True Despair

-

"Are you afraid?"

"I'm not...afraid."

-

'The human heart feels things the eyes cannot see, and knows things the mind cannot understand.' - Robert Valett

-

She had called out the names of Kurosaki Ichigo and her friends numerous times during that nightmare called Las Noches. And now as they sat around a deep mahogany table nestled somewhere in the back of the school library, in what seemed like a directly ironic contradiction...she wished to call out for them to stop.

Stop talking.

Stop remembering.

It had already been several months. What was the need to beat it into the ground?

They were each relating the matter of Sosuke Aizen, his army of Arrancar and every individual expedition of their personal battles and struggles to their small motley crew gifted with the sight of the Spiritual World. Ichigo had been smoothly shifting the topic from his strange, mutual understanding and kinship with Jaegerjaquez Grimmjow, too...

"Those dead eyes, I swear to God, it was as if he had wanted me to kill him."

Orihime bit her lip and felt her fingers twitch across the shiny silver bracelet looped around her wrist, sitting in her lap and hidden under the table. She knew who he was talking about.

"I can't say I felt 'fear.' Things were happening too fast, the thrill of battle pulsing too hard, but...when he released into his second form, I couldn't help but feel that all the hope in the world was suddenly gone, like it had been drained away. It was so empty, so void." Ichigo's voice was dead calm and uncommonly serious, clearly recalling his campaign that night and the Black Cero that had pierced his chest.

"There was a good chance he was just as powerful as Aizen, I suppose." Uryu added, steepling his fingers as he rested his elbows on the table. Orihime had blessed him with the amazing regeneration of his left arm after the winter war had concluded. Ishida found it hard to express his gratitude enough, forever in her debt. "He himself admitted to never showing his true form to his fellow Espada, even keeping it a secret from Aizen. Perhaps there was a deeper reason why he was hiding this fact from his superior."

"I somehow doubt he could have been that strong, Ichigo said that he had conceded to others being more powerful than himself right before he stabbed him. But then again, you also said he had seemed rather particular in the fact that he was nothing like the other Arrancar, far less violent and power hungry. Still, that very power he emanated even affected us who were not involved in your fight," Rukia said, her sharp eyes looking deeply into those of her comrades. "That energy was so heavy, so thick it was nearly suffocating. The weight it put on your shoulders made me want to vomit."

"It made me...very sad," Chad lowered his eyes, hidden behind his shaggy hair. "It felt like painful despair." He said few words, as always. Even if his sentences were short, they tended to be straight to the point.

"Ichigo, you once said that after the first time you had fought with Ulquiorra, you'd overheard Grimmjow explaining to Orihime that Ulquiorra often impaled enemies, or as Grimmjow referred 'prey', that intrigued him through the heart. And that he doubted even the Fourth Easpada was cogent to his own trademark. It is my observation that these Arrancar, these hollows, often portrayed themselves through their appearance and actions in battle that which was buried deep within, or in Ulquiorra's case, what wasn't within. It would explain the stressful void that opened up over all of us when he donned his true form."

"I suppose that would make sense," Ichigo agreed, "He was just toying with me, but not for the game of it. No, I could tell it was more than just an endeavor for carnage. I keep having this thought that he might have been able to finish me off even without transforming. However, he kept pumping up that oppressive power, though he had no real need to. It made no sense, it was like he was pushing me to the edge. Until I realized, he was just trying prove a point; that no matter how hard I pushed myself, it was simply futile.

"He even began instructing me on how to attack him, it's like it didn't matter to him if he won or lost. I think an intellectual victory was more intriguing to him than the actual battle. He just kept pounding the idea into my head that even if I were able to get past him, others would be there to strike me down. That we never had a chance." Ichigo put his head in his hand, letting out a deep sigh. Hell, he even thought he'd seen that flat facade of Ulquiorra's crack in frustration trying to beat the idea into him. Too bad for him, everyone knew how strong Ichigo's drive to win and protect his friends were. "We wouldn't have walked out of that alive if I hadn't..." His voice faltered for a moment, infuriated with himself with the lack of control that he'd had over the desolate situation. "I don't feel like I truly won that fray. It wasn't...fair."

