A/N:

This fic was inspired by Chapter 262, and is set right after the chapter ends. As this fic has clashed with the manga, I have labelled it as an AU. Please note that this fic is a one-shot, and there will not be subsequent chapters. Still, reviews and faves are very, very much appreciated. :)

Three years later: I re-visit this page and notice errors that I didn't notice three years ago, when this piece was first written. It was written within five days - when it first began as a whim, but soon became a project I could not put down unless it was finished. It was a tremendous joy writing this, and I hope that by changing nothing, I am keeping it at its best - imperfections and all. The only changes are the partitions (which have vanished since I last checked). I have replaced them with italised stage directions in brackets, seeing that this fic is categorised under the Drama genre.

Thanks for reading! - Whynter, June 2010

Disclaimer: I own neither Bleach nor any of the characters.

NOTE: Words in italics within square brackets such as " [ ] " denote partitions between parts, which are denoted by Roman numerals in bold.


"My heart
Is true as steel."

- A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act Two; Scene One

The Necessity of Life

I

There was an earsplitting sound of anger. It echoed, ricocheted across the walls, then slowly died off. Silence followed in its wake, deftly filling in the gaps.

Time froze and melted, moving once again in cruel fluidity.

Her skin curled in pain at the impact, open palm still extended. A pair of dark, emerald eyes shifted and stared her down. To her, it felt like a hand had reached out enveloped her in its deadly grasp. His insipid, unmarked face spoke wordlessly of untold consequences – inconceivable possibilities of pain and torture…

Then he turned to leave, speaking softly but deafeningly.

"I will be back in one hour. If you have not eaten by then,

"I will force you to. That is a promise."

Waves of melancholy closed in upon her, barely a second after his departure; and, unable to hold it in any longer, she wept tears of shame and despair.

[ ]

He vaguely remembered being human – alive, of the upper Earth. It involved breathing, eating, sleeping, and most of all, living. And that was just about all he could remember about it.

And as much as he could remember about it, it all seemed fairly ludicrous and childish.

Not only was it speckled with the various unnecessary idiosyncrasies of life, it was also full of worthless, time-consuming things to do. Such as fighting battles against one's own kind, losing, losing again, getting up and losing again. One's lifespan, or put in his own words, the duration one gets to spend in that phase of one's existence, was stupidly dependant on the beating of an unreliable soft organ that could be easily penetrated by an untrained blade.

Such absolute, unconditional reliance disgusted Ulquiorra.

Everything a human did required an exchange – everything given demanded something given back in return. Even one of their own uncontrollable quirks – what was it? Ah – breathing, required the presence of something else to fill in the gaps of air the human himself had created.

What a laborious, unstable existence. Pitiful.

His upper lip twitched in the ghost of a grimace. Outside, several other Arrancar were bickering over something unbelievably trivial. Ordinary Arrancar, in fact. The grimace deepened in irritation – security was certainly waning. Sooner or later the grounds would be infested with lowly Número, and it would be even more difficult to get rid of all the pests.

He was glad he did not need to breathe – the stench of vermin would be absolutely unimaginable.

Closing his eyes for one last moment, he rose to his feet, deftly slipping his zanpakutou into his obi. Shards of the previous memories seeped into his consciousness as he strode down the darkened corridors of the citadel. They were accompanied by the blurred photocopies of self-manufactured emotions, which he deemed necessary when dealing with the being he was about to face.

It was, after all, of utmost importance to know one's enemy.

The woman disturbed him – that was an undeniable statement. 'Disturb' being a metaphor to symbolize the emotions his indicator had sent him; meaning to cause unease, or discomfort. Ulquiorra understood none of these, and merely dismissed them as things that were meant to be avoided. And thus, he had to deal with this problem.

The first thing he was to ask of himself was why. Why was he disturbed, uneasy or uncomfortable? He felt the question burn itself into his being. Why.

There was an insatiable thirst that gnawed from his insides, begging to be quenched. Ulquiorra almost laughed. Quenched. Thirst. Was he already getting influenced by all these metaphors?

He side-stepped the outstretched leg with considerable ease, ceasing his train of thought.

What an idiot.

"Going to see that doll again eh, Ulquiorra?"

Emerald eyes stared vacantly at Grimmjow. The ivory-white jawbone further aggravated the grin that pulled across his face at Ulquiorra's silence. With a swift, easy movement, he retracted his leg and draped it errantly across his other, sleeved arms resting against the bench's armrest. He sniggered.

"It's only been forty-five minutes. Don't tell me you miss her."

Ulquiorra continued walking. Grimmjow scowled.

"Oi!" he bellowed, waving a fist at the receding figure. "I'm talking to you!"

He stopped, glanced back. "Don't you have duties to do? People to kill, perhaps?"

"Damn you, Aizen's pet," growled Grimmjow, though his words were lost on empty air.

[ ]

It had only been forty-five minutes.

The low moaning of the heavy metallic bolts startled Inoue Orihime, who had gotten used to the greedy silence and the dull feedback she got from her harsh breathing and sniffing. Her fingers loosened from the outfit's fabric, which she had been using as a makeshift handkerchief, and balled into fists. They fell to her sides, shaking.

The sense of time was lost on her – there was no real sunlight in Hueco Mundo.

He entered, door slamming deafeningly behind him, face as white and emotionless as a skull. Except there was no deathly smile – only a faint line of grimness.

Strangely, this didn't scare Orihime.

"So, are you ready to eat now?" he stated, not asked, for asking required a lighter note at the end of the sentence. His voice was simply a monotonous drone, synthesized purely out of necessity. Orihime did not answer.

His eyes stole a glance at the porcelain rice bowl, evidently left untouched.

"It is not poisoned."

The woman nodded. Her voice sounded soft and muffled with phlegm. "I know."

He continued staring at the rice bowl, noticing a small crack near the rim, zigzagging down like a lightning bolt. His eyebrows knitted slightly. "How can you be certain?"

She lifts her gaze to his for a brief second, before smiling faintly. "I just know."

Tch, insolent human.

"It's Ulquiorra-san… right?"

The sound of his name in her voice steered him to channel his attention back at her.

By what absurd means have you acquired my name? And of what authority do you have to use it? He, however, said nothing. Merely stared at her. Watched her eyes dart across cracks on the floor in the irksome manner of a small Earth mammal. What was it? Ah, yes. A mouse.

"I'm sorry." Her voice was much louder and bolder than what he had estimated. Curse those metaphors. "I'm sorry about what I did just now."

