Title: Riddled With White -- Part Three
Pairing: UlquiHime (plus Tatsuki and Ishida.)
Warnings: Cracktacular contents. Language. Mild violence.
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. This is probably a good thing, because all I can think right now is: Thank you, Ukelala, but your Quincy is in another castle!
RIDDLED WITH WHITE--PART THREE
The best laid traps bait themselves. Willingly they had come. Seeking hands that will never beckon and a tongue not designed to entice. Swayed by nothing more than my indifference, they had come of their own accord, necks laid bare.
“Inoue,” asked Ishida, cutting a wide path across the office floor, “are you alright?”
“I thought that…” She braced herself, arm digging into her abdomen, but her words had already failed.
“I understand.” Sharp and slanted, he angled himself between us, offering me his undivided ire--a worthy diversion. But my attention was already fixed on her.
What had Arisawa been so eager to save? If I took her throat in my hand and increased the pressure, ever so slightly, would the answer come spilling out? Would I recognize the truth, even if it did? If sliced her open, how far would I have to dig to reach her true mettle? If I fingered her spine, would it be a gilded edifice, easily snapped in two, or a poor imitation of Arisawa's ironclad backbone?
The girl had come willingly, for his sake. So painfully saccharine. He had followed, desperate to save her--from me. What was there to protect?
“It’s no secret that Mayuri Kurotsuchi and I have unfinished business," he said. "I wouldn’t mourn his demise, but to send a package of body parts to his daughter? I have my pride.”
The pressure. It must increase. “You speak as though you’ve been accused of murder.”
“He didn’t do anything--”
Just a little more, to snag her breath. To leave a mark. To shatter. I must.
“Such earnest protestations, such loyalty,” I said. “Such an easy target for the police.”
The girl’s face fell in on itself. It was almost too easy. His surprise didn’t quite register, but a flicker still burns. “Explain, Ulquiorra.”
“No, I don’t think I shall.” How much more--perhaps he would break first? “Especially since you find my logic flawed.”
"If you were any kind of man,” he said pointedly, “you would stop terrorizing Inoue and do your job.”
"Are you saying that this is a man’s crime? That a woman wouldn’t sever a fingernail or two, just to make a point?”
“Precisely." He adjusted his glasses.
“You wouldn’t believe the screams that my associate, Lilynette, can illicit from grown men. She's rather a terrifying child. Lucky for you, she's currently incarcerated.”
“Threatening me with violence?”
A delicate spasm stalled her breathing, a single crack. I wanted more.
“A bit crass, I’ll admit.” My eyes remained fixed on her. “But effective, nonetheless, wouldn’t you say?”
He stepped into my line of vision, such an earnest martyr. “I told you to leave Inoue out of this.”
“Her involvement is hardly my doing. The blame lies with Arisawa.”
“Not Tatsuki,” said the girl, from the palm of my intentions. “She’s not to blame.”
“I know.” A lean hand claimed her shoulder, but the gesture was hollow. He had no comfort to give. His guilt began to simmer. “We should go, Inoue. This is no place for you.”
“A walking contradiction, aren’t you? You fear for the girl’s safety in my presence, yet two nights ago, you willing abandoned her in that hellhole, knowing full well that those two harlots were waiting to catch her alone. And they did. All alone, unprotected, and they assaulted her.”
“It was just a misunderstanding." Her brow narrowed, searching for strength. How much more to shatter? "Those girls…they just don’t know any better.”
“It doesn’t change the fact that he's a hypocrite.”
She stepped forward, twining her arm through his. "It's almost pitiable how little you understand."
A tiny barb pierced the back of my throat, stalling my tongue. Where had this resistance been hiding--where? How deep did I have to reach to crush it?
"The great detective," said Ishida, taking advantage of my hesitation, "too dense to even seek out of the obvious."
"Just how obvious?" The cold glean of the trap turned to menace. "As obvious as the fact that you've been trailing Szayel Aporro Granz for weeks?"
"Ah…I see." Disdain poured freely, carelessly, from his eyes and mouth. "So you did notice my hint at the Boneyard tonight."
"I know a fool when I see one…or two."
The girl lowered her head. Just a little more. To shatter. To claim.
"Then why aren't you following him?" asked Ishida.
"You tell me."
"He--he's the…" Realization struck his core. "What do you think you know, Cifer?"
"Like any good detective, I study the facts. And the facts in this case are as follows--Kurotsuchi was seen at eleven o'clock, still working in his lab. His daughter received a delivery of fingernails the following morning. At approximately the same time, someone other than Nemu Kurotsuchi called the police and informed them of Kurotsuchi's disappearance. Only a fool would assume that these three incidents were anything but coincidental."
