Prologue

The sound of jostling steel joints sang out along the long hall, the stone capturing the noise and magnifying it into a clamorous procession. The bent wheels gave the carts progress a loping gait that only added to Ulquiorra's irritation as he moved determinedly down the hall.

His mind was wandering, an uncharacteristic attribute, but his feet moved inexorable without the need for concentration to guide them.

He paused outside the tall, cold door with his hands gripping, straining, on the tray's metal handle in sudden hesitation.

Ulquiorra breathed in deeply to try to force some clarity to his thoughts. It doesn't really work.

He can hear his master's words in his ear as clearly as if Aizen were saying them beside him now.

"The duty of the prisoners care I give to you Ulquiorra. I trust that you will be the most…perceptive candidate to assume the role of care taker. Her health and well being I am entrusting to you to preserve."

That perfectly timed pause only accentuated the Espada's uncertainty in the matter. He had no pre-requisite to truly qualify him for this task. Aizen voiced those presumptions without precedence.

Yet was this not a measure of Aizen's trust in him, that he might fulfil even the most basic of tasks with the full plate of authority behoved to him?

The sudden reflection that Grimmjow or Szael would probably forget to feed her, or even simply kill her on a whim, eased some of his chagrin.

He supposed, in the end, that ultimately he was a servant of Aizen; an order from him was an order to be fulfilled, even if the subordinate thought his time could be better spent.

The stone ground against stone with an aching grate. But even with the thunderous noise of the doors parting reluctantly and the rattle of metal jostling porcelain, when Ulquiorra entered into the cell his charge did not move in response.

Her body was splayed carelessly across the bed, her bright hair fanning out to ripple starkly against white, austere sheets. She lay carelessly limp and completely unmindful of his presence.

Ulquiorra tried not to feel irritated as he glanced over at the tray by her bedside, his emerald gaze noting with dissatisfaction that her morning meal lies cold and untouched.

This would not do at all.

He walked pointedly to her bedside, reaching her in just three brisk strides. The click of his heals hitting the stone floor seemed to have roused her slightly, but she makes no move to turn and acknowledge him.

Ulquiorra is not like Grimmjow or other Espada; he is not overly sadistic or cruel. He is severe in his actions but only to the point of faultless completion. So when he reached down to lift Inoue Orihime from the bed, he did not intend to hurt her at all.

Her small gasp elicited surprise from Ulquiorra as he re-adjusted his hold on her arm to bring her up to a sitting position.

Inoue's eyes were overshadowed, the lids drooping down in a drunken expression. She looked up at him dolefully as Ulquiorra gently spread her fingers to straighten.

He had wondered why his loose grip had caused her pain. Dotted amongst the smooth contours of her palm was a scattering of angry red mouths grinning up at him.

The transfer of dried blood on her nails told him that the little crescent cuts had probably been inflicted from her clenching her fists too tightly. A wound made in great stress.

He raised his eyes to meet her gaze again; the sleepy confused film that had coated them before was now gone.

Inoue snatched her hand back suddenly, as if his touch burned her. He lets his own outstretched hands fall to his sides as he studied her closely, trailing along the shadows under her eyes to the gaunt sinking of her cheeks.

He is dissatisfied.

"Are you sick?"

The question is so sudden it throws Inoue off. She looks up at him in surprise, a crease furrowing her brow. She has let her confusion extend the silence too long.

"I will ask you again, are you sick?"

"N-no…"

"Then eat."

Ulquiorra retrieved the plate of food from his service tray, proffering the thickly sliced bread and cold meat within inches of her face. Orihime only looks at the meal apprehensively; she makes no move to take it from him.

"Your co-operation in this task is not necessary. Should you refuse to eat I will force it down your throat, either way you are going to ingest it."

Again, Ulquiorra proffers the plate and this time Inoue takes it. She picks up the smallest slice of bread, looking up uncertainly to meet his eyes before she takes a small bite from its edge.

He watches her eat silently, staring stonily down at Inoue until she is done, returning the plate to the cart herself.

As she stands up to do so, her shoulder brushes against Ulquiorra's chest and her hair snags against the fabric of his uniform. She doesn't notice, and as she turns to seat herself back onto the bed Ulquiorra watches unhindered as most of the bright strands pull away from him and fall back into its seamless flow at her back.

She dismisses him by lying back down, facing away from Ulquiorra as he retrieves the cart and begins to wheel it out of the cell, frowning down at the half finished meal.

He knows she has not been at Hueco Mondo a sufficient enough time to warrant a drop in needed dietary supplements, and the state of her being and wounds on her hands only baffles him more.

He tried to deduce the cause of her changes but his knowledge is just not sufficient enough to supply all of the pieces to fit it together. She was just so incomprehensible to him, like a leaf trapped within ice she seemed to be frozen within their stoic world, unable to move freely anymore.

He had seen her many times as she had interacted within her own world; even under the stress of her decision to come here willingly she had not been so drawn. It was a problem he knew not how to fix.

But Aizen's words were still whispering in his ear. "Her health and well being I am entrusting to you to preserve."

It was his duty, charged to him by Aizen, that he keep her in good health. The sight he had witnessed just before in the cell he knew to be not meeting that requirement.

But in order to regulate her again into a stable condition he would have to understand what was affecting her will and health and deduce the most appropriate way to fix it.

"In order to repair her I must understand her first."

His words fell away into the empty hall outside of Inoue's cell, swallowed up by the metallic jostling as Ulquiorra wheeled the cart forward determinedly, a few strands of bright hair falling off of his shirt front unnoticed.

--

I have a definite fascination with Inoue's situation within Hueco Mondo. After I read over the prologue I found it written….well a little differently to what I am used to. But then again I have never written from the perspective on an emotionless character before 0.o

Regards, Eia