Orihime glanced up from her blank stare to that of Kurosaki's fist clenching around his bangs. Did he...regret it?

"It hardly matters now, Ichigo." Rukia, in her own way, tried to comfort him. "Even though we lost some of our comrades, our friends are safe." Orihime could see right through that sentence, though. Rukia was still troubled by those deaths, no matter how light they had been.

"Yeah, he was practically begging you to finish him off by the end." Uryu said, a failed attempt to cheer him up. "He was going to die anyways,"

Orihime's breath hitched at hearing this, those words caused a burning in her chest. That wasn't true, Ulquiorra was just being considerable, he knew when to nobly accept defeat.

Beside her sat Tatsuki, who had been adding in her own synopsis here and there as she listened to the more detailed story that she'd only momentarily been debriefed upon earlier in the month.

For some painful reason, Orihime's ears were thrumming at listening to such things.

"He sounds like a pretty heartless jerk to me," Tatsuki finally put her two cents in. "He tricked Inoue into abandoning us, stabbed and almost killed Ichigo, twice, cut off Uryu's arm and not to mention–" Her friends tomboyish voice trailed off as Orihime drowned herself in her own thoughts.

She had to question herself, the cruel things they were saying...were they right?

Orihime's ears settled down from a hard drumming to a high pitched ringing. Her heart dropped as the sudden image of a half obliterated Arrancar leaning on a pathetically wobbly matchstick leg flashed through her vision. I don't even have the strength left to walk...if you don't kill me now, it will never be over. And then those pallid eyes had glided to hers.

The insides of Orihime's arms began to shake as she listened to her friends brutally comment relentlessly on the Arrancar's character to try to sooth the shamed Kurosaki's pride at losing his sanity. She couldn't blame them, it was a sensitive subject and he was the one friend they could always rely upon. They were just trying to help.

But then...

"He deserved to die..."

Orihime cringed, she didn't know who had said it. But it failed to make her reaction any less diluted.

In an instant her palm had hit the table and her chair had been thrown back as she stood abruptly in the dark corner of the library they had hidden themselves away at for their lunch period.

"Stop it!" The words left her lips in a flurry of heated emotion and a decidedly wretched burning itching in the backs of her eyes, her chin tucked down close to her neck. 'Just...stop it...'

Each one of her friends in the small group paused in a noted hush. Staring at her with slightly widened eyes after the short, uncharacteristic outburst that had just tumbled out of her mouth. Even Chad's peepers were popping out from that mess of hair.

Her own eyes were partially full at this fervent display and she fought insanely hard to keep that stinging in her eyes at bay until she was alone.

She raised her hand and slowly covered her mouth with the tips of her fingers, far too unsure of where that bit of fury had sprouted from to say anything more than a quietly whispered, "I'm sorry," to the occupants of their corner before turning her back and retreating hastily.

"Inoue..." Ichigo muttered as they watched her leave.

After a pregnant silence, someone finally spoke. "What the hell did they do to her?" Tatsuki growled, grinding her nails into her palm. Troubled beyond words at the change in her friend since she had returned.

"Try not to worry too much, Arisawa," Uryu replied to her question. "It seems Inoue has been having a few troubles readjusting, is all."

"She was only gone for a few weeks! I know Orihime, she's my best friend and she is not one to be undone by a little change in scenery."

"Tatsuki," Rukia cut in. "Hueco Mundo is a much harsher world than you might imagine. She went through many struggles there and has yet to open up to any of us about the happenings that went on during her imprisonment. It's best if we give her time and ease up on pressing her too far." She said, knowing too well Tatsuki's controlling and despotic tendencies. With a quick glance, Rukia eyed Ichigo and the contemplative look upon his face.

"But she acts perfectly normal most of the time," Tatsuki clenched her fist tighter, declaring to know every truth about the life and times of Inoue Orihime. Her obsession with the girl was borderline unhealthy and brimmed on sexual. Still, she was her best friend and her voice had lost the clip in its tone. Her head lowering marginally. "It's only when we start talking about the Arrancar's...about him, this pitiful cloak of remorse starts to hang over her." With a sudden gesture of desperation, she jerked her head up to Ichigo's. "What did he do to her, Ichigo? Why does she act like this every time we talk about it?" She asked it of him as if he would actually know the answer and save her from her pain.

