After his death, Ulquiorra reincarnated into the Soul Society along with several other Espada, including the loud mouth Grimmjow. Now as he adjusts to life in the Seiretei, he also needs to work through his harsh memories of Hueco Mundo and lingering beliefs that are unnecessary now.
He stared down Ichigo, blind to his own body’s pain when suddenly the wings on his back, so natural to him, began to fade to ashes. And Ulquiorra could feel the rest of him fading along with it. He regarded the dust already beginning to fade into the distance with a peculiar look in his eye.
“So, this is how it ends?” His blank green eyes locked onto the human’s in the next instant. “Kill me, Ichigo. You don’t have much time left, I won’t resist you. I don’t even have the strength to walk. If you don’t take this opportunity now, our duel will remain unsettled forever.” He watched the bright-haired human, struggle within himself for several moments. The human stared at him in utter disbelief.
“I can’t do it.” The words shocked Ulquiorra.
“What are you saying?” he inquired coldly.
“I don’t want to, not like this…It’s wrong. This is not the way I want to defeat you!” The human was panting, out of rage or fatigue, Ulquiorra would never know which. He felt his eyes widen in shock as the green faded abruptly from the whites of his eyes. He turned his gaze away.
“To the very end, you just won’t do what I want.”
His focus switched then, to the girl, still clothed in a tattered arrancar uniform, staring at him with forever oddly telling eyes. “And just when I was finally becoming, a little intrigued, with the way you people behaved.” The humans made no sense, but he suddenly found himself aching to know, to understand the girl’s words from before. To understand what pushed her. Why she believed so much in something he couldn’t understand. Unconsciously, Ulquiorra’s hand lifted towards the girl. Mimicking himself from once before.
“So let me ask you again girl. Are you afraid of me?”
“No, I am not afraid.” Something in her eyes shifted, catching the espada’s attention. “Really I’m not.” In that moment, he saw, something deeper than they eye, into what could only beCALLED a soul. That it was true. And this time,
The tips of her fingers brushed across his, the lightest of touches. Then the feeling was gone and Ulquiorra felt himself fading away. As his hearing and sight of Hueco Mundo and the humans began to wither away. I see now, in the palm of my hand…Is a heart.
Ulquiorra didn’t like sleeping. He hadn’t really as an arrancar. Now it simply gave him a means to remember things from a world he struggled to understand. Already, he was coming to learn about all he could in the Soul Society. He’d come to the conclusion long ago, that his former life in Hueco Mundo, would never truly disappear. He once briefly considered asking Starrk, who had beaten him in returning to the world as a soul with the child, Lilynette, by his side.
He wouldn’t though. It had become quite obvious Starrk was avoiding the past. He’d begun living amongst the shinigami, with them and no longer alone. Ulquiorra frequently spotted him lounging around sleeping with Kyouraku-taichou. The two were fitting to one another apparently. The child was nothing but a child, he refused to ask her.
That left one other person for him to ask, and the answer wouldn’t be easy to attain.
A slap on his back made Ulquiorra tense and a frown cross his pale features. “Will you ever stop brooding?” The gruff voice demanded obnoxiously. “I swear, you’re the quietest fucker around here, but you’re thinking constantly.”
“Maybe if you would be silent for a moment. Except I doubt any thoughts go through your skull.” Ulquiorra replied tersely turning to look at the spiky, blue-haired man beside him. There was a sharp smirk settled on his face.
Grimmjow held a hand to his chest, “You wound me. Yes, I’m an idiot, how will I ever go on. Get a new insult, Ulqui-chan.”
Ulquiorra’s eyes tightened, narrowing to dangerous green slits at the irritating nickname and honorific. But he didn’t attack him. Didn’t put a cero through his skull, because there was no need. Suddenly, Grimmjow let out a boisterous laugh.
“Ah there’s that murderous expression. Thought the fighter in you was still there. C’mon,” And he grabbed hold of Ulquiorra’s forearm and proceeded to pull him away from the gardens. His protests were albeit mild and slightly disconnected. Sometimes, after another frustrating attempt at sleep especially, fighting or arguing with Grimmjow was overly tiresome. Besides, the moment the taller man became distracted, Ulquiorra would simply shunpo away. That was an art he’d mastered with utter ease within the Soul Society. As he imagined where he might run off to that would take Grimmjow long enough to find him, the loud mouth began speaking again.
“You should come down to the Eleventh Division with me sometime,” He began. “Now those bastards are fun to fight. If they weren’t around I’d almost miss Nnoitora if the guy hadn’t been such an asshole.”
“That, and he was the one to kill you.” Ulquiorra reminded him. He deftly ignored the glare Grimmjow sent him for the comment.
As they moved along the pathways in Seiretei, Ulquiorra pondered over where exactly they were headed. He could sense many reiatsu in the direction they were going. “What’s going on…”
They entered one of the divisions, Ulquiorra had missed which one, but among the gardens, there were people scattered everywhere. Starrk was there as well, speaking with the Eighth Division captain, Kyouraku. Ulquiorra was surprised when he spotted the human, Ichigo, amongst them. He glanced to Grimmjow who was already beginning to move forward. The blue-haired man glanced back over at him.
“It’s just their own make up festival or something, because of the fight against Aizen, it was missed. So they decided to have a party or some shit here now that they’ve got the chance.”
