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In Which Hanataro Has a Series of Unfortunate Experiences

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I.

Hanataro didn’t really like to hope for anybody to get hurt. It was unkind, and not very becoming of a healer anyway. But when he’d felt the impact ripping at his own spirit form, Hanataro had genuinely hoped that the sheer force of the explosion had been sufficient to kill Aizen and all of his arrancar. He wasn’t fussy about it being fast and painless, just as long as they ended up dead.

Hanataro was a seventh seat - he wasn’t very confident and he was no good for combat, but he had a strong will - when he used it - and a relatively large amount of reiatsu. He could heal for hours if he had to. If he’d felt the blast tearing apart the particles that made him up…

Suffice to say, a lot of the shinigami who’d been remotely near ground zero had to be gone.

Honestly, Hanataro had thought he was one of them.

…Until he woke up.

That, in itself, was kind of a pleasant surprise.

He took a breath and almost reversed that good fortune: apparently he was drowning in some kind of hideous white goo.

Hacking, choking and sputtering, Hanataro emerged with burning lungs and a red face from a vat of… something. He clung to one stone edge and gasped for air, and then when he felt like he could almost breathe, he wormed his way up higher to see what was going on.

His ears were ringing and his eyes hurt, weird lights and flashes popping off before them. It wasn’t that surprising: his most recent memory was of fire and light and a thunderous boom; streaming winds boiling and debris flying – and then a jagged tear in the sky, black ravenous nothingness bleeding into the air like spilled ink – hungry, so hungry, and –

Oh.

Oh.

“Oh, no,” murmured Hanataro, squinting at the landscape surrounding his huge stone vat.

His heart rate abruptly skyrocketed.

“Oh, no,” he choked out again, shuddering. He pulled himself awkwardly up higher.

For as far as the eye could see stretched an endless desert. The moon shone white and full in an inky sky, and its pale light leeched every colour from the world.

The dunes were white, pristine, and… empty.

He knew what he was looking at.

Somehow Hanataro had landed himself in Hueco Mundo.

Hanataro toppled over the side of the vat and yelped as he crashed face-first into the sand.

“Ahhhhh,” he said weakly, flailing his arms in distress.

Not too far away, something… grunted, in response.

Hanataro scrambled to his feet in response to that noise. He squelched softly in the goop from the vat. It was stuck to him all over, weirdly viscous and pale and heavy, like some kind of ivory-coloured clay. He dashed a hand across his face to clear the view. Where–?

There was something there, half buried below the stark white sands – a pale outstretched hand, a splash of pink.

“A-ano…” Hanataro stumbled closer. He could feel reiatsu, enough to be at least lieutenant level… Higher, maybe. After a point a person’s brain just registered ‘big’, and without others for comparison it was hard to say. “Kusajishi-fukuta…ich…ou?”

He frowned, trailing off when he finally scraped enough of the sand away. It wasn’t Kusajishi. Too big.

Hanataro paused, looking the prone body over. All of the arrancar had holes where their soul chains should have been, just like any other hollow. He’d seen them upon the field of battle. Even after he cautiously cleared away the sand, he couldn’t see any such hole, so really…

Hanataro chewed his lower lip.

He hesitated.

It wasn’t a shinigami he knew, but there had been a number of others at the site: vizards, humans with powers, even a Quincy or two. He didn’t know all of those who had been their allies in this.

In the end he thought it was probably cowardice that decided him: whoever they were, they had a lot of reiatsu and didn’t seem to be a hollow. For a weak shinigami stuck in Hueco Mundo, that was more than enough to consider him an ally, however shaky that alliance.

(He did kind of hope it wasn’t a Quincy, though. They were mean, even when they’d been on the same side… But then this person was wearing white, so maybe he was…)

He carefully rolled the stranger over – pointed face, glasses that had somehow survived that explosion – and with a frightened determination he began to heal.

It was almost an hour later that Hanataro sat back on his knees in the sand and exhaled peacefully. It wasn’t perfect, but there was no denying his much better the Quincy was. He’d—

Hanataro froze.

One pale, long fingered hand had reached up and grabbed his hair in a hard fist.

