Urahara's Arrancar Rehabilitation Center

BY : KaiBlueOtaku
Category: Bleach > General
Dragon prints: 875
Disclaimer: DISCLAIMER: Bleach and all its characters are owned by the talented Tite Kubo. I own only my story, and am merely borrowing them to tell it. I receive no payment for my writing.

A/N: This story is a follow-up to my first story, Resolution, and comes right after it in the timeline.  It will make more sense if you read that one first... 


WWWWWWWWWW


              “Ulqui-kun?”


                An emerald green eye cracked open.  “What is it, Onna?”


                Orihime stood backlit by the early-morning light coming through the doorway of her bedroom, twisting the hem of her yellow button up blouse nervously between her fingers.  It had been two weeks since she had woken up with Ulquiorra lying next to her in her bed, resurrected by her in her sleep by the powers of her Shun Shun Rikka.  The Ex-Espada had retained all of his memories up until his death at the hands of the Substitute Shinigami, Ichigo Kurosaki, but seemed now to be otherwise completely human.  Save for that of still being more spiritually aware than the average person, he had none of the abilities he had possessed in his life as an Arrancar, which he had attributed to the fact that she had “rejected his fate” to have become a Hollow in the first place, and now, he was as human as he had been before his death, before ever having become a Hollow.


                Orihime had been hiding him in her apartment all this time, afraid to tell anyone of his existence, but now she had become worried.  He napped constantly, it seemed to her, and she was concerned there was something wrong with him.


                “I need you to come somewhere with me,” she pleaded.  He sat up slowly, recognizing the distress in his lover’s voice instantly.


                “I do not understand, Onna,” he replied, using the pet-name he had come to refer to her by.  “Why do you require me to accompany you, and where is the destination?”


                She bit her lip, tears threatening in her silver eyes.  I will not cry, I will not cry, she chanted mentally, taking a deep breath.  She held his jacket out toward him briskly.  “Please,” she insisted.  “Please just trust me, and come?”


                He stood, faltering a moment, causing her breath to catch in her throat as her arm shot out in an attempt to steady him.  The look he gave her was chilling and indignant, but she knew he meant nothing by it.  He had always had that way about him, even as an Espada.  Almost proud, easily annoyed, and overly serious.  Along with his memories, and his general physical appearance, it was the only real trait he retained from when he had been an Arrancar.  She assumed that his personality was not something that was able to be ‘healed’ by her Rikka, as his body was, but truthfully, it didn’t bother her.  She had seen the gentle, loving side of him; the side which was reserved only for her, and which only seemed to come out when they were alone together, during their most intimate moments.  She had expected that once he was human, and Murcielago was no longer warring with him inside his head for control, that maybe he would be softer more frequently, but that had not turned out to be the case.  He still retained his stony façade most of the time, though she was able to read him like a book, much to his frequent dismay.


                He reached out and took the black hooded sweatshirt from her, pulling the jacket on over his grey t-shirt and zipping it up against the cool chill of the early spring wind that blew outside.  “I will come with you,” he conceded, stuffing his hands deep into the pockets, following her outside into the sunlight. 


                This was the first time he had been outside during the day, and the brightness hurt his eyes.  He put his hood up to help shield them, and bowed his head as he walked beside her.  He had snuck out a few times at night, while the Onna had been sleeping, just to stare at the night sky, and the moon.  He wasn’t sure why, but something about it made him feel a little more at ease, in this strange new world with all its unfamiliar contraptions and complexities.


                It was not very far they had to go, which he was thankful for, because he was feeling faint by the time they arrived at the destination.  “Onna, could you not have gone to the store on your own?” he asked her, the irritation thick in his voice.


                She shot him a worried look, and called out loudly, “Urahara-san?”


                Ulquiorra’s blood ran cold in his veins, and he bristled.  “Onna, why would you bring me here…?”


                “I… I-I didn’t want to take you to a regular doctor until I had you checked out by someone…  Um… M-more ‘sensitive’ to your situation…” she explained lamely.  “I’m sorry, Ulqui-kun, I just…  I didn’t think you’d come, if you knew where.”


