Characters: Grimmjow, Hanatarou, Hisagi, Nemu
Notes: This is a dark AU co-plotted with sophiap and liralen. The war against Aizen's forces went very badly. Nothing is sacred and no one is safe.
Summary: A vice-captain of the Gotei 13 makes a choice.
Index of Links
31. Orihime: Into First Gear
32. Ukitake: Sacrifices
33. Ensemble: Splitting The Party
34. Karin: At Bay
35. Retaking Seireitei, Part 2
“You’re the healer,” Hisagi-fukutaichou said, turning on Hanatarou. “Do something. Fix her. Now.” His lips were peeled back from his teeth. It wasn’t a smile.
Hanatarou was uncertain of everything. Hisagi-fukutaichou’s behaviour. This laboratory, abruptly so quiet and so empty. This woman, who he’d seen kill other Fourth Division healers, and who had been ready to kill him as well, who had been in the middle of killing him when Ogidou had stopped her.
Only one thing was absolutely clear at the moment. Even if this woman was Kurotsuchi Nemu, even if she was a traitor like her father, she was in pain at the moment, and there was no reason to leave her that way. “Kindly move clear of her and let me look her over,” he told Hisagi-fukutaichou, with as much firmness as he could manage. “I can’t tell anything about her from halfway across the room.”
Hisagi-fukutaichou smirked, but he let Hanatarou approach Kurotsuchi Nemu. He took her hand, holding it in his own, ignoring the gel that streaked her fingers and soaked her palm and wrist. “It’ll be all right,” he said, as though he was soothing a child. “We’ll have her back. I promise.”
Hanatarou began checking Kurotsuchi Nemu’s vital signs and reiatsu points, going over them with a thoroughness that might even have won a word of commendation from Unohana-taichou. It gave him something immediate and coherent to do and think about, and it let him avoid Hisagi-fukutaichou’s eyes for a few more seconds.
Because even if Hisagi-fukutaichou was right about the zanpakutou – and what was the matter with Hisagi-fukutaichou, anyhow? – then how could you put back someone’s zanpakutou, once it had been taken away? How could you actually heal someone on that level?
He wasn’t looking forward to being the person who had to say that.
Grimmjow ignored the wounded little Arrancar (a disgrace to the name, something inside him spat, but it did so in a weary way, more out of habit than anything else, and not even certain of itself any more) and the battered shinigami, and the dead shinigami, and all the bodies, heading for where he could still hear voices and action. That would be where he might find a fight, and that would be an answer to everything that was knotted up inside him.
It was all part of the same problem. Everything from the hot pleasant happiness of brawling hand-to-hand with Madarame and his people, to the strange expression on Ukitake’s face at the meeting, to the way that Harribel had smashed him down, to the Inoue girl’s tone when she’d asked about healing him, to . . . all of it, all complex and twisted and moving inside him like a hot pulse of muscle. Fighting someone else would answer it.
For how long? the voice inside him whispered, leaning inside his head and chest hard enough that he could feel it, know that it wasn’t just a stray thought.
Shut up, he told it, ignoring for the moment that he had decided it didn’t really exist. Don’t have any fucking time for you now. Got things to do.
You can only put me off so long before I come and knock all your doors down, the voice purred inside him.
You want me to pay some attention to you? Then be some fucking use, he thought.
He recognised the entrance to Kurotsuchi’s labs. The dead bodies of that Nemu woman and the remains of some sort of alarm system littered the place. He picked his way between the corpses, cautious now, not wanting to rush headlong into trouble when he could perfectly well see what was going on and then choose his moment to get his hands dirty.
“Well? Can’t you do something?”
It was Hisagi’s voice, with an unusual edge to it, a ragged sharpness that made Grimmjow want to exchange a few blows with him on general principles.
The response was stammered and uncertain, not quite audible, but it was clearly that guy from Fourth Division, the one they’d run into earlier. But if they were standing around talking, then the fight had to be over.
Grimmjow sighed, dropped his hand from where he’d been smoothing the hilt of his sword, and headed in to find out what the hell the morons were playing at this time. It was worse than trying to keep his old crew on track. You needed to grab them and point them in the right direction.