He could only frown, unable to meet her own stare and say, "I...I'm not sure, Tatsuki."

-

Orihime barely took her eyes off the ground as she walked back to her apartment. The repetitive sight of her brown school shoes crunching the little rocks and sand pebbles on the sidewalk was strangely soothing. She hadn't talked to anyone for the rest of the school day, except to say goodbye...she hated being antisocial.

Didn't they get it? It was clear to Orihime the differences between good and evil, comrades and enemies. But why didn't they realize that, whether it had been intentional or not, Ulquiorra had saved them from themselves. Despite the purpose behind the action, Ichigo could still be running around like a raving lunatic if he hadn't broken the 'spell'.

Her fingers found the silvery ornament dangling on her wrist as her steps paused. She brought her hand up until the thing was within her eyesight and twirled her fingers around the short chain that hung from one end of the piece of jewelry to the other. She stared, almost transfixed, as the sun glinted and gleamed off its surface.

Why?

Why had she put it back on? She had kept it all this time, its semblance technically meaningless as far as the real world and the one who had gifted it to her was concerned. It had been given to her as a mere tool to ensure Aizen's trap.

But she could never explain why, even after the war had concluded, she could still feel him so strongly when she put it on. It was a mystery.

Sometimes she wished the cursed thing would still work, so she could be in peace in complete solitude where nobody, not even her beloved friends, could find her. That solitude that she so hated when she had first donned the bracelet. There had been a sinking feeling inside her when she realized no living creature, including the Soul Reapers, could not see her. And now, she occasionally longed for it.

Orihime squeezed her wrist tightly.

But it didn't work anymore. It hadn't worked for months, not after he died.

Had being in her prison for such a short time affected her so much? Was she so easily broken?

No.

She was so happy, so joyous to be home. Her reintegration had went smoothly. Monotony of day to day things like school and chores and sports and other simple trivial matters held so much importance to her now and she took none of it for granted.

However, there were things, certain things, that lingered. And no matter how hard she wished or prayed for them to disappear, they remained.

They haunted her.

So beautifully and yet so sadly.

When she unlocked the door to her apartment, she found Rangiku lounging about as usual, reading some frivolous magazine. She smiled faintly. Some things never change.

"Oh, welcome home, Orihime!" Rangiku barely raised her fixed eyes off the article she was currently stuck on. "How was school?"

"Fine," She gently tossed her bag onto the kitchen counter, calling to her from the other room. "I'm going to take a quick shower before I cook dinner." She heard a mumbled sound of acknowledgment. "Does anything sound good to you?"

"Whatever you feel like, Orihime." A page was flipped, she sounded very distracted. Orihime giggled softly, despite herself. The woman was a lost cause.

Stopping briefly by her room to pick up a change of clothes, Orihime stepped into the bathroom and stripped of her usual school uniform and turned the faucet as hot as her bare skin could manage.

The water felt good, showers were always relaxing and she felt as if she particularly needed that soothing flow greatly today.

Cupping the fluid in her hand as it rained down on her like hot fire from the sky, she splashed it on her face and rubbed at her eyes, hoping maybe rinsing them out would erase the images branded in them.

Endlessly, it seemed her eyes were yet again drawn to the trinket on her wrist. Despite the heat steaming around her like a mist, the thing was surprisingly cool against her skin. Even in the dim light of bathroom, it seemed so silvery, so pale. Like...

Orihime jerked it out of her eyesight, exiling it behind her back. Not wishing to look at it any longer. You should just take it off. She told herself. It's meaningless. Let go. She slowly leaned her back against the white tile of the small cubicle, staring aimlessly at the rivulets of water dripping down the shower curtain. But, there really wasn't anything to let go of, was there.

With such uncertainty, she hadn't felt this way since her brother had died and she sighed wearily at the lonely feeling the memories brought forth once again. Orihime pushed them aside easily enough, she was used to doing that, by now.

