One winter a Farmer found a Viper frozen and numb with cold, and out of pity picked it up and placed it in his bosom. The Viper was no sooner revived by the warmth than it turned upon its benefactor and inflicted a fatal bite upon him; and as the poor man lay dying, he cried, "I have only got what I deserved, for taking compassion on so villainous a creature."

Kindness is thrown away upon the evil.

When Orihime opened her eyes, glassy and gray and glistening, she immediately closed them tight again. There was so much light, so bright and so painful. But that wasn't what got her attention first. No, it was the fact that she couldn't think straight, that everything was a barrage of sensory information and delirium; her thoughts were one huge mass and it was impossible to sort them out into singular notions and ideas. Something was wrong, she could feel it in her heart, in the pit of her stomach, but even this was unreachable beyond a primal terror creeping upon her muddled self. Something was wrong. It was tangible, but she was still unable to focus on just that terror, and so it remained a constant effect, one that sent her already bewildered self into further incoherency.

She rolled onto her side, and the world rolled with her. It made her sick, almost as much as the constant twitches through her frame that she couldn't suppress, though she wasn't really trying in the first place. Her hands splayed open, jerkily, before clenching into claws, her fingernails scraping against something hard, something that was cold no matter how long she must've been laying on it. Hard. Cold. Metal? Steel, stainless steel. It shines. She's so cold.

Noise in the background. She vaguely realized that they sound like something familiar, something hearkening back to earlier days. A jumbled mass of smiles and orange and weird food and friends. School days. School friends. Color, when there was color. She recognized a strawy sensation in her mouth, and with a dazed glance downwards, she realized it was hair. Was it hers? She couldn't even recall. Another twitch through her frame; she saw bare skin under white. Bare? Was she naked? There were those noises again; close, so close. Then there was something on her, rolling her onto her back again, and she stared up blankly at white, and pink, and gold.

He said something to her. She couldn't understand him. The feeling of his gloves on her arms, on her shoulders, moving her around on the table, was another sensation she couldn't comprehend. She closed her eyes again, reaching out blindly at him, and her hands came down on his wrists, gripping tightly. When her eyes were closed, it removed one of the senses being assaulted, and her thoughts almost became clear. She could remember some things. Szayel, this was Szayel's lab.

"Sza...yel..." Her voice came, garbled, a near murmur. His grip tightened for a split second, or was it her imagination? She couldn't determine which was which. He grasped her wrists and pulled them off of his shoulders, where they'd slid up to, and Orihime could swear she felt his sigh on her cheeks.

Szayel pulled her grasping hands off of his shoulders, tugging until he could feel her fingers lose their hooked grip in the fabric of his uniform. He had her in his laboratory, his inner sanctum, and it was for the best of reasons, no matter how ill of intent this situation, this scene, may seem. Everything had been prearranged; everything was in his control and under his gloved thumb.

He experienced, while idly watching her keep her eyes closed as she writhed on the surgical table before him, a brief burst of annoyance, a venom towards Inoue; he wondered why he even had her here at all, and considered just killing her. Aizen didn't want her, nor did he need her for anything. She was a lure and nothing else. She was all his, to keep or to kill. She jerked again, mechanically, probably an aftereffect of the toxin; her wrist caught his precious beakers full of nameless chemicals able to inflict nameless horrors on the living body, and Grantz resisted the urge to jerk out and try to catch them. If he got his hands in that particular mix, he wouldn't have hands any longer. This was duly noted when the beaker shattered on the floor, and a hole was slowly eaten in the white flooring. That acid would have to eat all the way through the building floors and, by his calculations, around a mile or two into the sand beneath before it finally subsided and stopped eating away. His rage increased exponentially; the idea of vivisecting Orihime crossed his mind, and it seemed very inviting. Inspecting what made her tick, layer by layer. He was already reaching for a scalpel in the tray beside her table.