Except that of course that doesn’t apply to us, the voice in the back of his mind said firmly.
Well, of course not. He didn’t even dignify that with a response.
“What’s going on?” he demanded, stepping into the room. The two of them were standing around yet another vat. The place was too full of vats. There was one of the Nemu women in the vat, and the healer was taking her pulse, while Hisagi was – gods help them all – holding her hand. Well, shit, he hadn’t thought Hisagi swung that way. Of all the times to get romantic on them.
“It’s Kurotsuchi Nemu,” Hisagi answered, with a go-on-just-take-offense-please drawl to his voice. It made a healthy change from the man’s usual attempt to act stone-faced and all Tousen-like. “The real one.”
Grimmjow didn’t get it. Then he thought about it, and perhaps he did. “You mean there’s an original one? I thought he made them all in a vat or something.”
“He did,” the healer said. Hana-thingy, whatever his name was. “He made the first one that way, we think, but then he used her for base stock to create all the other ones –“
“It’s gone,” the woman in the tank whispered. Her eyes were wide and utterly hopeless, tears running down from the corners and into her hair. Grimmjow hadn’t seen a face like that since – well, fuck it, he’d never seen a face that utterly bereft. She looked like a Hollow who’d just lost their chain and heart, in that first flush of pain and loss. And he hadn’t seen any newly-born Hollows in a good long while, so why was he bothering to think of that anyhow?
With a shake, he pulled himself out of the wimp-ass memory. “Is this important? Okay, if you want to heal this one that’s fine, but can’t you just hook her vat up to something and leave it till later? We’ve got –“
“Shut your face,” Hisagi snarled, dropping the woman’s hand and coming up at him hard and sudden, shoving into Grimmjow’s personal space. “And keep it shut unless you actually work out what you’re saying. This woman’s had her zanpakutou severed. You got any idea what the hell that means?”
“No,” Grimmjow snarled back. The presence at the back of his mind bared teeth in perfect unison with him. “But if you keep on pushing me, fuckwit, then you’re going to regret it. Tell me so I can understand it. This is bad, right?”
“Yes,” the healer said, not looking up, his voice flat and distant.
Yes, the voice in Grimmjow’s mind hissed.
Grimmjow drew back a little from Hisagi, before the man did something that Grimmjow would just naturally have had to smack him down for. Make yourself useful, then, he thought, and tried not to follow the logical conclusion that was oh-so-annoyingly starting to form. He didn’t have a zanpakutou, because shinigami had zanpakutou and he wasn’t a shinigami, but . . . Explain.
You knew me when you were an Arrancar, the voice said, each word a footfall at the back of his mind, and you forced me out and wore me like armour. Remember? But you were a Hollow then and you didn’t have a heart to hear me or know me. But now you’re healed and I’m still here, and I am laired in you, Grimmjow Jeagerjacques, now I’m the one wearing you, and I know all your secrets.
“Secrets?” he spat.
“No secret,” the healer said. He must have assumed it was a response to him. “Zanpakutou are – well, some people say they’re part of the soul. Certainly they’re very singular to the person, they’re what we –“
“They are a fucking part of the soul,” Hisagi interrupted. “They’re a part of who you are, and any moron who doesn’t acknowledge that gets what he deserves.”
“You’re in a mood to fight,” Grimmjow said. He nodded towards the Nemu. “Was she your woman, or something?”
Hisagi shook his head jerkily in denial. “No. Not her. It’s just – some things are monstrous. Even by your standards, maybe.”
“Was that an insult?”
“No. Fact.” Hisagi jerked a shrug. “We’ve all got different standards, but I think we can all agree here that some things go too far. Or why didn’t you go back to Aizen?”
“You got a point,” Grimmjow said sourly. Though in his case it had been because he knew that Aizen would do some of those ‘monstrous’ things to him, personally, and he hadn’t wanted that, personally. Real personally. He wasn’t sure how much he cared about it being done to someone else. He wouldn’t have let Aizen do it to one of his people – they’d died in battle, and that was a good way to go, but he’d never have handed them over to this. He wouldn’t even want Aizen to do it to Kurosaki Ichigo, or Madarame, or even those other shinigami who were on the mission. His people deserved better than that.
