Title: Riddled With White -- Part Two
Pairing: UlquiHime (plus Tatsuki and others)
Warnings: Cracktacular contents. Language, mild violence. Gratuitous use of Starrk.
Summary: When the infamous scientist Mayuri Kurotsuchi disappears, it's up to private eye Ulquiorra Cifer and his Girl-Friday, Tatsuki Arisawa, to solve the case.
Note: I do not own Bleach, the same way Hanataro no longer owns pants in the ED. Poor kid. Nice legs, though.
Part One, in which Ulquiorra takes the case.
RIDDLED WITH WHITE--PART TWO
"Driver, pull over." Money changed hands and I exited the cab, roughly a mile south of the Kurotsuchi estate. A phone booth stood on the corner. Despite the lateness of the hour, Hisagi was sure to be at the office. An alert voice answered. All necessary words were exchanged within a matter of seconds. The lack of substantial development was to be expected.
"Too late to change tomorrow's headline anyhow," he said. "Keep me posted."
I abandoned the sidewalk in favor of obscured backyards and hedges. Aizen had a vast network of contacts, many of them working outside the police department. He would be well aware of Starrk and Lilynette's presence in the Kurotsuchi mansion by now, and I had to assume that he had been informed of Arisawa's arrival as well. His men would be watching, waiting, aching to take me down.
They were welcome to try.
My speed increased as I neared the estate. A white monolith came into view, counter levered over a deep ravine. The walls stood at injurious angles--entirely modern, thoroughly sterile. I paused at the tree line. There were too many hiding places, too many openings. No light illuminated the sparse windows, save for one on the ground level. Easy target.
There was a rustle of fabric--and a stalled breath--before I found my back flush with the exterior wall. The nearest window slid open without complaint. Already adjusted to the dark, my eyes quickly took in the wall-to-wall shelves, stacked high with scientific volumes. Mayuri Kurotsuchi's personal research library. Certainly worthy of praise, but not my time, and I crossed directly to the doorway.
A long expanse of hallway opened before me, devoid of luxury or personal touches. The house relied on its sheer size for impact. Echoes briefly caressed the lonely ceiling, and then bowed to me. Arisawa's voice was clear, but as for the other... My empty pockets held no answers. I had no choice but to prey upon the drifting sound.
Light spilled through an archway. Reckless laughter followed suit. Arisawa was slacking. I readied my tongue for criticism, sharpening the edges against my clenched teeth. Six steps remained, then five, and then--
"Do you think she got lost?" The unbidden specter of Orihime crossed my path. Her gasp drowned in my palm. She resisted for a moment, but only a moment, as I turned her to face the sparsely furnished parlor. Starrk was passed out on a linear divan by the window. Arisawa sat cross-legged on the floor, a few feet shy of a vast fireplace, choking on its own embers.
Arisawa was all defiance. "I couldn't just leave her."
"Instead, you decided to involve her in a potential homicide investigation. Excellent work, Arisawa."
A most unbecoming flush overtook Arisawa's features. I released the girl. She mumbled an apology and backed away, letting the hallway swallow her whole. The negative pressure of her mouth burned into my skin. Reflexes dragged the offensive warmth across my coat, trying to banish the sensation.
"Enough." I stepped closer, consciously easing up on my tone. "What's the situation?"
"Starrk was asleep when we got here. Miss Kurotsuchi is upstairs, probably sleeping--I canvassed the room, don't worry. It's practically rigged to explode. And Lilynette…she's either raiding the kitchen or the silver closet. Orihime will find her." A brow arched. "And Urahara?"
"He was accompanied by that woman--Yoruichi--to a store of some kind. There was no movement afterwards, " I said. Starrk shifted in his sleep, letting out a guttural noise. "Consider yourself relieved, Arisawa."
"Thanks, boss--but I'm not tired."
"That was an order."
"And you should know better."
"Suit yourself, woman."
An endless circuit of rooms composed the ground level. I inspected them all, never pausing. Arisawa lasted an hour before nodding off in a chair by the front door. Lilynette lay curled up beside Starrk, sporadically whimpering in time with his grunts. The girl occupied a corner of the sofa, staring down fireplace ash, overly aware of my presence. If I entered her field of vision, she would pretend to sleep. Was she not conscious of the jagged rise and fall of her chest? How those fluttering lashes betrayed her?
The wait was distilled by creeping dawn. Just short of seven, the phone rang. Arisawa didn't miss a beat, hand poised above the receiver, eyes on my own. I nodded.
"Good morning, Kurotsuchi residence." Her lower lip twitched, then she held out the receiver. "It's for you."
I accepted the hand-off. "Ulquiorra speaking."
"It's Hisagi. I hope you're expecting company."
"Understood." The call ended, free of empty pleasantries--and I wasn't about to break them out for Arisawa's benefit. "Hide--now."