He made a low, uncertain noise, and–

–and he realised his mistake when his patient opened his eyes. They were clear and focused, golden-amber, too bright to be properly human. He still wouldn’t have gotten it if he hadn’t abruptly noticed that the glasses had no lenses.

Because they weren’t glasses.

They were a mask.

“Well, well,” murmured the hollow in a very, very scary voice.

“Urk,” said Hanataro.

He took the opportunity to panic.

 


II.

Hanataro found his head drawn back on his neck awkwardly, exposing his throat. He flailed his hands in front of himself, trying to get a grip on anything that wasn’t the hollow. Of course, everything else was made of sand, and --

A pale hand snatched his wrist. Hanataro flailed his other arm harder, like that would somehow make up for the immobilised one.

While Hanataro was panicking, the hollow was examining and adjusting. “I was gravely injured at the time of the blast. You’re a proficient healer,” said the hollow curiously.

Hanataro’s response was best described as eep. With a question mark: eep?

The hollow hummed thoughtfully. He sat up, and it seemed like it was completely incidental that he was still holding Hanataro’s wrist in a grip like a vise. “Interesting. Regeneration is common, but healing others is unusual for any hollow.”

“You think I’m a hollow?” Hanataro squeaked.

The hollow -- the actual hollow -- gave him a look so vastly and toweringly superior that it actually came close to offending him.

Then he clenched his hand, breaking Hanataro’s wrist with a terrible wrenching shock. He yelped, yanked painfully away -- he lost some hair, too -- and clutched his arm to his chest, staring at the hollow with wide, wild eyes.

He did that for half a second, and then Hanataro leapt to his feet and began to run. A wind howled across the empty desert without anything to break its terrible ferocity, and sand flew all around. Running was hard, covered in strange goo and -- Hanataro never should have done it to begin with, he thought, and where was Hisagomaru? How --

Something took his legs out from under him and Hanataro saw nothing but sand and inky sky and glowing moon.

A shadow moved somewhere over him. Hanataro flinched, rolled, stumbled and gathered his energy. “Byakurai!”

And maybe his combat kido weren’t, you know, as concentrated or strong as others’ but he was actually very good at magic, and --

-- and he felt a little shiver of despair when it literally bounced off his attacker. He swallowed.

“Shunpo, isn’t it? Yes, I’ve documented it. And shinigami magic, kido... strange. Where did a hollow even learn...” he paused, frowning thoughtfully at Hanataro, who was taking the opportunity to inch away.

Maybe if he was really careful the hollow wouldn’t notice him edging out of his range.

Hanataro genuinely didn’t remember seeing this one amid the melee -- but honestly, the only arrancar he’d really paid attention to were that huge, tanned one with the jawbone, and the screaming one with the blue hair. Everything else was a blur at best, and he’d been a lot more focused on healing his own side of the fight.

“How could something like you even become one of us?” he looked torn between fascination and taking a great deal of offence.

“What are you talking about?” Hanataro squeaked.

He received no useful answer, just another disdainful expression, like Hanataro was too absurdly stupid to exist and he was making the hollow’s life really difficult or something.

“So you’re incapable of healing yourself?" asked the hollow, narrowing his eyes at Hanataro’s wrist. “You’re not regenerating, either.”

“I -- No?”

A pause.

Then: “Well?”

“Well what?”

“Heal it. I want to watch.”

“You --” He wanted to watch? “You want to watch?” Hanataro repeated weakly.

“At least try to keep up.” The hollow sighed a huge sigh and pressed a hand dramatically to his head as though dealing with Hanataro’s continued existence was a chore that was physically paining him.

“I can cause a more urgent injury, if you prefer,” he suggested, slinking forward, and --

“No, no, I can -- no,” Hanataro yelped, backing away as the hollow came inexorably forward. “I’m doing it! Look, I’m -- I’m healing it. Look.”

He raised his hand over his own injured wrist, ignoring the heavy sludge stuck to his everything. It took him an unusual amount of effort to concentrate his reiatsu into a healing kido, but he did it.

The hollow stared at him with a terrifying intensity, which very nearly ruined Hanataro’s concentration.