"Coincidental." He spoke as if to condemn the word.
"The timid hunter stalks his prey through the woods. Through the trees he sees another target, even better than the first. His one, true desire. Yet, all he can do is watch as the prey becomes the hunter and rips his one true desire to shreds. Blood spills. It does not sate."
"Stop it," she said. He gaped at me, wide-open. Nothing but openings. The pressure must increase.
"The timid hunter abandons the woods, and sinks into a snake pit. He unloads on an even more hesitant girl, weighing her down with selfish anger and disillusionment. As long as it's held by the darkness, drenched with night, she is safe. As along as--"
"Stop." She rewarded my efforts with tears.
"But morning came, and you broke."
"He didn't get to say goodbye," she said, cheeks stained with foolishness. "That's all I could think, all night. He didn't even get to say goodbye. Maybe he whispered it at the very last, but was it heard? Would his daughter always wonder, always be waiting…hoping…"
"You're a simpleton, aren't you--so entirely unlike Nemu Kurotsuchi. Only a simpleton would entertain such notions."
Ishida stirred. "Do not speak to Inoue like that."
"Aizen and his lackeys are searching for whoever placed that phone call. They'll be cornering any woman connected to the case. Be prepared for the worst."
"They have no reason to suspect Inoue."
"Don't tell me that you cannot see, that you are so entirely unaware. All it took was one look from you, Uryū Ishida, to realize that you're drowning in this case." The pressure reached the point of hazard. A final surge. "What do you think one look from her will do?"
An intimate gesture, a light across the water, to keep the course--never again would he remember that innocent wink from her without regret. Thoughtless actions earned such ends. To rip them apart.
But her tears had stopped. She stood there, looking at me. What had slithered behind her eyes? Their expression was unfathomably warm and treacherously vital. Silently pleading, pitying. She pitied me.
The pressure ceased, but the sting in the back of my throat remained. To haunt. Alone.
"I want to go home." Fingers laced together, uneven lengths forming a whole. "Uryū, please. Take me home."
"One is most vulnerable when travelling." I turned away. "Try not to get killed."
Footsteps cemented the parting. He would act as her protector, he would see her safely home. Her pity would remain unharmed, intact, and mine alone. From the window, I watched them fade.
White on white.
Arisawa's feet greeted me first thing, heels planted on headlines, hands full of newsprint. "When the dashing Detective Aizen arrived at the infamous Kurotsuchi estate to apprehend the murderess, he was greeted at the door by none other than Ulquiorra Cifer, mercenary private eye for hire."
"Don't embellish, Arisawa. It's unbecoming."
Newspapers shrouded my desk. Each front page photograph showed a different angle--Nemu Kurotsuchi looked vacant on one, scheming on the next. Each image of Lilynette was more vulgar than the last, tiny body thrashing, fangs bared like a wild dog. Tousen did the dirty work while Aizen preened, offering his most flattering angles. Only Gin's smirk was constant.
Arisawa followed with papers in hand, unabated. "Also taken into custody was an unidentified young woman, who sources close to the police say may be an escaped mental patient."
"Enough, woman." I took my seat.
"It's not all bad news, boss." She held up The Communicator. "Kira kindly referred to you as the family's disgruntled butler."
"Get this garbage off my desk."
"Yes, boss." She made quick work of them, mouth twitching all the while.
"Out with it."
"It's just…" Headlines pressed her to chest, Arisawa almost looked sheepish. Almost. "I should've stayed. If I'd opened the door, you wouldn't be all over the front pages today. It's not good for the case."
"This case has never been about hiding."
A blunt look, piercing enough to rival her fists, set upon me. "I never can tell what you're thinking, boss. And it pisses me off."
"Papers, out of my sight."
"Don't you want to know what I found at Urahara's?" she asked.
"Good, because I only stayed two minutes, seeing as I had a prior engagement. Much better use of my time."
"A prior…engagement." Openly glowering, I leaned forward in my chair. "A prior engagement?"
"Try to waste my time like that again, boss, and I really will go on a date."
"No man could possibly be suicidal enough to court you."
Her eyes softened, uncomfortably. "You'd be surprised."
"If you weren't searching Urahara's last night, and you weren't getting felt up by some miscreant, what were you doing?"
"Doing research at The Communicator."
"Then you'd better have results."
Arisawa deposited herself in a chair. The newspapers landed at her feet. "Something Nemu said has been bothering me, about being her father's backup plan."
"Which she said to me--in private."
"You pay me to fight, break and enter, but eavesdropping is suddenly on the south side of your moral compass? Honestly." A laugh wisely died in her throat. "Just how much do you know about the Shinigami Research and Development Institute?"
"Clearly not enough for your liking."
