that we all may benefit from the sweet, slash flavoured love-child.

To odieme, who didn't log in for me to respond personally; You, madam (sir?), made my day. You friggin' nailed everybody - I couldn't stop smiling, jus' knowing that there was another CoD fan/nut out there. Soap and his laddies are appallingly unappreciated. No justice I tell ya. I was pleasantly impressed that you figured Shuhei was Gaz, and Ulquiorra as Allen, especially when the only clue for Shu was the fact that he ran Ichigo through the mock-up CQB and for Ulqui the fact that he was an infiltration expert. You deserve a whole freakin' brownie cake, babe! Kudos~ ^^

.:Armed and Expendable:.

'Here on out, we're for just one thing: Redemption.

Finally. Back in the fucking fight.'

Entry from 'Soap's Journal'

Present day…

"Operation Kitsune"

Day 4 – 15:21:47

Sgt. Nnoitra 'Mantis' Gilga

Task Force 615

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

"Right. You heard the boss. Mad Dog, on me." Taking a left away from the warehouse-turned-interrogation-chamber, Nnoitra and Yammy headed in the general direction their target Vega had been headed before he regretfully lost his right kneecap. Chuckling maliciously to himself, the Russian directed his next question into his comms. "Demon, you read me? Come on, ya uppity limey bastard, I know you can hear me…"

There was a pregnant moment of static interference, to which Nnoitra and Yammy exchanged a knowing eye roll. Stoic fucking marksman.

"Oi, shorty!" Yammy snapped into his mic as he and Nnoitra took up position behind a dumpster overlooking the decrepit shantytown. "We ain't got all damn day here, ya know! We're about to advance upon the favela an' we could really use that scope of yours – what's your ETA?"

"There is no need to bellow like a mindless beast, Sergeant. I can hear you perfectly well," came the cold, chiding reply of the Englishman. "Chameleon, Reaper and I are roughly half a klick out from your position. Proceed without us. We will soon catch up and provide cover-fire."

"Oorah," Nnoitra and Yammy chimed together. Looking to one another, they gave a nod and readied their weapons. "Remember, Mad Dog – there are civvies out there. Keep it tight."

"Rog' that," the American replied, slinging his SCAR-H assault rifle over his back and drawing a .44 Magnum from its holster at his hip. "Let's do this, yeah?"

Nnoitra smirked. "Da, мой брат. No one leaves with a breath in their lungs. All must pay." Holding up his fist, the Russian narrowed his steely eyes in conviction. "For our lost lamb; our Vixen."

"Fuck yeah!" Yammy cheered, bumping his fist with Nnoitra's in spirited camaraderie. "Let's show these cocksuckers exactly what the Six-One-Five's made of!"

With identical shit-eating grins plastered across their mouths, the two Task Force members sprang out from behind their cover and leapt down into the densely populated favela, their grand entrance received with the cries of fallen enemies and an almighty hail of smoking bullets.

18 months prior…



Sgt. Ichigo 'Vixen' Kurosaki

Task Force 615

Tian Shan Range, Kazakhstan

It was fair to say that Ichigo was a well-travelled man. With seven years of military service under his belt there wasn't a continent left that didn't have the impression of his boots firmly trodden into its soil by now. China, Nigeria, Turkey, Cuba, Bolivia, Ireland… You name it, he's seen it – got the t-shirt and everything. But here now, perched precariously on a too narrow ledge situated thousands of feet up some godforsaken, snow capped mountain he couldn't help but think that this was certainly a new experience to cross off the proverbial list.

Whether it fell under the 'pros' or 'cons' category he had yet to determine…

Huddling down into his thick, fur lined protective coat (that was protecting him from jack shit to be perfectly frank) he turned his gaze towards his CO. For being stuck out in the subzero mountainous terrains of Tian Shan, dusted with a thick layer of frost from the harsh snowfall, he couldn't stop himself from noting how cool and collected Captain Jaegerjaques appeared to be. Here he was, teeth chattering and muscles seizing up from the paralysing winter winds, praying to any deity that would listen to pleasepleaseplease spare his nads from the inevitable frostbite – and the fucking blue-haired Scot was hunkered down to his right, face and posture painted in relaxation, enjoying a crafty smoke for fuck's sake!

Ichigo always imagined he would go out like a hero; in a blaze of gunfire whilst valiantly protecting a terrorised civilian or fallen comrade… not frozen to the side of some colossal rock in the ass-end of fucking Kazakhstan all because his CO is a selfish nicotine fiend. Such bullshit, man.

At long last, the cherry of Grimmjow's cigarette caught up with the butt, the blunette releasing his final inhale that Ichigo figured was more fogged breath than actual smoke and flicked the still smouldering remains over the ledge.

"Breaks over, Vixen," Grimmjow informed him, fixing his thermal beanie hat atop his head before carefully finding his footing. "Let's get a move on."

Ichigo scowled as he followed his Captain's example and cautiously stood up, biting back the scathing retort sitting on the tip of his tongue. Just whose idea was it to take a goddamn break in the first place? Not his, that was for fucking sure.

Pressing his back in tight against the rock face, he and Grimmjow slowly edged their way along the tapered ledge, Ichigo's heart pulsing in his throat as he studiously kept his attention focused on the blunette and away from the glaring snowy abyss laughing up at him from miles below.

Intermittently checking on the FNG, whom looked a damn sight paler than the cold weather permitted, Grimmjow motioned for the kid to stop.

"This will do," he said, shifting his rifle behind his back and taking up the two ice pickaxes secured around his wrists. They were close to the top by now, just another hundred feet or so up the cliff and they'd be right on top of the Russian base. Fucking covert operations; such a pain in the ass. "Stay here and spot me. Wait for my go."

"Sir," Ichigo replied with a nod of confirmation.

Satisfied, Grimmjow sank the right axe into the ice by his head before daringly swinging his body out over the ledge and hammering in the left pick. Now facing the mountain, the Captain quickly found purchase in the icy wall before him with the aid of his spiked climbing boots and gradually began to pick his way up the sheer peak.

No further than a meter up, Grimmjow called over his shoulder to his subordinate. "Alright, Vixen, the ice is good. Follow me."

Swallowing down the knot of nerves lodged in his throat, Ichigo mimicked Grimmjow's actions to the T, and soon the two of them were delicately scaling their way up the glacial mountainside. All was going smoothly, their progress sluggish but precise, when an enemy fighter jet suddenly passed overhead, the roar of its engines making the air tremble and the mountain shudder. Ichigo pressed himself flush against the ice, blanching when it vibrated against his chest as he waited it out, the jet having long since disappeared into the horizon but the mountain still groaning in the aftershock.

Chancing a glance upwards, Ichigo felt his blood run cold when the more fragile ice near the top of their climb splintered and shattered, compromising the already shaky integrity and causing Grimmjow to lose his footing as well as his left grip. For one sobering, heart-stopping moment the blunette's body was suspended in mid-air, hanging like a boneless rag doll as he vehemently clung to his one remaining handhold. Ichigo tried to call out to him, tried to compose his frazzled neurons and hurry to his aid, but his every limb was numb, paralysed with fear.

Alas, his panic was unfounded as, true to form, the bull-headed Captain landed on his feet, swiftly righting himself with no assistance needed and continuing on like he hadn't nearly plummeted thousands of feet to his untimely and gory death. If only he could kickstart his lungs into some semblance of functionality again, Ichigo might have laughed at the man's unflappable stubborn streak.