He could clearly see her discomfort – her face had turned a deep shade of red, and her mouth was overturned in a pitiful frown.

Ulquiorra couldn't bear to look at it any longer. He resumed staring at the rice bowl.

"Aizen-sama said," he continued, disregarding her apology. "that humans need to enjoy their meal, or at least consume it willingly, in order for the necessary minerals for life to be released to the fullest extent. Which is why I have been ordered to give you grace time. Do not be mistaken – we are neither bothered nor obliged to give you any hope for freedom. I strongly advise that you do not take this for granted."

The woman made a sniffing sound and bowed her head. Locks of bright orange hair fell across her shoulders, brushing her limp hands. Ulquiorra felt disturbed.

"Sorry, but I have to refuse." Her reply was a shaky, choked up one.

What a strange human, he thought.

Then the doors were slammed open, the entrance yawning wide. Two huge, stocky Arrancar lumbered in. They stopped after several paces and bowed. In their hands was a contraption known to them as a torture instrument.

One hour.

He watched as she raised her head in horror, eyes shining with an unfamiliar sheen, mouth agape. And he watched as her features twisted in a mask of fear…

No more.

"Carry out your orders," he said.

Then Ulquiorra turned and walked out.

II

Humans could cry.

It fascinated him; how humans could link sorrow with water – liquid, the essence of their life. Did the water symbolize their sadness or their happiness? Was it that they were trying to remove their sadness in the form of release, or simply to show that their happiness was wasting away? He couldn't decide.

It also annoyed him, how the previous visit could potentially be considered a wasted trip.

Seeing the woman again had caused his emotion indicator to malfunction, or at least fluctuate. This time, it created new emotions that he had never been able to name since the previous day. It was a confusing experience, and he did not like to be confused.

Why did he feel uneasy?

Why?

Anger? Empathy? Guilt?

Either way, it was a waste of energy and resources to cry. Aizen-sama said water was a human being's most important external, physical resource. Perhaps she was that desperate to resort to such means of suicide.

Pitiful.

He had received news yesterday that the force-feeding had been successful, and she had been put to sleep. She could be force-fed once every day, three hours after her awakening, after which she would be put to sleep again. It was a useful system – that way she could not attempt ways of escape.

After all, the security could no longer be deemed as reliable. Outside, the ceaseless yammering of lowly-ranked Arrancar continued to permeate his meditation.

Slightly peeved, Ulquiorra left his chambers and went down the corridors once again.

[ ]

It was half an hour to her feeding time.

She was sitting upright on the edge of her bunk, staring vacantly into space. Etched faintly across her neck was the mark of the instrument they had used the previous day. It was a thin white line, smoothly gliding across her throat. Upon the table was the rice bowl and a glass of water, half an hour into waiting, looking forlorn and unmolested.

She looked at him and smiled. "Good day, Ulquiorra-san."

He stared at her, taking in the bright sparkle of her eyes, the carefree grin splashed across her face. That familiar feeling of caution stirred inside him.

It didn't make sense. She didn't make sense.

"There is no day in Hueco Mundo," he stated blankly. "You are mistaken."

The smile didn't fade, though she lost the will to look straight at him. "No; I am happy."

"How so?"

"Because you are speaking to me directly now. It makes me feel respected as a person."

His reply was that of silence.

"The food was delicious yesterday, by the way." The laugh in her voice was back. He saw her scratch the back of her head sheepishly from the corner of his eye. What a strange, unnecessary movement.

"Does that mean that you will be eating on your own accord now?"

His terse sentence cut off her laughter. They echoed for a brief second, then were eaten up by the silence.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "But I really can't."

His emotion indicator began to secrete impatience. Ulquiorra stemmed it. "And why is that?"

"Because it is my only way of fighting."

He looked at her questioningly. Fool, there is no war to fight when the winner is already decided from the beginning of the battle.

"Not against you." Orihime wrapped her arms around her stomach, face breaking into another sheepish, wide grin, "But against myself."

They conversed in silence for the next ten minutes until the same two Arrancar appeared at the doors.

Before he turned to leave, Ulquiorra spoke to her, "Do you think you are winning?"

She threw him a grim smile of determination. "I'd like to believe so."

With one last glance at her, the Espada pivoted on his heel and left.

III

The lack of understanding came simply from discrepancies of mentalities and perceptions – an apparent fact that had eluded Ulquiorra. It appalled him that he had not noticed the simplicity of the matter.

It was simply because they were different. Two entirely separate beings with no grey matter in between.

Inwardly, he cursed to himself. All that time, wasted. Used up for nothing. He would never understand the human. That woman with the strange power. The power that entranced and fascinated Aizen-sama. And also, as he was beginning to realise, himself.

Grimmjow scratched the ground impatiently with his zanpakutou, arched body fidgeting from prolonged stillness.

"Oi, Ulquiorra. Stop daydreaming – I'm waiting."

He stared at him unblinkingly, arms rested at his sides. He made no move to draw his sword.

"Find somebody else to spar with today, Grimmjow. I have other things to do."

The blade made an eerie screeching sound of irritation before its owner hoisted it over his shoulder. Its deadly, sharp edge hit his shoulder with a dull chunk.

"You promised me."

"I made no promises. Simply did not rule out the possibility. Have you not learnt anything since joining Aizen-sama?"

Grimmjow ran a finger under his nose, looking elsewhere, hiding his awkwardness. "Who learns anything from that old fart?"

The other party snorted, sending out traces of reiatsu. It returned with nothing – the radius 100 metres from them was deserted. Ulquiorra did not miss a beat.

"You should not speak that way of the master. People might hear you."

The fellow Espada grinned sinisterly. "So what? I'll just kill them all."

"As expected."

Chuckling softly, he sheathed his sword and collapsed on the floor, stretching out his limbs luxuriously. When he spoke, his voice contained none of its belligerent aggressiveness.

"What is it really, Ulquiorra? You didn't get any specific orders from Aizen."

Still that same, blank stare. Grimmjow would have sighed. Even when they were alone, his friend did not take down the barriers erected to keep himself from the world. Disappointing, but expected. Nobody else knew the secrets Aizen's favourite lackey held. Nobody, except him. Their relationship – of which the depth had been kept under wraps from the overseeing eye of the other Arrancar – had been more of mutual respect and tolerance. Which was about all Grimmjow could afford.

"There is nothing to speak of."

"Don't give me that," Grimmjow snapped, the edges of his lips stretching backwards in a snarl. "You're hiding something from me, and I don't like it. We made that promise, remember? And you said you would keep it."

