The Heart in My Hand

BY : chayron
Category: Bleach > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 7046
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach it belongs to its respective owners. This fan fiction is not a commercial project, and I am not making any money from writing it.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach – it belongs to its respective owners. This fan fiction is not a commercial project, and I am not making any money from writing it.

Warnings:

1. Yaoi (male x male). Ulquiorra x Ichigo and vice versa. Other pairings?

2. Ichigo – almost 19 years old; Ulquiorra – probably a few hundred as a Hollow and about a decade or so as an Arrancar?

3. Post anime (haven’t read the manga).

4. Alternate Universe.

5. I’m not a native speaker, thus expect various language oddities.

6. I’m not very familiar with all the details in the anime, and I am also new to Bleach fandom, so I will be straying away from the canon quite frequently. I do my research but Bleach is a vast universe that is not so easy to grasp. I must admit, though, that there are also things in the anime that don’t make sense to me and I take the liberty of recreating certain parts of this universe as I see fit.


Summary: Ichigo has to make a quick decision when Ulquiorra appears in front of him again. He saves Ulquiorra and is slowly pulled into the Arrancar’s pace.


The Heart in My Hand


by chayron (lttomb@yahoo.com), beta-read by Ash and Athena


Part 1


Hot needles were pricking his entire body. Every tip was being driven deeper and deeper into his flesh. The pain was intense, searing. Hundreds of sharp pangs were seeping throughout his body, accumulating somewhere in the back of his skull. They were forming a white hot spear that was threatening to pierce his brain at any given moment. The only thing he could do was keep the pain away. There were no coherent thoughts in his head, just this – to withstand the pain. Always the same. How long had it been now?


He was floating in a sticky formless mass, surrounded by darkness. He could neither move his arms nor legs. He wasn’t certain he still had them. Had there even been a time when he had them? He could not exactly remember. Really, how long had it been?


Besides the searing pain at the back of his skull, he suddenly felt a twinge in his chest. It started to spread quickly, creating a burning sensation that was new to him. Surprised, he tried to harness this new source of pain as well. It escaped him, though. He would suppress it and it would slip from his grasp. His lungs were on fire, and he started choking. There was a certain ruthlessness somewhere deep inside him, and the painful prickling sensation of needles that he was still managing to keep at bay. There was also the knowledge of the fact that he, apparently, had lungs and he was suffocating. The black sticky mass surrounding him was filling his throat and nose. The pain in his lungs was becoming worse and worse. He needed air.


Really, how long had it been?


With a gasp, he opened his eyes. His sight was blurry, but he could tell that there was a black-haired woman leaning over him. She was looking at him, her mouth moving to form words, but all he could hear was booming sounds ringing through his cotton-filled ears. She wasn’t talking to him, though. He noticed movement on his right. He couldn’t tell what it was but he could feel the danger. His attention was then quickly drawn to the woman, who suddenly grabbed his right arm. She brandished a syringe.


The woman’s neck snapped in his left hand like a twig. Her limp fingers unwound from the syringe and it fell to the floor. He dropped the body and shifted, trying to sit up. It took him a few minutes to get into a sitting position. During that time, he had been waiting for the second thing in the room to attack him. His vision was hazy, even worse than it had been before; everything around him was blotchy. Panting for air and dripping with sweat, he finally managed to discern the moving thing. It was a small metallic creature moving on four thin legs. A robot of some sort. It stood motionless for a couple of seconds, then turned away and droned off to a long desk cluttered with various bottles and other things. Disregarding its surroundings, it started sorting through them as if nothing had ever happened.


He had used up most of his strength in order to dispose of the woman, and it took him a few minutes to get to his feet. After taking a few steps forward, he collapsed. The robot turned to him to observe him with a lens-like eye before it turned back to its bottles. He crawled to what he had thought was a door, but instead appeared to be a wide arc inside of which there was a black cube. He looked around again.