Perhaps there was more to Grimmjow's feline callsign than mere slick cunning and savage grace?

When Ichigo finally caught up with his superior, hauling himself up over the lip at the top of the wall, he barely had a moment to fully appreciate the solid ground (read; snow) beneath his feet before Grimmjow approached with a manic grin tilting his lips.

"Not far to go now," he said with a jut of his unshaven chin, indicating the meagre fifty foot vertical climb separating them from the summit.

Ichigo peered upward, eyes pinching against the howling winds, wondering how on earth they were supposed to find any kind of solid leverage through such a thick layer of frost – specialised climbing gear regardless – when a solid pop to the shoulder literally knocked him back into focus. His irritated glare soon wilted into wary frown upon catching the wicked gleam in those charming sapphire eyes.

Whatever Grimmjow had planned, Ichigo already didn't like it.

"Good luck, mate," the blunette said, his Scottish baritone positively devilish. "I'll see ya on the other side, ne?"

Ichigo blinked, a million and one questions buzzing through his head all at once – all with the same underlying theme of 'what the bloody hell…?' – but before he got to voice a single one of them, Grimmjow took off running. Ichigo could only watch with wide ochre eyes and a slackened jaw as the blunette propelled himself from the edge of the snowy platform on which they now stood, his body disappearing from sight into a thick foggy haze.

"Captain!" Ichigo cried, racing toward the brink and expecting to see, well, nothing he supposed; what with his batshit crazy CO having nosedived into fucking oblivion. When the frosty mist slowly dissipated, however, a rush of relief warmed Ichigo's veins when he caught sight of the blunette firmly adhered to a more substantial icy overhang across the small chasm separating them. "You're a sick son of a bitch, sir!" Ichigo berated, grinning in spite of his rising incense.

He heard Grimmjow bark out a laugh, the acoustics of the valley carrying his voice surprising well. "Don't be such a pussy, Vixen. Get that shapely arse over here on the double, soldier!"

Cheeks already rosy from the cold flooded with heat at the crude comment, Ichigo grumbling obscenities under condensed breath as he backed up to get a good running start. Stiff fingers flexing around the grips of his ice axes, the orange-haired Sergeant inhaled a deep, bracing breath, releasing it slowly through his mouth before pitching forward into a short sprint.

Launching himself off of the ledge, there were a few heart-pounding seconds where time seemed to grind to a crawl and the young soldier felt completely weightless, like a sated falcon gliding listlessly through the clouds, before gravity promptly smacked him in the face and wrenched him back down to earth. Throwing both arms forward he scrambled for purchase against the frozen rock face, his axes declining to latch and shearing through the ice like a hot knife through butter.

Grimmjow, having heard the commotion below, glanced down just in time to witness Ichigo fail to stick the landing and begin a treacherous descent down the ice. "Shit – hold on, Kurosaki! Don't let go!"

The words were completely lost on Ichigo who was so damn certain that this was the end he could only cling on for dear life as he slid rapidly toward bottom of the overhang. He lost his right grip at the base and felt his stomach drop to the soles of his feet when his gaze helplessly strayed after the falling ice into the misty depths miles below where his body, his life, now hanged in the balance.

Choking on a panicked whimper, he quickly grappled for the remaining ice pick with both hands, his terrified mind failing to process that he was foolishly supporting all of his weight on a tool that had struggled to hold him when the load had been divided. Even over the sound of his own blood roaring in his ears, Ichigo was able to hear the telltale creak of splintering ice, knowing that any nanosecond now it was going to rupture and break and send him hurtling to his death, where nothing of his memory would remain but a bloody smear at the base of the mountain.

Then, like a guardian angel sent from the arctic heavens above, Grimmjow was suddenly right there, his gloved hand appearing from out of the mist just as Ichigo lost his tentative grip and began to fall. Wild cerulean eyes, filled to the brim with an emotion Ichigo couldn't quite decipher, stared down hard at him, those powerful fingers wrapped in a death grip around his wrist.

"Don't worry, kid, I got ya… I got ya…"

Nodding dumbly, Ichigo readied himself as Grimmjow arduously heaved him to the left, sharp teeth gritted in exertion, and then used the momentum to swing him up to the right. Ichigo immediately latched onto the ice with both axes and painstakingly restarted his ascent – deliberately choosing to ignore the deep gouges left behind from his plummet and the way it made his stomach roil like acid in a blender.

He didn't stop until he'd reached the very top, hauling himself up and over the edge and rolling himself a good few feet away. When Grimmjow caught up, he found Ichigo sprawled out on his back in the snow, his pallor sickly and breathing sporadic at best.

Giving the boy a moment or two of privacy to collect himself, Grimmjow busied himself with checking his FAL, ensuring it hadn't seized up in the freezing temperatures. He knew it was highly unlikely, but he didn't want to make it obvious that he was pitying the lad. Unfortunately for them all, dying on the job was little more than an occupational hazard; came with territory, so to speak. That didn't mean that near-death experiences didn't rattle you to the very core every damn time, though. It was something a man never really got used to, no matter how often it occurred.

You could be a man forged of titanium bones and brass balls – but that ain't going to make you invincible. Each and every one of them were only human, after all; armed and expendable… and they all knew it.

How fucking depressing, ne?

"C'mon, Vixen," Grimmjow grunted, shucking his ice climbing gear before prodding the Sergeant in the ribs with the toe of his boot. "We got a mission to complete, remember? We cannae afford to hang around here all day."

Ichigo visibly winced at the poor choice of words, and Grimmjow silently cursed himself. Hang around? Fucking hell…

"On your feet, boy," Grimmjow ordered, wisely sidestepping the blunder as he offered his hand out to his brother. "This ain't like the Sunday school bullshit you've been used to in your other platoons – you're in the Six-One-Five now. We take our orders and we get shit done."

Ichigo cracked a smile, grateful for the consideration and earlier grievances forgotten as he slapped his hand into Grimmjow's and let the Scot haul him to his feet. "That our official motto, sir?" he asked, flashing a cheeky grin as he brushed the snow off of the back of his trousers.

Grimmjow's top lip twitched, pulling back into a sharp toothed smirk. "You better fucking believe it, Vixen. Now stop pussyfooting around and put your big boy pants on; it's time to get down to business."

"Aye aye, Cap'n," Ichigo snorted, giving a mock salute as he readied his own weapon.

Grimmjow chuckled, striking out with frightening speed in spite of his restrictive winter clothing to capture Ichigo in a headlock. "Christ, kid. You're gonna fit in with the Task Force just fine!"

"With all due respect, sir," Ichigo groused, tousling with his Captain as he fought to free himself from the demeaning position, "get your fucking hands off of me!"

Still laughing even as the riled up Sergeant landed a heavy blow to his gut with a padded elbow and wriggled out of his hold, Grimmjow straightened himself out and swaggered on ahead, ruffling Ichigo's sunshiny tresses as he passed.

"Come on, princess. That ACS module isn't going to salvage itself."

Glaring at the blunette's retreating back, Ichigo bent to swipe his beanie up off the ground (the hat having fallen off during the minor scuffle) and trudged through the thick blanket of snow some feet behind his commanding officer…

…fighting a warming smile all the while.

