Author's Note: Okay. I know you want to kill me. But don't. Else you won't be able to see the story's ending. I've gotten back to school, you know how it works. And enjoy the chapter! :D

Chapter seven: Mutuality

Orihime was never one to be described as hot-headed.

She was, unlike her best friend Tatsuki, a very good-natured person with a certain degree of calmness in her; she was gentle, kind, and although sometimes gave out an impression of an airhead, she was in fact, a very pure person. Always smiling, even at the most unpleasant situation she had always remained cool-head. Almost no one, except her brother and Tatsuki, had ever seen her angry. She was always the patient, unselfish, gentle child. But of course no person could actually be so gentle or sublime.

She was always been rather quiet and a bit of an introvert. Her heart was like a box that vented in all of her emotions and preferred to hide them as to not worry others for her cause.

But the feelings and thoughts had been vented in that box, mounting the ones already there with new ones, every single day, for the whole week.

It would be no wonder the box overloaded and exploded, releasing all she had bottled up inside. And when such a calm child got angry…

Orihime didn't heed Tatsuki's call when she rushed out of the classroom without a word.

On the corner of her eyes, she saw the eyes of her friends and classmates when she passed by them, ignoring the looks on their gaping faces. She went down the many rows of seats and long tables in long striding steps. At the end of the rows, she turned sharply towards the only exit of that room, bumping unintentionally with the beautiful man of a professor.

She grunted an apology to him, but nevertheless quickly went past him without a second look.

Behind her, as she exited herself, were the looks of absolute astonishment and bafflement.

Byakuya just stood there, eyes widened. He wasn't sure if the person who he had just seen earlier was the same person he had in mind as he mumbled in uncertainty. "…Orihime?"

She felt a lump in her throat as she ran along the hallways; there was an unfamiliar feeling close to nausea building up in the pit of her stomach, rising ever so slowly. She could barely identify that feeling but she didn't care. It must've shown on her face but she didn't care.

She just stopped caring for anything else but one thing.

When she found Stark, she felt the nauseating feeling choked her.

She suddenly felt irritated. There was a small guilt popped in the back of her mind for interrupting him and his partner, but even that she didn't care. The burning pain in her chest demanded her to do what she did. Her mind cried to release what she could not say. As if a ban had been lifted, Orihime could not hold it in anymore.

And after she heard Stark's story, she saw red. She understood those feelings were anger.

She was irritated and mad at Ulquiorra, for his lack of self-explanation and act of cowardice using her as a cover. The nausea became a burning torch of that scorched her insides, clenching in her chest in a tight vice-like grip.

Yet there was a bitter longing in the depths of her heart.

She wanted to see Ulquiorra. To talk to him and make him spit out all of his true intentions—as well as give him a piece of her mind. It was something she could no longer restrain. She felt if she didn't do it, nothing would change.

"To see Ulquiorra."

After that declaration, she left Stark.

From there on she went to the station and got into the bullet train all by herself, showing her strong will to see Ulquiorra all out of her own wish not because others urging her to. She wanted to show him how she could take care of herself just fine.

Now she was walking on a lone road surrounded by woods, although she had only been there twice she remembered the way to Ulquiorra's mansion. The mansion was located deep within the woods of the neighboring town. It took about forty minutes to get there. But it was the first time she went there alone, though she wasn't afraid since the sun was still quite high.

But the woods were a bit too silent and eerie for her liking.

Orihime walked in a fast pace. The dense woods gave out a creepy atmosphere and there she heard no sound at all, even the noise of rustling leaves or bugs she heard at the entrance had no longer existed. There was only the constant abnormal silence. Orihime could only hear the sound of her own footsteps. Thank goodness for that, if she hadn't she would've choked from the unexplained suffocation she felt.

Rustle.

She gasped and impulsively halted her steps at the sudden noise.

She snapped her head around and about, finding nothing. There was nothing around her. No possibly dangerous animals. Orihime sighed softly, feeling a drop of cold sweat made a trail down her temples.