This was obviously some kind of a research facility, various pipes crisscrossing the room and its walls, long desks abundant in varicolored bottles and containers. There were a few glassy structures filled with some kind of greenish liquid. He finally spotted what seemed to be the door. He half-staggered and half-crawled to it. It appeared to be locked, the intricate lock demanding his fingerprints. He gathered his remaining strength and crawled back to the woman’s body. She was still there, under a narrow metallic table that he had found himself on when he came to. Her body was twitching now. Wondering how that could be, he grabbed the woman by her wrist and started dragging her body towards the door. He pressed her convulsing hand to the lock and the door slid open. Momentarily, he was blinded by the light. Blinking, he stayed still until his eyesight adapted. Leaving the twitching woman behind, he crawled into the light.


ooOoOoOoo


At the sound of the alarm, Ichigo raised his head to look at the white Seireitei towers, wondering what had happened. A chuckle bubbled in his throat as he remembered the latest cause for alarm – Renji, Rangiku and Yoruichi had been drinking and it came to the point where the women had challenged Renji to sound the alarm. The numbskull that he was, he had agreed. Byakuya had been livid to discover his lieutenant’s prank. Renji was probably still not allowed to go anywhere outside Seireitei.


Almost two years ago, after Sosuke Aizen had been captured and sentenced to lengthy years of imprisonment, Soul Society became relatively peaceful. There were still regular hollow attacks but it was nothing similar to what it had been in recent years. And now, Ichigo was certain that the alarm was just someone’s way of telling that they wanted a bottle of sake or maybe was missing their family.


Huffing, he lowered his head and weighed the plastic bag in his hand before opening it to take a better look inside. He had promised Ikkaku not to look at the contents, but Ikkaku had no business in sending him on various errands either, so they were even. After seeing five bottles of sake and a large roll of brightly colored fabric, Ichigo closed the bag, not the least bit surprised. This was a thank-you-gift of sorts. It was rather strange that Ikkaku didn’t deliver it to Shunsui personally. Wondering what it was about, Ichigo continued walking down the walled street towards the Eighth Division.


Ichigo rounded a corner and suddenly halted in his path. In shock, he nearly dropped the bag he was carrying. Stupefied, he stared at the pale figure in front of him.


“Ulquiorra?”


The Arrancar’s incredibly green eyes blinked at him slowly. A spark of recognition lit in their depth. Ichigo watched Ulquiorra sway lightly and lean against the wall for support. The Arrancar looked frail, ribs and veins showing clearly from under the alabaster white skin. There were traces of dried blood on his body. What struck Ichigo as the oddest about the other male was that he was wearing a Shinigami’s robe. They were way too big for the Arrancar, hanging loosely on his thin frame. He didn’t have his Zanpakuto either.


The alarm was still going off, the sound echoing all around Seireitei and Ichigo realized that the reason for it stood in front of him. A commotion started somewhere farther away, shouts and the running of feet heard. Questions piled up in heaps, but Ichigo didn’t think he had enough time to ask them. Ulquiorra turned his head and looked back at the road he had just come from. Then the Arrancar’s emerald eyes concentrated on the younger man again.


Ichigo saw Ulquiorra raise his hand toward him. It was clearly a hand that was asking for help, but the words that followed the gesture didn’t belong there.


“Kill me.”


The sounds of running feet and shouts were now coming closer. While Ichigo just stood there, caught in some sort of déjà vu, Ulquiorra lowered his hand and, holding onto the wall, moved forward. He could hardly keep himself upright. Entranced, Ichigo watched his slow-paced journey along the wall. Only now did he notice that the other man was barefooted. The Arrancar passed Ichigo, turning into the street the younger man had appeared from.


“I’ve killed you before,” Ichigo said, following him. “It doesn’t seem like I was very successful. What makes you think I’ll do any better now?”


Ulquiorra didn’t answer, didn’t turn around, just continued to move along the wall. Lost, Ichigo shook his head. He didn’t understand what was going on at all. The Arrancar swayed dangerously and dropped to his knees. Ichigo stopped a little bit farther behind him. The older male turned his head to him, his green eyes staring blankly at him. He had seen that look before.


Mentally cursing and berating himself, Ichigo stepped closer and held out his hand. He was probably at risk of getting it cut or chewed off or stabbed, but there was something in Ulquiorra’s demeanor telling him that the other man would not attack him. He could remember that Ulquiorra, like all higher class Espada, had hardly ever been aggressive. They usually attacked only when provoked, or when following Aizen’s orders. Since Aizen was no longer in control... And then, at the end of their battle, even if mortally wounded, Ulquiorra had also protected Uryu from him. If not for him, Ishida would no longer be alive.