                His jaw set on edge as Kisuke Urahara poked his head out of the front door of the shop.  Ulquiorra had never met the man personally, but he had heard enough to know his reputation.  Kisuke Urahara bordered in Ulquiorra’s opinion somewhere between ‘service personnel’ and ‘witch doctor,’ and he was sure no good could come of this visit.


                “Ohh!  Inoue-san!  Welcome!” Kisuke called in an effeminate sing-song, splaying a fan in front of his face.  The tip of his cane as well as his traditional wooden geta* clacked softly on the boards of the front porch as he crossed it, coming out to greet her.  “Who is your handsome friend?  He looks somewhat familiar…”


                “Ulquiorra Cifer,” the Ex-Espada introduced himself curtly.


                Kisuke’s eyes narrowed he brought his cane up along his side and laid his opposite hand on it, ready to draw Benihime, his Zanupakto, from its sheath, hidden in the guise of a cane.  He widened his stance and glared out from under the brim of his green and white striped bucket hat, coldly stating, “The Cuatra Espada is deceased, but you certainly bear more than an unnerving resemblance to him.”


                Orihime laid a soft, assuaging hand over Kisuke’s, and smiled wanly.  “Please, that’s not necessary.  May we come inside?  I’ll explain everything.”


                Kisuke’s eyes went wide, and Orihime looked back over her shoulder in time to see Ulquiorra’s eyes roll back in his head as he collapsed in a heap on the ground.  “Oh no!” she cried in distress.  “I’m too late!”


                Kisuke stood down, and clapped his hands.  “Tessai!”


                A massive, burly man, who looked as though he would be more at home in a blacksmith shop than a convenience store, stepped out onto the porch.  “Yes sir?”


                Kisuke motioned with his folded fan to the unconscious man lying in the yard.  “Could you collect our guest here, and bring him inside?  And put some tea on.”


WWWWWWWWWW


                Ulquiorra’s head was spinning.  He opened his eyes, and found he was lying on a futon mat, covered with a blanket.  He could hear soft voices of the Onna and the shop keeper coming from the other side of a door.  He could see their shadows projected on the rice-paper screen panels.


                “…tests say?” she asked, her voice heavy with worry.


                “Well, I can say for certain; it’s remarkable, but he is absolutely human,” the shop keeper assured her.  “If he’s ever in need of any medical treatment in the future, I’ll always take him here of course, but don’t be afraid to take him to a clinic or somewhere like that; they won’t detect anything out of the ordinary.”


                Orihime’s shadow raised its hand to its chest, and she let out an audible sigh of relief.  “Oh, thank goodness.  But what was wrong?”


                Kisuke unfolded his fan, and held it in front of his face.  “He’s human, my dear.  He’s suffering from common mortal maladies he hasn’t had to deal with in so long, he’s forgotten how to.  Malnutrition.  Dehydration.  Common exhaustion.  Does he sleep at night?”


                “Um…”  Orihime grew quiet, and Ulquiorra guessed well enough that she was blushing furiously, thinking about trying to explain to Kisuke how the young pair frequently spent their nights.


                “Oh, I see…” Kisuke countered with a coy, knowing tone that irked Ulquiorra very much.  “Well, that does explain things a bit more…”  His shadow leaned toward Orihime’s ear and Ulquiorra could not hear what he said to her at that point, but her hands flew to her face, a gesture which he well-knew signified extreme embarrassment on her part.


                “Oh, no…”  She was shaking her head.  “I’ll…  Ok.  I won’t.”


                “You little minx,” Kisuke chuckled, swatting playfully at her shoulder with the folded fan.


                Ulquiorra wasn’t quite sure what had been said in their little private exchange, but it made him uneasy, and he’d had enough of this eavesdropping.  He tried to stand to go in to join them, but he was still too weak and fell on one knee, cursing, knocking over an empty cup that had been placed beside the bed.  Fortunately, he had not knocked over the pitcher alongside it, which was very full of cold water.  The door slid open, and the two of them peeked in.  “Oh, good, you’re awake!” Kisuke lilted, coming in gaily.  “Please, do drink some of that water.  When you’re ready, I’ve had Tessai prepare something light for you to eat.  You’re probably starving, my dear boy!”