Back at base later that afternoon…

"Team Player"


SAS Barracks

"…Next thing I know the hanger doors are bustin' open and I've got a whole horde of Russian scum on my ass – no offence, Mantis – with basically nothing but my dick in my hands. Meanwhile Vixen is upstairs, searching for the downed satellite module, an' has no fucking clue that I'm about to have my pretty face blown from existence…"

"Russian scum?" Nnoitra growled, none too pleased about having his people belittled – enemy status notwithstanding.

"Pretty?" Zero chimed in with a mordant cackle, just because he loved to rile the Captain up.

It had been a long and tiring day for Ichigo, both physically and mentally taxing, and now that he was back within the safety of the barracks, there was really nothing else on his mind but a long, scalding hot shower and a well deserved rest in his bunk. But oh no, not only had he been denied these simple pleasures, he also had to sit and relive every fucking second of the horror that was their mission, with Grimmjow sitting up on the tabletop in the rec room like some kind of sadistic, blue-haired raconteur.

Just peachy

To be fair though, Grimmjow had a certain way with words, a captivating lilt to his voice that seemed to draw the attention of everyone around him. Take right now for example; the entire Task Force was gathered around the table to listen to the man spin his tale of adventure and bloodshed, eating up his every word like chickenfeed from the palm of his hand. Even Ulquiorra, who was feigning disinterest over at the far end of the table, nose once again buried in printed text, was glancing up every now and again in Grimmjow's direction.

"So there I am, hands in the air, trying not to move a fucking muscle in case they decide to fill me full'a holes whilst simultaneously ordering this dimwitted gobshite," here he jammed a thumb in Ichigo's direction, "to get a fucking move on and execute plan B. To which he starts screamin' in my ear that there is no plan B, that we never talked about a plan B…"

"Ooh, rookie mistake, Vixen," Shūhei tutted facetiously to Ichigo's right. "In the Six-One-Five there's always a plan B."

"Ah, ah! I know!" Zero exclaimed, waving an arm frantically in the air. "The C4!"

Grimmjow smirked, sending Ichigo a covert wink. "Bingo."

"Ha! Fuckin' nailed it," Zero crowed, spectral mask grinning obscenely and tone smug as he crossed his arms behind his head.

"Not a moment too soon, our little noob detonates the charge and boom, baby! We lay waste to every motherfucker in sight an' hightail it out'a there, throw ourselves down a snow bank and hijack a couple'a snowmobiles – though not before Vixen bitched that he didn't know how to ride one…"

"Hey!" Ichigo protested, paying enough attention to know when he was intentionally being insulted. "I said that I hadn't ridden one in years – there's a difference, Captain. Not that it mattered anyway, the engine was shot to hell and leaking fuel all over the place."

"Hm, let me guess…" Szayel spoke up from the other side of the table, mustard eyes glinting with mischief as he pillowed his chin in his palm. "Our Captain oh so gallantly offered to let you cosy up behind him?"

This earned a round of stifled snickering, to which Ichigo scowled and averted his gaze, huffily crossing his arms over his chest. Grimmjow wasn't deterred in the slightest, obviously more than accustomed to the provocative badgering of his team by now.

"Too damn right I did," he declared, almost like he was proud of the fact. Against his better judgement, Ichigo felt his chest swell with something akin to warmth at the bold statement, gingerly turning his attention back to the blunette. Grimmjow grinned down on him, and there was something predatory in that look that had Ichigo's next breath catching in his throat… "Do you morons have any idea just how much paperwork I would have to fill out if he got his ass killed on the field? Let alone on his first assignment? Like hell I was gonna leave him behind!"

And just like that Ichigo visibly deflated, slumping back in his chair and shaking his head in apparent dismay. However, that didn't stop Grimmjow's astute observational skills from catching a short glimpse of the sly little grin the FNG tried to conceal, like he knew better, and the CO felt his insides knot in a not entirely unpleasant fashion at the sight.

Something worth further investigation, Grimmjow mused to himself, reluctantly tearing his cerulean gaze away. Later, he decided.

"So off we go, me at the wheel and Vixen at the trigger," Grimmjow continued animatedly, his hands gesticulating wildly with enthusiasm. "I'm dodging trees left, right and fucking centre, whilst Kurosaki deals with the heat coming at us from all sides – I'm tellin' ya lads, we have real NBK on our hands here. I was gunning it over a hundred, and our boy Vixen was poppin' tangos like they were pop-up targets in The Pit!"

Ichigo's cheeks flushed with embarrassment as several pairs of eyes turned to regard him, all displaying a myriad of different emotions; Zero's molten gaze fixing him with a carnivorous sort of glimmer and Shūhei giving him a proud, brotherly dig on the arm. Ichigo didn't know what to say – never having been one to blow his own horn – and so simply slouched down further in his seat and said nothing at all.

Grimmjow had the irrepressible urge to reach out and ruffle the boy's sunset orange spikes, much like he'd done earlier that day, but felt like it was different this time, that it might somehow be inappropriate in the current setting. Trusting his gut instincts implicitly (they had yet to ever steer him wrong) he obstinately resisted the temptation and cleared his throat, drawing the focus of his team back toward himself.

"One wrong turn and suddenly we're barrelling down a sheer slope – I've all but lost control of the snowmobile and Vixen's fast runnin' out of ammo. I'm thinking we're fucked; if I don't wrap us around a sodding tree, then Kurosaki's gonna get us mowed down when he can't pick off any of the Russkies still hot on our tail… and that's when I see it; our ticket out."

"Oh god," Ichigo groaned, burying his face in his hand as he relived every hair raising microsecond of the ordeal.

Aaroniero, curiosity well and truly piqued by this stage, sat forward in his chair, his hands gripping the backrest as he straddled it backwards. "Well? Come on, guys! What was it? How'd ya's get out?"

Deliberately pausing for dramatic effect, Grimmjow's lips curled into a wolfish smirk. "Oh, it was no big deal really – we just jumped a three-hundred foot gap over a gaping gorge hundreds of meters deep…"

Ichigo thought Aaroniero's eyes were going to bug right out of their sockets, though most of the rest of the team looked highly sceptical – and with good reason, too.

"Bullshit," Nnoitra droned, his facial expression coloured unimpressed.

"Seconded," Zero threw in his own two cents, his golden orbs narrowed in challenge to the outrageous claim.

"Of course it's bullshit," Ichigo scoffed, kicking his booted feet up onto the table. "Don't exaggerate, sir. It was probably about two-hundred feet – and that would be a generous estimate."

Grimmjow rolled his eyes. "Keh. Way to ruin the climax, newbie."

"I still call fuckin' bull," Zero snorted.

"Actually, I can vouch for that," Tia hummed from behind, lounging elegantly on the tattered couch and idly inspecting her cuticles. "I wouldn't have believed it either if I hadn't witnessed it with my own eyes. I saw the whole thing as I was coming in to land at the EZ." Without looking up from her nails, the blonde bombshell's full lips quirked up into a vulpine grin. "Moments before the Captain spun out and got pwned by a snow drift…"

A round of boisterous laughter erupted out amongst the team, whereas Ichigo and Grimmjow both winced at the still-fresh memory of being rocketed off of the back of the snowmobile; the FNG rubbing tentatively at the painful reminder throbbing on the back of his head and the blunette palming gingerly at his bruised shoulder.