"I'm being serious, boss. The Institute isn't as independent as you might think. It's really a branch of the Gotei 13, the civil planning and protection organization, and the Institute head sits on the board of directors. They allow the head of the Institute to personally choose their successor. Urahara promised the Institute to Kurotsuchi, and if Kurotsuchi really is dead, it goes to Nemu."
"Which will prove difficult, considering she's under arrest."
"Precisely. If the chosen successor is unable to lead to the Institute, the Gotei 13 steps in. And do you know who are all members of the Gotei 13?"
"Aizen, Tousen and Ichimaru--of course."
"I can't help but feel that it's all too…convenient. Kurotsuchi supposedly goes missing, and the next day Aizen shows up to arrest Nemu without evidence. It's like…one has nothing to do with the other. As if Aizen did it just to spite Kurotsuchi, or whoever may have harmed him. If he really wanted to take over the Institute, he wouldn't be acting so brashly. He's ruining someone else's plan."
"Any idea whose plan it might be?"
"I came up with one suspect. Szayel Aporro Granz. Seems he and Kurotsuchi have some bad blood between them, and he also has ties to Aizen."
"Very good, Arisawa." I nodded, in agreement rather than approval. The gesture went unnoticed.
"I'm almost glad that you're a cold bastard." Her arms crossed. Self-restraint was never her strong suit. "It doesn't matter that our thought process is similar when it comes to Aizen. I will never understand why you were so nasty to Orihime and Ishida last night. Did you really think I wouldn't find out, or did you just not care?"
"I do not suffer fools."
"Maybe you've been in this line of work too long, boss. At least, that's what I like to tell myself. That your intelligence makes up for what you lack--but then you're stupid enough to try and wound kind people with petty words."
"Facts are not petty, Arisawa. They are definite. They are fixed. That boy is a witness, that girl is an accessory."
"They have names!" Her fist flew. Only the desktop suffered.
"The facts will not change."
"I'm talking about you, Ulquiorra. About you and your lack of basic human decency. How you let Lilynette fight for Nemu, your well-paying client. You just stood there while a child was arrested. Just like you stood there while Orihime was being attacked--"
"Still obsessing over trivialities, are we?"
"I know that Ishida saw something, I know that Orihime called the police--but her reasons for doing so were not stupid. Compassion is not a flaw."
"If you wish to be heard, Arisawa, do not speak meaningless words. Compassion is useless. It cannot survive here."
"Fine, blame the city. Blame the work. Blame whatever the hell you want--but don't blame me when you…you know what, never mind. You don't pay me enough to think that far ahead."
"Will that be all, Arisawa?"
"Boss…" She stood, knees locked, knuckles white. "You can go to--"
"Good morning! Anybody home?" Only Urahara could sound so deceptively shrill. He wandered in, with another damned newspaper rolled under his arm. "Why, hello there!"
"Arisawa, escort the idiot off the premises."
"But Ulquiorra, I brought you a present. It's not every day that one makes the front page…" He noticed stack of newspapers at Arisawa's feet. "But it seems that your many other admirers beat me to the punch. Tragedy strikes."
"Then by all means--get out."
"You'll have to excuse him, Mr. Urahara." Arisawa shot me a withering glare. "The boss wasn't hugged enough as a child. It's not fatal."
"My, my--if only there was some way I could be of assistance." He failed to hide his smile behind the newspaper. "Alas, I am but a humble shopkeeper, and I do not stock friendship."
"That's…quite alright, Mr. Urahara." Arisawa unconsciously took a step back.
"The least I can do is offer this newspaper, and the treasures within." He held out the rolled newspaper to Arisawa. She raised her hands in protest, but his shadowed gaze changed her mind. The paper quickly joined the others in the floor, unfurling mid-air. A flash of light.
"What the…" Arisawa dropped to her knees. Fingers hovered over a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. "What did you do to him? What did you do to Ishida?"
Overwhelmed by instinct, she lunged at Urahara. He deftly seized her wrist, twisting her arm behind her back, bringing her to a stunned halt.
"I don't read newspapers as a general rule," said Urahara. "I prefer reading material with a little more substance, a bit of flesh, if you will. A rather interesting newsboy hurled that through the shop door this morning while I was bringing in the milk."
"Interesting?" I asked, against my better judgment.
"Oh, you know…lights on, nobody home--not even the neighbors. I tried to ask if he was alright, but he just ran off, drooling happily." He released Arisawa. "And I'm not in the habit of stealing people's spectacles. It's cruel."
"But if…if they have Ishida…" She turned to me, so full of expectations. Hadn't I done enough to be free of them? "Orihime."
