Fight or Foreplay part 3: Curiouser and Curiouser
Still a completely and totally INSANE Bleach silly fic, by Mel and Christy.
(Kenpachi + Ichigo + Grimmjow, AU, OOC, moderately crackfic)
Ulquiorra was curious.
It wasn’t an emotion he felt often, and it certainly wasn’t one that he admitted to if he didn’t have to. Still, at the moment there wasn’t much to hold his attention, so he found it wandering to things he would normally ignore. Aizen wasn’t yet ready to move against Soul Society and had imposed restrictions on where his Espada could go and what they could do; few of the other Espada were worth spending any time with, and those that were had their own interests and pastimes; everything useful that could be done before the next phase in Aizen’s plan began had been taken care of weeks earlier; and Grimmjow was up to something.
Not that Ulquiorra cared. He just didn’t have anything else to do, unless he wanted to emulate Starrk and start sleeping for twenty-three hours a day.
“You look happy,” he murmured, stepping out of the shadows as Grimmjow sneaked along a hallway. The Sixth Espada was battered, bruised, missing half his coat and grinning like a loon, though that last bit of evidence that something was going on vanished into a scowl as he saw his ambusher.
“So?” Grimmjow challenged, straightening up but not quite managing to meet Ulquiorra’s eyes. “What about it?”
Ulquiorra blinked calmly, looking him up and down but otherwise not changing his expression at all. “Nothing,” he said eventually. “I was merely making an observation.”
Grimmjow pushed past him with a snarl and stalked off, spoiling the effect a bit when he glanced nervously back over his shoulder as he reached the corner.
…Definitely interesting, Ulquiorra decided, and strolled off in the other direction.
* * * * *
Two days later, Grimmjow tiptoed back into Las Noches from another surreptitious excursion, head swivelling from side to side as he checked for observers. Not seeing anyone to the sides or behind him, he relaxed slightly, blowing out a relieved breath as he faced forwards again.
Ulquiorra had a perfect view of the expression on his face as he reacted to finding the Fourth Espada staring at him from six inches away.
“Fuck!” he spat, staggering backwards and flailing for balance. “Where the hell did you come from?!”
Ignoring the question, Ulquiorra tilted his head slightly to one side as he studied Grimmjow’s condition. His clothes were trashed again, and although his injuries were healing even as Ulquiorra watched, it was clear he’d been in a serious fight.
“You’ve been having fun again.”
Grimmjow bristled. “So what if I have? You wanna make something of it?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Ulquiorra said calmly, one shoulder lifting in an almost imperceptible shrug. “Should I?”
“…No,” he growled, looking away.
“I’m bored. That’s all,” the shorter Espada told him, privately wondering why he was admitting it. “I don’t care what you’re doing… but Aizen might.”
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” Grimmjow muttered, still not looking at him.
“Perhaps,” Ulquiorra sighed, stepping out of his way. “You’re almost certainly doing something forbidden, though.”
Grimmjow laughed bitterly, stamping away. “Like anything interesting isn’t!”
* * * * *
The next time Grimmjow sneaked out, Ulquiorra followed him.
He’d thought he had no preconceived ideas about what the other Espada was up to, apart from the obvious -- he was fighting. It wasn’t until Grimmjow opened a Garganta and slipped through into the living world, and Ulquiorra felt surprised, that he realised he’d expected Grimmjow to be… what? Roaming around Hueco Mundo, challenging random Adjuchas-level Hollows? Picking fights with Vasto Lordes?
He’s been doing that already, on Aizen’s orders, Ulquiorra told himself, annoyed at his own assumptions. Why would he repeat it for fun?
He gave Grimmjow enough time to move out of casual sensing range before opening another Garganta and following him through, checking for the familiar feel of his ally’s energy while damping down his own.
It was like hearing the crowd at a sports stadium. Not just Grimmjow’s energy, but a blend of dozens -- scores! -- of energies, varying in strength from negligible to impressive… and he recognised several of them. Why was Grimmjow meeting up with a crowd of Shinigami?
There was only one way to find out, he decided, and went to see.
“Grimmy!” Yachiru squealed, waving enthusiastically from her perch on a rock. “I got more sour apple candy! I’ll give it to you after Icchy beats you, m’kay?”
Ichigo snickered, planting Zangetsu in the earth by his feet and leaning on it. “Hey, Grimmjow. I was gonna say it looked like Yachiru likes you more than me now, until that last sentence.”