It was exhausting. Healing one’s own body always was, but he hadn’t remembered it being this exhausting. Still, most of Hanataro’s injuries day to day were scrapes and bruises and the occasional broken bone from an eleventh division shinigami, or occasionally a prank from an upperclassman gone wrong -- and these were easy enough to take to other fourth-divisioners to heal. He’d do the same for them, after all.

“Hollows aren’t supposed to be able to do that,” he said slowly, eyeing Hanataro like he was something new and strange and fascinating, like a butterfly soon to be pinned under glass.

Hanataro swallowed. “I’m not -- I’m a shinigami.”

The hollow reached forward again, and he seemed to enjoy the flinch he engendered, but all he did was poke at Hanataro, somewhere on the lower left of his abdomen, which was... strangely sensitive. He felt the scrape of foreign spiritual energy and looked down.

...the hollow’s fingertip was dipped delicately into his body, where a small but distinct hollow hole had formed.

That was definitely new.

He... didn’t know what to do.

“You really didn’t know,” said the hollow, sounding oddly -- and unkindly -- delighted. “That would explain why you seem to be so well-equipped with useless shinigami skills,” he added.
There was something almost, er, romantically, excited about his breathy voice when he stared at Hanataro like he’d just been handed the moon on a platter. “Oh, this is fascinating. I was just going to eat you, but now I can't wait to get my hands all over you --”

“Um,” said Hanataro, with emphasis.

The last thing he saw was the genuine, startlingly happy smile that broke over the hollow’s face.

Then a sudden movement, and blackness and oblivion.


 

III. 

Hanataro woke up strapped to a metal table and flinching under bright lights.

He inhaled the smell of something sterile, felt tired and sore with his spiritual power ground down low.

He could almost feel Kurotsuchi watching him. His skin crawled and shivered.

"Stay still, Shinigami-kun," said a voice he couldn't place. He'd heard it before, but it didn't have a name. His head hurt.

He couldn't think of what he'd done to end up boxed in by the gleaming metal and halogen lights of the Twelfth’s laboratories. Shinigami of the Fourth usually drew lots to decide who would clean their waste management systems -- with the privilege going to the loser.

Mostly Unohana-taichou was pretty good at retrieving missing shinigami, but...

Sometimes they weren’t missed for days.

Hanataro didn’t want to be one of them. A distant beeping noise, measuring his energy output, began to rise to a rapid whine.

"Your fascinating biology has metabolised the anaesthetic almost precisely when I predicted." The voice was definitely not anybody he could think to name from the Twelfth. “That’s to be expected, considering my genius. You can calm down. I haven’t taken anything you’d miss this time.”

The comment didn't sound right, anyway. Kurotsuchi referred to his test subjects by a project name and subject number, and he required all his staff to do the same. By and large he considered anaesthetic to be an unnecessary expense in his research budget.

Hanataro cracked open his eyes again and tilted his head down far enough to see the tall, pink-haired man doing something mildly but decidedly painful to the lower part of his chest, which was covered in a thin carapace of... bone, maybe. It was cracked in several places, showing a the shinigami shihakushou beneath.

He shivered and swallowed nervously. "Um," he got out, sounding oddly high pitched. The pain in his chest spiked again. Where was he? What was...

It took him a moment, but then memories filtered like sunlight into Hanataro's mind, and he blinked stupidly.

The explosion. Hueco Mundo, arrancar -- he wasn’t inside the Twelfth’s labs. Kurotsuchi Mayuri was in another realm, perhaps dead, and he was as far away as it was possible to get from the Twelfth division.

The whining beeping sounds of the machine settled and slowed.

The arrancar paused, glancing between the machine’s output and Hanataro with a furrow in his brow. “You’ve calmed.”

“I...” Hanataro was so confused. He‘d seen hollows captured by Twelfth before -- and even by Eleventh, one memorable time when Yachiru had asked for a pony for her birthday -- but... now he was a shinigami, captured by hollows, and... “Ano... What did you do?”

This appeared to be the right question, because the arrancar preened. It was completely bizarre. “Saketsu and hakusui,” he purred, rather as though Hanataro might not know what he was talking about, “are the vital points of a shinigami’s power.”