She balked. "What?"
"Bodily remove yourself from my sight."
"Chivalry really isn't your strong suit, boss."
A direct threat was the best motivation. I nodded towards the hunched figure on the sofa. "Do you really want him to see her?"
Arisawa's mouth constricted into a tight line. She collected the girl and headed upstairs, passing Nemu Kurotsuchi on the landing, dressed in her usual black and reticence.
"Aizen is coming." The words were flat, unquestioning. She was fully aware.
"If you're going to run, now's your chance."
"I appreciate the sentiment, Detective Cifer, but believe me when I say I can escape at any time. I merely choose not to."
Through the front windows, a line of cars was visible, snaking up the driveway--both police and press. Lilynette, now fully awake and spitting like a hornet, launched herself at Starrk, digging her knees into his gut.
"Starrk--wake up, you bum!" A fist connected with his temple. He batted her away and rolled over. "You're going to regret that!"
Car doors slammed. The doorbell rang.
"Last chance," I said to the Kurotsuchi girl. She stood on the last step, hands clasped passively before her, eyes downcast. The doorbell rang again.
"Oh, Miss Nemu," Ichimaru called through the door. Knocking followed. All for show--the slimy bastard could've just slipped in through the keyhole. I threw the lock and opened the door. Ichimaru's fist paused mid-air, knuckles level with my brow. "Well, looky here. A private dick."
"Good morning, my dear Ulquiorra." Aizen stood just behind his lackey, all slick and superior. "I trust you slept well?"
I wanted to ram my fist straight through his spine. He strode in, flanked by Ichimaru and the blind Tousen. The Kurotsuchi girl stepped forward to meet them. Aizen rewarded her with a hollow smile.
"I hope we didn’t keep you waiting, Miss Kurotsuchi. We came as soon as we could."
"And why is that?" I asked, placing myself between the girl and Aizen.
"Justice," said Tousen impassively. "Nemu Kurotsuchi is under arrest for the murder of her father, Mayuri Kurotsuchi."
"You have the body then?"
Aizen's head tipped back ever so slightly, allowing him to look down at me using the full length of his nose. "My dear Ulquiorra, were you not aware? If she truly is her father's daughter, there will be nothing left to find."
"Pardon the intrusion," Starrk drawled from the parlor archway, "but that sounds like some major bullshit to me."
"Such language," said Ichimaru.
Lilynette stepped in front of Starrk, arms crossed, eyes thunderous. "Wanker."
"Now, now, that won't do." Ichimaru's grin etched itself even deeper into pale face. "A little discipline never hurt anyone, you know."
Starrk yawned into his glove. "Lost cause, I'm afraid."
"More's the pity," Ichimaru said to no one in particular.
"Please," said the Kurotsuchi girl, "the least you can do is be efficient."
Aizen glanced over his shoulder. "Kaname."
Handcuffs appeared. The girl willing offered her wrists.
"What are you doing?" Lilynette hurried forward--but a cruel twist of my features stopped her cold. "But there's no evidence! This ain't right."
"I agree," said Starrk. "Let's not do anything hasty."
Aizen turned towards the entrance. "As much as it pains me, I must deny your request. The law is the law. Let's be off, gentlemen."
Lilynette wheeled to face Starrk, fist at the ready. His eyelids sagged. A vicious sneer took hold of the girl. Bloodlust. Lilynette charged at Ichimaru's back. The blow never landed.
"Assaulting an officer of the peace," said Tousen as he cuffed the squirming Lilynette. "Unforgiveable."
"A juvenile delinquent." Ichimaru flashed his teeth at Starrk. "My favorite."
Reporters swarmed the door as the two girls were led outside. Kira hung back from the crowd. The appearance of the Lilynette in handcuffs caused his eyes to widen, but their expression remained cold. While the other reporters shouted questions, inquiring about the girl's identity, Kira walked back to his car at a determined pace. No one scooped The Communicator.
"Close the door, would you?" Starrk returned to the parlor. "I'm exhausted."
Arisawa raced down the stairs, alone. "Do you want me to follow them, boss?"
"That won't be necessary."
"What?" She closed distance on Starrk. "Aren't you going to bail her out?"
"Eventually." He sank onto the divan and closed his eyes. "She wanted to go."
It took Arisawa a moment to accept this. "Then…what do we do?"
"Put the trash back where you found it and meet me at the office," I said. "What else?"
"Language, boss." Her knuckles cracked like a warning shot.
"You're so predictable."
"Bastard." She took the stairs two at a time. Once she ditched the distraction, I had plans for her. She wouldn't appreciate them in the slightest.
Starrk began to snore. There was no reason for me to linger.
