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Dead Espadas: 18. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

18. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

It was a hot, sticky walk back to the Golden Blossom Guest Houses under skies threatening rain if the humidity raised another notch. Little was said, but Orihime heard the low growling and heavy sighs from both sides of her. She walked between Grimmjow and Ulquiorra, her arms wrapped around a bag of groceries beginning to wilt in the day's heat.

Grimmjow had three plastic bags of groceries in each fist as they walked, Ulquiorra with another five at Orihime's other side, taking up most of the space on the sidewalk, making the other pedestrians skirt around them. Nobody was getting out of the way.

Ulquiorra was disappointed in her; Orihime could feel it, nearly see it in his face. She didn't know how to make sense of her own feelings, and she wasn't sure explaining them to him would help. Things had changed.

He had changed, Grimmjow had - so had Ulquiorra - more so than she thought possible in such a short time. Maybe it was the lack of Hueco Mundo air that made it possible. Maybe it was getting the Arrancar knocked out of him by dying.

She looked to Grimmjow, his features not quite fuming, but less than the usual severity generally seen in his face. Maybe not all the Arrancar knocked out of him, but enough to make him more endurable to the Living society at large.

By the time they got to Ulquiorra's apartment six irritatingly muggy city blocks later they were all damp and hot. The door was open and sounds of metal and springs being worked were coming through it with an occasional muttering.

Ulquiorra and Grimmjow traded looks as they all reached the stairwalk landing, and then Grimmjow put an arresting hand to Orihime's shoulder as she moved to peek inside the doorway.


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Thanks to Bankai Betty for use of her story!

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Dead Espadas: 17. Clean Up in Aisle Nine

17. Clean Up in Aisle Nine

It had rained that night, leaving a soggy but sunny day the next morning. Orihime had meant to sleep in - her first morning alone in over a week that had seemed more like a month - but she was up early.

She knew it rained because she was awake much of the night, thoughts tossing through her head as she lay curled with a sheet in the muggy night, with her bedroom door open. She didn't peek at the photos that were buried beneath her socks in the top drawer of her dresser. She didn't have to. She'd already committed them to memory.

Kissing was natural, she'd told herself dozens of times in the past two hours. Nothing wrong with that. Besides, she'd gone through more uncomfortable moments with him. At least in the photo booth he had his pants on.


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One chapter left. Thanks for reading!
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Dead Espadas: 16. Home Alone

16. Home Alone

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. Grimmjow walked with Orihime and Ulquiorra to her apartment building's manager desk, and then told them he was heading back to Tsukiji.

The staircase passage to Orihime's floor was hot, the warm air trapped in the hall, seemingly magnified by the children running and laughing along the floors above and below the levels. Orihime was still fighting the sticky-sweet dryness in her mouth from the second double-helping of ice cream Grimmjow had got her, this time a scoop each of cherry chip and fudge-marshmallow ripple.

"... a bento box and groceries," she was saying to Ulquiorra as he followed her up the stairs. "Ramen packets are easy to cook; you just need water and a pan and a hot plate. Oh, and linens and pillows, and kitchen ..."

He listened, he really did, but the swish of her hips in the denim shorts as she climbed the steps and the gentle bounce of her auburn hair trailing down her back along the pink tank top were starting to eat at what he was beginning to discover as more than distraction.


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Dead Espadas: 15. Barefoot in the Park

15. Barefoot in the Park

Orihime's nightmare from the preceding night was on her mind as she rolled over in the bedclothes and buried her face in her pillow the next morning. In her dream Starrk had shown up, and Ulquiorra had left early for work, and Grimmjow had stayed the night. Again.

She shook her head, rubbing her hair into a fuzzy ball against the pillow, until she heard low male voices coming from beyond her closed bedroom door, and realized it wasn't a dream. She recognized Grimmjow's deep tone easily, something that was becoming familiar, but it was the added rumble of Starrk's that made her dread getting out of bed the most.

What kind of afterlife plan did Aizen bestow on his discarded Arrancars? she wondered. A free ticket and map to her apartment?