Rustle.

Orihime held her breath.

But she tensed again when that tingly feeling again. There was no more noise but she felt as if she was being watched by someone. As if a thousand observing eyes were looking at her stealthily, from a place she couldn't see. She could hear her heart beat loudly in her ears. Drops of sweat began dripping down her skin.

The noise intensified.

Rustle. Rustle. Rustle.

A shrill chill ran up her spines as she shuddered. Orihime caught a glimpse of something black moving on the corner of her eyes. She snapped her head around and found something a bit far from her. Something that looked out of this world; it was as big as a person—the body was like that of a human—but its body was completely black, crawling on all four with a pair of big hostile silvery eyes fixating at her caramel orbs. Its body was covered with some sort of furs, only they looked like burning black flames, standing up in smoldering motion. Like an epitome of evil spirit. A black beast.

She stiffened.

The creature cocked its head, taking a step forward. Orihime twitched. It took another step, circling around Orihime. It was as if he was observing her… or rather, assessing her. The black beast's long ears flapped lightly and slowly, ever so slowly it narrowed its eyes and a wide, creepy smile formed on its flat, dark face. One that instantaneously made her reel back, face blanched.

It took a step forward. Another. And another. And suddenly its speed increased and it moved at an incredibly fast pace towards Orihime as she stood there astounded and too frightened to move, wide-eyed. The creature's smug face morphed even more cruel and amused as it dashed, kicking at the ground and leaping towards her. Orihime couldn't find the energy to move. The black beast gritted and showed its sharp, black fangs.

Orihime wanted to close her eyes, but even that she couldn't do it.

The creature was only an inch away from her face.

Then darkness consumed her vision.

"No te muevas, Muerte."

Someone had closed Orihime's eyes.

That person's hand left her eyes and then, with a strange-shaped white sword in the other hand hit the creature right in its stomach and sent it flying across the narrow road. It hit the hard ground and made a loud dull noise, leaving a ragged trail in its wake. The beast whined pathetically, coughing up dirt. Though it didn't appear injured since the sword was still sheathed.

"Be gone." That person mouthed inanimately, like a strict order. The black creature jerked and stood up whimpering softly, dragging its limp legs towards the woods and disappearing among the dense leaves of the bushes.

After that, that person turned to the silent girl, noticing her trembling body and lips. "It's alright now."

The voice sounded deep and emotionless, but somehow soothing to Orihime's ears. Her tensed body suddenly relaxed and she slumped to her knees, finding herself able to breathe again. She opened her eyes. Her whole body was still shaking uncontrollably. She panted, her clothes were drenched in sweat. Orihime wrapped her arms around herself, feeling her skin sticky and cold.

A hand was outstretched towards her.

Orihime looked up and for the first time saw the face of her savior. A tall, beautiful golden-haired woman was lending her a helping hand, which she accepted without a second thought. Orihime was entranced by that person's seemingly stoic charm, and an air of dignity and independence that surrounded her. She gave out a strong impression.

Her tan skin and voluptuous body wrapped by the short, high-collared leather jacket and tight leather pants she wore leaked out masculine feelings. But she nevertheless was a beautiful woman. And although Orihime was also a girl she felt instant admiration towards this charismatic woman, and oddly, a familiar feeling she didn't know how to perceive.

After Orihime stood up, she realized the woman was much taller than she was. She had to strain her neck to look up to her. Her azure eyes beneath thick eyelashes seemed dull and emotionless. They reminded her of someone she knew, but somehow she couldn't remember.

The blonde noticed Orihime's long silence. "Sorry about that, Death still lacks of discipline."

Orihime looked confused. "Death?" Was that the name of that awful black creature?

"Our watchdog. His duty is to drive out unwanted guests. He must've thought you were an intruder." She explained. "But to actually assault random people… I will discipline him later. I apologize for his behavior." She bowed apologetically.