"Oi, I was punchin' it over one-twenty – probably more," Grimmjow growled in indignation. "My only concern was making the gap, not what we should do if we actually landed it."

"'If'?" Ichigo grit his teeth, narrowing ochre eyes on his CO.

"Oh don't get your panties in a wad. We're both still here, ain't we?" Grimmjow dismissed with a wave.

"Yeah, no thanks to you," Ichigo sniffed with an air of superiority. "If you'd been in charge of the pistol we'd both be in much worse shape than we are right now."

Grimmjow bore his teeth in a snarl. "An' if you'd been behind the wheel we'd still be stranded on the other side of that goddamn ravine. Count yourself lucky that I've balls big enough for the two of us, laddie."

Ichigo couldn't be sure who moved first, but in the blink of an eye they were both on their feet, eyes locked and narrowed in challenge, Grimmjow easily towering over Ichigo's smaller frame but the fiery Sergeant refusing to back down, determined not to let size and rank intimidate him. He would not be bullied, commanding officer or no.

Grimmjow couldn't believe the gall of this kid, squaring up to him – him! – and brazenly challenging his authority. It was like a pissy little kitten fluffing up its hackles and flashing those wicked little needle teeth. An impressive display, he could admit, but that's all it was; a display. Grimmjow had Ichigo in both stature and status – he could so very easily crush the boy under his boot, make his life a living nightmare… but he wouldn't. As much as he would love to assert his dominance, to show the fiery Sergeant exactly who the true alpha of the pack was, Ichigo was a member of the Task Force now, one of his men, and Grimmjow took good care of his own.

Staring down into those feisty orbs of amber, simmering as they were with defiance and animosity, Grimmjow couldn't deny that the lad intrigued him greatly. He had seen but a small modicum of what Ichigo was truly capable of today, and was hungry for the rest. This line of work, he'd found, tended to make a beast out of a man, and the spirited FNG was shaping up to be quite the animal indeed…

The shrill drone of the dinner bell startled both Captain and Sergeant from their heated standoff, both men blinking as if shaking off the remnants of a trance.

"Fucking finally," Yammy grumbled, unsurprisingly the first one to speak out and rise to his feet. "I'm starved."

Ichigo and Grimmjow took an awkward step back from one another as the rest of the Six-One-Five began to stir around them, their personal moment well and truly shattered.

"Aye, they should really be more sensitive ta your needs," Zero said in a consciously provocative tone as he hopped down from his perch on the table. "It's been what, two, maybe three hours since yer last meal? Shit, man! What if ya'd jus' gone an' keeled over?"

Yammy merely gave a snort, shooting a withering glare over his shoulder as he exited the room. "Us real men need a proper feed, twinky. I wouldn't expect some scrawny half-pint like you to understand."

"Scrawny? Twinky?!" Zero growled, fists balling at his sides as he raced out the door after the bulky American. "Oi, Llargo! Get yer fat ass back here – am'a feed ya them words for your fuckin' supper, ya twat!"

Zommari chuckled mockingly as he followed in their wake. "Business as usual, then?"

"It would appear so," Szayel muttered, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his forefinger.

"Does Zero even eat?" was the passive question posed by Aaroniero as he walked out alongside Shūhei. "I mean, I've never seen him without his mask and he doesn't take any meals with the rest of us…"

Shūhei snickered, throwing an arm around the younger lad's shoulders. "Who knows? Zero is a man of many implicit perplexities. Some say he's wanted by the CIA and that he sleeps upside down like a bat…"

On Aaroniero's other side, Nnoitra smirked, tattooed arms folded behind his head. "I heard that he roams around the woods at night foraging for wolves, and that he once punched a horse out cold."

"Idiots," Tia admonished, cuffing the two antagonistic men around the ear. "Don't tell him that. Chameleon's susceptible enough to actually believe that crap."

"Aw, come on!" Aaroniero protested, looking for all the world like he was about to start pouting.

Ulquiorra closed his book with a definitive snap, the last to rise from his position at the table and leisurely walk out the door. "Morons," he uttered lowly, though not necessarily to himself.

Cocking a hopeless brow at the team's antics, only now realising just how much time and effort it would require to assimilate himself into the intricate dynamics of his new unit, Ichigo made to follow them out. He stopped abruptly at a firm pressure around his wrist, peering back over his shoulder to find his Captain holding him back.

"I meant what I said before, just so ya know," Grimmjow said, his jaw set and eyes tight like the words were uncomfortable to say out loud. "You're an excellent shot, soldier. I guess we're lucky that you're on our side, ey?"

Ichigo cast his gaze to the floor, a potent wave of humility causing him to rub at the back of his neck. "Ah, right. Um, thank you, sir." Biting his lip against the residual warmth that lingered against his skin when Grimmjow released his wrist, he inhaled a ragged breath and endeavoured to voice what had been festering on the tip of his tongue all damn day. "I never did thank you, for earlier. On the mountainside, I mean. I… I thought I was a goner for sure, and then– then you, out of nowhere… you really–"

"Don't mention it," Grimmjow quickly cut him off, feeling more than a tad uneasy with the palpable shift in atmosphere. Barely a week went by that he didn't find himself risking his mortal hide to pull one of his men out of some shitstorm or another, and similarly having his own ass bailed out of a tricky situation – it was all right there in the job description.

Recognition and accolades for being a good soldier he was used to, but gratitude and pleasantries for simply doing what any other decent human being would do? Not so much.

"You're one of us now, Vixen. I know we're mighty rough around the edges, a ragtag bunch of freaks better suited for the fuckin' loony bin than the military, but we're still a family; brothers in blood." Clapping Ichigo hard on the back, and ignoring the pitiful scowl he received in return, Grimmjow grinned down fondly on the kid. "I ain't ever gonna let you fall." The words were out before he could stop them, resonating with emphatic clarity in the silence between them, and he groaned internally at his lack of mental filter before adding a hasty, "Uh, that is, the team and I will always be there to drag your sorry carcass back home when you inevitably go playing the hero and get your ass cut down to size."

The corner of Ichigo's lip twitched as he desperately tried to hold back a knowing grin at the Captain's little faux pas. "Of course, sir."

"Yeah, well… good. I'm glad we understand one another." Face twisting into his typical sneer, Grimmjow shouldered his way past Ichigo. "That bein' said, we gotta work on your PT. You're not fast enough; not strong enough. Starting tomorrow, you'll be training with me. Obstacle, circuit, lifts, runs… You know what time dawn breaks at, Kurosaki?" Ichigo could only nod, rendered speechless and any trace of his previous smile thoroughly wiped off. "Excellent. Set your alarm for one hour beforehand. I want to see you ready and rarin' to go by the hangers before first light touches the horizon." Sinful grin tugging at his lips, Grimmjow turned on his heel and threw open the rec room door with flourish, motioning for Ichigo to accompany him with a lazy wave. "C'mon, noob. We better get to the mess hall before that fat fuck Yammy eats our share and all. He's like a rabid dog once he gets scent of Chef's home cookin'."

Ichigo was momentarily rooted to the spot, mouth working open and shut, forming incoherent words with no sound, when the sound of the door swinging shut behind the blunette suddenly broke him from his flabbergasted stupor and, realising that he was being left behind, hurried out of the room after his still grinning Captain.