Yachiru stuck her tongue out at him, swinging her large shopping bag around behind her back. “Nyeh! You never want candy when I offer, and Grimmy likes it, so a’course I get it for him and not you!”
“Hey, Pinky,” the Espada said, waving. “Kurosaki. How’s it goin’? And do I still get the candy when I kick his ass, squirt?”
“If I say no, will you let Icchy win?” she asked, pouting slightly when he cracked up laughing instead of answering her.
“Oi, Yachiru! I don’t need you bribing him to win, I can trash him just fine without help!”
“You’ve only won once, Icchy,” she pointed out.
“And I’ve only lost once, too! We usually tie!” Ichigo protested. “Not this time, though. You hear that, you laser blender sugar addict? You’re goin’ down!”
“Ooh, yes please!” Matsumoto cat-called from the sidelines, waving her sake bottle, and both Ichigo and Grimmjow broke off to yell at her.
“Come on, boys, you know you want to. Besides, I keep losing on the fight bets because you all keep getting ties. I need to win the verbing bet! --Wait, hold on.” She broke off, looking confused. “Who did I bet on again?”
“Die broke, hag!”
Losing interest in the squabbling, Yachiru kicked her feet against the boulder and looked around, humming quietly as she waited for the fun part of the evening to begin.
Ichigo had insisted that one of the rules of the scheduled fights had to be ‘no breaking the town,’ so they took place some distance away from Karakura in a small, uninhabited valley sheltered by near-inaccessible mountains. (The local wildlife had largely moved out by day three.) Their audience, more than eighty Shinigami from all squads, were scattered around the southern edge of the natural arena, where various rocks and grassy slopes made excellent vantage points.
A glimmer of white caught Yachiru’s eye, and she frowned, trying to make it out. The northern edge of the valley was dotted with clumps of trees; shadows and tangled underbrush combined to make the ground underneath them pitch-black, but something pale had just moved behind a trunk.
Yachiru frowned again, undecided. If the fight was going to start soon she really didn’t want to miss anything, but--
“Ooh! No, no, I bet on Kenpachi verbing Grimmjow, that was it! So you can’t go down on--”
“Fuck off, you drunken bimbo!”
--it looked like she had time to investigate.
“Are you an Espada, like Grimmy?”
Ulquiorra blinked and turned around. There was a small pink-haired Shinigami standing behind him, holding a white bag and looking up at him quizzically.
“…Grimmy?” he asked eventually, and the child smiled and pointed.
“Ah. Yes, Grimmjow and I are both Espada.”
“Oh. Okay. Are you here to fight Icchy too?”
Am I? he wondered, then shook his head. “No. I came to watch.”
“That’s good,” the small pink creature said cheerfully, hopping onto a branch so that she was nearer his eye level, “because it’s Grimmy’s turn to fight Icchy today. Tomorrow it’s Ken-chan and Grimmy fighting, so maybe Icchy’ll fight you if you ask nice, but otherwise you’ll have to ask if they can add you to the schedule.”
“…Schedule?” Ulquiorra blinked again. “I wasn’t aware there was a schedule for… this.” Whatever this is.
“Mm-hm!” Pink hair bobbed as she nodded enthusiastically. “See, Grimmy kept coming to play with Icchy, because they’re friends, but Icchy was kind of annoyed because Grimmy never asked first, and Ken-chan was really annoyed because he was Icchy’s friend before Grimmy ever showed up, so Icchy said that Ken-chan and Grimmy could play without him and he was going to get some sleep,” she explained, apparently without taking a breath. “But Ken-chan and Grimmy both wanted to play with Icchy more than they wanted to play with each other, so they made a schedule. Icchy was mad at them for a while,” she added thoughtfully, “but they’re sticking to the rules, so he says it’s okay now.”
“Rules?” Ulquiorra echoed, puzzled. The explanation wasn’t helping.
“No breaking the town,” she elaborated, ticking points off on her fingers. “No actually killing each other. Ren-chan and Ru-chan have to take turns covering Icchy’s patrol, since they’re doing the betting pool, and if nobody’s won by about midnight the fight is a draw, ‘cause Icchy says if he doesn’t get enough sleep Glasses-boy is going to start using ambiguous grammar on him again and he won’t be awake enough to deny it in time. I don’t get that bit,” she confessed.
“Neither do I,” he said faintly.
“Oh, good!” She beamed (pinkly) up at him and went on. “Otherwise, the fight ends when someone’s unconscious, someone surrenders, or Droopy can’t take it any more and yells at them because he thinks they’re gonna break the no-actually-killing-each-other rule.” She pointed at one of the spectators, a small, thin Shinigami with limp black hair and sad eyes, sitting next to an immense medical kit.