"Szayel," She murmured his name again, rolling towards him, but it was barely more than a pitiful mewl. His will softened, then shattered; his fingertips slid down the length of the scalpel, along the tray, and then down her outstretched arm; phantomlike touches that seemed to shock her system, as she stiffened, her eyes still closed. He was fond of her in a way only a scientist could know, not friendliness or even the softness of a lover, but a favoured test subject, something precious in a sanitized sense. He adored her, but knew that his adoration was like venom. The way he showed it, keeping her drugged and all to himself, that was the only way he knew how.

Orihime knew she'd hit something with her thrashes, though she hadn't meant to hit whatever she'd hit, and froze. Well, not for too long, as soon she'd become lost in her own broiling confusion and sensory overload, and with her eyes closed, the world spun viciously; it was like she was floating, with no sense of direction. Then she felt sensation down her bare, outstretched arm, and stiffened. In a normal, non-drugged state, she would've thought it tickled. But now with all of this sensation, how amplified even the slightest touches were, it was all she could focus on, and obliterated all thought with how intense and sudden it was. Her thoughts were clearing, somewhat; she knew she was with Szayel, in somewhere that must've been his lab or somewhere like a lab, and the only thing on her was a white sheet. And she was cold, so cold.

She opened her eyes again, staring up at his face, and for a split second far too ephemeral for her liking, he looked so...concerned. And she liked that, in some small part of herself. He was concerned for her. But as soon as she saw it, the look faded into a cold and scientific stare, almost as if he were examining her, dissecting her with his gold eyes. She now realized that she adored that color, the shade of liquid gold that his eyes were. Hers were just gray; dull, normal gray. She remembers now a conversation between the two of them, when they were barely acquaintances; she remembers speaking with him in a blushing tone, embarrassed despite herself.

"Dr. Grantz," She began, staring at her lap while he wrote on his medical clipboard, examining the clarity of her eyes. Their faces were mere inches from each other, but he saw it only as an examination, not as something so close and personal as being within kissing distance of her. She, on the other hand, was blushing; she'd never had her face this near a man's, other than when...well, when she was about to kiss Ichigo goodbye, and couldn't. She looked down at her lap and broke eye contact with him. He tsked under his breath and, with two gloved fingers, tipped her chin up so that she would look him in the eyes again.

"Don't do that again. I am trying to examine the clarity of your eyes, and I can't if you keep looking away." He spoke brusquely, his tone clipped and annoyed. He wanted to get this over with; there were more interesting, more important things he needed to attend to in his lab. He could feel her breath, quick and hot, on his face. She smelt...sweet, feminine. He couldn't fathom why, as she'd been in Hueco Mundo for an entire day; any familiar human scent should have been purged by now and replaced with the coldness of Las Noches.

"You have such lovely eyes," She told him suddenly, without even really thinking about what she was saying. He seemed to freeze, and his eyes widened by a fraction. Such a random thing had not been what he was anticipating from her. She was blushing furiously, but had not broken eye contact yet, as he had commanded.

"...What was that?" He queried, before catching himself and narrowing his eyes slightly. "Nevermind. Keep your eyes open."

He never said a thing about that airy comment of hers, and she tried to forget it as well. He finished his exam that day, gave her a clean bill of health, and quietly disappeared into the depths of Las Noches. And she'd never really given a second thought to seeing him again. After all, she'd seen tons of people around here, and the chances of meeting up with the eerie scientist/doctor with the golden eyes was admittedly low. So she forgot about him.

At her awareness, he moved, and his touch left her. Desperately, she wanted him to stay with her while she was in this impaired state; she didn't want to be alone like this.

As soon as she saw him, and was aware of him, Szayel withdrew his hand; he didn't, for some reason, want her to think he cared, or other silly things like that. If she had any hope left, he didn't want it.

What would he do with her? Keep her. She was his now, all his to do with whatever he pleased. As he withdrew his hand from Orihime's bare arm, already walking around the head of the table, out of her line of sight, he recalled a second meeting. When she bled.

Though she could heal herself, Aizen had instructed him to do another examination of her physical state, after a particularly vicious assault by two Numero women that Szayel didn't have the interest in remembering the names of. Grimmjow had apparently swatted them down, and Inoue had healed herself, but Aizen still insisted on wasting his time. Needless to say, Grantz wasn't in the best of moods.