After rinsing her hair, she stepped out of the tub and stood in front of her sink. Examining herself like she had done so many nights prior. Trying to find the new chink in how she was different, somehow. How she had changed.

She had become stronger.

No, that wasn't it. That was a positive, uplifting replacement to her helpless old self and her friendship with others had grown and flourished so much from it.

This change she was seeking to understand had wrought about a heavy cloud to lurk over her presence. And even though she herself never felt much sadness, or rather she should say it never affected her to the point of depression. She could feel it very starkly in comparison in the atmosphere around her and she was certain others could feel it, too.

It made absolutely no sense.

She looked down at the palms of her hands, turning them over. Expecting to maybe find the answer there in some symbolic way. She brought them closer to her face, but could see nothing other than the soft lines engraved in the underside of her hands.

Her grey eyes blinked slowly and looked back up to the mirror image of herself.

When she raised them however, something unreal sucked the very life from her lungs.

He was standing there, peeking out from behind her reflection. Looming over her like a ghost. His verdant eyes were so intense and yet so hauntingly empty, engulfing her like a serpent coiling its body around a victim and squeezing the very existence right out of her. The two screeching streaks of green screamed out against the pale, ghastly face making her clench her jaw as if she had just heard the annoying rub of styrofoam against styrofoam.

The lights in the bathroom flickered suddenly and she tried to breath, to gasp, to blink. But her eyes were glued open, transfixed and searing into his.

His hands crept around her flesh, sliding up her neck while the other squeezed past her plump breasts, the tips of his fingers grazing against her nipples. His black lips pressed against her ear, moving as if to speak, but no words came out.

No...How could he...?

Even seen clearly though captivated eyes and an incapacitated body, she could not feel his skin on hers, she could not hear his voice. Her eyes glazed over in sudden dawning as she watched his black, dull nails press against her sternum, beginning to dig in. And although she could not hear a word he said, she remembered it's sound all too well.

What would I see...if I ripped open your chest...

A strangle left her throat as she watched vital blood begin to drip, his fingers buried knuckle deep around the section of her heart as if he wanted to hold it in his hand. Those eyes...she tried to look away. Her body was immobile, it was frozen in this purgatory.

The reaper-like hand on her throat snaked upwards, covering her face, allowing only her eyes to peek out from between his boney fingers to see.

If I cracked open your skull...what would I see inside?

She felt a gurgle in the back of her throat as she saw his fingers begin to contract and she knew she had to find her strength. She had to wake up.

"No!" The lights flickered again and she wretched herself free with a scream. Curling her torso over the sink, she gripped at the white porcelain edge. Clinging to its solid frame, its cold white rapture.

"Ulquiorra," She whispered his name so quietly even she had trouble hearing her own broken voice.

Her hair was soaking wet and clinging to her skin as she hesitantly looked back up into the mirror, finding nothing there but her own ashen face. No blood, no marks. Her heart was beating so hard, trapped safely in its cage inside her chest.

"Orihime? What was that scream?" Rangiku knocked loudly, failing to shake her out of her stupor. "Orihime?!" Rangiku, now banging on the door announced. "I'm coming in!" She swung the door open with a thump as it hit the wall and took in the site of her roommate leaning desperately into the mirror over the sink, her hand splayed across the glass. A deep, wide-eyed expression troubling the young girls face.

"Orihime, snap out of it," Rangiku rushed up to her and pulled her away from the mirror, giving a quick jerk to her shoulders. In an instant, her eyes seemed to click back into reality.

"Oh, Rangiku," Orihime said as if she had just woken up from a dream, she blushed and quickly covered herself. Feeling suddenly vulnerable.

Had she just imagined all that?

"What's wrong?" The woman asked, worry evident in her cold blue eyes. "What happened?"

"I just..." Orihime's fingers instinctively wrapped around the bracelet. An act that did not go unnoticed. The girl had been doing that more and more as of late, noted the older woman.

"Where did you get that from?" She asked, curious as to its origin.