I found myself among the dregs of The Boneyard again that night, waiting for Urahara to show. He didn't disappoint, slipping in just before seven, face obscured by the brim of his hat. He walked past an open table, then another, proceeding steadily in my direction, just shy of the billiards. Thin lips hinted at a smile. The jig was obviously up. He claimed the adjacent chair.
"Just in time, eh? Yoruichi tends to hiss if I'm late. Doesn't like the venue, even though I told her it was dangerous. Some ladies are just too tempting for their own good." He inched the brim of his hat even lower. "And don't pretend that you're not interested."
The man's tactics were flawed. Wasting his momentary upper hand speculating flesh--no wonder he'd been forced to resign from the Institute.
He continued, undeterred. "I suppose it doesn't matter what visions the eye beholds when the mind is elsewhere…but I should warn you, Detective Cifer…your assistant won't find anything of interest at my shop, no matter how deep she digs."
"It was merely an exercise in futility."
"Oh?" His inflection jumped an octave. "What cruel methods you have."
"Compared to whom? Definitely not your associate, Kurotsuchi."
A drink menu screened his mouth. The hidden smile weighed on the corner of his right eye. "Let's not compare apples to acid, detective."
"Then this conversation is at an end."
"But you haven't interrogated me yet. I know all about Mayuri, you know. Breakfast preferences, favorite hat…body count…" A direct look from Urahara garnered no reaction. "Don't you even want to hear my alibi?"
"Urahara," I said coolly, "what makes you think that this investigation has anything to do with you?"
"And what makes you think that it doesn't?" The emcee interrupted and the Flash Goddess Three took the stage, cementing a stalemate. I was no match for the slink of Yoruichi's backside. Urahara set the drink menu down with a sigh. "Pity I'm such a lightweight."
The music began. Leers traced hips. Lips tasted the promise of a dipped shoulder. Hair fell into the girl's face. An old dance, meaningless at best. They would never reach her.
The girl fired off a quick wink, not meant to entice, but somehow reassure. I glanced at the billiard tables. The sharp-featured youth, Ishida, was bent low over a table, cue at the ready. He answered with a slight nod and sank the shot.
A lean, white-suited caricature sneered at the effort. Delicate fingers, prone to menace, raked through pink hair. He brushed the boy aside and leveled his own perfectly angled shot. Cobalt hate radiated from the shadows. This was no game.
It was precisely the break I'd been waiting for.
Arisawa was late, leaving me alone with the facts. Quickly sorted through and cast aside. Nemu Kurotsuchi was in jail, with Lilynette for protection--not that she needed it. The box containing her father's fingernail sat on my desk, barley even evidence. Starrk's return was not anticipated. The Kurotsuchi mansion was too tempting a burrow. And the girl…
What had Arisawa been thinking? Aizen was already interested, if not involved, in the Kurotsuchi case. Leverage equaled a death knell. That's all the girl was. Leverage. The web had nearly ensnared her. If Hisagi had called a minute later, if Nemu Kurotsuchi had tried to run for it, if Arisawa had stood her ground--too many pointless scenarios featuring a superfluous bit of skirt.
She had winked at Ishida. That had not been part of my calculations. Perhaps the damage was already done.
An approaching step drew my attention. Too timid for Arisawa, too present to be an enemy. The door handle rotated, allowing Orihime to slip inside my office. It was not an intrusion. She simply was.
"Oh--" Her breath caught, wide eyes trailing over four corners and cobwebs, carefully avoiding my disdain. "This isn't how Tatsuki described it at all. She made it sound dank and perilous, but this--one might easily mistake you for an accountant."
"I'll take that under advisement. Now leave."
Her neck folded, upsetting a smile. "Isn't Tatsuki here?"
"Well, then do you mind if--"
I was on my feet, stalking towards her. Clawed fingertips dug into pocket seams. She took a step back, but her resolve held firm. Three feet separated us. A slanted gleam settled on my mouth.
"It won't work," she said. "Trying to scare me off like this…you might say that I have a weakness for frowns. A smile can lie in spite of itself, but a frown--a frown can't help but be sincere. And all you do is frown. It's almost overwhelming."
"Have you have no sense of self-preservation?" I searched for an opening, for a visible flaw, a point of attack, anything other than the benevolence trembling between her lashes. Compassion tends to stain.
"I'm not here for myself." She took a sudden interest in the base of my throat, inching forward, as if drawn. "But you have the wrong idea about Ishida."
The boy. Again. "How thoroughly disappointing."
"He's innocent. He would never harm someone in cold blood, even Kurotsuchi, in spite of their past. Please, you have to believe me."
"You've been studying me." Another step. Point blank. "Not closely enough, it seems."
"But I've seen you!"
"Your logic is flawed."
"At least you're self-aware." I turned to find Ishida sitting in the open window, one foot on the sill, leg arched like a bow. Quivering. Insolence poured over wire rims. "I trust I'm not interrupting anything of importance…Ulquiorra Cifer."