When he opened her door, she was in the process of healing the two Numeros. News travels fast in Las Noches, considering all of Gin's cameras being able to see every inch of Las Noches. She was bleeding. Grimmjow was gone. She hadn't healed herself yet, and was bleeding from a split lip.

"Examination," He had said curtly, and he observed as she ignored him and finished her healing. He had been pointing to the couch, instructing her to sit there and wait for him, but she insisted on healing the two Arrancar women. He perked a pink brow, well-groomed (his appearance was always immaculate), and narrowed his eyes a fraction. "Didn't you hear me? Sit and wait for me." But no, she remained stubborn, and Szayel quietly waited until the two women were healed, fuming and stirring over his vitriol. She had the gall to ignore him? What chutzpah. Infuriating.

The two women were easy to remove. Szayel didn't do it, of course; Inoue did it herself, before quietly walking back inside and sitting on the couch. And now is when she would be obedient? He merely walked over to her, jerked her head up with his cold hands, and prepared to begin the examination. She yelped in pain, as his grip was very tight, and put her delicate hands on his wrists, his own hands.

"Please, you're hurting me," She murmured, whimpered really, and his temper flared, as cold as it was. He was already in an ill mood and she starts with this? His grip tightened further, and he leaned in to examine her split lip.

"Don't order me, human. You've no idea what I could do to you." And it was true; a touch of Fornicaras, and he could do so many things to her. Even without Fornicaras, he could still destroy her on a physical and mental level she couldn't even fathom. Power over her was intoxicating, but he was no lush; his love of control was manageable. And with his words, he saw something in her eyes. Maybe something hardening, maybe she was still experiencing a temporary high off of her previous encounter, and pseudo-victory, over the Arrancar women, but something changed. Something provoked her to grip his wrists tighter, pry his hands off of her face, and stare him in the eyes while speaking.

"Yes I do." She whispered, staring him in the eyes, and Szayel was stunned for a moment. A change, a steeling of her nature and temperament. A will of liquid steel.

His eyes narrowed, as he pulled his gloved hands out of her grasp, instead contemplating what to do with her for even daring to think she was able to come against him like this. But something else came to mind, while he was reaching for the syringes stored in his uniform, needles full of various deadly toxins that would leave one writhing in agony for hours, and he paused, reconsidered. Instead, he finished his exam then, as she looked fine, and left without a word. If he would have vengeance for this slight on his nature, then he'd have it in his own due time.

Now Szayel watched her, walking around and away from her seeking eyes, he recalled when his moods had changed towards her. He had, for a long time, been examining her daily activities, psychoanalyzing her, picking Inoue Orihime apart bit by bit, until he knew her entirely and knew the perfect way to destroy this woman. She was steelier than he had originally thought, as not even Ulquiorra's mechanical taunts could break her for long. They did harm her, however, and that's what he had wanted to know and needed to take advantage of. And over this period of time, he lost his need for vengeance, and gained something else, something more intimate; her powers were interesting, yes, but he was intrigued by her contradictory nature. On occasion she was malleable, weak, useless. On others, she grew a spine and became strong, an immovable wall. Honestly? It was a bit infuriating. He could pick apart anyone else, anyone else but her. This became a new pastime of his; to try and decipher her completely. And then, he would throw her away, as he had all the other interesting things before.

Orihime murmured something else, the sheet falling lower over her, sliding down in an almost tantalizing way, and he watched it not with a lustful stare, but with a distinctly scientific stare. She wasn't trying to pull it up, which meant that she was so disoriented as to not care about modesty, which was otherwise something very important to her. A naive creature by nature, she was always presentable. Of course, he had had no trouble in undressing her beforehand, and had no embarrassment in doing it; it was just the female figure, of which he had studied intimately before; he would have had to, to know his sciences as well as he did. She was just another woman, and her body was no different from any other test subject's he had seen before. No, now she was vainly trying to sit up, to look for him; she gave up soon, unable to support herself on incredibly weak arms. No strength in her was left; she had been sapped of it by his drugs.