"What? This? It's nothing special," Orihime swallowed as her shoulders were released and a towel was handed to her. God, she disliked lying to her friends. "I bought it at some random department store." Rangiku knew better, because her answer was far too empty and her eyes would not make contact. Orihime had it on ever since she'd gotten back from Hueco Mundo.

"Very well," The blonde turned to leave, her hand on the doorknob. "Are you sure you're okay?" She asked again, out of concern. "What were you screaming about?"

"Of course, I'm fine." Orihime smiled slightly, holding a bright green towel over the front of her torso. "I just thought I saw a really nasty pimple. You shouldn't worry so much over me." She waved it all off dismissively, her smile spreading ever so steadily. "I think I'm going to go for a walk in a bit, I don't feel like cooking dinner tonight anymore. Would you like me to pick you up anything, while I'm out?" It seemed her abnormally large appetite had suddenly diminished.

Rankiku's eyes traveled cautiously over the girl, looking for any sign of abnormalities or ailments, but could find none. "No thank you, Orihime. Enjoy your walk." And then she closed the door as she left.

When her footsteps were no longer heard in the hallway, Orihime turned back to the mirror and placed her hand over her face, reenacting the brief episode. But the only thing she felt was the now cool droplets of water falling from the bangs of her auburn hair onto her knuckles.

Was she going crazy?

-

Orihime tersely walked up to the park bench and sat down, tucking the bottom of her yellow spring dress beneath her as she did so. The night was still young and it did not take her long to walk here. She took in a deep breath of the slightly warm, crisp air and smiled as she caught a whiff of freshly cut grass in the breeze. And then she did what she had come here to do in silence.

She looked up and stared at the moon in the dark blue sky. Freckled only here and there with stars. It was so similar and yet so foreign to the sky in Hueco Mundo. And sometimes she would sit for hours in silent contemplation, making the comparison.

It was so quiet here. No cars driving by, no television could be heard from another room, no voices chattering. Only the faint whisper of wind rattling tree branches touched her senses.

On some days, she briefly longed to see a glimpse of it again, if just for but a small second in time. On other days, she hoped it never crossed her mind again and cursed it to the depths of hell.

Sometimes, if she just closed her eyes...

"Why do you keep staring at that thing?" Just like every other night, she had her hands folded in front of her, as per usual, staring up at her unfairly out of reach window, when that placid voice would reach her ears.

She didn't turn around. She felt like some superfluous, stereotypical damsel in distress locked away in a musty dungeon. It was hard having to stand here everyday and feel her friends reiatsu fading one by one.

"Does it make you feel closer to your friends?" He asked, the pale light poured in from the open door he now stood in, casting his shadow over her.

She would not answer his taunt this time, the last time she let him get under her skin, she had smacked him. Though she doubted he was even capable of 'taunting', it seemed he merely voiced things he believed to be facts and expected her to blindly submit to them.

"Does it remind you of 'home'?" She heard the echoing claps of his footsteps drawing closer in her room, it wasn't difficult to hear anything in the silence of this place, everything seemed to have an echo. It was easy to feel that frighteningly lackluster gaze boring into her back, however, it wasn't easy trying to ignore it. She remembered an occasion after Aizen had bided for her company, when Ulquiorra had escorted her out of the throne room she'd overheard Gin commenting, 'Are you sure it's okay to leave her with that creepy motherfucker? Those eyes unnerve the hell outa me.' She'd wanted to turn around and claim that at least you could see his eyes. He didn't hide things behind a false facade like Gin. But she looked up to Ulquiorra, who had undoubtedly heard the slander, to find he didn't even give a reaction. Did nothing affect him?

"This is your home now, do you accept this?"

Her head lowered marginally as she swallowed, refusing him a response.

"Look at me, I want to see your eyes."

Gingerly, she turned her head ever so slightly to look at him over her shoulder. "Do you even know what a 'home' is?" She rebuked, trying not to falter under that unwaveringly frozen face. As if he were staring off into space, seeing straight through her like she wasn't even there.

"One that does not involve patronizing beatings and maternal figures selling their body and soul like trash, I presume would be a humans definition." His eyes did not miss the way she flinched. "Ah, but you are not so different from such a figure, are you, Inoue Orihime?"