His immediate future sure was looking bleak…

Present day…

"Operation Kitsune"

Day 4 – 15:40:03

Sgt. Nnoitra 'Mantis' Gilga

Task Force 615

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Nnoitra couldn't remember the last time he was quite so exhausted; not since his selection days, at the very least. His breath was stuttering brokenly in his chest, his clothes clinging to every sharp-cut slope of his skin with sweat, his heart hammering tirelessly against his ribs… Their situation was looking more and more futile with every passing second. The enemy was relentless, and vast in numbers; they were ridiculously outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned. Coupled with the stifling Brazilian heat and the lucky bullet that had carved a deep gouge in his left thigh, he was just about ready to fucking collapse into the sweet embrace of unconsciousness.

Glancing to his right, Yammy looked to be in no better condition, the hulking man wheezing for breath and sporting several weeping grazes of his own.

The two were pinned down in one of the decaying shacks of the shantytown, hunkered beneath a shattered window from which the sounds of gunfire and frenzied screaming from militia and civilian alike could be heard.

"We got'a keep movin'," Yammy panted out on a laboured breath, swiping at a haemorrhaging nick on his cheek – a glancing kiss from a .50 cal that might have taken his head clean off had Nnoitra not literally booted his ass out of the way with little time to spare. "We're like sittin' ducks here. Ripe an' ready for the fuckin' hatchet."

"идиот," Nnoitra snapped, loading a fresh magazine into his ACR. "And what do you suggest we do? We're pinned on all sides, not to mention there's a sniper out there somewhere carving our names into his next bullet! Fucking Yanks, always in a rush… All of those fast food joints are screwing with your perception of the reality of our situation, my friend!"

"No need to get so pissy," Yammy growled in return, huffing when he couldn't stem the flow of blood from the persistent laceration. "Communist piece of shit," he grumbled tetchily as an afterthought.

Nnoitra was just about to round on the ignorant cocksucker, his fingers itching to wrap around that thick American gullet, when a loud explosion nearby stopped him short and shook the very foundations around them, fissures spiderwebbing up the crumbling plaster and fracturing the ceiling, showering them with a fine, powdery dust.

Glancing suspiciously at one another, the two men cautiously craned their necks to peer out the window, their brows furrowed as multiple tangos raced right by them, yelling and screaming at each other in their evident haste to book it out of the area. Those militia lagging behind were abruptly gunned down, blood spraying the ground like crimson rain as they choked on their cries and fell in a tangle of limbs.

"What the bloody fuck?" Yammy so eloquently queried as he and Nnoitra scrambled to their feet.

Cracking the door to the shack open, Nnoitra fastidiously checked their immediate surroundings, signalling for Yammy to follow once he was sure the coast was clear.

"It's about time you two got off your backsides and did some work," the smug and unmistakeable voice of one Second Lieutenant Hisagi taunted from behind.

Nnoitra didn't attempt to stop his derisive eye roll, pivoting in time to see Reaper appear from the dense, sandy cloud of dust and debris that had kicked up when the frag grenade detonated. Chameleon, Bones and Guru weren't far behind, Aaroniero and Szayel guarding each flank and Zommari bringing up their six.

"Took you guys long enough," Yammy disparaged with a grunt. "Any longer an' we'd have been fit for the butcher's window."

"Please," Shūhei grinned, Ray-Bans glinting against the golden rays of the sun as he swung his rifle up to rest over his shoulder. "We had ya – just had to make a grand entrance, y'know? Fashionably late and all that."

Nnoitra curled his lip. "Соси́ мой хуй, 'fashionably late'! Where the hell were you when we had the entire militia army riding us, huh? And where the fuck is Demon? Don't tell me that pretentious English prick has–"

A sonic crack, not unlike an angry clap of thunder, curtly interrupted his thought mid-sentence as it echoed and ricocheted off of the walls and sheet metal rooftops around them, Nnoitra visibly recoiling as a large pockmark suddenly gouged out the earth by his left boot. Snarling at the cheap shot, his acute stormy gaze swept the horizon, honing in on a flicker of reflected sunlight as it bounced off of the glass lens of a sniper scope.

Aaroniero quickly repressed a grin behind his gloved hand, whereas the rest of the men had absolutely no qualms with openly mocking the incensed Russian.

"Well now," Shūhei said, snickering heartily, "I think that sufficiently answers your question, hm? Say hello, Demon."

"…I would rather not." was the monotonic response over comms, and even Nnoitra had to suppress from cracking a smile at the Englishman's predictably brusque attitude.

Joking and joshing around was all good and well, oftentimes acting as a welcomed reprieve from the ever looming shadow of their laughably fragile mortality, but a sudden hiss of static over the Task Force's frequency soon ground their companionable fraternisation to a halt, sobering their minds and reminding them why they were there in the first place, so that by the time their Captain's deep Scottish brogue sounded urgently in their ears, all men were on high alert and ready to move.

"Vega cracked; we got Ichimaru's location but we were compromised! He's headed west along the rooftops of the favela." Nnoitra noted the breathless but razor-sharp edge to Grimmjow's tone, and knew that the blunette had to have been tantalisingly close to their obtaining their objective before it apparently went tits up. "Zero and I will keep him from doubling back on our side – the rest of you push forward and cut him off up top! We cannot lose this bastard; he's our only solid lead to Vixen…"

"Roger, Captain," Shūhei replied, quick to step up to the plate. "Mad Dog, take Bones and Guru and head north, rally with Demon and sweep around to block any escape route the slippery son of a bitch might attempt. Chameleon and Mantis, on me; we'll head up the pursuit and cover the Captain's six. Oorah?"

"Oorah!" the team cheered, followed by the sound of multiple firearms cocking and loading.

"Good." Shūhei gave a curt nod, readying his own weapon. "Move out!"

Half a klick away…


Lt. (Birth Name Blacklined) 'Zero'

Task Force 615

Zero was racing through the favela like the hounds of hell were snapping at his heels, his ever trusty Intervention sniper rifle strapped across his back, its weight comforting and familiar, and a devastatingly powerful Desert Eagle clutched securely within his palm. Taking a sharp right down a dingy alleyway, the enigmatic soldier headed due west, hoping to catch up with his blue-haired Captain. During a brief skirmish upon locating their target, the two men had been forced to retreat and separate, presenting Ichimaru ample time to scarper into the shadows like the dirty cockroach he truly was.

Vaulting over a grime ridden old dumpster that lay in his path, the Lieutenant broke his fall with a neat tuck and roll on the other side, using the momentum to spring to his feet and take off in a sprint. Switching the frequency of his radio to that of his Captain and his Captain only, he hissed into the mic, "We don't have time to wait fer backup, Grimm. Don't let yer emotions blind yer natural instincts – we can do this alone."

There was a long moment where the only sound Zero could hear was that of his own harsh panting, presumably whilst Grimmjow also changed the channel of his comms, before the man's gruff voice replied. "Don't you think I know we can't wait for the others? Damn it, Zero – just get after Ichimaru! If anything, Mantis and the boys will keep the rest of the militia from regrouping an' coming after us."

"Fuck, fine!" Zero growled, quickly ducking behind a wall when he nearly barrelled straight into two tangos due to his distraction. Swearing colourfully when the two men began yelling frantically in Portuguese – likely alerting every damn enemy force in the entire town – he whipped around the corner before they fired up more than one fucking brain cell and remembered that they actually possessed weapons of their own, expertly dispatching both with a single shot to the chest. "Goddamn greenhorn wankers… Now I got the whole damn town bearin' down on my ass!"