Your people? the voice in his mind said with a vast but clearly faked lack of interest.
Yeah, my people. You got a problem with that?
Just making a point here, Grimmjow. There was an impression of a yawn, a long surge of muscle, and a show of teeth as the thing in his mind began to rouse itself, to move and stretch. You’re mine. I’m yours. Everyone’s got a right to defend their own.
Now that he could agree with. Yeah, he thought, and watched the healer fuss over the Nemu’s body and quite clearly get nowhere with it. And I’ve got no issue with anyone else defending their own. That’s what makes a good fight.
“I can’t do anything,” the healer said, turning round. He shuffled around the vat till it was between him and Hisagi, cringing nervously. “Hisagi-fukutaichou, I’m very sorry, but the linkages are all broken. Kurotsuchi has disconnected all her spiritual energy control points that would normally link the nervous system to the vital energy and reconnected them in a sort of drone operation format –“
“Fix. Her,” Hisagi said.
“I can’t!” The healer grabbed the edge of the vat, leaning forward. “Hisagi-fukutaichou, don’t you think that I would do if I could? I’m Fourth Division! But what’s been done to her is permanent! Kurotsuchi used her as the source material for all the other Nemu in order to create them in the way that he did. I don’t know how he did it and I don’t want to know how he did it, but I don’t know how to fix it either. I don’t even know if Inoue Orihime could fix her, and anyhow she’s opening Aizen’s door --”
Hisagi moved towards him with a fixed glare of fury, but Grimmjow grabbed the other man’s arm before he could reach the healer. “Wait. So he can’t fix it. So maybe someone else can fix it. So we leave her here, she’ll be safe enough, and we come back later –“ He didn’t like this sort of putting shit off, but it wasn’t as if he could fix her, was it?
And maybe he didn’t like what had been done to her, either. This wasn’t a fight. It was . . . nasty. Yes. Nasty would do for a way of describing this sort of shit. Not liking nasty stuff didn’t make him any the less a man or a fighter.
“No,” Nemu whispered.
“Don’t give me any fucking backtalk,” Grimmjow snarled down at her. “This isn’t the time or place for it. If you’ve got something useful to say –“
“I have.” She stirred in the thick green gel that half-filled her vat. “Kurotsuchi-sama . . . father . . . I know what he did. I know what to do.”
Hisagi’s muscles bunched, and he shrugged Grimmjow off (purely because Grimmjow had decided to let him, of course) and stalked over to the vat, ignoring the healer. “You know how to reunite yourself?”
“I know what to do.” Her voice was more focused now, her eyes more certain. “Seventh Seat Hanatarou. Please follow the following instructions.” She rattled off a stream of science babble which went about a mile over Grimmjow’s head, but which set the healer scampering to fix connections and hit switches.
Hisagi took a deep breath of relief. “I knew it could be fixed,” he told Grimmjow. “We just needed to ask the right person.”
“She’s not going to be fit to fight,” Grimmjow pointed out.
“We’ll hide her with the other non-combatants,” Hisagi said dismissively. “But I’m not leaving any of my people behind in this crap. Not any more.”
The healer looked up from where he was fussing over tubes and switches, and gave Hisagi a very cool look. In another man, it might have been an accusation. Hell, with the healer’s reiatsu (on a gauge of Waterfall to Stream, Grimmjow rated it as Just Above Piddling) it was definitely an accusation.
“Don’t give me that,” Hisagi said. He turned to glare at the healer. “You know we didn’t have a choice then.”
“As you say . . . Hisagi-fukutaichou,” the healer said. He went back to fiddling with tubes, and then he frowned. “Kurotsuchi-fukutaichou, I don’t understand the purpose of this arrangement. There is no way that this could sustain your vital levels.”
“I am your superior officer,” Nemu said thinly, her voice as brittle as Aizen’s fanciest teacups. “Do as you are ordered.”
“No,” the healer said, folding his arms. “With respect, ma’am, no.”