                Ulquiorra felt a stabbing in his midsection, and laid his hand over the area.  Hunger.  This was all still rather new to him, and he was disappointed in himself to learn that the Onna’s worry had been caused because he had been caring inadequately for his human body.  While she was gone at school during the day, he never thought to eat, because he hadn’t required food as an Espada in Las Noches.  He sometimes ate dinner with her, but to be honest, he was leery of human food.  The flavors were awful, and made him feel like vomiting.  He only ever choked something down when the Onna insisted, because he knew she had lovingly cooked it for him.


                Ulquiorra sipped on some water, and was surprised how refreshing it tasted.  He began to swallow it in huge gulps, and Kisuke held his cane apprehensively toward him.  “Hey, you’d better slow down, there…  You don’t want to make yourself sick.”  Ulquiorra glared at the reprimand, but did as the white-haired man had bidden him, knowing he was still at a disadvantage regarding knowledge of this human body.


                “I took the liberty of examining you while you were unconscious,” Kisuke informed him, much to his irritation, “And I found something strange…”  He pulled down a panel in a cabinet, revealing a monitor and a keyboard.  “There seems to be a Reitsu** tied to yours, almost the same way a Tsukirei*** functions.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and I can’t explain it.”  Kisuke clacked away at the keyboard, staring intently into the display.


                Ulquiorra attempted to stand again, with more success this time.  Orihime rushed to his side and walked at his elbow, accompanying him to where Kisuke stood before the computer.  Ulquiorra glanced down at the screen, and asked, “Can you reproduce a sample of the Reitsu?”


                Kisuke’s eyes widened, and he gaped.  “Clever fellow, this one!” he remarked to Orihime, motioning to him with his thumb.  He turned to Ulquiorra.  “I think I can, though it will be very weak and brief.”


                “It will suffice, I am sure.”


                Kisuke went in back and gathered some equipment, bringing a few devices with him and plugging them into the computer, then typing in a series of commands.  “Ok, pay attention, this won’t last long.”


                All of them fixed their eyes above the surface of something that looked suspiciously like a highly modified hot plate, and Kisuke flipped a switch.  A small, electric blue flame sizzled for a second or two, then faded out, leaving an odor of melting plastic and, strangely, pineapple.


                “Grimmjow,” Ulquiorra whispered.


                Orihime’s eyes widened.  “Really?  But how?”


                Ulquiorra thought for a moment, closing his eyes.  “He used his Gran Rey Cero inside the dome, during his battle with Kurosaki.  It caused a rift in space, and somehow he got pulled through and ended up in the Caja de Negacion with me briefly.  He vanished, but I have felt him nearby recently, and I have seen him in my dreams.  I believe being trapped with me in the Caja de Negacion may have locked his Reitsu to mine, especially since I was technically dead for a short time.  Pulling my Reitsu back out from the void when the Onna resurrected me must have drawn him here as well.”  Ulquiorra turned to the blank stares of Kisuke and Orihime.  “That is only a theory, though.”


                Orihime and Kisuke stared at each other for a moment, and then the older man opened his fan and hid demurely behind it.  “Well then,” he began awkwardly, “If you are feeling well enough now Cifer-san, please come and have a bite to eat.”  He ushered the couple into the adjacent room, and seated them at a low table.


                Tessai brought in dishes of steamed vegetables with rice.  “Just something small, to help you regain enough energy to make it home,” Kisuke assured him when Ulquiorra peered meekly at the bowl, his face becoming a lighter shade of his eyes.  “Come, come, now, surely you must be hungry.”


                “I am apprehensive of human food,” Ulquiorra admitted, poking at it with his chopsticks.


                “Oh for goodness sake,” Kisuke chided, fanning himself rapidly.  “A tough fellow like you, an Ex-Espada, and you’re put off by a little bowl of steamed rice and vegetables?  Inoue-san, will you kindly show the boy how it’s done?”


                Ulquiorra was annoyed by the glib manner of this shop keeper, and his overly-familiar style of dealing with someone he had only just met.


                “C’mon, Ulquiorra,” Orihime said, feigning enthusiasm as she grabbed a bowl and some chopsticks, stuffing a big bite into her mouth.  She chewed for a moment or two, then made a face, muttering from behind her hand to Kisuke so that Ulquiorra couldn’t quite hear, something about chocolate sauce. 