That was what the pain was. Hanataro twitched with alarm, and was rewarded by another spiky stabbing pain in his chest when the arrancar continued whatever he was doing there. “Ahhh, no, don’t --!”

“Oh, no, no no, Shinigami-kun, not that,” he interrupted, fluttering one hand toward Hanataro’s chest. “You’re far too interesting to break just yet.”

He looked upon Hanataro with a kind of breathless excitement, and frankly the phrase ‘just yet’ was seriously contributing to Hanataro’s rising heart rate. He swallowed. “Um,” he said.

The hollow licked his lips. It looked like an unconscious gesture, but there was also something discomforting and obscene about it. “Your assumption is founded on a faulty premise. It’s true that piercing the binding chain and the soul sleep would ordinarily cause an irreversible loss of any shinigami powers, but I am not bound by the petty concerns of lesser beings.” He lifted his chin. “I have devised a way.”

There was another stabbing pain, and then something snapped in a way that didn’t add pain, exactly, but certainly didn’t feel right. “I have taken several samples to test. You will recover with time and food, of course.”

He put a possessive hand upon Hanataro’s stomach. His skin ran a few degrees hotter and the touch made him twitch. “You are... unique, Shinigami-kun. I would not damage you prematurely.”

Hanataro really wished he’d stop implying that there was going to be some future damage here. He did not want to be "damaged".

“Hollows -- including arrancar -- are incapable of healing each other directly with spiritual energy in the way shinigami do,” he went on blithely, in the tone of a person who desperately loved to hear himself talk. “Many regenerate, and a very few can apply their own fluids to others to promote a weak healing response. But you, Shinigami-kun. You retain your binding chain, and your soul sleep is still generating and regulating reishi within a normal range for a shinigami. This is what allows you to apply your healing skills to another hollow...”

He finished whatever he was doing and drew back. “That should be sufficient.”

Hanataro took a risk and glanced down, where he found... sutures. Huh. They were decidedly not the stitches of a professional medic, but they were neat enough.

He felt like he should thank the hollow, but then he also felt like he should run away at the earliest opportunity.

There wasn’t actually anywhere to run.

Inconvenient.

Hanataro’s face was itching like crazy, and when he scratched, he dislodged a large chunk of white bone. A... oh. A hollow mask. A hollow mask. He prodded the lower left side of his abdomen, where the hole remained. It hadn’t just been some kind of strange dream.

He wondered if he’d ever be able to go home like this.

Probably not.

He wondered if anybody had missed him yet.

He doubted it.

Bleak thoughts would get him nowhere. Instead, Hanataro levered himself carefully into a sitting position, under the hollow’s watchful golden eyes. His chest was really only a minor pain, now that the hollow had stopped stabbing needles into it, but there was something beyond that -- he could access his reiatsu just fine, but it was... sore, aching, cramping. Something wasn’t quite right with it.

He really hoped the hollow was right, and he’d recover over time.

He pushed that thought away. Now was not the time to panic. “Where am I?” he asked quietly. “And, um...”

“Ah, of course. Your dim-witted little mind couldn’t possibly have deduced such a thing about your own situation. You are in my own research facility, just inside Las Noches, and I am Szayelaporro Granz,” he introduced himself with a flourish. “Octava espada, not that it matters anymore.”

Hanataro was ready to protest (gently, shiveringly) at being called stupid, but then the word Octava filtered through.

Eighth? Eighth? He was one of Aizen’s Espada?

Oh.

That was bad.

Hanataro swallowed. No wonder he hadn’t been able to outrun him. He’d known he was stronger, but... He’d been briefed, as had everyone else: espada were the top ten; the rough equivalent of shinigami captains.

He felt a little bit queasy.

“It-- it doesn’t?”

“Hmm, no. Aizen’s artificial ranking system forced the arrancar into certain social patterns we are unlikely to duplicate without him. Starrk, perhaps, could enforce something... but he wouldn’t. Too much work. And I have no interest, personally, in whatever those dull creatures get up to.” He waved one hand dismissively. “I’m best left to my own research. Which means... you,” he added, smiling, eyes narrowing behind his deceptively delicate mask.

Hanataro swallowed. “Um.”

