Chapter Four

Her Smile

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She frowned a little as she peered through the window and couldn't spot him. The couple sitting at the table just on the other side of the window was giving her odd looks. She just flashed them a grin and continued down the street. Maybe he was in the next shop.

"Nel!"

She spun around upon hearing his voice and picked him out across the street, standing in front of the book store, where she worked. There was a moment of confusion as she wondered what on earth he was doing in there, but then she spotted the fantasy novel in his hand and almost rolled her eyes. He was absolutely addicted to those stories.

An amused smile tugged at the corners of her lips, and she stepped out into the street without thinking, eager catch up to him. But the blare of a horn gave her a start, and she jumped back to avoid a taxi as it zipped past her. She caught herself on the light post behind her, missing the horrified and angry look on Nnoitra's face as he cut across the street and strode towards her.

"Are you insane? Didn't your mother ever teach you to look both ways before you cross the street?" Oh, this conversation again. He grabbed her by the arm and hauled her towards the nearest café, having forgotten their coffee back at the book store. A few people who passed looked like they wanted to interfere, but they were too afraid of Nnoitra to try. "Why do you insist on scaring me?" She could almost hear him say, "Why do you insist on making me care at all?" and a little frown worked its way onto her face.

"Hey…" She blinked, glancing down to see his long fingers, curled around her smaller hands as she clutched the paper he'd left back at the hat shop. Up until that point, she hadn't even realized they'd stopped. When she looked up at him, she took notice of the way his frown mirrored her own, and forced herself to relax, her features automatically smoothing over. "Are you okay?" he asked carefully, and she smiled.

"I'm fine, see? Not a scratch." she assured, and leaned up to kiss him, lips puckered. But as he leaned forward to reciprocate, something caught her eye and she grabbed onto the lapels of Nnoitra's coat, dragging him down to the ground as a car flipped in air and crashed through the window of the café just behind them.

After a moment of stunned silence, Nnoitra reacted quickly, pulling her away from the building as it began to collapse, and out into the panic-ridden streets. Everything happened in a blur after that. A roar shook the air, shook her to the core. The windows of all the buildings in a one block radius shattered. Nnoitra yanked her around the corner just in time to avoid being crushed by a car.

That's when she saw them—two giant creatures of gray, and orange, and white. The smaller one's eyes were a shade of red that she'd never seen before, and it fascinated and frightened her all at once. It had seen her, too and it laughed gleefully, taking a thundering step forward before shooting a hand out to grab her.

"No!" Nnoitra dove in front of her and the creatures thick claws caught the entire left side of his body, sending him flying. She watched in horror as his body slammed into the pavement, rolling twice before stilling completely.

"N..No…" she choked out, momentarily forgetting the monsters presence as she made a dash for her best friend.

The second Hollow had seen her, however, and it flashed a wicked grin as it raised its hand, focusing a great deal of energy into its index finger as it took aim.

Nel didn't see it though, only felt the energy tear into her side. She crashed into the ground, much like Nnoitra had, barely three yards away from her destination. She lay there for a moment, everything around her a haze of color and sound. Her head tilted towards Nnoitra as he came to, staring confusedly at the newspaper clutched in his hands before his eyes met hers.

And she smiled.

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End