"I did."

"Fine," he picked his nose errantly, ignoring the faint grimace of disgust Ulquiorra was giving him. "I'll guess."

Silence. Was consent, finished Grimmjow thoughtfully.

"It's your hair."

Silence. Was consent?

"Wait. Really, it is?"

Still that same bloody blank stare. Grimmjow felt his blood boil.

"Oi! At least tell me if it's a yes or a no."

"It's a no."

You're bloody enjoying this, aren't you? In spite of himself, he felt himself grinning.

"Your uniform's splitting. You're putting on weight. Your hollow mask is falling off. You're contracting dandruff."

"No. No. No. No. Didn't I already tell you it had nothing to do with my hair?"

Grimmjow scratched his head roughly. Several cerulean strands got stuck in his long fingernails, which he shook off with equal harshness. Then it struck him.

"It's the woman."

Still the stare. Or was there something more? Recognition?

Gotcha.

"That orange-haired human. You visited her yesterday and today. It was more than necessary, wasn't it? You were only supposed to deliver the food to her yesterday."

The stare seemed less concentrated. In fact, Ulquiorra had turned to look away.

"She is a strange existence, that woman. She refused her food twice."

Grimmjow blinked. It was beyond him. "But why? Is she that stupid?"

"She is intelligent, which is what confuses me."

Somewhere in Grimmjow's brain, a light bulb flickered dully.

"Oh. That's bad, isn't it?"

"Very. I want to find out why. But I got nothing out of two days. It is ridiculous."

The light bulb continued to flicker insistently; it eventually stopped flickering and retained a dull sheen. A slow smile spread across Grimmjow's face.

"Then ask her."

"Impossible," Ulquiorra ruled out immediately. He began to pace. "She speaks differently from me. Everything she does has no reason, no logical reason. Her choices are not made by simple rationale, which is starkly impossible. No intelligent being would act this way."

"Thanks," Grimmjow muttered sarcastically. His love for fighting and killing had no reason, after all. It was simply for the thrill of it. The excitement.

"But she isn't unintelligent. She understands my thoughts, even reads them sometimes. I dislike it. And it is not like me to dislike. Simply disapprove of."

"Kill her, then."

He kneaded his forehead, sighing. "If only I could, if only I could. I would avoid her entire existence, but it has burned itself into my memories. I cannot understand it."

"Relax," Grimmjow raised two hands at him and began to fan at him. "Avoiding her would be a stupid thing. Just like running away from a fight."

The stare was back, demanding. "So what do you propose I do?"

He threw himself back down on the floor, hands cushioning the back of his head. "I dunno. Go figure it out yourself. Like you said, I've got more important things to do. People to kill."

Ulquiorra shook his head. "You're right. I shouldn't be taking advice from a dimwit. What's the world coming to? I should be somewhere else, doing something worthwhile."

"Keep your opinions to yourself," Grimmjow threw back. "Aizen's pet shouldn't be allowed to run loose without a leash for too long, you know."

"That insult's getting a bit stale, don't you think, Grimmjow?" said Ulquiorra sourly, unhinging the gym door's latch. Oiled hinges creaked noiselessly, revealing a yawning darkness into their world. Their real world.

The wounded Espada flailed his legs carelessly in the air. "Curse you for leaving like that all the time. One day I'll have the last laugh. Stupid Aizen's pet."

The door clicked shut in response.

[ ]

He did not visit her that day, but instead returned to his chambers to contemplate.

What was it that differentiated him and the woman?

What was the key that had been kept from his grasp?

The hollow darkness of the chamber replied him soundlessly. A moth fluttered in from the outside, its pitch black wings speckled with brown. It barely made it across the room when a sudden burst of reiatsu seized his tiny soul and shattered it, sending its barren body spiraling gently to the floor. The quietness sang as its wings cracked under the deadweight.

So fragile an existence, teetering along the rims of existing and disappearing – of what significance did it hold? Why was it allowed to live even amongst the cesspool of evolved beliefs and customs?

Such a fragile, breakable thing; was it worth anything at all?

Another moth fluttered in; this one, however, bore a greater significance than the one lying cold and motionless.

It carried a message from Aizen Sousuke.

With a light fluttering of dark wings, the insect alighted on Ulquiorra's finger.

Report to headquarters immediately.

The words burned momentarily, before dissipating into another fragment of his memories. He watched the moth twitch its long antennae, large eyes staring at him, the room, the world. Ulquiorra's distorted reflection stared back at himself.

What are you trying to do? The thought reverberated, unbidden. The moth paused there for several moments, then realizing its job was done, beat its wings twice and fluttered away.

It took him a full five seconds to take his eyes away from the window after the moth had left.

IV

"She has been eating dutifully once everyday, Aizen-sama."

The self-proclaimed demagogue observed his subject with apathetic interest; head reclined leisurely against the heel of a hand. He smiled warmly.

"Willingly, or is she still reliant on force-feeding?"

There was a brief pause as Ulquiorra hesitated. "The human has refused to eat on her own free will."

Aizen Sousuke regarded this with a slightly higher interest. Something resembling disapproval flashed past his features.

"How many long has it been since her arrival here, Ulquiorra?"

Statistics. An easy answer. "One hundred and sixty-eight hours, according to her cell's time frame."

"And you still have not found a solution? My, you are losing your touch."

The Arrancar straightened his back and returned his master's mild glare. His face showed no fear. It showed no emotion.

"In my defense, if you may, Aizen-sama, I am under neither orders nor obligations to aid her in her eating habits. I was merely ordered by you to deliver her first meal."

Should the room have not been vacated, the Espada's words would have been met with intense condemnation. It was not for the disrespect towards Aizen, but towards the power Ulquiorra had over their master. Only he could say such things and get away with it.

Aizen, on the other hand, seemed to be chewing on his subject's words. His eyes lidded in an immaculate portrait of serenity, belying the constant turbulence of thought kept hidden within. Then the smile grew, widening to reveal white canines.

"Then here are your new orders, Ulquiorra." The man in the white robes sat up straight, suddenly appearing far taller than before. "You are to place the welfare of the human Inoue Orihime of highest priority. Your other duties will be distributed evenly among the other Espada. Am I clear?"

Submission at this point was inevitable. "Yes, Aizen-sama."

"Good." Aizen adjusted himself comfortably once again, the mask of unearthly ease returning. "I'm sure you'll do me proud. Besides, you already have a head start. Did you manage to learn anything from your second visit, Ulquiorra?"