She sucked in a ragged breath of air, her delicate brows raised in shock at the cuttingly indecent accusation. She always wanted to wrap her arms around herself every time he said her name like that. What an awful mind game he played.

"You have sold yourself to Lord Aizen, for your friends, have you not?" He took a few steps closer and she could hear his voice directly behind her. "Have you not?"

"I'm not like that," Her lips surged downwards.

"There is little that is not common about it."

Orihime raised her folded hands to her chest, returning her eyes to the window. "Then so be it, if it's for the ones I love."

"Love," The word had seemingly left a bitter taste in his mouth, it was a taste that for reasons unknown, he could not seem to spit out. "Humans speak of aforesaid things and topics so religiously." He said it like it was nothing more than a passing thought.

She turned slowly to look at him. Even though her confidence was wavering and her resolve shattering and her strength draining, this was one subject she could fight him on for hours. But when she spoke, she did not look at him condescendingly or spitefully. She spoke to him, not at him. And she did so with conviction. "Love is what I feel in my heart for the people close to me that I care about. The willingness to give and give until there is nothing more to spread into the world. It's friends with smiles and laughter and sunshine and–"

"And betraying them at the drop of a pin." He interrupted her little righteous crusade. "Treachery only disloyal people like you, Inoue Orihime, are capable of."

Her fingers clenched into a ball at the base of her throat. She felt a sharp tingle run down her spine at his accusations and it hurt so deeply, so dryly. How did he always do this? To her mind, to her body and her faith?

"Tell me of this love, now, girl. And how you throw it back into their faces."

"No," She shook her head, scanning her brain for a quick response. But he was faster, better and far more advanced at this torture than she. Orihime had no defenses against that morbid aura he brought down upon her, against those lifeless eyes digging deep into her soul.

"If I pulled you to the floor now and cut off your head, would it be for their love?" Her skin crawled as a pale hand pulled out of his pocket and reached up to trace a line across her neck, as if in practice of the decapitation, mapping out the area. "It would not," He answered for her. "Which is precisely why you are one of us."

"Yes," She whispered brokenly. "You're right." She had already pledged her allegiance once, wasn't that enough? "It would be for Lord Aizen."

"Denounce this love," He ordered quietly, dispassionately.

This...she could not do. And so she looked away.

"These eyes of yours," He shifted even closer, making her hold her breath as his hand raised up to her once more, moving it to her temple as his thumb grazed over the corner of her eye, brushing against her long lashes. "They see only what you wish to see, even if it does not exist." He said this as if it were a pity she was so ignorant of this 'truth'.

Her body tensed under his touch, not in fear of what would happen, but from what never did. Initially it took a few days, but she clearly understood now that she trembled because of that which would not occur. He never used violence and pain, no, his words were his tools and they were more than enough. His eyes, his indifferent intimidation, his menacing aura – this is what made him the most threatening of all. The invasion of her serene sanity.

She did not know which would have been worse, a bruised body or this soul shattering domination of the mind.

"Human trash that fervently shroud themselves in lies and filth," His thumb slipped to the soft skin under her eye. "...should die."

Her eyes seemed to be in some epic battle of widening or clenching shut. She was certain he was aware her body shivering under his fingers. And for a few brief seconds, she felt such compassion for this man, this creature. Orihime thought it such a sad thing for someone...to never have felt the blessing of love...

"Inoue,"

Orihime's eyes seemed to refocus back onto the blades of grass she had been staring at upon the calling of her name.

"Kurosaki," She said, unfolding her hands and turning her upper body as she saw the young man walk up to her.

"Hey," He smiled and waved lazily to her.

"What are you doing here?" She asked, shocked but not at all disappointed at his arrival. She scooted over to make a place for him to sit next to her.

"I went by your house, but you weren't there." She was surprised that he had taken the action to come visit her. He hadn't been to her place since the war had ended, probably even before that. "Rangiku said you went for a walk and might be here, so I figured I'd give it a try. A walk sounded pretty nice, anyway." His hands raised up to clasp behind his unique reddish blonde head of hair, leaning back to relax. "I hope you don't mind."