                The shop keeper froze and turned slowly to her, his suddenly pale face regarding her warily, then eyeing Ulquiorra.  “Does she do all the cooking?”


                “I do not know how to cook,” Ulquiorra confirmed.


                Kisuke grabbed a bowl and a set of chopsticks himself, and took a bite.  “Please, just try some,” he urged.


                Somewhat encouraged by the fact that the shop keeper didn’t seem to have any trouble eating the food, Ulquiorra took a small bite.  His eyes widened, and he chewed slowly then swallowed, looking at the bowl with intensity.  He took another bite, larger this time, and chewed with a little more vigor.  Kisuke sat back on his heels and fanned himself, grinning with satisfaction as the young man polished off his bowl, and then proceeded to eat the remainder of Orihime’s, which she offered to him when she saw how famished he was.


                “I always cook plenty of food,” Orihime muttered, a pang of guilt in her voice as she watched Ulquiorra verily shoveling food down his throat.


                Kisuke reached over and put his hand on her shoulder, patting her kindly.  “Well my dear, ‘there’s no accounting for taste’ now, as they say, is there?”


                After Ulquiorra had rested a short time and Kisuke was satisfied he was hale enough to safely trek the distance home under Orihime’s watchful eye, the shop keeper spoke to them together.  “Could you drop him off here tomorrow, dear?  On your way to school?”  Ulquiorra eyed the shopkeeper dubiously, and Kisuke waved his fan in a dismissive fashion at him.  “Oh, don’t worry.  I was just going to check up on your health.  Maybe look into that issue regarding the Reitsu you have tied to you.  Maybe put you to work around the shop,” Kisuke said, laughing, and Ulquiorra wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.  “I’m sure you’re bored stupid sitting at home all day waiting for Orihime to get back.”


                Ulquiorra could not deny this fact.  Television held no interest to him, and since he was still technically a ‘secret,’ he was not allowed to visit or converse with anyone else, not that there was anyone other than Orihime with whom he would have willingly chosen to share company with anyway.  He generally found everyone aside from the Onna to be intolerable, and even she at times pushed his limits.  But the boredom won out, and he gave a frigid, “Fine,” to Kisuke before turning to leave.


                “Oh, excellent!”  The shop keeper’s profound enthusiasm regarding this issue was disconcerting to Ulquiorra, but he passed it off as simply part of the man’s eccentric personality.  “I’ll see you both bright and early tomorrow!” he called, waving to Orihime, and Ulquiorra’s cold shoulder, as they left.


WWWWWWWWWW


                The next morning, Ulquiorra followed Orihime to the shop.  He was in an irritable mood, because the Onna had inexplicably set him up a bed on the couch last night.  It wasn’t that the couch was particularly uncomfortable, just that he had become accustomed to sleeping beside her, and the… ‘benefits…’ which accompanied that arrangement.


                Truth be told, once he got past his irritation at having been given no explanation other than her blushing and immovable insistence, he had actually slept quite soundly on the couch.  While he thoroughly enjoyed the feel of her soft, warm curves nestled beside him even when they weren’t being intimate together, the Onna was a particularly restless sleeper.  That was not to say that she was not a sound sleeper; quite to the contrary.  Though she tossed and turned and thrashed around all night long, she could barely be roused, even when he found a knee or a pointy elbow jamming into his person at some indelicate angle.  Every time she rolled over or flung a limb in his direction, he was jolted awake, sometimes with great difficulty to find his way back to slumber.  Thus, his frequent nocturnal excursions to the back yard, to stare at the sky. 


                While there were many new and wonderful things here in the World of the Living, with the Onna being at the top of his list, he still found himself disconcerted at times by all of it.  His body was strange to him, as were all the emotions he experienced on a daily basis, which he could not put names to, let alone begin to comprehend.  He knew that the gentle, protective feeling he got when he was around the Onna was what she referred to as ‘love.’  He did not doubt her, any more than he doubted the feeling itself, but it was all so new and unfamiliar, and at times, overwhelming.