“Now,” he drawled, edging closer. “There are so very many experiments I need to conduct. When I broke your bones, it was evidently more difficult for you to fix them than it had been to fix mine. I theorise that several factors make it more difficult: one, and most relevant, would be that you are using precisely the energy that would shore up your injury to direct the healing kidou into that injury, which results in a much slower rate of healing; and two, your state of mind, which is doubtless more panicked when your own body is attacked.”

“You... broke my wrist just so you could...” Hanataro quailed, but also flushed red. “You could have asked!” he cried, and he was not quite sure if he was shaking because he was annoyed or because he was distressed.

Szayelaporro looked distinctly unimpressed. He clicked his tongue. “Certainly not. I find the qualitative reports of subjects to be extremely unreliable.”

Hanataro opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. Then he opened it again to speak... and then he closed it again. There was no protest he could make that he could see being at all acceptable to the hollow.

“Does that gesture mean something?”

“Wh-What?”

Szayelaporro rolled his eyes. “This gesture, with your mouth. Does it have some... cultural significance? I assure you, it is meaningless among arrancar.”

“I...” Hanataro stopped. “No,” he said finally.

“Then stop.” He sniffed disdainfully. “It would be best for these experiments if you were minimally cooperative,” Szayelaporro told him, quite as though his cooperation was at best an afterthought; a short sigh in what seemed likely to become a rather long story. “To that end, have you any questions?”

“I...” want to go home, Hanataro thought, staring straight back at his -- his captor, he supposed.

He couldn’t go home with a hollow hole. He’d be killed on sight.

He wasn’t sure he’d live much longer than that if he stayed here either though.

He opened his mouth to ask, carefully, what the Octava Espada -- oh dear, oh no, oh that’s not good -- had planned for him in the long term, but he was interrupted by a thunderous crash and the bellow of a voice.

He... actually did know that one. He’d heard that one before.

That was the crazy screaming arrancar with the blue hair. He’d heard him yelling at Ichigo on the field, about only wanting to fight those who were ‘worthy’ or something, which...

His train of thought derailed completely when the door -- he hadn’t even noticed a door -- slammed open and roughly sixty per cent of a hollow... well, he wanted to say he ‘stormed’ in because that was definitely the sentiment associated with his expression but... more accurately, he stumbled grouchily inside.

Slightly less than two thirds of him was intact, and the rest was smouldering burns. One side of his face had a heavy bone jaw and a blue eye; the other was a blackish, blistered mess. He had one leg, and one awkwardly braced... thing, strips of strange flesh leaking reiatsu, blood trailing across the floor in his wake -- and he was leaking power, flooding the air and sending Szayelaporro’s equipment wild. In one corner, something sparked.

Hanataro didn’t gag, but only because he was thoroughly inured to really awful injuries. The smell alone made him nervous.

“Grimmjow.” Szayelaporro looked, at best, annoyed. “I don’t have time for this,” he declared.

The unburned arm whipped out and snagged him by the shoulder, long deft fingers digging in, and this new hollow - Grimmjow -- snarled, burned lips peeling back to show bloodied teeth. “Make time.

It was brief and minute, but there was a flinch somewhere behind Szayelaporro’s hard golden gaze. Which meant, what? Was this hollow more powerful?

They certainly seemed at least as reasonable as most of the Eleventh division, which meant they were probably reasonably unlikely to eat people who helped them... And so perhaps this could be Hanataro’s ticket out of this laboratory?

Maybe he could escape from this one, instead? He was injured and seemed less wary. There was nothing but the bleak endless desert outside, but that was a bridge to cross when he came to it.

More energy flared from the burned one, and it seethed, wild and heavy in the air -- how was he still so powerful? Was it because the mask was still intact on one side of his face, or--?

“Wait,” said Hanataro, spotting an opening and diving for it, heedless of the immediate danger, “there are no healers here?” A pause. “You -- You’re the healer?” Sure, his stitches were neat, but it was obvious from the start that this researcher had more practice investigating the insides of dead things than fixing the living.

“I assure you, I excel at any task I turn my hand to, be it proper research or the mundane skill of healing,” Szayelapporo informed him loftily.