This thought, of her rendered completely defenseless like this by his own drugs, by his own hand, was slightly arousing, but then again, he'd always felt a sort of rush when inspecting his helpless 'patients', so this was nothing new to him. Instead, he leaned down and whispered in her ear, "I haven't left you."

When he whispered in her ear, Orihime immediately jerked her head towards him, eyes open, matching the bright golden pair mere inches from her own gray eyes.

"Szayel," She breathed, dizzy beyond belief, "What...what am I...?" Her attempts at forming coherent sentences and complete thoughts failed, and she ended mumbling into silence. She loved his eyes. They reminded her of the sun, the same sun that she hadn't seen in what felt like eons. Another memory, slightly mangled but still there, slipped by her in that moment that she saw him so close. After that second encounter, she hadn't seen him since, and had honestly been fearing for her life since then. All food or drink was treated with the utmost suspicion, which seemed to irk Ulquiorra, and she slept very lightly, if at all. But one day, something new happened, something to break the pure icy monotony of the day-to-day life she held in Las Noches.

He visited her.

It had been very awkward. Szayel sat across the room from her, on a chair he had had brought in here just for this meeting. She sat on her couch, paranoid. There was too much silence, as she didn't want to speak and was too afraid to, and he had nothing to speak with her about. This silence, this deadened staring at one another had gone on for what felt like ages until Orihime felt something on her neck. She, distracted, felt it move onto her face and saw the edges of a tiny mask and eight legs. Screaming, she slapped it off, and onto the floor. And that's how their conversation began, with a tiny little hollow spider.

"You're afraid of it?" Szayel had queried, raising a brow at her reaction, which was suitably terrified. His eyes fell to the small thing again, as it crawled across the floor. "It's nothing but an insect. It can't even bite, as it eats souls." He had walked over, scooped the thing up in a gloved hand, gripping it with his thumb and forefinger by all eight legs in a sort of spider hogtie, and carried it over to her. She had told him not to come closer, but he did anyway, out of sadistic amusement well masked by apathy, until he pulled her down from where she had hidden on the couch and held her palm out, placing the hollow spider in it. She flinched, recoiled, but he held her tight and made her watch as the small hollow crawled along her palm innocently, before sitting there and seemingly being content with her hand's warmth. After a moment, he pointed out the delicate little mask over its head, and he didn't even have to hold her still while explaining to her how some hollows, the souls of insects and small animals and the like, occasionally creep into Las Noches, and how some of them eat enough souls to progress to gigantic proportions, sometimes after eating enough human souls (though getting to that size is rare in the first place), could occasionally gain their own conscious and thinking identity, much as a human soul turned hollow. She seemed intrigued, mystified by all this new knowledge.

Szayel had seemed to enjoy explaining it all to her, and Orihime had been very interested in these things. The hollow creature eventually became more cute than terrifying, especially that little mask on its head.

"Goodbye, Sir Grantz," She had called after him, as he had left with the hollow spider in tow, "And please, would you let that little thing outside?"

He had said nothing, but given her a slight jerk of his head that could have been construed as a nod. She had been happy with the meeting, and though she was still wary of him, had concluded that Szayel Apollo Grantz might not be as bad as she had initially thought. She'd been very happy with having someone new to talk to, at least; god knew Ulquiorra wasn't good with any sort of conversation.

Now, Szayel seemed so different, yet exactly the same to her. She dimly reached for his face, but he slid just out of reach, walking to the other side of the lab. She reached out for him again, and let out a hoarse "Szay...", but it didn't get his attention, and he seemed preoccupied with anything but her for that moment.

In reality, Szayel was signing out a form to have his floor repaired, after that acid bath it had gotten. The acid itself should've been eating through the floor of Las Noches and into the sand below by now, he estimated. And while he was signing, he thought of history, and nostalgia had painted all his memories in rose. And through those rose-tinted glasses, he recalled a certain memory that he would have almost called fond, if he had been capable of such things as holding memories dear.