                Hueco Mundo had been so different.  Not better, not by a long shot, but…  Simpler, he decided.  The stark white walls and uniforms.  The unchanging sky and lack of seasons.  There, everything was black and white, cut and dried.  You knew your rank, and who was above you, and who was below you, and that was that.  Power was everything.  Friendship was unknown; just tenuously held alliances, which only stood until one or the other of the parties decided their own needs were no longer being adequately served by the arrangement.  Then you killed the other one.


                Ulquiorra knew that was unacceptable behavior in the World of the Living.  Here, it was considered desirable to walk alongside someone, and have peers in your life.  The concept was very alien to Ulquiorra, and he struggled with it.  He constantly felt as though he were struggling against his natural desire for rank here, awash in a confusing sea of circumstance and emotion.


                Ulquiorra plodded dutifully along, a step or two behind Orihime as they approached the shop.  He was dreading this.  If he had his old body still, and his Arrancar abilities, he would have been confident and fearless going in there.  Even if the Onna had remained there with him, it would have seemed better.  But with the prospect of the Onna leaving for school, he was uneasy about what might happen in there with that demented shop keeper.  He hung his head and glared balefully at Kisuke as they came up to the front of the shop.


                “Oh, good morning!” Kisuke called cheerily, leaning at a precarious angle in a straight-backed wooden chair, his feet kicked up on one of the posts of the porch.


                “Have a good day, Ulqui-kun,” Orihime told him sweetly, giving him a chaste peck on the lips before turning back toward the street.  “I’ll come by to pick you up after class.”


                Ulquiorra nodded, his hands balled in angry fists, stuffed deeply in his pockets.  He hated this rage he seemed to feel all the time now.  It was not the Onna’s fault that she had to go to class.  This was the World of the Living; it’s how things were done here.  He knew he should be thankful that she was caring for him so well, trying to keep him entertained instead of stuck sitting at home bored mindless, staring at the walls all day.  But the fury rose in him anyway.


                As soon as Orihime rounded the corner, he felt a hand grab the crook of his elbow and yank him roughly toward the shop.  “Come on, she’s gone!” Kisuke hissed, the urgency in his voice piquing Ulquiorra’s curiosity, his vexation momentarily displaced by his shock.


                Inside, the most tantalizing aromas made an audible growl erupt from the famished pit of his empty stomach.  “You poor boy,” Kisuke commiserated, clucking his tongue as he seated Ulquiorra in front of a huge spread of all manner of breakfast foods.  “Now, please try a little bit of everything.  I’d like to get an idea of what you like, so that we know where to begin.”


                Ulquiorra didn’t understand the shop keeper’s statement, but at the moment, he couldn’t care.  This food all looked amazing.  Things he didn’t know the names of, but the smells called out to him, and he hardly knew where to begin.  He took a spoon full of scrambled eggs onto his plate, and took a bite.  He closed his eyes, sighing contentedly as he chewed.  It was delicious.  All of this was so different from what the Onna cooked; he was beginning to wonder if perhaps he had been initially misled about human food.


                He reached toward the next plate to serve himself a portion, and hesitated.  There were the things the Onna had called pancakes.  He looked around the table cautiously.


                “Butter and syrup?”  Kisuke offered.


                “The green paste,” Ulquiorra frowned.  “The spicy one.  I do not care for it.”


                Kisuke blanched slightly.  “Wasabi?  On pancakes?”  He gave Ulquiorra a pitying look.  “No wonder you were malnourished, you poor boy.  Inoue-san seems to have a very peculiar sense of flavor combining.”


                “So it would seem,” Ulquiorra agreed, taking portions from other plates and eating until he felt satisfied.  “Thank you,” he told the shop keeper awkwardly once he had finished.  He wasn’t accustomed to verbally expressing gratitude, but he knew it was expected here.


                “Oh, you’re very welcome, Cifer-san,” Kisuke said.  “If you’re done, I’d like your assistance in a certain matter.”


                Standing to accompany Kisuke to the back of the shop, Ulquiorra had just begun to think that maybe he’d had the wrong idea about the shop keeper, when his eyes fell on a shock of electric blue hair.


                Grimmjow, lying dead, on a table.


                Ulquiorra’s hand instantly flew to his side, reaching for a sword that wasn’t there, and hadn’t been for some time.  He cursed himself, glancing around for something to use as a weapon, wondering if he had adequate strength to wrest the shop keeper’s own Zanupakto from him and use it against him.  “What is the meaning of this?”  Ulquiorra demanded in a low growl.