“The hell are you?” Blue eye. So blue. And also scary bananas. Hanataro swallowed, glad that the instruments in here were so confounded by the blue -- by Grimmjow’s reiatsu that they couldn’t reveal his skyrocketing heart rate.

“I -- I think I can fix that,” he said, and Szayelaporro stiffened. After a moment, he clicked his tongue. That face was definitely annoyed.

Grimmjow’s eye narrowed.

He cut a glance toward the other arrancar, who was already looking put out but resigned.

“Ugh, fighting you for him would be a waste of my time and energy,” he said haughtily. “Bring him back when you’re done, Sexta. He’s an anomaly, and I will not be pleased if he’s ...damaged.”

And then he turned away, temporarily content with his theories and samples.

Sexta? Hanataro thought faintly, but then a huge hand clamped down upon his shoulder and that burned face flashed him a grin like a pirate. A nightmare pirate. One with half a face and bones on his jaw.

(So actually not that much like a pirate after all.)

“Um,” said Hanataro.

“Were you thinking of going somewhere?” he rasped, grinning that mad bloody grin.

“...no. Not at all. Definitely... not.”

The huge hand squeezed.

Hanataro swallowed.


 

IV.


The place Grimmjow took Hanataro was too close to Szayelaporro’s laboratory for comfort. One look at his new captor’s fierce face basically confirmed that, well, Grimmjow? Was not much interested in anyone’s comfort.

Even setting the whole bloodthirsty hollow bit aside, he was very badly injured and it clearly hadn’t improved his temper. He was threatening enough when he was weakened like this so Hanataro sincerely hoped that his mood would benefit from healing.

The floors were black and the walls were white, and the scarce furniture was a monochrome mix as well. Grimmjow slumped on a low white chair with an oddly tall back rest, stretching his injured -- mangled, really -- leg out gingerly.

His eyes were on Hanataro, and they were expectant, wary, and very, very intent. Hanataro wasn’t sure if the blackened and blistered one made him more or less nervous than the gleaming blue one.

Right. Healing.

“Please remain still,” Hanataro said politely, almost by rote. There was a tremor in his voice, but he was clear. The big hollow scoffed deep in his throat, but made no actual argument.

Every shinigami knew that hollows needed their heads intact to survive -- that was why they were trained to take them out with blows to the skull, fast and from behind -- but whether that had more to do with the head or more to do with the mask was something of an academic argument. Grimmjow’s mask was not broken, not even so much as chipped, but he was missing a really large chunk of his face.

The eye, then, was probably the biggest problem.

Hanataro started there and tried not to flinch away from the hardness of his patient’s single working eye.

Major kido-based healings were draining to begin with. Whatever Szayelaporro had done to “investigate” Hanataro’s vitals had compounded his tiredness. It made him feel like his application of energy was... clumsy, like he was wasting it while he went -- a kind of numbness.

The burns and blackened areas of Grimmjow’s face were regenerating under his hands, so the treatment didn't seem to have harmed him much. Cutting into the saketsu and hakusui was a very frightening, dangerous idea, so perhaps that researcher really was the kind of genuis he seemed to think he was.

It didn’t make Hanataro feel any better about spending more time with him.

Maybe he could persuade the even-scarier-hollow to let him go once he’d been healed. He rationed his energy and kept going with a trembling determination.

Grimmjow was actually responding much more strongly to the healing kido than shinigami Hanataro had worked with -- unless one counted Kurosaki Ichigo, which... well, that discussion was a matter for some debate that was entirely above Hanataro’s pay grade. If he ever even got paid again. It... didn't seem likely.

Still, if there was some kind of regenerative mechanism at play -- which was something Szayelaporro mentioned, and which would certainly explained how responsive these hollows were to his kido -- then it was possible that the kido could be made to work with it, instead of awkwardly alongside it. That would preserve energy, at least.

“...ano,” he said very quietly, flinching when Grimmjow’s attention sharpened. He’d seemed a little dazed to begin with, but Hanataro just had to bring his attention down upon himself, hadn’t he?

“Yeah?”

“A...” he nearly lost his concentration under that glower and his kido flickered like it hadn’t since he’d been a student. “A-ano, is...?”

His stumbling seemed to make Grimmjow mad, which made Hanataro more nervous.