“What do you mean?” Grimmjow said, deciding to cut to the fucking point before someone walked up behind them and attacked again.
“This configuration is lethal!” The healer flapped his hand at the controls. He seemed to be the sort of person who always had to be in twitching, cringing motion, cowering away from anyone that got too near. “It’s an open-band like-to-like broadcast, I can tell that much, and it’ll kill you –“
”No damn way!” Hisagi burst out.
“Yes,” Nemu whispered. “Yes, please.”
“We’ll get the Inoue girl,” Hisagi said. “She fixed him –“ He jerked a thumb at Grimmjow. “She can restore you.”
Much as Grimmjow disliked the word fixed in that context, the dumbass had a point. If Inoue Orihime could wave her hands and sort Nemu out, like she’d sorted out Kurosaki, then that’d please everyone.
He strode forward to glare down into the woman’s vat. “Pull yourself together,” he ordered. There wasn’t anything remotely sexy about her. She was skin and bones, barely alive, with her rib cage harsh against the lines of her chest and her hip joints painfully prominent a bit lower down. Normally he’d have felt some sort of desire when looking at a naked woman, even when he’d been a Hollow . . .
Tell me about it, the voice at the back of his mind said with a sigh.
But she was all drained dry. There was no attraction or vitality left about her. It was all –
It’s gone somewhere else, the voice supplied. They cut her zanpakutou out of her and then drained her of her soul through the hole it left behind.
“It’s all gone,” Nemu said. She looked up at him, her eyes hollow and distracted. “There’s only one way. I have to die, all of me has to die, and then I’ll be together again. Even if Inoue Orihime restores me here, then all the rest of me will keep on living, all set apart, all bleeding at the soul, and they don’t know it. They don’t even know it.”
“But you’ll be dead,” Grimmjow pointed out in case she’d missed this fact.
“Look at me,” she said, and that was all. It wasn’t the wreck of her body, or the pain in her face, but it was her utter helplessness as she lay there, having to beg them for help, having to crawl to them for ease. Grimmjow wouldn’t have begged for help from anyone, friend or enemy, and far less taken it. To hear it now from someone who’d once been strong enough to be a vice-captain of the Gotei 13, who were enemies but had been strong enemies . . . it turned his stomach.
“There must be something you can do,” Hisagi said, but there was a shadow of doubt in his voice, a whisper of despair. “Think, Nemu! Put your fucking brain to it! You were Kurotsuchi’s daughter –“
“I know what he did to me,” Nemu said. She swallowed. Her throat worked. “Nobody knows it better. Seventh Seat Hanatarou. Press that switch.”
“Don’t you dare,” Hisagi said, his hand clenching on the hilt of his sword. He hadn’t stopped touching the thing since he’d been in here.
Grimmjow turned to him with a snarl, balancing on the balls of his feet. “Look, fuckwit, I know she was one of your people, but think about it. Can you fix her so she can fight with us?”
“That’s not the point!” Hisagi shouted in his face.
“Fine. Then can you heal her?”
“Of course I can’t heal her!”
Grimmjow slid forward, right into Hisagi’s personal space. “Then are you going to look her in the eye and tell her that she’s going to have to fucking lie there, in pain and begging for help, till we can find someone who might, might be able to fix her, when the best person that we’ve got here says that she can’t be fixed? And that’s assuming we manage to kill Aizen and actually live ourselves?”
Something broke. Hisagi drew a deep, ragged breath and turned away, his back to Grimmjow.
“Right,” Grimmjow said. “I thought not.”
“Nemu –“ Hisagi began.
“It’s not your fault, Hisagi-fukutaichou,” the woman whispered, her voice thready and thin. “None of it was your fault. I was weak. Let me go.”
The healer hesitated.
“You.” Grimmjow grabbed Hisagi’s shoulder. “You were her friend, right? You do it.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Hisagi demanded, his hand coming up to grab Grimmjow’s wrist. “I can’t –“
“She can’t go out fighting,” Grimmjow explained, with great patience, though he would rather have smacked the fuckwit around the head till he got the message. “She was one of your people. It’s your job.”