                Kisuke turned innocently from where he’d been fiddling with a pile of wires and cords.  “Huh?”  He followed Ulquiorra’s gaze, and smiled.  “Oh, do you like it?  Does it look enough like him?  I whipped it up last night, after you left.  I’m going to try to channel his Reitsu into it, but I need your help, since he’s bound to you.”


                Realization slowly dawned over the Ex-Espada.  He had heard of a Gigai before, but he was not familiar with them personally.  Somehow, the idea of an artificially crafted body did not sit well with him.  He walked closer to inspect it.


                It was the spitting image of Grimmjow, minus the Hollow hole, Espada tattoo, and of course, the broken mask remnants that had once lined his right jaw.  Ulquiorra began to lift the sheet that covered the body, suddenly curious if it was… ‘complete.’


                Kisuke slapped his hand and Ulquiorra dropped the sheet, shooting daggers from his eyes in the direction of the mad scientist.  “I assure you, no detail has been left wanting,” he said nonchalantly, as if this were a question he answered on a regular basis.  He gestured to a nearby chair.  “Please, take a seat.”


                Ulquiorra grudgingly did as he was asked.  He knew that he owed Grimmjow this much at least, for saving the Onna for him when he was unable to.  It would be unacceptable to allow him to drift for eternity, trapped alone, in some unknown plane between the realms.


                Kisuke proceeded to strap all manner of sensors and monitors to Ulquiorra’s arms and chest, and put some sort of helmet on his head.  The device pricked his scalp uncomfortably.  These contraptions were wired directly to some similar ones being worn by the Gigai.


                “Alright, I think we’re ready,” Kisuke said, adjusting a few of the knobs.  “What I’m going to do is, open a breach to the space that Grimmjow is trapped in.  I’ll need you to travel through it and bring him back.  The machines will take care of the rest.  Do you understand?”


                “Yes,” Ulquiorra said, and was alarmed as he was unexpectedly jolted out of his chair.  “What…  Just happened?”  He looked around, highly disturbed to see himself, still sitting in the chair with his eyes closed, strapped into the machines, which were beeping and flashing and monitoring his status.


                “Well, you can’t take your body in there now, can you?” Kisuke chuckled.  A small device on the floor whizzed to life and ripped a tear in the fabric of space, revealing a purple miasma of darkness.  “Oh, take this,” Kisuke added, motioning to an object lying on a nearby table.


                Ulquiorra picked it up, and examined it.  It looked very similar to the Substitute Shinigami’s pass which he was known to use to leave his body in urgent situations.  “What is it for?” Ulquiorra asked, stuffing it into his pocket.


                “His body may be trapped in there as well,” Kisuke admitted.  “We can’t have you bringing a fully functioning Arrancar into the World of the Living.  He will have to abandon his body in the Precipice World.”


                “If he is merely trapped in the Precipice World, why can I not simply go and retrieve him?” Ulquiorra asked.


                Kisuke shook his head.  “It’s not that simple.  He’s not trapped exactly in the Precipice, but more in the walls of it.  Inside the Koryu, or Wresting Flow, I think.  Follow your Soul Chain; it should lead you to him, since his Reitsu is wound with it right now.  If you end up in the Precipice, there should be a fissure in space leading through the Koryu that allows you to travel to his direct location.  You had better hurry, though.”


                Ulquiorra nodded, and stepped though the tear into darkness.


                He was unnerved at how much this place reminded him of his inner world, when he had encountered Murcielago for the first time during his Jinzen.****  He kept expecting to hear the sound of bat-like wings in the darkness, but it never came.  He walked along the darkness, feeling the damaged space shifting around him.  He looked back frequently, to be sure he still had line of sight on his exit.  Following his Soul Chain, he began to notice tendrils of blue Reitsu tangled in the links.


                He followed the glowing blue chain to the unconscious form of Grimmjow.  Moving quickly, Ulquiorra slipped the pass out of his pocket and slapped it against Grimmjow’s chest, jolting his body and his soul apart.  “What the…?”