Tactful indifference, thankfully, was acceptable at this point. His master was known for throwing rhetorical questions at his subjects. The trick was to be able to tell when he was doing so, and when he was being serious. Ulquiorra had been the only one so far to perfect this art.

"I will give regular reports on my progress," he evaded, then turned and walked from the shadows and into the darkness.

[ ]

Another moth had flown in. He was beginning to suspect there was something in his chambers that attracted insects. Time did not permit him to investigate this, however, much as he would like to. If there was an hourglass that represented his existence, he could nearly feel the fine sand slipping past his fingers.

Bah! Another metaphor. And this time, he'd even used feel.

Ulquiorra resisted the urge to tear up the human book on his lap. Merely closed it gently and put it away. A present from Aizen-sama, said the moth. What a lovely present indeed.

Shakespeare, was it? It had taken him a few minutes to reacquaint himself with English. How many years had it been since he last spoke it?

How many years has it been since he became an Arrancar?

Unnecessary thoughts, scoffed Ulquiorra. One of the reasons humans were so weak was because they thought too much about the wrong things. Unnecessary, useless things. And look what he was doing to himself – self-torture? Some new contagious human disease?

He was ashamed with himself.

The time was about to come. He was required to accompany the woman for the full hour before her force-feeding session now. Ridiculous, he thought. But Aizen-sama's judgment was final and unchangeable. There had to be a reason as to why he was made to do such irrational, reckless things.

There had to be.

He caught the soft whup-whup of the moth's wings as it steadied itself against a corner on the ceiling. It began to slow before stopping completely. The moth then fell asleep.

Flitting from one place to another so quickly. Leaving before being able to find the right answers. Was this his life?

Life? What life? rebutted Ulquiorra angrily, almost allowing the door to slam shut behind him. Almost.

He was still sane. The only question was for how long.

[ ]

They were positioned directly opposite each other. Ulquiorra remembered reading in one of his psychology books (also a present from Aizen-sama – the book was pink, and also very well-hidden. If Grimmjow found it, the possibilities were limitless) that such a position would place the subject of lower mental strength in an uncomfortable position, giving the other party the advantage.

As in unnecessary tidbit, the book had also mentioned that this position was also commonly used at dining restaurants. All that lacked was the table to be put in between them instead of beside her. And a pair of candle lights.

The woman in question had her hands rested on her lap, shoulders leaning forward slightly in the manner of an earnest student. Him staring. She staring. It had become an unspoken tradition. There was a phrase to describe such an occasion, according to the Shakespeare book's tutorial.

Stalemate, it was called. Ulquiorra thought it was ridiculous. And so he had taken it upon himself to break the quietness.

"You are wondering why your friends have no come to rescue you after so long," he deadpanned, his toneless sentence leaving no room for denial.

The eager face of anticipation fell. The staring stopped. But the battle was not won yet.

"You are wondering whether they have been imprisoned or killed, whether we are merely withholding the information from you. At this moment, you are loathing the fact that I am here, to watch you in your demise."

A draw of breath to shoot back a retort – but he had not finished.

"And here you are about to deny having such a disgusting habit. A habit of disliking, a habit of something negative. You know you should not be negative, but you are. It tortures you from the inside."

Her fingers clenched, drawing creases along the pale fabric of her uniform. Her entire body shook.

"So are they all right? Are my friends all right?"

It was that same pathetic guise again. Shaking body. Tearful eyes. Flustered appearance. It was unsightly.

He cast his gaze at the rice bowl instead. It seemed to be a subject of mild comfort to him. It was something the both of them had in common, something that brought both of them agony. And so it made him feel like he understood her, and for a moment, he felt the massive crevice between them close a fraction.

What a strange thing, relying so much on a useless, cracked rice bowl.

All these thoughts brushed past his mind in an instant, and he did not hesitate with his answer, "Your friends are alive."

"But are they well? Are they injured?" He detected urgency in her tone, something he did not like.

"Their state of health is of no business to me."

The tension in her bones was cut, like the strings of a marionette, leaving her limp. Her shoulders sagged, but she did not cry. Come to think of it, he had never seen her cry; only heard her sobs as he walked down the corridors.

It was a strange thing, he thought, to cry.

Ulquiorra saw the tears in her eyes before they fell, glimmering against the florescent black light from outside. He studied them until she noticed him staring.

"Sorry," she muttered, before rubbing them away quickly with the back of her hands. He said nothing when more tears began to gather soon after she had rubbed the previous ones away.

"So, are you going to eat now?"

She shook head wordlessly.

"Then you will have to be force-fed again. I doubt it is a very pleasurable experience. I saw to its manufacture personally."

That was a half-truth. Ulquiorra had been the one to supervise the procedure, but it was Aizen that had designed it. Although he doubted that it would matter much to the woman.

He watched her reach a hand up to her neck involuntarily. The white line across her neck had grown deeper in the past week, and he noticed that she treated it with a ginger, wounded tenderness.

"That is the price you have to pay for your stubbornness and stupidity," he told her coldly, looking at the scar pointedly.

She dropped her hand quickly, instead running it through her hair. The previously bright orange had lost its previous lustre and had faded to a colour hardly brighter than muddy brown. Hueco Mundo did that to humans. It wore down their souls and ate their hearts.

The living had no place here; as it was becoming more and more evident to Inoue Orihime.

"Have you looked in the basket yet, woman?"

She looked perplexed, for once noticing the reed-woven basket sitting beside the rice bowl. It had a high, arcing handle of similar material, and wrapped over the closed lid was a checkered red and white picnic cloth. The sight of it was almost ethereal.

He answered her question before she could breathe to ask it, "Yes, you may open it."

With the same meek carefulness, she pulled back the cloth and lifted the lid. She gasped.

"A special request was put to the chef. Its quality is guaranteed. And no, it is not poisoned either."

The hand extended towards the basket pointed in stunned shock. "But who? How?"

She was beginning to cry again. Ulquiorra looked out the barred window instead.

"I researched."

There was that same familiar sob – the sob that he heard from outside the corridors – followed by another. He couldn't bear it any longer. He stood up and turned to go.

"Wait."

He paused.

"Thank you, Ulquiorra-san."

He left, prison doors slamming shut behind him, latch clicking noisily into place.

Her sobs were thin echoes that haunted him throughout the remains of the day.

V

"Heard you made her cry buckets. Smooth job."

The sword felt heavy in his hand; its tip trailed a few centimeters off the ground. Ulquiorra stood with his feet apart, weight shifted to his left foot. He made no move to ready himself for combat.