"Zero? Are you alright?"

If Zero didn't know any better, he would say that his Captain sounded genuinely concerned… "Nothin' I can't handle, boss."

He couldn't be sure, but he thought he heard the man laugh. "Just remember; this is their territory, and they know it well. Keep an eye open for ambush positions and check your corners."

It was Zero's turn to laugh, albeit resentfully. "What do I look like ta you? Some simperin' little novice? Don't insult me, Jaegerjaques!"

"Me? Insult you?" Zero could hear the playful smirk in the Scot's tone. "I wouldn't dream of it."

Zero's lips curled into a reluctant grin, choosing not to comment as he continued down the shadowed backstreets and alleys of the elaborate labyrinth that was Rio's shantytown, picking off tangos as they popped up around corners, up on balconies, on roofs and his six, out of fucking windows like some ridiculous first-person shooter… hurriedly but efficiently making his way up the sloping hills and hopefully somewhere in the vicinity of their mark. Opening up his comm to all channels again, he wasn't surprised to hear rapid gunfire interspersed with piercing cries of affliction and vengeful profanity.

He was not, however, expecting one of said cries to be one of their own.

"Guru's been hit!" came Yammy's frantic call. "We got a man down! I repeat; man down!"

"Watch the rooftops!" Shūhei advised, his tone clipped and short as if heavily preoccupied. "We've had a few close calls with RPGs and machine guns positioned up high! Captain, we can't provide any further cover. Chameleon's dug in and taking a lot of heat – we can't leave him, sir. He'll never make it out on his own."

"Shite… Copy, Reaper. We'll have to proceed without you. Watch your backs out there, lads, and get our boy out safe."

"Oorah, Captain!"

"Damn," Zero cursed, picking up the pace yet still exceedingly conscientious of his surroundings. "Looks like it's jus' us after all, ey Pantera?"

A deep, husky chuckle echoed in response. "I wouldn't bet on it, Snowdrop…"

"Nnoi?" Grimmjow sounded relieved. "Is that you?"

"Know a lot of slack jawed commies, do ya Captain?" Zero baited, vaulting through an open window and silencing an unsuspecting tango with his melee knife.

"хуй тебе, су́ка!" Nnoitra snarled, and Zero could only imagine that cold, Russian glare as he bolted upstairs. "I'm with Demon – we're taking heavy militia fire but are hot on Ichimaru's tail! He just fled inside a building – do either of you see him?"

About to reply in the negative as his Captain just had, a flash of silver hair and pressed charcoal slacks caught in Zero's peripheral. Skidding to a halt, he rushed back to the window he just passed in time to see their target hauling himself up to the rooftop of the apartment building opposite the one he was in.

"I got 'im! He's climbin' onto a roof carrying a black duffle bag!"

"At least that ought to slow him down…" Grimmjow growled, tension heavy in his tone. He was obviously desperate, hopeful, and it was beginning to show through the cracks. "Zero, I'm not far from your position, I'll keep him from coming back on himself. Don't let the militia pin you down for too long – use your flashbangs if you have to and keep moving to intercept! Go, go!"

Zero didn't need to be told twice. Throwing open the window, he tossed a stun grenade out, waiting only as long as it took to detonate before leaping out and onto the rooftop below, dexterously disposing of the few tangos unfortunate enough to get caught in the blast, the fools stumbling around blind and disorientated (easy pickings).

"Damn, we lost sight of him again!" Nnoitra cussed venomously. "Zero, talk to me!"

Swiftly scaling up to the top of the building where he'd last seen the silver-haired warlord, orbs of molten gold wildly scanned the area. He knew just how much was riding on the capture of the scumbag, how high the stakes were and the devastating consequences should the coward slip through their fingers… He wouldn't let that happen. He wouldn't let his team and the Captain down.

He wouldn't let Vixen become just another report to fill out; another fucking statistic hashed into the database.

He would capture that conniving sonuvabitch… or he would die trying.

Allowing himself but a brief moment to cool his torrid thoughts and focus on his baser instincts, Zero closed his eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. The sound of heavy footsteps against the flagstone streets below immediately caught his attention, even over all the clamour and screaming and chaos, his heightened senses distinguishing the difference between the laden clumping of thick soled boots, the likes of which the enemy wore, and the echoing slap of high quality Italian leather loafers – the likes of which their villainous, extortionist mark wore.

Racing to the edge of the rooftop and peering down, Zero gave a triumphant smirk beneath his mask and took off after Ichimaru. "I'm onto him! Grimm, he's tryin' ta double back through the alleys!"

"Roger that – stay on him!"

'Heh, no fuckin' sweat,' Zero cackled to himself, following the fleeing man from his vantage point on the rooftops. He couldn't help but feel like a true predator, an eagle perhaps, circling lazily above its prey, slowly but surely tightening the noose before the inevitable dive for the kill. It was, in a word, exhilarating.

Keeping a sharp eye on his quarry, Zero diligently relayed the man's every frantic twist and desperate turn to the Task Force members still in pursuit.

"Tight left, Captain! He's cuttin' through the market!"

"Got ya; Christ, I'm nearly on him!" Even Grimmjow's voice was strained at this point, the blunette clearly testing the very depths of his limits. "I'll head for the rooftops and try to cut him off on the right – he's gonna have no choice but to head back west!"

Bounding across yet another gap between buildings, Zero ground his teeth when he miscalculated the trajectory and tumbled none too gracefully against the chalky stone, tearing a ragged hole in the left knee of his dark camo trousers and shredding his right forearm on loose rubble and grit. Mere seconds away from cursing up a storm, all vocabulary abruptly died on his lips as a rocket-propelled grenade soared no more than a meter above his head, leaving behind a thick trail of smoke and a catastrophic, smouldering void in the architecture some ways to his left.

Keeping low and moving fast, the rattled Lieutenant spoke shakily into his mic, "RPG in the marketplace – keep your heads down! I'm gonna find another way around before am reduced to a smear on the fuckin' wall…"

In spite of the inconvenience of nearly losing his head, it didn't take long for Zero to pick his way across a more discreet, alternate route, clambering down a rusting fire escape to the relative safety of the shady streets, and then book it after Ichimaru. Skidding to a halt in the middle of a crossroad, with five different avenues to choose from, Zero lips peeled back into a snarl and he raked both hands through his choppy ashen hair.

Goddamn it! He could not lose him now!

Ready to risk it and pick an alley at random, the sound of crumbling brick raining down from above caught his attention and he whipped round to his right, his molten gaze homing in on Ichimaru as he scrambled up and out of sight at his two o'clock.

Fighting the urge to whine in exasperation – so troublesome – Zero threw himself back into the hunt. "Be advised, Grimm – Ichimaru jus' resurfaced on the rooftops."

"Copy that, Zero. If I can, I'll try to corral him back around to your position, see if we can't box him in like a rat in a trap…"

"Sir!" Nnoitra's gravelly drawl suddenly hissed. "Demon has Ichimaru in his sights – we can go for a clean leg shot; we can end it here!"

Brows furrowing when he realised that the Captain was hesitating, the temptation of finally bringing Ichimaru down evidently too seductive to ignore, Zero took it upon himself to be the voice of reason. "Negative, Sergeant! We can't risk it. Do not engage!"