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Dead Espadas: 14. Dances with Wolves

14. Dances with Wolves

As much as Orihime wanted to stock Grimmjow's few cupboards with the essentials of bachelor culinary needs, she also wanted to make sure Ulquiorra had enough time for a nap before he was to leave for work that night. Grimmjow reluctantly agreed to their early departure that stiflingly hot afternoon, but only after they'd accompanied him for a quick run to the corner store for enough packaged dinners to get him through the evening and next day. And only after she'd given him a crash course in instant noodle-making, and a promise she'd go with him on a proper grocery trip the following morning.

Grimmjow stood at the stairwalk landing, returning her brief wave, watching them leave until they had disappeared out of sight in the twisting alleys of the rough neighborhood, contrasting thoughts at odds in him. He knew Orihime was safe among the winding side streets with Ulquiorra at her side, but he still didn't like that she was going back to her apartment with him. His mood wasn't helped when he turned to go back inside and saw his upstairs neighbor leaning over his stairwalk rail, also watching the departure, grinning and chuckling, several off-color comments mumbled under his breath about the girl's accoutrements and bouncy walk.


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Dead Espadas: 13. House Cleaning

13. House Cleaning

Grimmjow awoke the next morning on Orihime's couch to Ulquiorra staring at him. He could feel it. For all the lacking qualities of being permanently human, he knew the weight of the Fourth Espada's stare when it was on him.

He grinned, opening his eyes in the early sun that streamed in through the apartment window. "Got a problem?"

Ulquiorra stared steadily at him from the other side of the couch, already dressed for the day in gray pants and a white cotton shirt. "You can't manipulate your way back here every night, Grimmjow. You have to leave, for good."

Grimmjow stretched his legs out across the floor, glancing to Orihime's closed door near the bathroom. "She invited me."


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2011 Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami

Please take a moment to visit the 2011 Japanese Earthquake crisis hotline site set up to make a donation to the Red Cross. Every bit helps, people. And thanks.
All stories used with author(s) permission.

Dead Espadas: 12. Second Coat

12. Second Coat

Ulquiorra wasn't happy with the explanation about Orihime's new attire addition that afternoon, but it was a better justification than the first one that had leapt to his mind. He gave Grimmjow a calculating stare as they followed Orihime into the apartment.

"Too much blue," was the first thing Ulquiorra could think of to say. "It smells foul."

"The paint smell will fade away, and it's a pretty blue," she said, smiling at the walls, her hands on her hips, Grimmjow's shirt opening wide over her chest until she realized the exposure. She dropped her arms, making both Ulquiorra and Grimmjow look from her back to the walls.

Ulquiorra shook his head at Grimmjow. "Pretty?"


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Dead Espadas: 11. When the Music Stops

11. When the Music Stops

It was with little sleep from the night before that Orihime set off early Thursday morning across town in the company of two of the once most-dreaded Espadas in several dimensions. She was pleased that Ulquiorra's new clothes fit him well despite not bring able to try them on the preceding day, and equally glad Grimmjow had decided on one of his new t-shirts that required no buttons or closures whatsoever.

They found themselves packed into a train of mostly commuters for the early ride, a bit too packed for Orihime's taste.

For Ulquiorra's taste, too, and particularly for Grimmjow's frame of mind as he glared at anyone daring to make eye contact the three of them. In one hand he carried a bag with his new kitchen appliances and a few paint brushes and rollers and tray, in his other two buckets of paint. Orihime carried a second bag with his new clothes and the few bathroom necessities and towels he'd purchased. Ulquiorra had been spared carrying anything.


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Dead Espadas: 10. Pillow Talk

10. Pillow Talk

There was no sleep to be had by anyone that night, and not for the reasons Grimmjow would have liked to imagine. An hour after the soup was finished, the first glimpse of dawn was breaking through the kitchen window, the rain having poured itself out. Despite looking less than her usual sparkly self, Orihime dressed for the day in a pale blue tank top and bright pink shorts, tied her hair up into a ponytail, and decided it was time for breakfast.

Grimmjow was still becoming used to the mechanics of eating and the effects of hunger, so he was open to the early meal. They'd spent the last hour at the table counting and arguing over the pile of wrinkled money Ulquiorra produced from his pocket.

Grimmjow counted it himself, scowl increasing as he realized the difference in Fourth and Sixth rank severance and monetary adjustments.

"It's still more," Ulquiorra said tersely as they looked at the money Orihime had arranged into piles on the table. "Why does that surprise you?"

(Aaaah! Sorry! Misposted the chapter out of order...Sorry - sorry to Bankai Betty!!) 

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