"And from which infidel did you hear that from this time?"

Grimmjow shrugged, "Some guy who walked by. They said they heard crying as they walked past, right after you left." He sneered, chuckling dubiously. "So what did you do? Kick her? Slap her? She deserves her due, considering the impudence she displayed the other day. It's the wonder she is not dead yet."

"Aizen-sama says he is interested in her."

The blue-haired Espada wagged a finger at him, shaking his head in tandem. "You're avoiding my question."

"Apparently, you haven't been listening." Green eyes stared at Grimmjow, whose sneer tightened into a half-snarl. Unfair, how the guy could look menacing, annoying and accusingly all at once. "I was given strict orders not to harm her unless she attempted intentional damage."

Bruised, Grimmjow carved lines across the cold gym floor, grunting incoherently. Ulquiorra picked up something about a puppy on a leash, but didn't bother deciphering it. He drew his zanpakutou into the air with one swift swing, holding it in front of him. Its edge pointed directly at Grimmjow's throat.

"So, are we going to begin? I don't have all day."

He stood up, snorting dismally and fell into position. Then with a rapid movement of flash steps, he charged forward, dealing his friend with a forceful blow. Their swords swayed slightly, and then turned still; teetering uneasily on the pivots of their strengths.

"There is no day in Hueco Mundo, Ulquiorra."

Ulquiorra did not answer.

Metal blades screeched, igniting bright sparks of fury. The offensive blade ascended and struck again, the other evading, defending. Each time their swords swayed and gained equilibrium.

Grimmjow knew he had it. "She is changing you, that woman.

"You knew somebody had been eavesdropping on you, not just some innocent bystander. And you spared him; it was almost as if you forgave him."

The stare was a little less unnerving now. He had a friend in need, a comrade stuck in the gutter. He had to save him before he was flushed away. He saw the line now, and he wouldn't let go without a fight. "She is making you soft. Her presence haunts your consciousness."

"And what makes you make such a conclusion?" Did the tip of his sword quiver as he said that? Was he hitting home?

"The half-heartedness of your defense. I could have easily killed you if I wanted to.

"You're open."

A fist flew, burning bright with reiatsu. It careened past Ulquiorra's blade, penetrated his barrier of spiritual energy…

And stopped.

Shivering in adrenaline, Grimmjow froze. His fist was wedged in between Ulquiorra's open palm, the friction of their energies wearing their skin thin. The hair on the back of his neck rose and felt like they were on fire – shadowing them was the edge of a silver blade. His other hand was empty, disarmed.

Snorting angrily, Grimmjow pushed the blade away with his forefinger and thumb, retrieving his own sword from the ground several feet away. Loss did not sit easily with him.

"Lucky move," he spat.

"Incorrect." The hilt of Ulquiorra's zanpakutou clicked as the blade was sheathed. "You made reckless assumptions and sacrificed your neck for them."

They exchanged scowls and stares.

"I still stand by the fact that you've grown soft. Nothing you do will change what I think."

Ulquiorra eyed him squarely. "Then nothing will I do."

Grimmjow held his gaze before breaking away. With a rough shuffling of his tousled uniform, he shoved back the latch and forced the door open. There he paused, thinking, before turning back.

"Just answer me this one question." His hands tightened around the door handle. "What was in the basket?"

The stare was gone. Ulquiorra had looked away.

"Red bean paste and sweet potatoes."

He sighed. "Then the puppy has really lost its teeth."

The door slammed shut, enclosing the stoic Espada in a stale, dead silence.

[ ]

Humans slept.

Another amazing discovery, made by none other than him. To put it honestly, his second one; of which his first was presented to the subject in question the previous day and was met with rude, unwelcoming distaste. Needless to say, his concern had been more than impolitely refuted.

The hair at the back of his neck still stood, like the hackles of a wolf at an intruder, whenever his thoughts strayed to his miserable excuse for a comrade. What right did he have to speak back to him so coldly? Did they not have an agreement? If there was anything he hated more than a weakling, it would be a traitor.

A nagging voice at the back of his conscience told him that it was because he was still sore from losing the other day, but he pushed it away brusquely. Nevertheless, the thought still clawed at him, leaving him restless and short-tempered.

Damn you, Aizen's pet.

It had gone as an unanswered understanding that Grimmjow chose him as a friend because he was the only one in the Espada that was more or less on par with his own prowess. Aside from his tactless cheek and know-it-all disposition, Ulquiorra was an invaluable ally. His silent loyalty had gained Grimmjow's respect, though he hated to admit it. And now it had all been torn apart. By what?

Sometimes he pondered about it during one of those still intervals in between a fight, when his opponent was wearing thin and had begun to lose hope in attaining victory. In those moments where his mind wandered as his hands slaughtered.

He had always thought their friendship – if one could stretch it a bit and call it that – would only end after one of them had finally found his match and perished at another's blade. Perished at the talons of a monster, probably. A grotesque monstrosity with insane strength, paired with hell-high levels of reiatsu, and the aid of ten thousand swords and minions. And even that didn't fit the bill – shortly after his mental bout of imagination, the holographic version of Ulquiorra would materialize and kill the entire lot in one shot. It was simply impossible to imagine a being that could do such a thing.

But it was possible. And it had happened; without due warning, the impregnable mask of Ulquiorra had begun to soften, rendering him something closer to human. His friend had begun to form a conscience.

The assailant, however, was no powerful monster. But it was beastly all the same, and equally potent.

And it lay helpless in front of him, sleeping, slender hands clasped protectively across its chest. Dull brown hair sprawled across a stark white cushion, entangling webs of darkness.

Hatred welled inside of Grimmjow like molten silver in a furnace.

He hated humans, and he hated this one the most. It was the biggest threat, as absurd as it sounded, a human had ever posed to him. And threats were meant to be stopped. Ended. Annihilated.

He drew his sword…

[ ]

The moth was still asleep, apparently, ever since he had left and re-entered his chambers. Ulquiorra watched it, observing the swirling patterns on its russet wings, the overlapping and crisscrossing of scales to form two neat circles resembling eyes.

"She is making you soft. Her presence haunts your consciousness."

The insolence. The pompous, maddening ignorance.

His teeth gritted slightly, frustration gripping at his sides. He left his emotional indicator on at all times now; the void its effects left had become unbearable at times.

It made no sense to him, but he would not allow the matter to drop. By giving up now, it would be as Grimmjow had put it, running away from a fight.

He was only biding his time.

