“Soutaichou! I am pleased to report that the screen is working!”
“Hrmmmm. Thank you, Sasakibe.”
“It was nothing, Soutaichou. Apparently Kurotsuchi-taichou had already set up an, er, observation system; we only had to tune into his feed.”
Yamamoto looked surprised. “Kurotsuchi helped set this up?”
His lieutenant shook his head. “No, sir. I asked Ne- uh- Kurotsuchi-fukutaichou. She did not believe it was something her captain needed to be, ah, bothered with.”
“Wise,” Yamamoto muttered, settling down to watch. “Whose turn is it?”
“I believe it is Kurosaki Ichigo and the Sixth Espada tonight, sir.”
Yamamoto grunted acknowledgement, and there was silence for a few moments. Then:
“…You placed my bet?”
* * * * *
Lilynette sauntered over to the Urahara Shouten contingent, ignoring the sideways glances the watching Shinigami were shooting at her. After all, she and Starrk had been turning up for a week now; if they weren’t used to it, screw ’em.
“Ah, Lily-chan!” Urahara caroled, turning to face her and waving his ever-present fan. “What can I get you today? More pocky? Or did you feel like branching out and trying something new?”
About to answer, Lilynette stopped, staring at his chest. “…What the heck is that
“That? Oh, this!” Grinning, he spread his arms, revealing the printed t-shirt underneath his green haori. “It’s part of our new line! We’ve got t-shirts, ball caps, fans, banners, balloons -- though those didn’t turn out so well, Yachiru-chan took all the pink ones and popped the rest -- what would you like?”
Jinta scowled at her from beneath the brim of his ‘Zaraki Rules’ cap. Beside him, a female Shinigami sneaked away after pressing several notes into Ururu’s hands, clutching her ‘Grimmjow Is Hot’ shirt furtively to her bosom.
Lilynette eyed Urahara’s shirt, looking faintly queasy. Lurid orange text proclaimed ‘Ichi = #1’. “The colour doesn’t really go with the rest of your gear,” she pointed out.
“I suppose not, but it stands out, ne?” he grinned, flourishing his fan again. “Come along now, are you sure you don’t want one? We have ‘Grimmjow Rocks’, that one’s selling fast! Well… three. Which isn’t bad, considering my client base. And Orihime-chan had enough room for an extra-large print of ‘Go Zaraki-san!’. Or we can custom-print anything you want,” he added temptingly. “Free Pocky with every banner! Rangiku-san and Rukia-chan bought one together, see?”
* * * * *
“What does ‘Somebody Verb Someone Already’ mean, do you think?”
“…I believe it to be an in-joke, sir.”
“Hrrrm. …And that shirt?”
“Which one, sir?”
“ ‘Grimmjow Rocks’. Who is that wearing it?”
“Ah… I believe that is Isane-fukutaichou, from Fourth squad,” Sasakibe said, sweating lightly.
There was a long, tense pause.
“If nothing else,” Yamamoto said eventually, “some of our less confident Shinigami seem to be coming out of their shells. Good for morale, these bouts, I suppose.”
“Yes, sir,” Sasakibe agreed, relieved that the old man wasn’t furious, “though I believe Yamada Hanatarou is consuming anti-ulcer medication at a terrifying rate…”
“Unfortunate. Make a note, Sasakibe.”
“Remember to speak to Unohana-taichou about rotating the healing support personnel for the bouts.”
* * * * *
“Kurosaki-kun!” Orihime bounced up and down, waving. Next to her, Ulquiorra ignored his surroundings, examining the contents of his bentou box.
Ichigo came to a halt, staring at her T-shirt. “…What,” he said flatly.
“You’re cheering for Zaraki
“Well… today, yes,” she admitted, giggling nervously.
“Inoue,” he said in a strained voice, rubbing his forehead with one hand, “Zaraki isn’t even here today.”
“That’s why I’m cheering for him!” she said.
“Well, I like all of you!” she explained, sounding as if she thought this was perfectly reasonable. “You’ve been my friend for years and years, and Zaraki-san is really nice and helped me when we were trying to rescue Kuchiki-san, and Jaegerjaques-kun is… um… interesting? So I cheer for Zaraki-san when he’s not fighting, and Jaegerjaques-kun when he’s not fighting, and you on Sundays!”
“That… makes sense, in a weird, Inoue sort of way,” he admitted, sighing.
“There is a certain logic to it,” Ulquiorra pointed out, not looking up from his lunch. He poked something curiously with his chopsticks, then took a bite.
“I didn’t know Hollows ate ordinary food,” Ichigo said, desperate to change the subject before he started thinking like Orihime.
Ulquiorra chewed thoughtfully for a while, then swallowed. “We don’t have to,” he said, poking at a purple thing in the next compartment. “It’s interesting.”
“Food in general, or Inoue’s cooking?” Ichigo asked before he could stop himself.
“Yes,” Ulquiorra said calmly, and tried the purple thing. Orihime beamed happily.
“Yo! Ichigo!” Grimmjow yelled from across the field. “Let’s get this show on the road!” Matsumoto and Rukia cheered, waving sake bottles from underneath their banner.
“You seen that banner?” Grimmjow growled under his breath as Ichigo walked up.
“First thing we do, we ‘accidentally’ destroy, it, okay?”
“Fine by me. You gonna Getsuga, or do I get to Cero it?”
“Let’s go for both. They’re fast enough to get out of the way, even drunk,” Ichigo muttered, grinning nastily.
“That big-chested bitch is creepier than Ichimaru when she’s drunk. She leers
at me. Ichimaru doesn’t leer
at me-- well, not that way at least!” Grimmjow complained.
“That’s not what worries me,” Ichigo snorted. “She’s corrupting Rukia. Rukia lives in my closet half the time, for God’s sake! I’ve never seen her drunk, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to!”
“I feel for ya, man,” Grimmjow said seriously, patting him sympathetically on the shoulder.
“Wooooooooo~! Go for it, Grimmy!” floated across the battlefield in a slightly drunken voice.
“Nooooooo!” Matsumoto complained. “’s gotta be Zaraki-taichou!”
“If we angle it right, we can get the banner and
all those pink balloons that Minigami’s nearly floating off with,” Grimmjow pointed out, and Ichigo nodded grimly.
Kyouraku sipped calmly at his sake, watching the crowd scatter as two perfectly-timed attacks ripped through a large banner, sending Yachiru spinning through the air as half of her balloons vaporized.
“We should probably move,” Starrk said beside him, sounding faintly amused.
“Oh, I think we’re fine,” Kyouraku shrugged, topping up his cup. “They were very precisely aimed.”
“Of course they were,” Starrk agreed. “They took out the banner and the balloons, with only a little collateral damage--”
“Almost none,” Kyouraku corrected him. “I’m fairly sure most of those bottles were already empty.”
“--which means they’re going to take out their next target very precisely, too.”
Kyouraku blinked. “Next target?”
Starrk pointed wordlessly at the Urahara Shouten t-shirt printing stand, barely ten feet away. Lilynette was perfectly audible as she argued with Urahara that ‘Starrk Would Beat All Of You If He Would Just Get Off His Lazy Ass’ would so
fit on a t-shirt.
“…There’s a nice rock over there,” Kyouraku said, hastily gathering up his haori. “Way
* * * * *
“Hmmmmm. This seems to be excellent training for our squad members in how to anticipate and evade ranged attacks, too.”
“Thank you, sir.”