He and Orihime had gotten on similar footing, mentality-wise, and had found common ground to talk about in his visits. She liked to hear all about Las Noches and hollows, and he liked to explain, though he had to dumb down his language a bit, and he himself liked to hear all about the little things the humans did, all these little things that he'd never had interest in examining before and had little knowledge of. Eventually, after a story about someone named Tatsuki attacking someone named Chizuru over a perceived slight on Orihime, they had fallen into silence. They sat next to each other on Orihime's couch, and said nothing, until she spoke herself in a tone so quiet as to nearly be under her breath.

"I...I wasn't lying...about your eyes, Dr. Grantz," She'd murmured, and he'd found himself interested all over again, not to mention the slightest bit shocked. No, shocked wasn't the right word; more like 'surprised'. He hadn't been anticipating this. "They're very...pretty."

Szayel himself watched her face carefully, as she averted her eyes in embarrassment. He'd said, very carefully, "Why do you think so? Eye colour is nothing but pigmentation in the iris. Nothing beyond the ordinary, and not intensely interesting on its own as a topic."

"I meant..." Orihime had replied, fiddling with her sleeves, as she'd been regretting bringing the topic up at all. She always had his attention when speaking of interesting things, but never this intensely, and he was never so scrutinizing. "I just meant that I like your eyes. Mine are just a normal gray, and they're not very interesting. Not like yours."

He could've laughed. Such self-image issues, so insecure. He never had interest in women like that, though he had zero interest in women as a topic of romance in the first place. He never had interest in the psychological state of women like that, to be more specific. But why not throw the girl a life line? She had become something to amuse himself with in his free time; why not a reward?

"Don't be so insecure," He chided, in his medical tone, and she seemed to wilt. He pressed his mask-glasses higher up on his face, though that had no effect and only served as a nervous tic of annoyance, "Gray eyes like yours, as clear as they are, are a rarity; most are a smoky colour, or some variation thereof. Your clearness of iris colour indicates that you lack the additional brown and yellow pigment dispersion, which is very rare. Your eyes are as unique as mine, in a way." He hadn't meant to compliment her, only correct her, but she took it as a compliment either way and smiled at him, warmly and in a way that he wasn't used to.

"Thank you, Dr. Grantz. That's very kind of you to say," She'd told him, her voice loud and clear. The woman became curiouser and curiouser to him, moment by moment.

As Szayel walked back to her table, where she had closed her eyes and curled up in the sheet for warmth, he mused on what an outsider would've thought of him and her in this situation. They would've thought he loved her, wanted to keep her safe, wanted to give her a wonderful life full of happiness. They would've been wrong, dead wrong. He didn't care for her happiness, her quality of life. He only cared for himself and his own interests, and she was unlucky enough to be one of them. She not only had the unfortunate state of being interesting to him; her healing powers would come in handy for what he had planned. He had already gotten permission and ownership of her from Aizen himself; she was all his to do with what he pleased.

At her table, she heard him beside her and reached out, grasping his hand and opening her eyes, hazy gray and unfocused. "Szayel, oh Szayel," She murmured, dazed and confused and as far from herself as possible. He very nearly felt pity for her, before recalling that she had a purpose and he had a job, and that he couldn't feel remorse in the first place.

Orihime stared at him, almost through him it seemed, as she finally got a hold of him. She looked him in the eyes, the eyes that she adored, and spoke quickly to him, barely able to string together a coherent thought.

"What are you doing?" She asked, weakly; she may be able to speak in coherent sentences and full thoughts again, but it still took all of her concentration to do so. "Where am I? What are you doing with me, Szayel?"

She didn't feel betrayed, not really. Just surprised. And, thinking back to an earlier incident, she'd realized that she'd gotten herself into her own mess with her trusting nature, and her thought that she could befriend this man, this hollow, this scientist.

"And so you've no idea about these two friends of yours?" Szayel had asked, in monotone. He didn't care about her personal problems, but she talked about them anyway.