Scuttling its tiny feet quietly, the moth on the wall stirred.

[ ]

There was an earsplitting sound of anger, followed by the bloodcurdling screeching of metal. Inside the prison gates, wild reiatsu raged. The grey shadow of an 'X' obscured the face of Inoue Orihime; light wavered uncertainly over the two zanpakutou, before being ripped in shreds as both parties pushed against each other, retracting their swords.

Grimmjow found himself on the receiving end of a death glare.

"What are you doing here?" he spat, harsh baritone growling at every syllable.

"The question should be directed back to you," Ulquiorra answered coldly. He had not lowered his sword.

Air hissed. The tip of Grimmjow's sword pointed at the recumbent form of the human, who was motionless in drugged sleep. Her chest rose and fell steadily. The azure-haired Espada grip tightened around his sword.

"I am here to kill the woman," he announced unhesitatingly. Sapphire eyes flashed. "And nobody will stop me. Not even you."

"Have you gone insane, Grimmjow?" Ulquiorra's tone was almost incredulous in its curt delivery. "Do you not spare a thought for Aizen-sama's wishes?"

"To hell with Aizen!" His sword swung dangerously close, but Grimmjow was beyond caring, beyond holding back. "I will eliminate this threat before it becomes an irremovable thorn on our flesh."

With ethereal speed, he lunged. Here everything ended. Here all the nonsense would cease. He could almost feel the taste of liberation on his tongue…

It was an eerie case of déjà vu. A split second before his sword made contact with pale skin, the heel of a hand crashed into his wrist, seizing him by surprise. His hand fell back, disarmed, and once again Grimmjow felt the ice-cold sensation of a blade pressed against his throat. Blood pulsed madly in his veins.

The white, emotionless face of Ulquiorra stared at him wordlessly. Time paused. Then a raucous clash of metal jumpstarted it again, and Grimmjow found himself snarling, backing off.

"You will regret your actions sooner or later," he told him, pulling up his collar and sheathing his zanpakutou. "When you do, I will not tarry in killing the weakling that hinders our battles." His voice dripped of venom. "And it is not just the woman's throat that I would be targeting then."

He left the door to slam conclusively.

Ulquiorra waited a few seconds before turning around to face her. The woman was sitting up, large brown eyes wide awake and questioning.

She spoke first, "Are you all right, Ulquiorra-san?"

He returned his zanpakutou to its sheath, countering the question with another question, "Why did you not protect yourself?"

Brown eyes grew wider. "Eh?"

He glowered smoulderingly at her. "You were awake the entire time – the assistants did not have any use for the equipment; you ate on your own accord. Your power is not arrested in this place, if not doubled. You could have easily defended yourself."

Orihime's face was downcast. "Now that you say it," she chuckled nervously. "I don't know why either."

He continued scrutinizing her. Uncomfortable, she squirmed, chewing on her lip.

"Maybe it is because I trust you, Ulquiorra-san."

Ulquiorra inclined his head. "Trust me?"

She nodded, the edges of her mouth slowly tugging into a smile. "Yes. I trust your loyalty to Aizen."

"Then I am afraid you might have misplaced your trust," he answered. "Your reasoning lies on very unstable grounds."

Perplexed, she opened her mouth to ask, but Ulquiorra stopped her.

"You know nothing about my relation with Aizen-sama, only the fact that I work under him and treat him as my master. Is that enough to warrant a conclusion?"

She shook her head.

"Precisely."

The smile widened marginally. "And yet you saved me."

"Only on the basis of my orders; orders which you have no way of telling when I would abide, and when I would disobey."

"There is such a thing called faith."

"There also is such a thing as stupidity, and unnecessary assumptions."

"Maybe I'm just following my heart," Orihime muttered whimsically, eyes suddenly unfocused in careless thought.

Ulquiorra regarded this with detached contempt, though somewhere in his consciousness he wished it to be true. To pass her unexplainable actions off as the result of a typical human response – something beyond his grasp of understanding – would free him of his troubles.

Instead, he eyed her briefly, checking for any injuries. Finding none, he strode in the direction of the exit.

Her question caught him just as the darkness of Las Noches retrieved him from the cell.

"What do you follow, Ulquiorra-san?"

Then the door closed behind him as always; ensnaring shadowy hands that had strayed in from the outside, shutting her off.

[ ]

It had become something of a routine now; he appearing, they conversing, he disappearing again behind that door. The door that slammed so loudly it shook her every time, reminding her of the breach of respect she had committed so long ago.

Time was a very different affair in Hueco Mundo – there were no days or nights, only endless seconds and hours, measured by the accurate calculation of its inhabitants. Something humans could not do. Something she could not do.

The thought of her friends coming to save her had brought her a new bout of mixed feelings – hope and worry intermingled with each other, pulling her insides apart. She had thought that she had rid her friends of one burden, but instead created for them a new one. Inversely, she had dumbly offered herself captive and was now serving under the enemy. It was of high probability that the Shinigami had labeled her a traitor by then.

Orihime buried her face in her hands.

And yet, here was a new problem. On the brink of the world's destruction, where she was the main key to prevent it, she had involved herself in a different dilemma.

There was something about this Arrancar; something different from the rest.

Immediately, her rational side had jumped at the possibility of forging an alliance, hence building a path to her freedom. But she quelled it by rationalizing that she would never be able to escape single-handedly. So Orihime had made a pact with herself – she would fulfill what was demanded of her from Aizen. She would serve the Arrancar in a way they never expected.

She could have ignored his efforts and thrown a tantrum, making his work difficult, but she didn't. She could have defended herself against harm, but she didn't. For over the past one-hundred odd hours, Orihime had developed a certain respect and trust towards him in spite of their differences.

And stemming from trust was compassion.

VI

Light spewed carelessly over him as he meditated. His chamber was an image of extreme serenity, his calm, stable reiatsu blocking off all noise from the outside. Somehow now, the silence was suffocating.

"What do you follow, Ulquiorra-san?"

Grimmjow was right – the woman had invaded his senses. He no longer thought coherently. She disturbed his meditating sessions and caused disruption in his daily activities. The hushed whisperings and rumours among the other Arrancar had grown almost intolerable. He should have killed that snotty-faced Número instantly when he first noticed the presence of a weak reiatsu trailing off the corridors from the woman's cell.

Instead, he had let the rumours live as incessant pests, and they had multiplied rapidly. More than once had he felt the rise in reiatsu as he passed lower-ranking Arrancar; he sensed their zeal in challenging him. They had been convinced that he had been reduced to a state where there was a possibility of overthrowing him and taking his place as one of the esteemed Espada.