Only because he wasn’t sure what else to do now, Ulquiorra followed after Grimmjow, hiding his hands in his pockets, not bothering to fix it when his bangs fell in front of his eyes. There were many strong reiatsu present, plenty of captain and lieutenant levels along with the human’s. Somehow, Ulquiorra found himself comparing it to the way things had been at Los Noches. Laughter and smiles were all around him now, whereas before they’d seemed incomprehensible. Any effort made in Hueco Mundo to interact was empty to him before. That emptiness wasn’t quite there. Instead, as people greeted he and Grimmjow, a pleasant sensation settled in his chest at the sight of their smiles.
“Holy shit, is that a pleasant expression on your pale face?” Grimmjow’s obnoxious voice grumbled in his ear. Ulquiorra shot a perfectory elbow jab neatly in between the taller man’s ribs. The wince in Grimmjow’s face might’ve made up for Ulquiorra’s annoyance if it also made him shut up. “You like them, just admit it, you hardass.”
“Can you manage to not curse for a single sentence,” Ulquiorra muttered, silently hoping to distract Grimmjow while he also began walking away from him.
“Nope.” Then Grimmjow sighed, he threw an arm lazily over Ulquiorra’s shoulders. For a moment he brought his face inches from Ulquiorra’s. Then his breath was brushing over the former-espada’s ear, voice husky and daring. “I’ll leave you alone then, but if you leave I’ll hunt you down.” He proceeded to capture Ulquiorra’s lips in a rough, searing kiss, stealing the ability to react and breath all at once. Except Ulquiorra didn’t bother to shove him away. Then Grimmjow was gone, off with the crowd with a shout as he no doubt spotted the third seat he enjoyed fighting so much.
Ulquiorra’s expression darkened and he rolled his eyes. Yes, the one true reminder of who Grimmjow was, impulsive, destructive and absolutely refused to hold back on what he wanted to do. Somehow, Ulquiorra had thought that might change when he reincarnated. Instead, he showed the traits just as freely. Possibly less lethally. Why he’d chosen Ulquiorra to taunt, tease and fight back then, he didn’t know. The raven-haired man didn’t care enough about the why to mull over it for too long. But he was slowly deciding the longer he spent here, the less he minded it.
“He sure is affectionate with you.” A light, feminine voice spoke up from behind Ulquiorra. He turned in surprise to find her, Inoue. The girl truly hadn’t changed much, except now she smiled instead of stared at him with a solemn expression. But her gaze wasn’t on him, it was where Grimmjow had disappeared to. His eyes narrowed at the meaning behind her words.
“Affectionate?” he questioned. “Tch, girl, you will always be a strange creature.”
If possible, her smile grew and she began walking, motioning for him to follow. He followed. “How come you let him do that then?” A particularly dry look from Ulquiorra answered the question for Orihime and she let out a bright laugh. She paused to nod in greeting to Rangiku before focusing back to Ulquiorra. “You could be affectionate to him too, Ulquiorra-san.”
At this, Ulquiorra outright balked. His bright eyes widened in disbelief. The suggestion was completely insane. He grumbled as much to the girl. “No one needs to show such things, it’s empty and pointless.” You couldn’t do that, people killed things you liked or showed favour towards, simply out of spite. It was ridiculous. Ulquiorra knew, because he’d acted the same way. He’d used Inoue against Kurosaki just as readily. And it hadn’t been the first time.
Then a soft, smooth hand touched his arm. A familiar touch from its gentleness. This time though, it stayed, steady and strong against his upper arm. They both came to a halt in walking as Ulquiorra turned to stare at her. She was looking at him strangely.
“Ulquiorra, things are different now. Those kinds of gestures might have been empty as an arrancar. They may have meant nothing to you then. But things are different, you need to see that.” Her face suddenly lit back up again. And she tilted her head, gesturing lightly towards where Grimmjow was arguing with the third seat, Ikkaku. They began wrestling half-heartedly, all the while Grimmjow was smiling sharply. “You can show him you care now. Then if someone were to hurt him, you could protect him.” Her words followed with ease along his thoughts. It might have been because of that that more than he meant to say came out of his lips.
“I need to let it go? All those memories are still there though. They aren’t gone, neither are my previous actions. Not all I did was honourable, something they cherish here.”
“But you see that. Try to stop fighting yourself, you don’t have to forget the past, but it’s okay to move on from it to.” Another gentle smile and she patted him lightly on the shoulder. “I’m going to go find Rukia-chan. See you later!”
He nodded to her and then she was gone. For a moment, Ulquiorra swept over all his memories of his time as an arrancar. Very little of it was good. None of it was something he enjoyed recalling anymore. Especially now that he had come to where he was now. But the girl, young as she was, was incredibly right. And he was only fighting against himself. WIth a sigh and a shake of his head, he shoved his hands a bit further into his pockets and stepped forward. He settled by the fifth seat, Yumichika’s, side. The shinigami swept a glance over to him, he looked over at the pair fighting then back at Ulquiorra with an eyeroll. But a smile brightened Yumichika’s expression. Ulquiorra didn’t fight the smallest of twitches at the corner of his lip. Only shook his head while looking at Grimmjow with his own exasperation.
Lesson Number 2: It’s about knowing when to keep fighting and when to let go. About acknowledging what has happened and moving on anyways.