"No...well, I think Rukia is really amazing. She can do all these things, she can fight and snap Ichigo out of all his lows, and she's like the glue of our group. She's so amazing, and so kind. I love her." Orihime had told him. With no one to talk to about herself, about anything, and enough time in complete isolation to mull over all her problems and her life in general, she was willing to spill anything to Szayel, who had become her impromptu best friend. He listened to all her girl talk, and had a little of his own, mostly about his hair and small things like that. He just nodded, slightly, before adding in.

"But you don't seem completely sure about this." He had commented, and her smile had cracked. A facade. Of course she had more problems.

"I...I'm a little jealous...oh you don't want to hear about this, Szayel. I should be over it anyway; I talked with Rangiku about it." She murmured, though her knees were pulled up to her chest and she seemed to be burying her face in them. Szayel rolled his eyes, before commenting in a dull monotone. She was so used to it that it didn't matter either way what tone of voice he used.

"If I didn't want to hear what you had to say, I would've left by now." He really wasn't interested at all, honestly, but if he walked away now he risked severing whatever connection he had to her, or whatever connection she perceived that they had. He was only interested. She thought they were friends.

"'s about Ichigo, you know about him, right?" He gave a nod, and she continued hesitantly. "Well...I really like him. But I don't think he deserves someone like me. Rukia is so much stronger. And she's so much more useful to him. I don't even know how to do any girlfriend things, like making normal food, or kissing."

Szayel closed his eyes a moment, before commenting himself. "Your jealousy is most likely unfounded; human beings are naturally jealous of competition over mates, as hollows are over food sources. It's nothing but survival instincts, really; you'll learn anything you don't know right now. Cooking is an easy skill to learn. And one kiss is just like any other." He kept his eyes closed, resting them for a moment. Plus, to look on Orihime again would prompt him to try and decipher her again, and deciphering her would only make him think of various emotional things that he didn't enjoy nor appreciate. A fondness for the woman, an attachment and possessiveness that a scientific man such as himself didn't need in his line of profession. She was an interesting thing, and nothing else.

When he opened his eyes, she was looking at him, earnestly. "Really?"

He nodded. "Yes."

She had been happy and comforted with that answer, and almost smiled now at the memory of it. But her smile would not come, and she merely held his hand, tightly so that he wouldn't escape from her. "Szayel? What are you doing? I don't..." The world spun once again; she didn't let go of his hand, and only felt it move, until his palm was against her cheek, pushing her down until she was flat on the steel table again. A moment later, she felt the slight pain of a needle in her neck, and moments after, the world started fuzzing out again, the same way it had when she'd listened to him tell her that her jealousy was natural, normal, and she'd leaned forward, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her face into his chest. Even if it was Szayel Apollo Grantz, even if he was an enemy, even if he was going to try and kill her friends later, she needed to hold him then. And he'd slipped a needle into her neck and shot her up with something. She'd blacked out then, just as she was blacking out now. Who knew what would happen to her now? She began tearing up again, as the tears slipped down her face and into her hair.

"I...never even kissed him." Her voice came soft, lamenting, and she closed her eyes as the light became too much once more. And after a moment, she opened them again when she felt something, and saw Szayel leaning over her, kissing her. Of course his eyes were open, and dull, and passionless, and he did little more than press his lips against hers for a fraction of a moment, before drawing back and speaking to her shocked, but dimming form.

"You never will. But be content with that."

And that's the last thing she heard before blacking out again, a sleep pure and smothering.

Szayel literally had no idea how to kiss, and it had been a spur-of-the-moment decision. Despite his insistence to himself that he didn't care for her, he knew he did in his own way. She was a precious test subject, she was something interesting. He enjoyed having something interesting to study. It wasn't love or anything like that, because hollows don't love, especially Szayel Apollo Grantz. But there was something else there, something that could imitate but never be affection.

After a moment of watching her now unconscious figure, Szayel began to get to work, calling his Fraccion over to help him move her. There was work to be done.