A vein throbbed in his forehead. It was a strange thing, that Arrancar still had blood even though they needed no heart. It was as if their human side could not be removed from their souls no matter how long they were dead.

Tch! Unnecessary thoughts. How many times had he allowed himself to drift this far and not even notice it?

The soft beat of scaled wings pried inconspicuously into his thoughts. Ulquiorra raised a finger, quickly taking in the message. It was the same moth from the previous days. Its antennae twitched at him.

After several moments, the moth beat its wings and departed, casting a thin grey shadow against the chamber walls. Ulquiorra watched it go. It would probably be the last time he would see it – having served its purpose as both a spy and messenger for Aizen-sama since. It had watched him silently in his room and reporting back to their master since the beginning of this affair.

Strangely, the thought of being watched did not affect him one bit. Perhaps it was because he was used to it.

Or maybe it was because he trusted Aizen-sama.

Pushing away the absurd notion, he smoothed down his uniform and strode towards his master's headquarters.

[ ]

"It has been three hundred and twelve hours, Aizen-sama."

The empty hall was cold, the darkness growing restless. Perched upon his throne was his master, fiddling carelessly with the dwindling legs of a moth. A wide smile stretched across his face, bearing all the emotion of a desert sphinx.

"And how is she faring? Not too bored of our little place here, I'm afraid?"

Ulquiorra dealt with his master's feigned ignorance coolly. "The woman is coping fine."

Aizen Sousuke cocked a lazy brow. "What of her eating habits, then? Does she still need a little encouragement for that?"

Shaking his head slightly, he answered, "No, she is eating well now on her own accord."

Tiny legs fidgeted ceaselessly as the leader of the Arrancar caught hold of one of the moth's legs with his forefinger and thumb, ignoring the insect's discomfort. Noticeably false enthusiasm and shock tinted Aizen's appraisal.

"Why, that is splendid! How did you manage it?"

"I did a bit of research, Aizen-sama," he did well to hide his growing annoyance.

"With evident results," replied Aizen, features glinting with sadistic pleasure. Ulquiorra did not like the look on his face. Involuntarily, his fingers clenched inwards by a millimetre; he took to avoid looking at the struggling insect.

"And with evident results comes a reward," his master continued, all counterfeit mirth vanishing in an instant. All that was left was an icy delight. "From here on out, I will be giving you a bit of a vacation. You are exempted from being her personal feeding nanny from now on."

The grin revealed shining molars, Aizen's eyes flashed. "Meaning that any unauthorised contact with the human is prohibited; due punishment would be given if for some reason or other you choose to disobey me."

Ulquiorra stared at his master, suddenly hating his love for violence and suffering. But what did it matter to him? As long as he was not at the receiving end of it…

"Understood." His acknowledgement rang loud and conclusive.

There was a sudden shattering. Aizen's fingers closed in upon a pair of brown wings, killing the insect instantly. Its withered body floated to the ground with melodramatic sluggishness, as if it were moving through water. Ulquiorra heard his master chuckling.

"Always the obliging, unquestioning servant," he mused. "Tell you what; I'll give you another twenty-four hours with the woman. Fair enough?"

"That is unnecessary, Aizen-sama, although I appreciate your consideration."

Aizen flicked a hand, specks of dried moth scales flying off the tips of his fingers. His eyes narrowed slyly.

"No, I insist."

Ulquiorra found himself once again in a case of inevitable submission. He had walked into Aizen's little circle of entrapment and had been played around like a fool.

"Very well," he finally answered. "I will do as you command."

"Excellent. Oh, and Ulquiorra?"

He stopped abruptly in his tracks. Aizen's grin turned to one of sardonic humour.

"Do try not to make her cry this time. It is awfully distracting."

[ ]

Outside, behind the security of closed doors, Ulquiorra felt the tension in his shoulders dissipate. He shut his eyes for a few brief seconds, the hem of his long coat flaring out behind him in his quick pace.

Very nearly did he fail to sidestep the outstretched shin protruding from the shadows; but however greatly distracted he was, he could never miss the fierce, untamed reiatsu of Grimmjow Jaggerjack.

He stopped, turned. For the second time in the day he was met with a wide, maniacal grin.

"So how'd it go, little puppy? Did daddy spank you on the bottom for being a bad boy?"

In spite of himself, there was still a tiny fragment of a grudge hanging in the balance between them. After all, irrationalism had always been something that irked him to no end, and Grimmjow's rash actions the other day had been the ultimate epitome of that.

He brushed past him wordlessly and was, as expected, barred off by a quick flurry of motion. The frenzied face of Grimmjow filled his field of vision.

"Hey, I'm talking to you!"

"Then address me appropriately if you intend to do so."

Grimmjow's left eye twitched unresponsively.

Ulquiorra regarded him with disinterested distaste. "If there is nothing else you want to say to me other than useless banter, I have other things to do. Please excuse me."

"Wait." A hand stopped him. His voice had changed somewhat; it was deeper, and more sober. "You are going to see the human again, aren't you? Your last time."

Silence, followed by a blank stare.

"Do me a favour, will you?" He ran a hand through his light blue hair. "If you've finally come to your senses, please take this opportunity to kill her quickly and painlessly."

"Painlessly?" Ulquiorra's head tilted in sceptism.

"Painlessly. I wouldn't want you to waste her screams if no-one's going to hear them," he added. With a slight shift of weight between feet, Ulquiorra noticed a smudged blood stain on the hem of Grimmjow's tattered white robe. The blood of a certain nosey Número, no doubt.

He nodded, resuming his smooth stride from Aizen's gates. On his way past, Grimmjow was certain he saw the ghost of a smile on his comrade's face – the only indication of gratitude he would ever see displayed by the dispassionate Espada.

Unbidden, bits of his earlier conversation with Aizen resurfaced.

"Why do you do this, Aizen? Why do you seek to torture the poor brat?"

"The same reason you seek strong people to kill, Grimmjow."

Snorting amusedly, he tucked his hands into his pockets and strolled back the other way.

VII

Humans slept.

It was an apparent fact that Ulquiorra had always knew but never questioned. He had long forgotten the pains of fatigue and tiredness. He had also forgotten what it was like to dream.

There were no feeble traces of stranger reiatsu that night; Grimmjow had taken care of that.