Hisagi turned to the healer. “Tell me there’s something that can be done,” he said. “There must be.”
The healer swallowed. Then he raised his eyes, and spoke with more courage than Grimmjow would have given him credit for. “I never really knew her, Hisagi-fukutaichou, but she served alongside you. If this is the real Kurotsuchi Nemu – and I think it is – then what Kurotsuchi Mayuri did to her wasn’t her fault. And if this is the only help we can give, then . . .” He hesitated. “I didn’t know her. I don’t know what she would have chosen.”
“I’m not sure anyone knew her,” Hisagi said, barely audible. “Perhaps if Nanao –“
Grimmjow didn’t say what he thought of an attempt to shift responsibility like that. He didn’t need to. He just looked at the man, feeling the presence at the back of his mind rise up around him and shake out its mane and gaze down with cold contemptuous eyes.
“Fine!” Hisagi shoved Grimmjow back. “Fine. Nemu. Listen, woman. Hanatarou, give me that fucking button. Nemu, I would have restored you if you could, I would have given you back to her. I want you to believe that. I want you to tell me that you honestly believe that I would have done it.” His face was white, and his eyes burned like dead volcanoes. “Do you hear me?”
“I hear you, Hisagi-fukutaichou,” Nemu said. The last of her strength showed through in her voice as she struggled for calm. “I acknowledge this. You would have saved me. It is not your fault that I cannot be saved. I thank you. I thank you all. You are setting me free.”
“Kurotsuchi-fukutaichou,” the healer said, and bowed his head.
Hisagi hit the button with a curse.
There was nothing dramatic to it. The lights on the vat flickered and went out, and the woman’s eyes closed, and her breathing stopped. Grimmjow would have liked to see more than that: to see her smile, or frown, or to have something blow up. But sometimes a death was just a death, and that was all you got.
Not his business, anyhow.
“Come on,” he said. “You two should be getting back. There aren’t any more to fight down this way. We came to fight Aizen, didn’t we?”
“And Kurotsuchi himself might return,” the healer said. He looked around nervously. “I don’t know where he is, but I don’t think it would be very good if he found us here.”
“Yeah? I kind of wish he would do,” Hisagi spat. “I wouldn’t mind the chance to do a bit of it to him too.”
“Moron,” Grimmjow drawled. “Pick your fights better.”
Hisagi snorted. “Am I hearing that right? From you?”
“Damn right,” Grimmjow said. “First rule is, remember who you came to fucking fight in the first place. Or have you forgotten that?”
Hisagi stared at him for a long moment, then shook himself like a dog coming out of water. His hand tightened on his sword hilt. “Yeah, you’ve got a point there. But when that’s done, Kurotsuchi’s going down.”
“Yeah,” Grimmjow agreed. “I might help with that one.”
“It’s my fight –“ Hisagi began.
“You fight a man,” Grimmjow pointed out. “But you don’t fight a piece of crap. You just dispose of it. Kurotsuchi is a piece of crap.”
“Gentlemen, please . . .” the healer murmured. “Hisagi-fukutaichou, Grimmjow-san . . .”
“Right. Let’s get moving.” Grimmjow led the way to the door, eager to get back to where the important stuff was going on. Once he was sure the other two were following, he ignored them.
You’re my zanpakutou, aren’t you? he asked the voice inside his head.
Finally he figures it out, the voice sighed.
And if I lost you, would I end up like her?
Possibly. Possibly not. Not in that way, anyhow.
Fucking lot of use you are.
Go lick your ass at someone else, the voice suggested. There’s no need to give me that sort of temper. I know you and you know me. Not like some people. There was a shadow to the voice, a shift of tone, that made Grimmjow think that the reference was very specific, but he didn’t get it.
So I can rely on you?
I’m not going away any time soon.
Damn right, Grimmjow thought.
He knew the voice’s name now. What had been outside was now inside, sealed tight into his newly-remade heart, and to be honest, to be utterly and brutally honest, it didn’t feel bad. It felt right for it to be there. It felt . . . good.
Yes. That was the strange thing. It felt good.
But for the moment, he had his people to see to; his people, and his fights, and his revenge.