Ulquiorra had a resignedly questioning look on his face when he took Ichigo’s hand. The red-haired youth started pulling him to his feet then started as the Arrancar slumped into a boneless heap at the end of his sandals. The running feet were almost here now and, coming to a quick decision, Ichigo wasted no time. He gathered the listless body into his arms and flash-stepped down the road. Once the clamor was out of earshot, he jumped onto the wall and continued to flash-step to the west, in the direction of the White Road Gate. The only place he could think of taking the Arrancar was the basement under Kuukaku Shiba’s house. Ichigo wasn’t certain he would be able to remember the way, though. It had been a long time since he had stayed there while training to create a spirit sphere that would allow them to break through the Seireitei’s protective barrier. He would have preferred Yoruichi and Kisuke’s hideout under Sokyoku Hill, yet that was the first place where they would come looking for Ulquiorra.


From afar, he could see that the west gate was open, Jidanbo juggling his axes next to it idly. He had not yet received the orders to shut off the gate. It was an unbelievable stroke of luck and Ichigo flash-stepped past the gate and its keeper without reducing his speed. He doubted Jidanbo had even noticed him. Rushing further down the streets and roofs of Rukongai, he tried to be unnoticeable and stay in the shadows.


When he left the town premises, he had to change his course a few times until he finally found the right path. Even then, he had not been certain he would arrive at the correct destination. He finally reached the place about thirty minutes later. Ichigo doubted he had ever been using flash-step for such a long time before. He didn’t feel tired at all, though. Despite his worries, Ulquiorra hardly weighed anything. He thought that his sisters were probably heavier than the Arrancar and it was disquieting. Ulquiorra had not regained his consciousness either.


The house was no longer there, of course. They had left it in shambles when the cannon shot them out towards Seireitei. That and the fact that Kuukaku Shiba liked moving house meant that, during all these years, she had probably moved five times already. One could hardly see the ruins because of the tall grass. Ichigo carefully laid down the Arrancar onto the grass and looked around, his eyes scanning for the entrance to the basement. He finally spotted a pile of stones and rotting logs covering what seemed to be a trapdoor. It took him a few minutes to free it from all the debris. However, the door had no handle or a ring that he could grab onto and lift. After digging around and trying various things, he at last managed to hook his fingers under the planks and raise it. Huffing, he let the door drop and peered at the stairs that it revealed.


It was completely dark inside. Another unpleasant thing that he had discovered after having walked inside was that it was damp and puddles had formed here and there. It was probably even worse when it rained. Still, this was some kind of a shelter. And after looking around in the basement, he found a way to lighten the place – attached to the walls there were six esoteric stones that started exuding yellow light as soon as they were touched. Once he was free to explore the large area, Ichigo found out that it wasn’t as damp further in the basement. He had also found various rags and clothes that had been left behind. He even discovered five torn mattresses. It was very likely that one of them had been used by himself when he had stayed here previously.


Content with his discoveries, Ichigo started climbing up the stairs. When his head and shoulders appeared from the trapdoor, his step faltered. His right foot hung in the air, never reaching the next stair. He stared at Ulquiorra, who was sitting amidst the tall grass, the plastic bag resting on his lap.


“Ah,” Ichigo mumbled at the sight. “I’m supposed to deliver it to Shunsui. I’ll have to eventually, or they’ll start looking for me.”


The Arrancar didn’t say anything to that, continuing to stare at the younger man with his incredibly green eyes. Ulquiorra was gazing at his mouth, Ichigo realized. He stepped out onto the field and approached the Arrancar.


“Can you hear me?”


Ulquiorra’s eyebrows twitched at the way Ichigo’s lips elongated the words but he shook his head slowly. He couldn’t hear a thing.


“Can you talk?”


“Yes. I did speak to you earlier.”


Ichigo shrugged sheepishly. “Oh, right.” Then, trying to avoid sudden movements and attempting to appear nonthreatening, he sat down opposite the Arrancar.


“How did you appear here?” He frowned when Ulquiorra looked around. “I don’t mean here. How come you’re alive at all?”


The Arrancar’s eyes stared at Ichigo’s mouth for a few seconds then he shrugged. He pushed the bag off his lap and lay down on the grass. He looked exhausted beyond comprehension.