“I see,” said Ulquiorra, who didn’t actually, but suspected that this small pink enthusiast would keep ‘explaining’ if he didn’t pretend to understand. “And who is that?” he went on, pointing at an impressively-endowed female Shinigami who seemed to be arguing with Kurosaki and Grimmjow.
“Oh, that’s Boob-chan. She’s Tenth Squad’s vice-captain.”
He stared at her incredulously. “That can not be her name.”
“Uh. Umm. Ran…” she mused, sucking thoughtfully on one finger. “Uhmmm. Ran… giku? Everyone knows who I mean when I call her Boob-chan, anyway!”
Ulquiorra had to admit that was plausible.
“She thinks Ken-chan should get in Grimmy’s hakama,” the child said matter-of-factly.
“Get your sick fantasy jollies somewhere else!” Kurosaki’s voice drifted across the valley to them.
“Fuck. How am I supposed to fight with that mental image in my head?” Grimmjow complained.
“Oh, suck it up, princess. I’ve had to deal with that sort of thing the whole time! You knew there was a betting pool, didn’t you pay any attention to what they were betting on?”
“You mentioned this ‘betting pool’ before,” Ulquiorra noted, refusing to take any notice of the ‘hakama’ comment. “People -- Shinigami -- are betting on these fights? And some bet on Grimmjow to win?”
The girl looked at him blankly. “Because it’s fun, a’course!”
“We are your enemies,” he insisted.
“Not right now, you aren’t,” she shrugged.
“You don’t know that.” Why am I arguing with her?! “If I wished to, I could kill you here and now. Doesn’t that concern you?”
“You can try it, if you wanna,” she grinned, looking sideways at him. There was no fear in her eyes, only gleeful anticipation, and pink reiatsu was gathering around her.
Somehow, her reaction made it all fall into place. Ulquiorra smiled faintly and looked away, turning towards where Grimmjow and Kurosaki were finally facing off against each other. “I begin to see why Grimmjow gets along with you,” he murmured, and the girl giggled.
“It’s ‘cause he’s fun!” she chirped, and held her bag out towards him. “I’m Yachiru. Want some candy?”
* * * * *
The next day, Grimmjow flinched and scowled when Ulquiorra strolled out of the shadows to join him as he sneaked away from Las Noches. “Now what do you want?”
“Yachiru said she’d bring me more chocolate,” the shorter Espada shrugged, “and I’m curious to meet this ‘Ken-chan’ she likes so much.”
“Ya-- Ken--” Grimmjow sputtered. “Wha-- you followed me?!”
Ulquiorra blinked at him, not answering, and let one corner of his mouth turn up in the faintest possible smirk.
“…Fine,” Grimmjow huffed eventually, turning away to hide his own grin. “No stealing my sour apple candy, though, okay?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Hi Grimmy!” Yachiru called, bouncing on her toes. “Hi Sadface! Bouncy’s here today too!”
Grimmjow snickered under his breath, looking sideways at Ulquiorra. “Sadface?” he whispered. “At least she calls me something based on my actual name!”
“It was better than the other three ideas she had,” Ulquiorra replied with a sigh, nodding at Yachiru. There was a human girl with amber hair (and large breasts, explaining her nickname) standing next to the tiny Shinigami; she looked surprised, but bowed politely as the two Arrancar approached.
“Hey Pinky, Inoue,” Grimmjow greeted them, looking around. The watching Shinigami were whispering to each other, looing at Ulquiorra with frank interest, but whoever he was searching for didn’t seem to be there. “Where’s Zaraki?”
“He got stuck with paperwork again, but he says he’ll be here real soon,” Yachiru assured him, and he snorted.
“Yeah, he hasn’t got you guiding him, so that might even be true-- OW!”
Ignoring the scuffle as Yachiru apparently tried to gnaw Grimmjow’s kneecap off, Ulquiorra turned to ‘Bouncy’ and bowed fractionally. “Ulquiorra Cifer,” he said quietly.
“I’m Inoue Orihime,” she introduced herself, bowing again. “Pleased to meet you, Ulquiorra-san -- oh, I’m sorry, is your name the same way around as Jaegerjaques-kun’s? Should that be Cifer-san?”
“As you please,” he shrugged. “Have you finished biting Grimmjow, Minigami?”