He swallowed.

“If you’re going to say something, say it.” His voice was a horrible sound, rough, loud and threatening and -- just the kind of sound that made Hanataro’s hands shake and bile rise in his throat.

“I-- ...never mind,” he squeaked, dropping his gaze.

There was a rough, enormous sigh, and Grimmjow’s long fingers -- on his good arm -- dug into Hanataro’s shoulder. “Hey. Stop being stupid,” he snapped. He shook him, quite hard, and Hanataro shook. He was no immovable object, and he felt the force of it rattling his bones.

As a medic, Hanataro had been manhandled by the best (primarily: eleventh division, who were a collective menace), but none of them were quite this physically strong.

He stopped his kido entirely because he was about three seconds from mangling something. It took Grimmjow a moment to notice, and then, impossibly, his grip tightened.

“What the hell?” he snarled. “What’s the matter with you?”

His reiatsu, still leaking horribly from his injuries, rose.

And rose.

Hanataro stilled. He opened his mouth, but nothing would come out. So he closed it. Then he stared at his own hands and tried to think past his thundering heart beat and just... couldn’t.

Say something, he thought, panicked and still, but the feeling wouldn’t abate. Just open your mouth and say something, tell him to stop, tell him you need --

Grimmjow cursed, scowling fiercely. “What the hell is wrong with you?” He waved one hand in front of Hanataro’s nose. “Hey, dumbass!”

-- to concentrate to fix him, tell him something, anything, he’ll hurt you --

He couldn’t.

He stayed, paralysed, impotent and frightened and incapable of any such decision. He was still shaking, but he didn’t think it was from Grimmjow’s grip anymore.

The shaking did, however, seem to clue him in, because his reiatsu coiled in again, just a little, bristling but tightly-controlled. Hanataro could almost breathe again, but his nervousness remained.

All he wanted was to curl up and be still and quiet and hope all the big, scary things passed over him. Maybe cry. Probably not, though.

“...shit, this is really damn delicate, isn’t it?” Grimmjow growled, looking deeply, deeply pissed off. “Oi, you’re not gonna, like, die or something, are you?” he demanded.

“I-- no,” choked out Hanataro. He felt like the word was an enormous effort of will. His heart fluttered violently in his chest.

(But Hanataro had a hollow hole. Did he even have a heart beat anymore? Really?)

That reminder ached. He couldn’t go back to Soul Society.

He had no home.

That thought threatened to send him spiralling into panic. Worse panic.

“Um,” he managed again. “I...”

Grimmjow squinted for a second. Then he sighed noisily. “Just say whatever you’re trying to say, seriously, it’s getting really damn annoying.”

Easy for you to say, thought Hanataro, but he bit his lower lip. He decided against asking about regeneration. This one plainly had a short fuse, and questions that weren‘t immediately relevant would probably upset him. Hanataro did not want to be the thing that upset him.

He ducked his head, shoring up his own spiritual energy -- which was responding only sluggishly, wearily. Whatever that scary researcher had done, it had done something to him.

“I need to know if you want your arm or your leg working first,” he said, with a rush of despair at how pleased he was just to get a full sentence out all at once. “Ah... Szayelaporro-san....” he touched the stitched up area in his lower chest. “H-- he, there are vital parts, here, where - ahh! Ah, please don’t poke the stitches, they're fresh and -- and delicate --”

“And he tells me not to mess up his specimen?”

“I... I don’t... it’s fatigue, I’ll -- ”

“Do the leg, then. I can fight one-handed for a while.” He flexed the fingers of his good hand ominously. “It’ll be a challenge,” he added with another of those broad, terrifying smiles.

“I... I should recover my energy -- over time.” He hoped. He had no idea what Szayelaporro had done. “He said with food. And time. I...”

“Yeah, well, you’d better.” Grimmjow didn’t even make it sound like a proper threat: just a laidback comment.

There was a moment‘s pause while Hanataro thought about all the implications in that phrase. His own recovery seemed so far out of his grasp at that moment that he cringed.

“What are you waiting for, kid? Sunrise?” Grimmjow’s heavy hand thwapped him unkindly over the head.