Gin Ichimaru didn't usually take a stroll to visit Szayel. The scientist was less than welcoming, and there wasn't usually anything interesting to do in the lab anyway, but he figured he might as well visit to see how Orihime was doing. He had to admit, he'd been interested in her fate since Szayel took her.

As he stepped in the lab, the inner sanctum of Szayel's actually, where he felt Szayel and Orihime's individual reiatsu signatures, he observed something singularly phenomenal.

There was Szayel, and in what looked like steel cage beside him, was Orihime. Szayel, unaware of Gin's presence, moved away from his workbench and all his chemicals with a dandy new syringe full of dandy new chemicals. Orihime held her wrist out for him, and he injected her with whatever it was. A moment, not even a moment after that, she began to scream in pain as something happened to her. Szayel observed, wrote something down on a clipboard, and then turned away.

"Heal yourself." His command came in a dull and uninterested monotone, and Orihime obeyed, still weeping quietly. When he caught sight of Gin, Szayel huffed and put down his clipboard, walking briskly over to the second-in-command.

"Havin' fun?" Gin asked, watching Orihime idly. His smile didn't fade or falter with the tears, not one bit. Szayel swept his bangs behind his ear, sighing very, very quietly.

"Commander Ichimaru, I am working at the moment. May we make it quick?" He was snippy, hurried. Gin peeked at Orihime over Szayel's shoulder, giving the girl a wave when she spotted him. Szayel moved to put himself in Gin's line of sight and obstruct his view of Orihime, and her view of Gin. "Is there anything in particular you need, sir?"

Gin just shrugged, waving Szayel's worries away with a flick of his wrist. "Nah, just checkin' up on her. I think Ulquiorra might be making less expressions than usual without her." He joked, though Szayel remained unamused. Gin stared at nothing for awhile, before adding on something else. "...I hear her friends are a'comin'. You ready for 'em?" He asked, slyly, and Szayel huffed.

"Did you think anything else of me?" Grantz queried snippily, and Gin shrugged, turning on his heel and walking towards the door.

"Nevah. Be seein' ya, Nurgle. Tell your Isha I said hello."

After the smiling man left, Szayel huffed and looked back to Orihime. She had apparently passed out in the bottom of her cage-like apparatus, too strong to be broken by her fairies, coated with flesh-eating acid. If she or her fairies touched it, they would be burned by the acid and she would have to heal them or herself. It worked perfectly. But, as Orihime remained in a dreamless and soothing slumber, her only real escape from the nightmare her life had become, Szayel kneeled down by her. His gloves, his uniform was coated with the chemical that would nullify the acid's effects, and he brushed up against the bars without worry, checking her pulse. She was fine, she was alive. About to withdraw his hand, he instead lingered by her temple, before brushing hair out of her face with a very gentle touch. She stirred, opened her eyes and looked at him, catching his hand as he tried to withdraw it.

"Szayel...please," She murmured, weakly, as he closed his eyes and pulled free of her grasp. Her fingers landed against a bar, and she jerked her hand back with a whimper of pain. She knew that somewhere in him, Szayel cared, or he wouldn't be going through the trouble of testing these chemicals on her to give her a use. But it didn't matter. This was what she was constrained to now, and she dwelled on that while passing out again.

Szayel looked over his shoulder at her again, almost fondly. In truth, he was fond of her. Very much so. It was just that using her like this was the only way he knew to express what small affection he had for her. He didn't know, and didn't want to know, how to make her happy in domestic bliss, how to tell her that he cared or that he did have affection for her in a sick scientist versus test subject way. He didn't know these things. And really, you couldn't blame him, as he turned away from her and back to his other work.

He was only hollow.

Talk — half-talk, phrases that had no need to be finished, abstractions, Chinese bells played on with cotton-tipped sticks, mock orange blossoms painted on porcelain. The muffled, close, half-talk of soft-fleshed women. The men she had embraced, and the women, all washing against the resonance of my memory. Sound within sound, scene within scene, woman within woman--like acid revealing an invisible script. One woman within another eternally, in a far-reaching procession, shattering my mind into fragments, into quarter tones which no orchestral baton can ever make whole again.