"дерьмо́! Roger, Lieutenant – we're back in pursuit."

Zero wanted so badly to curse out Grimmjow's unbelievably asinine foolishness. Yes, Vixen was MIA, yes, they all wanted him back home with the team, safe, where he belonged, and yes, they were so very close to obtaining their goal after four days of perfunctory plans devised from desperation and despair…

…but if their lovesick Captain didn't screw his fucking head on straight, and soon, it would be all their necks. No one man could wash that much blood off their hands; Zero had tried.

Getting his head back in the game, Zero ejected the waning ammunition from his Desert Eagle and slapped in a fresh clip, running up a narrow concrete stairwell situated between two long since abandoned apartments, his close shave at the market and impromptu diversion leaving him in the others dust. He could hear Grimmjow and Nnoitra relaying back and forth as he raced to catch up.

"Shite. Mantis, he's headed for that motorcycle!"

"Da. We've got eyes on him…"

"Ha! Nice shot, Demon! He's not goin' anywhere on that bike now… Damn it – Zero, he's breaking right again straight towards your position. If you see him, do not shoot! We need him unharmed."

Zero couldn't retain a humourless snort. Just who was the Captain trying to remind, anyway? "Aye, sir. Not a scratch on his creepy, fox-like face. Got it."

Grimmjow's growl was low and throaty, a clear warning. "Don't get smart with me, lad. Just keep pushin' up the hill – the net's tightening and he's gettin' reckless, he may try to backtrack on himself."

"Roger," Zero replied, half paying attention to the CO's words and half focusing on the door coming up on his right. Ducking out of sight and lying in wait, it wasn't long before the door burst open and a heavily armed militia came charging out, closely succeeded by two others.

Striking with the kind of tactical speed and precision a long life in the military had bred of him, Zero caught the first man completely unawares. Wrapping an arm around his throat from behind, the guerrilla cried out in alarm, startling his two comrades and spurring them to react most negligently. Immediately opening fire with absolutely no forethought nor regard to their ally's wellbeing, Zero used the man's body as a shield against the brash gunfire, letting him suffer his brothers' incompetence, before executing both with nary more than three bullets and then slitting the dying man's throat – not out of any decent sense or morality or humanity, but because every last bastarding one of the roaches deserved to die for the part they had played in Vixen's capture.

Cleansing the excess blood from his blade with a neat flick of the wrist, the Lieutenant sheathed the serrated blade and pushed forward. Snarling when a wayward bullet whipped by his head much too close to be considered comfortable, he twist his upper body in the approximate direction of origin and, all without a break in pace, located the source, nailing the prick with the second shot. He couldn't afford to slow down now, not when they were verging on the very pinnacle of success. He could feel it in the thrum of his heart, taste it in the thick of the air, hear it in the frenzied chatter droning in his ear.

Victory was within arms reach and they were like ravenous beasts, salivating for the delirium of redemption, the prospect of salvation, and the peace it would bestow upon their weary souls.

"Mantis, I'm going far right – don't let the bastard out of your sight!"

"We're trying, but he's gaining ground! о боже, the fucker's got stamina!"

Zero could hear the husky Russian drawl of Mantis both in and out of ear and promptly took a sharp left up another set of steps, his boots hammering a staccato echo off the stone walls surrounding him.

Bursting out of the shadowed valley and into a small, cluttered clearing, flanked on his right by Nnoitra and Demon who had obviously taken the parallel street, Zero felt his gut wrench as he caught sight of Ichimaru making a break for it across the narrow ledge of a second story residence, on the other side of which was a colossal eighteen foot wall marking the border of the favela territory. If he made it across, it would take them too long to coordinate their way over, or even scale the building to give sufficient chase.

They would lose him…

Fingers itching to put a full metal slug in the man's kneecap (his fucking skull if he had his way), Zero and his brother's could only watch as their only lead sifted through their grasp like sand.

"Shitshitfuckingshit…" Zero rambled darkly, fingers twisting helplessly into his hair. "Grimmjow! Where the fuck are you? He's gonna get away!"

Lip curling when the blue-haired Captain had the audacity to laugh, the sound jarringly sinister through the crackle of their comms, he exchanged a wary glance with Mantis before the familiar Scottish brogue disrupted their thoughts.

"No he's not…"

No sooner had the words been uttered on a low and ominous breath than Grimmjow came bursting through the window directly in front of which Ichimaru was crossing, shards of glass catching in the Brazilian sun and sparkling like diamonds as the blunette caught their mark in a full-body tackle. Zero and Mantis cringed as the duo plummeted through the air and crash landed atop a rusting old hatchback, the roof instantly caving in under their combined weight and sealing the car's fate for the scrapyard.

Ichimaru, having taken the brunt of the two story fall, was badly winded and fighting the prelude of a nasty concussion, clearly in no condition to fight or flee any longer. Even so, Grimmjow was on him in a flash, blind to the broken glass cutting into his skin as he scrabbled to his knees, fisting the front of Ichimaru's crumpled shirt and jamming the muzzle of his handgun between hazy, glacier blue eyes.

Muscles tensing and fists shaking with adrenaline, Grimmjow had to mentally remind himself over and over, like a compulsive mantra, that there was a reason – a very crucial reason – he had yet to exhaust his entire magazine in the son of a bitch's goddamn brain. God help him, it was almost too tempting to resist…

Swallowing thickly past the putrid vengeance trying to overthrow his clarity, Grimmjow reported in, his words decidedly tight. "Command, this is Captain Jaegerjaques of the Six-One-Five. We've got the package. I repeat; we have got the package."

Unable to contain it even one millisecond longer, Zero gave a loud, roguish whoop, punching a fist into the air as he bounced on the balls of his feet.

"Yeah! Fuck yeah!" he cheered with a cackle, skeletal mask grinning wickedly as orbs of molten gold glittered with jubilant elation. "Tha's what ya get when ya mess with the Six-One-Five, baby! You are one badass motherfucker, Grimm! I could kiss ya right on the mouth, ya beautiful Jocky bastard!"

Grimmjow's mouth remained resolutely set, though the cerulean pools he swivelled in the XO's direction were undeniably teeming with mirth. Mantis gave a wry snort of laughter, his brother's exuberant display painfully infectious, whereas Ulquiorra merely sighed and pointedly reminded them all that they still had comrades out in the field, some of which required immediate medical attention.

Snapping back into focus at the mention of his men, Grimmjow put aside his more selfish inclinations and quickly rallied his thoughts. "The militia should be scattered and dwindling in numbers by now – when word reaches them that their head honcho has fallen they'll no doubt scurry away with their tails between their legs like a pack of whipped dogs. Mantis, you head east and assemble with Reaper. Demon, double back and move north, find Bones and provide any cover necessary so he can tend to Guru. All of you regroup when you can and send your coordinates to Tia; Baby Doll will get you guys out of this hellhole."

"An' us, sir?" Zero asked, expertly twirling his pistol around his forefinger as Nnoitra and Ulquiorra set out.

Grimmjow spared him a fleeting glance before hauling himself off of the wreck of a car, dragging a groggy and groaning Ichimaru with him. "Papa Wolf, we're ready for dustoff. Send the chopper."

"Received, Captain," was Starrk's prompt response. "Bird's already in the air. Sit tight, son, we're converging on your position now. ETA ten minutes."

"Copy that; Pantera out."