“Huh?” The pair paused and stared at him, frozen in mid-wrestle. “What did you call me?”
“Minigami. Would you prefer a different--” He stopped, eyeing them as they both howled with laughter, and turned back to the human. “It seemed only fair, given her determination to call me anything but my name,” he explained.
“Yachiru-chan is like that,” she agreed cheerfully.
“Ken-chan!” Yachiru squealed, barrelling across the clearing to attach herself to a tall, spiky-haired man with an eye patch. Ulquiorra tensed as a heavy, ominously predatory reiatsu rolled over him.
“…‘Ken-chan’ is a captain,” he observed flatly. Grimmjow didn’t seem to hear him, rolling to his feet and grinning in the newcomer’s direction, but Inoue waved her hands frantically in what was probably meant to be a reassuring gesture.
“It’s okay, honestly! Zaraki-san won’t attack you-- well, he probably will challenge you, he really likes fighting strong opponents, but there’s sort of a truce at the fights, so if you don’t want to spar he’ll leave you alone,” she babbled. “--Well, no, he’ll probably keep nagging you. He really likes fighting. But he won’t attack you,” she repeated earnestly, “and if you do end up fighting him he won’t try to kill you. There are rules. Did Yachiru-chan tell you about the rules? And Yamada-kun and I will heal anyone who gets really hurt!”
“Yo,” Zaraki drawled, stalking towards them with Yachiru beaming from his shoulder. “Who’s this?”
“Ulquiorra,” Grimmjow said laconically, jerking one thumb towards his ally. “Fourth Espada. I think he’s just here for the chocolate, though. About time you got here!”
“I got Pocky for Sadface too,” Yachiru announced happily. “Ken-chan, Ken-chan, he called me Minigami! Isn’t that funny?”
“Hilarious,” he growled, grinning sharply at Ulquiorra. “You here to fight? I’ll take you both on if you want.”
Ulquiorra’s quiet, wary “Not today” was almost inaudible under Grimmjow’s objection. “No way! You wanna fight him, you add him to the schedule somewhere, don’t try sticking him in my slot!”
Zaraki was opening his mouth to reply when a slightly drunken, wistful voice made itself heard. “Oh, there are so many things I could say about that last sentence, I can’t choose… Ne, Rukia-chan, if Zaraki-taichou does take them both on at once, do I still win the bet? I mean, nobody knew the second one was going to show up!”
Grimmjow choked, and Zaraki rolled his one visible eye. “Just ignore her,” he suggested. “I’ve tried threatening her to shut her up before, it doesn’t work for long and her captain gets all pissy at you.”
Events proceeded in what seemed to be the normal fashion; after some more banter and a yelled argument with the voluptuous ‘Boob-chan’, Ulquiorra found himself standing on the sidelines between Inoue and the Minigami, watching Grimmjow and the Shinigami captain cheerfully attempt to disembowel each other. He supposed it could be passed off as a ruse to study Shinigami fighting styles if Aizen or Tousen ever found out what was going on, but… this Shinigami didn’t seem to have a style.
“Does he ever try to dodge?” he wondered aloud, and Inoue shook her head.
“Almost never. Zaraki-san says it’s no fun.”
“Ken-chan’s strong!” Yachiru chortled, watching with a happy smile. “He doesn’t need to dodge, ‘cause hardly anybody’s good enough to hurt him.”
“Grimmjow seems to be doing some damage,” Ulquiorra noted blandly.
“That’s why Ken-chan’s happy. He gets to play with real fighters all the time now,” she shrugged. “He used to be really bored.”
Ulquiorra was beginning to see that a bored Zaraki Kenpachi could be a bad thing.
“I shoulda asked Inoue to heal me,” Grimmjow muttered as they approached Las Noches.
“Why?” Ulquiorra asked, shifting the peppermint he was sucking into his cheek to speak more clearly. “Your injuries are all minor; they’ll heal themselves soon enough.”
“Yeah, but they still show, so I’ve gotta sneak in.”
The other Espada paused, looking Grimmjow up and down. He was missing his coat and half of one hakama leg, and the remains were covered in cuts, rips, grass stains, blood stains, mud… “Healed or not, it’ll still be obvious you’ve been in a fight,” he said dryly.
“Whaddaya talking about? --Oh, that’s right, y’haven’t seen Inoue work yet.” Grimmjow shook his head. “She doesn’t just heal injuries; she puts everything back the way it was, clothes and all.”