"Oh… it's alright. Since you've gone into the trouble helping me…" Orihime quickly said. Then she realized. "…wait, do you know me?"

"Of course, Stark told me. You're Orihime Inoue, the Master's guest." She nodded, crossing her arms. "This is the first time we meet, I am Tia Halibel. The head security. Pleased to meet you."

"I'm Orihime Inoue, but just call me Orihime…" Orihime blushed, feeling awkward by Halibel's politeness. Despite the fact she was acting so stuffy, she seemed like a nice person.

"You shouldn't walk around here by yourself. There are various… things scatter around." Halibel warned, she turned around and walked ahead, glancing over her shoulders. "Come, I'll lead the way."

Orihime had no choice but to comply, given if there were more things like Death, or maybe worse, suddenly appeared and attacked her again. It was much safer to follow Halibel. They walked in silence. Halibel didn't seem the type to talk much, she noticed, but she wasn't exactly a bad person, much better than Nnoitra, to say the least. Although the man promised he'd never do that again to her.

Speaking of him… Halibel was one of them. Did that mean, like Nnoitra, she knew about Ulquiorra to a certain degree? Orihime wanted to know, but decided to save the question for later.

The silence of both Halibel and the woods summoned back the uncomfortable feeling.

"Um…why is it so quiet here?" She asked, making a small conversation.

" 'tis because of the barrier." Came a reply from the older woman. "It bans the sounds of all living creatures within the radius of two hectares around the mansion, except for human intruders, so Death can find them easier. It also gives the local citizens a false idea that this place was haunted."

Somehow that made sense. Orihime had been feeling nothing but spine-chilling eeriness when she entered the area. The last time she was there was with other people to distract her from noticing the abnormality. No one would want to enter such a place. It was certainly a clever idea, she mused.

Orihime shook her head.

She reminded herself of her main goal for going alone without Stark by her side. To show Ulquiorra that she could at least, take care of herself. But somehow, again, she was helped. Once again, she showed how much she needed others' protection. It was frustrating. Being completely helpless in such times only gave them another reason to protect her like she was some kind of damsel in distress.

With the thought alone, again that smoldering irritation skyrocketed.

"…Ms. Halibel." She called out.

"Just call me Halibel. Is there something wrong?" The taller woman asked.

"I want to see Ulquiorra."

Halinbel halted.

She turned her body halfway around and looked at the younger girl's face. Orihime stopped as well, and there was a moment of silent as the two stared at each other. Halibel's blue gazes glinted strangely. "…to the Master?"

Orihime balled her fists tightly on her sides. She nodded.

Halibel only stood there, but her eyes strayed somewhere else and seemed absent. There was an emotion Orihime couldn't identify showing on her face, she looked a bit… sad. But her expression changed to ambigous a second later. "Understood. I will take you to him."

She turned on her back and resumed walking.

Orihime followed her from behind. Although she was quiet along the way, she was actually a bit bothered by Halibel's reaction when she mentioned Ulquiorra's name. She seemed a bit disturbed and restless, but she of course, was not a mind reader, Orihime didn't know what Halibel was thinking. But she opted to say nothing about it.

After a few minutes of walking in an awkward atmosphere, the mansion finally came to their lines of vision. When they were just a bit far away from the house, Halibel wordlessly stopped on her track. Orihime wondered why she had stopped all of the sudden, a bit more walking and they would arrive soon…

The blonde looked around and settled her eyes at a spot filled with bushes and leaves, then she only stared at it for some time. Then she began to speak in a low tone. "Mila Rose, Apache, SunSun… come."

Orihime heard the leaves rustled softly. And all of a sudden—as if her eyes betrayed her—three girls appeared before the taller woman, they just appeared out of thin air. Orihime didn't see or notice their arrival at all. But the bushes moved just then… the only possible explanation she could think of was that maybe they moved too fast for her eyes to catch. Once again she was reminded of how common logics didn't work there.

