There were words battering against her soft senses, loud words that were laced with frustration. She tried to focus her thoughts upon them but they were like wet fish that kept slipping through her stumbling fingers. She pushed a hot hand across her forehead, wiping the sweat from her brow back into her hairline as she tried to steady her focus.
She could see his feet outside her sanctuary door, stationary while the owner's voice persisted in its battering assault.
"I will not play games like a child woman, if you do not agree to come out I will force you to vacate the…"
Inoue smiled secretively; she had never heard Ulquiorra stumble for a word before. It was such an ordinary thing to do.
"Cubbyhouse." She provided, trying not to giggle as she imagined the perturbed look he would be giving her through the tented sheets.
She braced herself against the harem of cushions she had assorted as a wave of giddiness passed over her. The fever had settled in now and she was in the full thrall of it. But what else could she expect after wearing wet clothes out in such windy and cold conditions?
But Inoue regretted nothing, if she were to go back to that moment she would do it all again without hesitation. After all, when would she ever get another opportunity to fly like that?
"Answer me woman."
Ah, so he had reverted back to calling her 'woman' now. To be honest, she hadn't even heard his question but she thought it best to answer promptly before he refused to refer to her at all in his anger.
"My brother used to build me a cubbyhouse out of bedding whenever I got sick. He said I could put all my bad feelings in there to be trapped later and left behind…like a cleansing." Inoue smiled at the memory of her brother's gentle face gilded as the sheets around them distorted the living room light.
"It is a sanctuary."
There was an extended silence after her words before the roof of her house was torn down violently to reveal a pair of dissatisfied green eyes.
"I will not play games like a child." He repeated.
Inoue could only smile at Ulquiorra's stern words. He was certainly a far stretch from her brother's smiling face, but somehow his presence was still reassuring. She tried to imagine the Espada building a cubby house out of sheets and sitting in amongst the confining folds, his knees tucked up under his chin. The image was pleasingly comical.
The giggle she had been holding onto finally escaped but Inoue didn't worry about it too much, the throbbing that was beginning to press against the back of her skull took precedence this time.
Ulquiorra frowned at the stupid look on her face as she smiled up at him. "What is wrong with you?"
"It is only a fever, I will be alright."
"A fever? You are ill?"
She nodded in response, falling deeper into the cushions.
"Hmm? Why what?"
Why are you sick?"
The question caught her for a moment. It was simple enough yet at the same entirely too complicated. "Well…it just happens from time to time. Sometimes when you get too hot or too cold or tired and stressed your body can't handle it and gets sick. I guess my trip outside was just a little too much for me." Ulquiorra narrowed his eyes at her reply. "That is what made you sick?"
She didn't seem to hear him, only concentrated on taking a deep shuddering breath.
How could he have forgotten how weak she was? How fragile her human body could be. It wasn't just about physical strength, though he could probably crush her small skull between his hands with some effort. Her bones and skin were not as tough as his own; he could easily impress his own hardened appendages upon her and tear her soft flesh apart. But even if he didn't physically crush her, if he kept her safe from physical assault-that warm, living body of hers could still fall prey to sickness and disease. She could be killed by a force he couldn't even physically fight against.
Ulquiorra clenched the folds of the sheet he still held for a moment longer before lifting it and settling it, albeit a little un-assuredly, around her small frame.
Then he move forward, propelled by actions whose precedence he could not truly remember but whose motions still lingered somewhere in his unconscious. First he pushed her damp bangs back and smoothed his open palm across her forehead.
He had always found her subsequent 'warmth' uncomfortable, even at the best of times, but now the heat from her burning skin was like coals brushing against his fingertips. Though his first reaction was to reel back at such temperature there was another voice creeping in to whisper that it was alright; the fever's burn was good.
As the sensation of his cold hands on her skin sank in, Inoue let out a small sigh of relief.
Ah yes, he thought, keep her head cool.
He turned to the pitcher of water that stood duty on the side table day and night. He poured her a generous glass and brought the cup to her lips. Her eyes widened in surprise as the cool liquid hit her mouth, some of the water overflowing down her chin and neck. Ulquiorra lifted the edge of the sheet and wiped the wetness from her face and neck.
She mumbled something incoherently as he went about his ministrations but he didn't really pause, just tore a decently sized strip off the end of the blanket and proceeded to dampen the square of cloth. For a moment he was reminded of a similar occasion when he had gone through familiar motions, but he dismissed the thought almost instantly as unnecessary.
He laid the cooling cloth across her brow and straightened to look down upon his patient. He could tell she would be asleep soon, her deep breathing already beginning to slow and even itself out into a steady rhythm.
The small section of her face which was left exposed between the sheets and the damp cloth showed signs of perspiration. 'That is good; let her sweat the sickness out.'
Ulquiorra no longer questioned where such assured knowledge came from. It was obvious some human instinct still lingered within him. It was owing to logic that some of those memories would be retained even after death, if not specific then at least holistic in regards to such things. After all he had been human once, he would have no doubt come across sickness in his own life time…
…when he had been human. It was only for a moment, another one of those thoughts that always seemed to flash into his mind and leave a trail of unwanted ideas in their wake. But it lingered within him, a sudden curiosity in regards to his previous life. Had he been like her? Fanciful and naïve? Always thinking of somewhere else, different times and places that quite often had little bearing to the current reality? Or had he been a more logical person, more grounded and serious?
The thought only lasted a few heart beats before it was shoved back down into obscurity. But still, just thinking the thought alone had touched him, had tainted him. Had made him more human.
Short update I know, but fear not another is on the way. I have to apologies to those following this fic. I know I fell behind with updating (I have to admit, the events in the manga pertaining to Ulquiorra were shock to say the least) but alas, it shall not happen again. The end is nigh and I am eager to finish this story once and for all. So thank you everyone for your encouragement and support.