“Kill me?”


“Listen,” Ichigo snapped at him, “we’ve already gone through that. I’m not killing anyone here. Just tell me what’s going on.”


Ulquiorra had his eyes closed and it was obvious he could neither hear nor understand him. Huffing in frustration, Ichigo grabbed the other man by his shoulders and effortlessly lifted him to his feet. Ulquiorra gave him a curious look. Did he expect Ichigo to comply with his request? This annoyed Ichigo even further. Throwing and securing the Arrancar’s left arm over his left shoulder, he started leading him towards the trapdoor.


“What are you doing?”


Ichigo turned his head to glare at the pale face. “Trying to save your sorry ass. I’m actually thinking that I’ll badly regret this.”


It didn’t seem that Ulquiorra understood what he had said, but he didn’t ask Ichigo to repeat. While he was being led inside the basement, the Arrancar didn’t even attempt to resist, his light body mostly hanging onto Ichigo. He was trying to walk but, instead of taking steps, his feet dragged uselessly.


“Who the hell did this to you?” Ichigo muttered softly even though he knew Ulquiorra couldn’t see his mouth from this angle. He doubted the Arrancar would answer anyway. There weren’t many creatures that could reduce Ulquiorra to this listless heap of skin and bones.


Ichigo led the Arrancar to the very end of the basement, where he had prepared a makeshift bed from the mattresses. He had also dug out a small crate and put it near the bed. He thought it could serve as a table or a chair. True, it swayed a little but it was better than nothing. Ulquiorra’s head rolled to his shoulder, then backwards and Ichigo turned to the other man. Had he lost consciousness again? Carefully, he lowered the Arrancar onto the mattresses. Ulquiorra’s eyes opened again. The gaze was unfocused, though, he stared somewhere above Ichigo’s shoulder.


“What the hell are you grinning at?” Ichigo muttered. In fact, Ulquiorra’s inquisitive smile was so unnerving that he leaned away from the other man. He didn’t remember seeing Ulquiorra smile before. On the other hand, his memories of fighting the Arrancar were jumbled; so many things had happened back then. The grin… Right, Ulquiorra had hardly ever been aggressive and even saved Uryu. But then, he had always been detached and insusceptible to certain emotions. Possibly, that was the reason why he had been so curious about human reactions. He would even create scenarios to draw out various emotions and would just stand and watch from the sidelines while analyzing. Ichigo could remember how much he had hated Ulquiorra for not allowing him to rush to Orihime’s side and help her, forcing him to fight him, watching how her pain affected him. She had nearly died back then. Even now, the Arrancar probably saw him as some kind of a research subject. That, or maybe Ulquiorra was just delirious, dancing with unicorns in his hallucination, laughing happily.


In any case, he needed someone to take a look at Ulquiorra. He also needed to find out what happened. And he also needed to deliver the bag to Shunsui.


ooOoOoOoo


It was ironic how he sought out Kisuke’s help despite having avoided using his hideout. Ichigo, however, had not been able to think of anyone else that could help Ulquiorra. The former captain had listened to him very intently. He had also told Ichigo that he was an idiot. Twice. Half an hour later, he had finally agreed to take a look at the Arrancar without reporting any of them.


Once they arrived at the basement, Ichigo showed Kisuke the trapdoor before going to draw some water from the well nearby. He was pulling the bucket up when his whole body tensed at the feel of a familiar energy shift. The usual strangely distorted sound followed and the earth shook when green light tore from underground. A Cero. Ichigo dropped the bucket and flash-stepped into the newly opened hole in the ground. The sudden change from the bright light outside made it seem dark in the basement. There was also dust filling the air and even more debris under his feet. Moving forward, Ichigo blinked his eyes repeatedly. He could only see Ulquiorra’s shape at the back wall. He grabbed the Arrancar by his raised hand and slammed him into the wall behind him.


“No! Hey!” Kisuke shouted, digging himself up from the nearest pile of wreckage. “It’s alright, alright! I just startled him. He was sleeping and…”


Ulquiorra’s wide eyes were staring at Ichigo in surprise, and Ichigo realized that the Arrancar didn’t quite understand why, when seemingly trying to save his life, Ichigo did not allow him to defend himself.