"Mistress Halibel!" Exclaimed the girl with bob hair cut and white jumpsuit, who stood in the middle. She looked happy and lively when she saw Halibel with a wide smile.

"Mistress, do you need something from us?" A beautiful girl with long wavy hair on her right politely said, bowing respectfully. She looked very fashionable and feminine with pastel-colored sweater and short skirt.

"Apache, stop it, my ears gonna turn deaf because of your monstrous shriek." The girl with long and straight hair grunted, blatantly mocking the first girl. She gingerly closed her ears with seemingly oversized lacy sleeves, she wore a black dress with laces at many parts of her attire. She looked both cute and elegant in it.

"What!? No it won't! You're just jealous of my voice Sunsun!" Apache retorted sharply, face reddened in anger.

"What, that horrible overly high-pitched falsetto of yours? No thanks." The girl named SunSun shrugged; didn't seem the slightest fazed.

"Enough, you two. You're being rude to Mistress Halibel." The feminine girl with long wavy hair warned, looking slightly annoyed.

At her statement, the other two quickly went quiet. Although Halibel didn't say a single word all the while they argued. She only coolly approached the wavy-haired girl and stopped in front of her. "Mila Rose, I'm going to escort the guest inside. Be sure to watch in my place." She said.

"Understood, ma'am." Mila Rose complied, smiling in satisfaction. Her cheeks reddened in joy. The triad looked like they admired Halibel very much. Every one of them had that similar expression when Halibel went to talk to them.

All the while, Orihime remained quiet. She didn't know what to say, being a stranger to them, she chose to act as a wallflower.

"A guest, huh?" Suddenly, the girl called Apache boldly approached her. She stared closely at Orihime, from head to toe, leaving the girl in question feeling awkward. Apache resumed completely oblivious, going around her and assessing her whole appearance, both the back and the front. "Hmmm," She narrowed her eyes and looked straight at Orihime's eyes.

"Not bad." She commented blatantly, looking openly intrigued. "You're the next gal, huh? Wonder if ya can last longer than the last." She grinned impulsively.

Orihime tensed when she heard the last words. The last…?

"Apache, come here." Halibel interrupted, the girl quickly straightened her back and happily complied. Before they continued their halted journey, Halibel glanced at Mila Rose one more time.

"Rose, I'm counting on you." And Mila Rose nodded.

Both of them finally arrived at the mansion entrance. The building appeared old and timeworn, the wall paint was dried and shredded, overgrown vines crept up the tarnished bricks. However, there were lines of well-cared rose bushes surrounding the building. Blooming beautiful crimson roses livened up the gloomy feeling the house gave. They were so beautiful and seemed to glow brightly that Orihime was immediately entranced by the picturesque sight of them.

"We're here." Halibel's voice sucked her attention. They were standing just before the door.

"Oh, yeah." Then Orihime gingerly went to the doorknob. But before she could let the gap wide enough to enter, she stopped, realizing Halibel was still standing at the spot she was before. She didn't show an intention to enter.

"Um, aren't you coming?" She asked.

Halibel looked indifferent, but Orihime could catch an odd light flashed within her indigo eyes. "…No." She said. "I'm only escorting you, I should be going now. I've other duties."

"But you said you'd take me to Ulquiorra."

Again, Orihime saw a strange gleam flashed within those deep blue eyes.

"…sorry for breaking my promise, but I'm not allowed to enter the mansion at the moment." She explained, her eyes didn't seem to reflect emotions as she said so.

For some reasons, Orihime didn't believe what those eyes told her. "Why?" She inquired.

Halibel paused. She didn't seem surprised at her question; instead she lowered her gaze slightly. Then she sighed, crossing her arms. "I believe this question is irrelevant to your visit." She dodged the question. Then she spun on her heels and walked down the stairs, before she left she glanced over her shoulder.