                “Come with me,” Ulquiorra ordered, and dragged the confused soul to the exit.


                Grimmjow blinked in the bright light of the room, uncomprehending of what was going on.  He had been trapped in that pocket dimension for what felt like eternities, finally resigning himself to just trying to sleep as long as possible.  But he had been rudely woken from his sleep, and seemingly dragged along by…  Who?  He looked around, seeing two people standing near him.  The first one, he didn’t know, but the second one…


                “Welcome back.”


                That voice…  Grimmjow knew there was no mistaking it.  But it couldn’t be…  Ulquiorra has teal colored Estigma tear-marks…  


                The shopkeeper saw the confusion on Grimmjow’s face, and reached over to yank up Ulquiorra’s shirt, revealing his lithe, well-sculpted abdomen was completely intact.  “No hole, same as you now.”  Ulquiorra’s scowl as he snatched his shirt out of Kisuke’s hand was lost on Grimmjow, who was frantically inspecting his own chest.


                “What’s going on?” Grimmjow demanded, ire rising in his voice as he realized he was wearing nothing but a sheet.  Usually, that was one of his favorite outfit choices, when accompanied by the usual circumstances, but this was about the furthest thing from what he could consider ‘usual.’


                 “Your Reitsu was wound with Ulquiorra’s Soul Chain, and so we tracked you down.  You were trapped in the Koryu, so we brought you back and put you in this Gigai,” Kisuke said lightly.


                Grimmjow scowled and extended his arm, leveling a pointed finger at the shop keeper.  He lay still for a moment, and then looked at his hand, sort of shaking it as if it was broken.  “What the hell…”


                “Your Arrancar abilities, such as Cero, were left with your body, which was abandoned in the Koryu,” Ulquiorra told him darkly, seemingly displeased that he was trying to blast this mad scientist, though there was an underlying sliver of admiration for Grimmjow’s decisive lack of self-control.


                “I’m…  human?”  Grimmjow sat up, looking at his hands in wonder.


                “Close enough to fool anyone who might be inspecting your Gigai,” Kisuke assured him, fiddling with some equipment.  “Speaking of inspecting you, I need to perform a general exam, to be sure everything is alright.  I’ve never pulled a spirit out of its body in the Koryu before, there might be some unforeseen complications…”


                Grimmjow reluctantly assented to the exam.  As the pale-haired shop-keeper passed a machine over him, his face became darkly serious.  He stepped back, glancing at Ulquiorra, and then left the room briefly.  “What?”  Grimmjow demanded, calling after him.  “What is it?!”


                Kisuke returned with the modified hot plate-looking device, and plugged it in.  “Stranger and stranger,” he muttered to himself as he fiddled with the technology.  He gave a questioning look to Ulquiorra, who stepped forward and nodded in confirmation as Kisuke flipped a switch.


                Grimmjow watched in amazement as a small, bright yellow flame sizzled briefly to life above the surface of the device, and then flashed out, leaving a residual odor of salt water and ozone.  His breath caught in his throat.  I know that Reitsu…  “Hallibel,” he whispered, looking longingly after the tiny flame that had flickered out before him.


                Ulquiorra had a strange look on his face, and was staring intently at Grimmjow, trying to discern something unseen.  “Can you bring her back also?”  Ulquiorra asked, his eyes fixated on Grimmjow as he addressed the shop keeper.  He saw the poorly veiled desperation in the ice-blue eyes fall away at the suggestion of resurrecting her, replaced by a soaring relief, and a fierce determination.


                “Oh, I suppose so,” Kisuke said, typing at the keyboard as he peered into the display.  “This looks a little more involved, but it won’t be too much trouble.  I’ll need until tomorrow to put a Gigai together for her, though.”


                “Hey, can I have some clothes already?” Grimmjow snapped irritably, the distant look in his eyes gone as he came back to his usual, annoying self.


WWWWWWWWWW

*geta: traditional wooden Japanese sandals


** Reitsu: Spiritual Pressure


*** Tsukirei: A spirit who is trapped in the World of the Living, but bound to a living individual, their Soul Chain wrapped around that person.


**** Jinzen:  A Soul Reaper (Shinigami) meditation technique in which they connect with their Zanupakto spirit in their inner world.



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