"You're wastin' your time," Ichimaru suddenly rasped, thin lips curved into a malicious, foxy sneer, words loaded with more venom than a rattler. "I'm no canary; ya'll never get me ta sing."

The sheer, unadulterated fury emanating from Zero was so tangible, Grimmjow would later swear he could taste it on his tongue. "Ya toxic fuckin' parasite… I'll soon make ya sing, ya jammy little–"

"Calm down, Lieutenant," Grimmjow ordered sternly, halting Zero's advance with a raised hand and stony gaze.

"Calm down?" Zero snarled, golden orbs smouldering with dark intentions. "Tha' slimey fuck has Vixen, Grimm, and has had for four days now. He probably has 'im locked up somewhere, beaten an' tortured an' fuck only knows what else – if he's even still alive – an' you want me to calm down?"

"I know that!" Grimmjow snapped, cerulean eyes blazing. "But what good will interrogation be if you knock all his goddamn teeth out, huh?"

"Heh, ya don't need teeth ta talk, Captain…" Zero replied with a sinister grin, cracking his knuckles.

"No," Grimmjow barked, his sharp tone leaving no room for further argument. "We wait for Papa Wolf."

With a roar of resentment, Zero directed his festering rage on the demolished hatchback, putting a sizeable dent in the side panelling with his boot. "Fuck that!" he growled, lashing out with one last devastating kick before storming off. "Fuck that, fuck him, and fuck you, sir!"

"Maa, what a hot-blooded lil' stallion," Ichimaru practically purred, making Grimmjow's innards curl. "It's a shame we didn't get a hold'a that one instead of your pretty little redhead… It's more fun when they don't break easy, and I do so love a challenge."

Grimmjow knew he was being a hypocrite even before his gloved knuckles ever made contact with Ichimaru's bony cheek, the crack solid enough to split skin and send the man sprawling; but he just couldn't help himself, not where Ichigo was concerned. It was like his body went into autopilot any time his name was mentioned, a trait certainly not limited to the spluttering scumbag laid out on the baked earth by his feet. Cold cerulean eyes watched with a detached kind of callousness as Ichimaru hacked and coughed, spitting up globules of blood as he shakily rose to his knees. Hunkering down, Grimmjow's expressionless face was the picture of quiet malice…

the calm before the fucking maelstrom.

"Mention the kid's name ever again, even in passing, and it's not Zero you'll have to worry about." Grabbing a fistful of Ichimaru's silver hair, he snapped the man's head back until bleary blue eyes gazed up at him, his inner predator purring contently at the heady fusion of mounting dread and budding panic shining through in spite of the fog of disorientation. "Can you hear me in there, Gin? I hope you can. Ya see, you took something from me, from all of us; something highly valuable and wholly irreplaceable." Reaching into his shirt, he reverently fingered the cold metal chain resting against his collarbone, slightly shorter than his own, before closing his fist around it and tugging it free with one, firm yank. Thumb skimming over the twin tags with soft, affectionate strokes, the blunette dangled the necklace in front of Ichimaru's face. "I'm a hunter, Gin; a cold-blooded killer. I protect my own with my life and will cut down anyone who compromise their safety without so much as batting an eye. You're truly unlucky, friend. That boy you stole from me, he's not just one of my men; he's also my heart."

Releasing Ichimaru's hair, Grimmjow's wrapped his hand around the man's porcelain skinned throat instead, barely repressing the overwhelming urge to squeeze the goddamn fucking life right out of him, brandishing the dog tags in front of his unfocused eyes like the charge to a WMD.

"Take a good, hard look, Gin. I want you to brand the image of these tags into your skull, into your fucking brain… because if I don't get my boy back in one piece; and I mean every single hair follicle in place, then they're gonna be the last fuckin' thing you'll ever see." Inclining forward, so that his lips were pressed menacingly close to Ichimaru's ear, the man shuddering with every breath that licked against his balmy skin, Grimmjow growled like no beast Ichimaru had ever heard before; "If my heart isn't returned to me, then you better believe that I'm coming back – back for you, Gin, where I'll rip out my compensation, still-beating, from your fucking chest."

It was only then, when Grimmjow pulled back, when the mohawked Captain slowly rose, his stature shadowed against the sun and suddenly so incredibly imposing, gazing down at him with such cruel, anguished eyes, that Ichimaru realised he'd gone too far this time, taken the wrong hostage, tangled with the wrong man… There was a beast stirring just under the surface of the Captain's skin, it's teeth pointed, bared, famished – and he had gone and woken it from its slumber.

Whether they executed him tomorrow, or he died a wrinkled, haggard old man, was utterly irrelevant; he would never forget those glinting silver dog tags, blemished with age and smudged with dried blood, for as long as he lived…







…they would haunt his every nightmare for evermore.

'Shadow Company is a different breed. No more vodka-drunk Ultranationalists. They're trained like we are.
But a surprise is a surprise, no defense. Shepherd knew that now he'll know differently. MOTHERFUCKER HAS NO IDEA WHO'S COMING.'

Entry from 'Soap's Journal'

A/N: Hoo-boy... Long chapter is long. And comin' from me ya know that's sayin' something!

That being said, I had a lot of fun writin' this. I don't know what it is - perhaps the guns, the fast-paced action, the close-knit camaraderie between the boys, the fact that I constantly picture my Grimmjow/Soap hybrid as I write him... I dunno. But I love it regardless~

To help progress the story along a bit, as well as establish the GrimmIchi lovin' we're all looking forward to, I'll concentrate the next part throughout the 18 months before Ichigo's capture; so no present day stuff next time. We'll see Grimmjow and Ichigo's relationship blossom, as well as little snippets into Ichigo's personal thoughts through his journal, as well as the usual shenanigans from the Task Force 615. Sound cool? I'll jus' go ahead and assume you're all noddin' along... ^^'

The dog tags I used for Ichigo at the end are in loving memory of Captain John "Soap" MacTavish, jus' in case y'all were wondering. Also, I've noticed that I tend ta make Aaroneiro come across as quite young and naive, and I don't exactly know why? I picture him in my head when I'm writin' and for some reason he always comes across as a simple little cutie-pie! And yes, when Shu an' Nnoi are winding said simpleton up, they are in fact reciting Stig quotes. As soon as I wrote the words "some say..." all I could hear was Jeremy Clarkson's voice echoing in my head. So creepy, I know.

I'm sorry if it seemed rushed at some points, but unfortunately I had to make it quite brisk - for those out there who play the game, ya'll know what I mean when I say that the games are overflowing with enemies, and whilst highly entertaining in that context, it would be ridiculously impossible in real life to escape that many foes without taking a bullet (or several) - not to mention when ya get hit in the game, you instantly revive/respawn. Our poor boys wouldn't be so lucky...

Oh, an' just for a little sneak-peak into what's milling around in my head for the next instalment; I was listening to Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina", when I was struck with the rather delicious mental image of Grimm-yums, Ichigo and the rest of the Task Force boys peeling off their skin-tight shirts in slow motion during a rainstorm... and thanks to that bone-meltingly hot picture, I see a game of mud-football in the near future - totally ripped, topless army men tackling and wrestling each other in the sludge? Uhh, yes please!

What? Oh, come on! It'll be good for bonding and, um... team building and other such pertinent exercises...

Ahem. So yeah! Please do enjoy if ya like, my sweets~

Ciao for now,