"I've taken you to the mansion safely, now if you excuse me…"

This time, without even as much as another word Halibel walked away, leaving the human girl alone wondering. Orihime only stood by the door, staring at Halibel's back and the sword she carried, something about her, from the way she gestured and stood proud to the way she spoke reminded her of someone. The nostalgic feeling kept intruding her mind but she couldn't seem to press the red button.

The way Halibel spoke and the way she acted… why was it bothering her so?

Orihime kept on observing absently until the tall woman vanished within the woods. Orihime then turned on her back and pushed open the door, it creaked loudly and the sound echoed through the walls of the hallway.

Without further ado, she stepped in.

Halibel watched as the door slowly swung shut.

Crossing her arms, she had her back against the hard surface of the tree pillar, her feet settled firmly on a strong branch of the tree. The shadow of the leaves perfectly coated her presence from the eyes of those who were afar, but gave her a complete view of the surrounding mansion. A perfect place to stand guard.

Strong breeze flown golden tresses onto her beautiful face, she closed her eyes slightly. Then a rustling sound roused her eyelids open. She tore her gaze to the source of the noise and saw a bush nearby moved in frantic motion, leaves rustling against each other. Halibel only stared as the noise grew wilder, and a second later, a silhouette of an uncanny creature revealed itself from within them.

It was not a silhouette, but a black beast in human shape crawling on all four.

Halibel seemed she had expected him to come. She pulled back her left arm and extended it towards the creature.

The beast responded with its back and long ears standing up, jumping to her side and sniffing at her offered hand lovingly. Halibel let him sniffed at her hand, but soon moved it to scratch the beast's chin, which he seemed to enjoy tremendously. Death purred softly, his silvery eyes narrowed in pleasure. He was just like a dog being spoiled by its master.

He let out a whine when Halibel retreated. She gestured to her side and the black beast comprehended, he went and sat by her side, where he again received his mistress's gentle caresses. He had yet to notice that Halibel's eagle eyes were looking at the spot where Orihime had vanished.

Death whined questioningly, summoning his mistress's attention.

"It's nothing." Halibel said as she scratched the ender side of his chin. She glanced at the same spot again. She wasn't smiling, her azure eyes flashed slightly.

"It's just that… I was thinking. Maybe it would've been better if I had not stopped you earlier." One of Death's ears perked up and twitched. The hairs on his nape stood on its end. Cowering, he started growling deeply.

Halibel glanced briefly at the beast, only to bring her razor sharp eyes back to the old building.


Silent darkness met her when Orihime entered the mansion.

Unlike the night, the light of the day made the mansion so much brighter and livelier. Warm sunlight entered from the opened windows and crept onto her skin almost immediately, grazing her chilled skin warm from the cold wind outside. The room was dimly lighted, only the sun illuminated some parts of the insides, the light mostly came from a tall window at one side of the main hall.

"Hello?" Orihime called out, it echoed and resounded back to her.

Odd. It was very quiet.

Curious, Orihime stepped forward, vaguely noticing her loosening grip to the wooden door. She squeaked when the door creaked close behind her. She stared at it wide-eyed, hearing her heart pulsing in her ears. She reeled back instinctively, until her back hit the wall in an area shrouded by shadow. But when her back did hit the wall, the supposedly firm and flat surface were actually slumped to the inside and the surface… rough and deteriorated.

Orihime glanced over her shoulder only to find rubbles by her feet. She looked puzzled at first, but then even more so when her gaze went up to find a large crack on the wall in the size of a bulldozer's iron ball. She gasped, closing her mouth in disbelief. She stared dumbfounded at the damage. She stepped back and her foot bumped onto something. Gasping and staggering but managing to not fall down, she turned around sharply and the sight of a legless, broken wooden chair was at her feet, and pieces of wood scattered around. Her eyes instinctively trailed at her surrounding.

The main hall was in a complete, utter mess.