Her figure was still as a corpse, waxy translucent skin seemingly absorbing thin light. Dirty orange strands of hair half-obscured her face, which was loose with unconsciousness. Her neck was barred, revealing a faint, fine line that was quickly fading. The calmness was alien to him. It was unlike the ominous composure of his master, or the still breeze of an eminent fight. Simply calm, at ease.

Silently he contemplated this.

She spoke of trust. Trust and faith – things that were not alien to him. He had heard them numerous times from the lips of Aizen-sama; tools of propaganda, no doubt, but often overlooked. It was a queer thing to hear it from her, the very opposite of his master's condescending, intense presence. And yet he had accepted her words as easily as he dodged his master's. Only now did he think about it, but that alone was not enough.

He had to see it for himself.

The woman was asleep for real this time; he could sense it in the patterns of her reiatsu. She was also dreaming. She looked almost… happy.

It was painless with he removed the eye from his left socket. He felt no pain.

"What do you follow, Ulquiorra-san?"

Glass cracked; his hand closed in on the shards as they were blown away by a nonexistent wind. Borne in mid-air, they caught the light, gleaming faintly like cherry blossoms under a fading sun.

Then a heavy darkness fell upon them, and the sun descended fully from the sky.

[ ; ]

She was awakened by a coarse roughness. It seemed to have crawled into every corner of her being, scratching mercilessly, making her skin raw and bare. But when she opened her eyes, she realised it was only sand.

Sharp, harsh rays of the desert sun pierced her vision, turning it green. She blinked, rubbing her eyes. Below her, the sand moved and shifted, creaking against her crumpled uniform. Where her arms had supported her while she slept, the sand had imprinted red spots into her skin. Orihime eyed it warily. Tiredness weighed heavily on her lids.

"I see you are awake."

At the familiar voice, her eyes flew open in surprise. She whirled around, all thoughts of fatigue forgotten.

"Ulquiorra-san!" Orihime stopped to catch her breath, coughing as she inhaled in some dust particles. "Where are we?"

The Espada stood behind her, hands rested behind his back. As always, his deep, green eyes bore into hers. Their emptiness was a trait she had long gotten used to.

"Outside Las Noches."

A pang of shock seized her, and Orihime gasped. "How? How did I get here?"

He didn't blink. "I brought you here."

Before she could stop it, images of how he did so flashed past her mind and coloured her cheeks pink. When she had recovered adequately enough, she swallowed.

"Why did you bring me here?"

Ulquiorra did not answer her question. "Why do you not try to flee?"

Her hands stopped brushing away sand dust, and she looked up questioningly. "Eh?"

"You are no longer in your prison cell. Your limbs are neither bound nor broken; hence, you are in a perfect situation to attempt escape."

Orihime stared thoughtfully at an indentation her hand had made in the sand. "You will stop me."

"And if I promised that I wouldn't stop you?"

"Then you would be put in a difficult position, for you would be bound by two laws. One imposed on you by Aizen, the other imposed on you for me."

He swiveled his head to stare at the sun. Unlike her, he watched it unflinchingly. The golden rays turned his irises a light shade of viridian.

"And how does that matter to you?"

She shrugged, thin shoulders rising slightly. "I don't like putting people in difficult positions."

A thin gust of wind blew eddies of sand past, catching her hair and pulling it across her face. Orihime smoothed it back behind her ears. Ulquiorra had turned silent.

"Have you thought of your answer to my question?" She ventured cautiously.

He shifted his gaze back to her.

"The one I asked the other day when you saved me from Grimmjow-san. You said you were following Aizen's…"

His feet made no sound as he took several steps forward, head still tilted slightly to the sun.

"I follow no-one."

She considered this. "Thank you," she finally said, smiling. "That was the first time you answered any of my questions."

Ulquiorra snorted, digging one of his feet into the sand.

"May I ask another question?"

His silence was taken as consent.

"Why did you bother coming back to me?"

He shut his eyes, as if exhaling. When he spoke, his voice was soft. Almost thoughtful.

"Because you puzzled me." He hesitated, before continuing, "You act without prior thought, without the backup of logic. The possibility of fallacies or loopholes does not bother you." Murky green irises regarded her with scientific incomprehension. "And also, you cry."

For the first time, Orihime noticed the dark lines across his face, like rivers of tears cascading downwards into a bottomless pool. She bowed her head, studying her hands.

"Then do I still puzzle you, Ulquiorra-san?"

He looked down at her, the shadows his hollow mask cast softening the glare of the sun.

"No."

Stretching her hands behind her, she leaned backwards, watching the sky. It was cloudless, and no birds tore across its crimson tranquility.

"Then I am glad."

"Why?"

"Because now I know not all Arrancar are completely heartless."

A hint of annoyance touched his tone. "Arrancar have no heart."

She sounded gentle, yet insistent. "I know you do. I can still hear it beating."

Mouth taut in a grim line, Ulquiorra shook his head. The ludicrousness of a human's mentality still mildly perplexed him, though no longer disturbed him. Still, he refrained from protesting further. The woman was a stubborn one, as he knew.

They stayed in silence for a long while, watching the motionless picture before them. Time was an inconsequential factor, easily altered, changed, reversed.

"Do you wish to return, woman?"

"If we must." She dipped her head. "And my name is Inoue Orihime."

He nodded. "Very well, Inoue-san. But I must inform you; the next time we see each other, it will be purely under necessary circumstances. Should the status quo change, I would see you as nothing but an enemy. Is this understood?"

"Yes."

And without another word, Ulquiorra allowed the world to collapse. The sun fell from the sky, sand fizzed into nothingness, and the darkness caught hold of her and lulled her into unconsciousness.

The last thing she remembered was a pair of emerald eyes; and cradled in them was a spark of something. Perhaps, she reflected drowsily, a spark of something human.

[ ]

He stood over her, the last remains of his illusion vanishing from his hands. Ulquiorra almost laughed. He had entered somebody's dreams, just like one of those human books he had been reading. Only he wasn't a fairy. Far from one, in fact.

As he watched her stir, subconscious mind struggling to link itself back to reality, he felt no disgust. Only a faint inclination of pity that her existence would be short-lived.

But maybe, Ulquiorra realised, that was what made humans so different.

To live for the day and fight for tomorrow; wouldn't that be a nice change?

Tch, he scoffed himself. Unnecessary thoughts.

Though in spite of himself, his right hand rose and lightly grazed past the left side of his chest. Dark hell light bent as his lips curled upwards in a small smile.

This battle was her victory. For now.

Goodbye, Inoue-san.

The door swung quietly closed behind him, latch clicking noiselessly into place.

[ ]

END