“It’s a friend,” Ichigo said with a sigh to Ulquiorra. He let go of the older male but then had to grasp him quickly by his arms since he couldn’t keep his balance and just slumped against the wall. “Ugh, sorry.”


The Arrancar was giving him a dazed look. “A friend? Utter drivel. He’s the former captain of the Twelfth Division.”


Ichigo had to agree that Ulquiorra was making sense, especially now that Ichigo knew where he had escaped from. “He’s fine, really. He’ll help you. If you’re nice to him, that is.”


The Arrancar was staring at Ichigo’s mouth for some time, then just gave up and blinked at him sleepily. Ichigo helped him lie back down onto the mattresses.


“He’s fine. He’ll help you,” Ichigo repeated, trying to make the other man cooperate. Even though he doubted that in his state Ulquiorra was capable of causing any serious damage to Kisuke with his Cero, the Arrancar could still be full of unpleasant surprises. He turned to Kisuke, who was keeping his distance from them.


Kisuke shrugged. “You can try knocking him out,” he suggested, grinning.


Ichigo sighed and turned back to the Arrancar. Ulquiorra was watching him from under half-closed lids. He was forcing himself to stay awake but was almost sleeping anyway.


“He is a friend,” Ichigo repeated sternly, accentuating every word.


Ulquiorra rolled his eyes. “Utter drivel.”


“He’s quite stubborn,” Kisuke noted. “Well, doesn’t matter. Are there any external wounds on his body?”


“Not that I’ve noticed,” Ichigo said. “The skin’s unbroken under those dried blotches of blood. That’s to be expected with his speedy regeneration, though.”


“Check him for sure.”


“Any wounds?” Ichigo asked Ulquiorra, trying to illustrate on his own body. The Arrancar shrugged and, slowly, Ichigo reached out for his robe.


Amazed, Kisuke watched Ichigo unfold the robes without even a word of protest from Ulquiorra. The Arrancar was completely naked under the robes. There were no visible wounds indeed, just smudges of dried blood like on his upper body. The fact of extreme malnutrition was glaringly obvious, too. Ichigo nudged him to make him turn on his side but there were no wounds in his back either.


When Ichigo covered the Arrancar in his robes again, he fell asleep. So as not to disturb his rest, Kisuke motioned for Ichigo to follow him outside.


“Well?” Ichigo inquired when they were back in the meadow. The setting sun was dyeing everything in yellowish colors and the air was becoming cool and damp.


“That Mayuri sure did a number on him,” the former captain said with a soft whistle. “I’m surprised he managed to escape in the state he’s in.”


“Yeah, but what’s actually wrong with him?”


“Well, first, it’s obvious he’s malnourished. I think he will regain most of his strength as soon as he starts eating. But yes, you’re right, there’s something definitely wrong with him; he can use his Cero but he can’t even keep himself upright. Well, there are no outside wounds but I can’t say anything about his internal organs. And there’s also the problem with his hearing...”


Ichigo was looking at him expectantly but Kisuke only shrugged. “If we want to know more, I need to take him to the Human World for further examination.”


Ichigo put his hands up in protest. “Hey, hey, are you sure? We are talking number four Espada here! Actually, I don’t think number four is even accurate.”


Crossing his hands and putting them on the hilt of his Zanpakuto/cane, Kisuke huffed. “Really, Ichigo, why did you even save him if you want to drop him half-way?”


Ichigo turned to look in the direction of the basement. Mostly it had been the knowledge that, if apprehended by other Shinigami, Ulquiorra would kill; there was no need for unnecessary victims. Then there was also the sympathy and all other things he had been thinking at the time. He still wasn’t sure he had made the right decision.


When he had carried the bag to Shunsui, he listened and asked around. The only thing that was clear was that a dangerous subject had escaped the 12th Division premises. It was also said that it had attempted to kill Nemu. Ichigo hadn’t had enough time to check on the lieutenant, but he was certain that the robot was as good as new.


From all this, it was easy to surmise that Mayuri Kurotsuchi had been keeping Ulquiorra captive. How long and why he had been locked up, or how he appeared in Soul Society at all were the questions only the involved parties held answers to.


“Don’t worry,” Kisuke reassured Ichigo, “it’s completely safe.”


Staring at the hole in the ground blown out by a Cero, Ichigo raised his eyebrows. Kisuke was such a liar.


TBC



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