It was nothing as when she was there before. Heavily damaged furniture that had broken in pieces scattered around and about, covering the floors and the carpets like snow on ground. Antique chairs, cupboards, tables, and lamps were missing body parts and were all lying broken on the torn carpets. The lost pieces couldn't be identified which they belonged. The paintings were either fell down from their hangers, or their places had been disoriented. The curtains and wallpapers were torn, ripped to rags. The walls were graced by a series of cracks and holes, each in different sizes. Compared to the beautiful, well-arranged, well-maintained house before, this place was as good as the insides of a sunken ship.

Orihime couldn't believe what she saw.

What had happened here…?

"It was the master's wrath."

She snapped her gaze at the source of the voice.

Blue eyes met hers. Grimmjow's smoldering azure hair looked greasy and he looked different, his ever-omnipresent smirk was replaced by a displeased frown. Orihime could easily tell that the blue-haired man was tired. He was standing sluggishly with his left side pressed against an undamaged pillar, looking obviously irritated but languid. His gaze didn't look as energetic and mean as it used to be, she concluded something must've happened to make even him so listless.

"What happened…?" She asked.

Grimmjow snorted, pointing at the chaos left in the room with his prickly glare. Orihime followed his line of vision. "Look closely, chick. This is what we get from an angry master. That guy did this. Without even so much as explaining what the fuck reason he did it." He glanced fiercely at her. "…ya know why, don'tcha."

Orihime frowned. "…I don't."

"Really?" Grimmjow spat to the floor indignantly, glaring disbelievingly. "I don't believe ya. He's one dull guy, if there's somethin' that can piss him off that bad that must've come from the outsider—meaning you."

"I really don't know." Orihime retorted, growing impatient. "But I intend to know. I want to know what caused him to do this. I want to meet him and talk to him, as soon as possible. So Grimmjow…please don't get in my way."

Azure eyes widened. Grimmjow's face blanked and he only stared at her. He didn't seem to expect that kind of answer from Orihime, or rather, this kind of rebellious reaction. He looked completely taken aback.

Orihime, on the other hand, decided to ignore him and returned to her original intention. She then went to the stairs—with difficulties of avoiding broken glasses and stuff lying on the floor—and proceeded upstairs. Ignoring Grimmjow's call, she recalled the path she must take to reach Ulquiorra's room and she followed the halls with long, hurried pace. She could feel the longing feeling and impatience growing within for each step she took.

Ulquiorra. Ulquiorra. Ulquiorra. The name resounded in her mind. He had been thinking about him every single day, almost every second of the week. She couldn't think of anyone else but him, even Ichigo. It was as if Ichigo had gone from her mind and memory, she had not thought of the man she was in love with for a long time even once. She had never thought of someone this much other than her deceased brother. She wanted to see him so bad. It was like a torture, waiting every day for something that wouldn't come.

And the impatience building up in her chest was near to explode.

When the familiar door entered her line of sight, without further ado, she went and turned the doorknob, slamming open the door without hesitance.

Ulquiorra was inside as she expected, in his beast form even when the sun was still high; a fur-gloved hand was against the glass window, he had his body turned halfway around, both of his raven wings curled behind him. His yellow pupils looked focused as the turquoise sides widened at her presence. It looked like he wasn't expecting her arrival at all.

It was great that he didn't.

Orihime wordlessly strode towards him, a right hand raised. When she was close enough, she gave him a whole-hearted, fiercely sharp, and thoroughly sudden slap across his face until Ulquiorra's head was fully tilted to one side with a stinging red cheek.

She furrowed her eyebrows, lips frowned. "I don't want to hear anything but an explanation from you." She firmly stated, withdrawing her hand. She glared at him.

Ulquiorra's hand went to rub the painful left cheek; his face remained expressionless as his eyes met Orihime's anger-filled ones. She was frowning, but he could see tears building up within those pure eyes.

"Talk."


No te muevas—stay put

Muerte—Death

Big thanks for Rusky-boz for correcting my horrible Spanish! :D

Author's Note: Ish trying to update faster. Pray that God helps me finish all those adobe illustrations, typography, English debates, and other homework stuff. Reviews will definitely inspire me, thanks.