"Oh, silly me!" Urahara palmed his forehead. Perhaps the mask was slipping. "She is safe and sound at the Boneyard--which, sounds rather like an oxymoron when said aloud, come to think of it--but nonetheless, Miss Inoue is safely rehearsing at the Boneyard. The Flash Goddess Three are formidable oponents, believe me. No harm will come to her."
Arisawa sprinted out the door, glasses in hand. She wouldn’t rest until the girl was in her grasp. The two of them would cry, unfettered, inconsolable. The collapse was inevitable. If only it could have been my doing.
I had no choice but to follow, with Urahara trailing a step behind. He paused at the corner to offer a vague smile to the gathering storm and sighed.
Rain fell over the city like a wasted breath. The skyscrapers would emerge no cleaner, the streets no safer. Arisawa would still be possessed. Ishida was most likely dead. Starrk would turn over in his sleep and continue his dreamless existence. Lilynette would continue gnawing on cell bars, trying to cut a tooth. Not idle but useless.
Arisawa blocked my path with her forearm. Pointed and cold, like so many weapons. "Stay out, boss. This is personal."
Urahara held the side door for her and disappeared immediately after. There was a dry spot near the fire escape. I leaned against the brick of the alleyway, hands searching empty pockets.
It wouldn't take long. Not long at all. Arisawa wouldn't even have to speak a word. The girl would shatter. A pair of glasses would do what I could not. Grief would overwhelm my pity. It was all but lost.
The side door opened. Broken trash stepped into the rain. Bandages obstructed Arisawa's handiwork. "Now," said the black-haired tramp. "We do it now."
The blonde looked panicked. "But that girl's here--"
"You heard the princess. She wants that arrogant prick found, and what princess wants, princess gets. The second that monster leaves, we give her something else to cry about."
"Obviously," I said as I stepped forward, "my assistant didn't hit you hard enough. Still no sense in your head."
"Who the hell are you?" asked the blonde, moving defensively in front of the battered tramp.
"Introductions are wasted on those without brain cells."
"Oh, yeah?" The black-haired tramp strained to break free of the blonde.
"What is she to you?" I asked. "What is Orihime Inoue to the likes of you?"
"She's an unnatural bitch who deserves what's coming to her." The tramp's one good eye was fixed on me, fueled by the most base of desires--revenge, dominance, power. I would deny her all. "And as for your assistant--she's as good as dead. I know people."
"You know nothing."
A knife appeared in her hand. Rain rolled off the blade, unthreatened. "I'll show you, bastard."
"We both will," said the blonde.
My gaze wandered. A gash of dried blood, a testament to Arisawa, began to run down the wet brick. "You are ignorant. Dense. How does one teach filth such as you? Ramming your head against a wall did no good, so I cannot raise my hand to you now. If you're willing to stab me, that means you are already familiar with a blade. You will treat any stab wound as superficial. I only shoot to kill, and as such, the lesson would be wasted."
"Quit rambling, freak," the black-haired tramp spat, "and prepare to--"
One eye was no match for my disdain. My right hand joined the rain. Both tramps froze. "You've been passed around, haven't you? Is that the way--is jealousy the only language you will understand? If I took the girl and pressed her against the wall of this alleyway, if this hand was to touch, to expose--"
"You're sick. Sick!" The tramp did her best to strike me. Her pathetic best. I pinned her against the wall, using just enough force to rattle her.
"Loly!" The blonde was smart enough to keep her distance.
"If my mouth overpowered hers, what then? Would you finally understand?" I leaned in, digging my fist into her wounds. "Would you understand?"
"Understand what, you bastard?"
"That if you ever touch that woman again," I said, "I will appear before you, and without warning, I will take my hand, the hand that is restraining you now, and I will, without hesitation--"
"You're scum," she said through clenched teeth.
My arm shifted upwards, pressing against her windpipe. "I will rip your throat out."
The message had finally been received. I glanced at the blonde out of the corner of my eye. Her fear was palpable. A dozen yards beyond the fear, she stood arm in arm with Arisawa. Still whole, still determined. The tramp fought for air. Rain fell.
An explosion severed the void. Fireballs launched into the sky, as if to spite the storm, the trash scattered and Arisawa returned to my side. The girl also came willingly, once more, for his sake. Smoke coiled above the rooftops, threatening to spread, with flames nipping at its heels.
"Six blocks," said Arisawa, "maybe seven…the police station! You don't think--"
"It's about time Nemu Kurotsuchi changed her mind."
"And what about you, boss," asked Arisawa quietly, "what did you change?"
My right hand returned to its pocket. I began the walk. "We had better go collect Lilynette."
Arisawa's pace quickened. "And then?"
"We save Ishida," said the girl. "Just as he would save us, without hesitation. We will save him."
To be continued…