“Ahh! Ow ow ow,” he rubbed the sore spot, although he was grimly aware that Grimmjow could probably have crushed his head if he’d wanted to.

“No, sorry...” Gamely he summoned the kido back to his hands and finished up Grimmjow’s face. He was surprisingly warm to the touch -- warmer than a shinigami, at any rate. Perhaps hollows’ metabolisms worked differently? There were so many questions.

“Why the hell’d you heal that bastard, anyway? There’s no way he made it out of that without a scratch. He’s weak. You should have eaten him.”

Hanataro recoiled. Eaten him?

Then he remembered the hole.

And the mask.

He looked like a hollow.

Right. Hueco Mundo. Soul Society. Homeless.

“I’m a shinigami,” he said. For once his voice was firm -- but he flinched again when Grimmjow poked his new hollow hole.

He wasn’t nearly as gentle as Szayelaporro had been, which was saying something. “Are you stupid? Shinigami don’t have holes,” Grimmjow disagreed.

Well, that was...

Yes, all right, that was true, actually.

“Maybe you were a shinigami, but you’re not now. Like those other guys." There was a considering pause, and a narrow-eyed look. "Like Kurosaki Ichigo.”

There were many ways in which Hanataro would not have minded being more like Ichigo, but becoming a vizard was not among them.

On the other hand... it seemed more likely than Hanataro wanted to contemplate. He focused his regenerative kido harder and tried not to think about it too much. Not right now. Maybe not ever.

“That only explains why you didn’t eat him, though, not why you didn’t leave him for dead.”

“I...” Hanataro swallowed. “He was buried, and badly injured. I... his mask wasn’t obvious, and he doesn’t have a hole,” he glanced toward Grimmjow’s belly, where his hole was located, breaking the line of frankly improbable abdominals. “I thought,” he paused. It sounded incredibly stupid, now, I thought he was one of ours. Of course he wasn’t. “I didn’t recognise him, but I thought he... needed help...”

Grimmjow, though, seemed to have filled in the blanks. He wheezed with laughter.

“No, shinigami. Octava, he’s got a hole. You’re just lucky you haven’t had to look at it.”

“Wh... what?” Hanataro blinked. He couldn’t fix much more of this hollow’s face unless he stopped laughing -- and it was mostly intact, a little scarring and some redness or tenderness remaining, but his eye was whole and clear and sharp blue and his mouth didn’t pull on any other parts of his face: the nerves were fine, the words were coming out more or less clearly.

Grimmjow kept laughing, so Hanataro shifted his attention to the mangled leg. He assessed his reserves, and determined that it would be better to heal it enough to be usable, then see if he had the energy for anything more.

“If you’d -- heh,” Grimmjow didn’t bother to explain any further. His eyes were bright with amusement, and Hanataro had the distinct suspicion that he was part of the joke. The butt of it, even.

He shifted to make himself smaller, swallowed, and just... kept doing is job. One thing at a time, and no need to think about his maybe-missing heart, the terrifying hole in his abdomen, the enormous reiatsu leaking around him -- no thoughts of home or Unohana-taichou or anyone else or--

None of it. Just the dull glow of his hands over Grimmjow’s mangled leg and the strange, unpleasant pull somewhere low in his chest. Funny, he felt a lot more drained than he thought he should have. The leg wasn’t done yet, either, he just had to --

“Hey,” said Grimmjow, sounding abruptly worried. “Are you--”

Hanataro looked up and squinted. Grimmjow really needed to learn not to mumble.

“Oooh,” said Hanataro, blinking several times in quick succession. The room swayed. Or maybe he swayed. And then -- thump.


 

V.

Grimmjow looked down at the swirly-eyed little probably-an-arrancar drooling into the knee of his trousers.

One of his eyebrows twitched.

For a second he contemplated leaving him there -- probably deserved it, scatterbrained little idiot, but... With a disgusted noise, Grimmjow picked the strange ‘shinigami’ up by the back of his hakama.

Even one-armed, Hanataro was short enough and light enough to be slung over one shoulder like so much rice in a sack.

Really damn delicate...”

Grimmjow’s shoes clicked on the polished floors as he retreated into the strange underbelly of Las Noches with his burden.