“Really?” Ulquiorra blinked. That’s… interesting, to say the least…
“Better go in the back way if you’re trying not to get caught out,” a deep, lazy voice said from behind a nearby rock. “Tousen’s on the prowl.”
“Fuck,” Grimmjow snarled, one hand coming up to cover his eyes. “Why don’t we just invite everybody to come see what we’re doing, instead? Get it over with in one go…”
Ulquiorra strolled around the rock and looked down at Starrk, stretched out comfortably with his hands behind his head and his eyes closed. Lilynette was curled up with her head resting on his stomach, apparently asleep.
“Why are you out here?”
“I told you,” Starrk yawned, “Tousen’s on a rampage. He’s rousting everybody for whatever real or imaginary sins he can come up with, and I’d rather have a little peace and quiet.”
“We’re gonna have to come up with an explanation for my gear, then, just in case,” Grimmjow muttered, joining them. “I could rough you up a bit and say we were sparring, maybe?”
Starrk opened his eyes and blinked sleepily at them, then raised his eyebrows. “That ought to work,” he agreed, “so long as you get rid of the shopping bags too.”
As one, Grimmjow and Ulquiorra glanced down at the white plastic bags they were both carrying, emblazoned with a bright green “URAHARA SHOUTEN” logo.
“…That might be wise,” Ulquiorra admitted. “Would you like some Pocky?”
* * * * *
“Kyouraku-taichou,” Renji said, surprised. “I wasn’t expecting-- um--”
“It’s no fun betting if I don’t get to watch every so often,” the captain of the Eighth Squad said with his usual slow smile. “Nanao-chan is looking after the squad.”
Taking care of all the paperwork you just skipped out on, you mean, Renji thought, and bowed. “It’s a pleasure to see you, sir; I’m glad you were able to find the time.”
“So am I!” Kyouraku grinned. “It’s Grimmjow’s turn tonight, isn’t it?”
“I wonder if he’ll bring that other Espada you reported again,” he mused.
Aha. So you do have a reason other than slacking off to turn up… Renji grimaced slightly. “Ulquiorra? He might, I guess. The guy’s kinda creepy,” he added, lowering his voice. “Grimmjow’s easy to understand, kind of like Zaraki-taichou, you know? But I’ve got no idea what’s going on in Sadface’s head.”
Kyouraku blinked. “Sadface?”
“Ah, sorry, sir! That’s what Ya-- uh, Kusajishi-fukutaichou calls Ulquiorra. She--”
“Grimmy! Sadface! Who’re your friends?” Yachiru squealed nearby.
“--seems to like him,” Renji finished, sighing.
A bright pink blur flash-stepped across the clearing, and Yachiru reappeared balanced on Grimmjow’s shoulder. “Hi!” she chirped, waving at two figures that were hanging back a little. “I’m Yachiru. What kind of candy do you like? Sandal-hat’s here today, and he brought lots!”
“That stuff Ulquiorra had the other day wasn’t bad,” the taller of the two answered, shrugging. “What was it called? Packy?”
“Pocky,” Ulquiorra corrected him, nodded to Yachiru, and walked off in what seemed to be a random direction… until he reached Inoue Orihime, who greeted him with a happy smile and passed him a bento box.
“This is getting interesting,” Kyouraku murmured, and drifted towards the new arrivals. Grimmjow was dangling Yachiru upside-down by one ankle, and as the Captain approached she bit him on the elbow.
“Welcome!” he said cheerfully, ignoring the increasingly loud squabble. “Would you like a drink?”
The tall, brown-haired man looked interested, but his short green-haired (and skimpily dressed) female companion scoffed. “Nah, I’d rather get some more of that Pocky stuff. Who’s this Sandal-hat guy the pink kid mentioned?”
“That would be Urahara-kun,” Kyouraku told her, turning around to scan the crowd. “Now, where… ah! There he is. The one with the, um, hat. And sandals.”
“Thanks,” she nodded, then turned and kicked the taller Arrancar in the ankle. “Don’t get in trouble!” she ordered, and stalked off.
“Kyouraku Shunsui,” he introduced himself, sitting down and offering the tall man one of his cups. “Captain of the Eighth.”
“…Coyote Starrk,” the Espada answered, accepting the cup and sitting next to him. “First Espada. That was Lilynette,” he added, smiling wryly.
“First?” Kyouraku asked, pausing for a moment as he filled Starrk’s cup.
“…Well.” He filled his own cup and took a sip, savouring the taste. “This is getting interesting.”
Starrk’s smile widened and he leaned back against the nearest rock. “Isn’t it just?”
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