"Um, no." She blinked, wondering what he wanted. "It's fine."

"I'm sorry about earlier," He said. "I don't think we took into consideration your feelings when we were talking."

"It's okay," She smiled and looked back down to the grass. "I shouldn't have done that, it was kinda rude."

"Not at all!" He chuckled, shrugging in his plain white shirt. It had some kind of funny quote printed across the front that she didn't understand very well. "I've seen worse reactions from Rukia."

Orihime's smile widened at the mention of the girl she had once been so jealous of. That was yet another thing it seemed she had learned so effectively during her imprisonment; that just because of unrequited love, you could not hate the ones around you because of your suffering. Jealousy was an ugly thing. You could not force someone to feel the same emotions you felt.

Despite her intense, genuine affection, she had eventually began to realize there were far more important things in life than trying to catch someone's attention. How dull would that have been? To let your entire existence revolve around one impractical, impossible and rather childish fantasy?

When he and their assembly of friends came charging to her aid like a knight on a white steed, just as he had done so for Rukia, fearful joy consumed her. Fear in regards to their safety. Joy whereas the result of, although she would never admit to it because it had put her friends at such massive risk, but she had enjoyed that feeling of their little band of freedom fighters stumbling over themselves to get to her. On the contrary to what one might think, his enthusiasm to save her had made it easier to let go instead of fueling her fruitless love.

She glanced at him from the side of her vision. She had been so in love with him. So deeply and so strongly and for so long it still felt a little strange to not need that same love in return. She supposed that night she said goodbye, it was the moment she had released him from her romantic ideals. She had clung to his hand so tightly and yearned so badly to kiss him. But that would have been too cruel and unfair and despite her agony, she couldn't bring herself to do it.

This love that still surrounded them was just as strong and sturdy as before, but it was not what she had once wished for. It was better and she almost felt as if a burden had been taken off her shoulders.

"Listen," He said quietly and she watched as his brown eyes dimmed to a more serious shade. "It's usually not like me to pry, but you wanna tell be about happened in Las Noches? It might feel better if you talked about it." He was no therapist, but he was a great friend and had seen through her defenses. It didn't surprise her, Ichigo cared for his friends very much and had a massive hero-complex. He was determined to save her, even from her own bad dreams.

Orihime felt a small knot forming in the back of her throat. She should have foreseen this coming, she knew it wasn't going to be long before one of them cracked and approached her about it – she had just always assumed it would be Tatsuki. For a brief moment she thought about skating around the truth, like she had been doing.

But, when he turned his head and looked at her with those piercing eyes, she realized she couldn't keep the reality buried in her mind anymore. She shouldn't lie anymore.

"What would you like to know?"

"I think you already know the answer to that question."

Orihime felt her hand clench over her chest.

That's right.

Ichigo had been there. At the time, Uryu had been too wrapped up in his pain to notice any interactions surrounding him, his anesthetics wearing off. If he had seen or heard anything, he kept his mouth shut respectfully. Ichigo was the only one who had bore witness to that fleetingly exchanged farewell. Her eyes quickly glazed over as she lost herself in the memory.

"Are you scared of me? Girl."

Her heart had raced as his hand reached out to her. But...something was different, there was such gentleness in this hand now. It was not the insipid appendage that he used to touch her with. There was no empty, vapid feeling that had previously been in his cold, momentary caresses.

"I'm not scared." She did not hesitate, he always had seemed to respect her more when she did not pause in lapses of indecision. She could see the exhaustion in his eyes, the shallow breaths he took and how he betrayed absolutely none of this through his face or body. To anyone else, these would be imperceptive as such small functions. But she had somehow become suddenly aware of him, she had come to realize these meticulous reactions.

Dit it hurt? Was he in pain? She'd heard him say before that the only way his regeneration would fail is if his internal organs and brain had been destroyed. His arm hadn't even returned, his left leg was barely there. Did that mean...? For some reason, the tears in her eyes hurt more than she could ever remember during the war. Like always, she would not let him see her cry them, but they clung dangerously on her lashes. Threatening to spill over.

"I see."

She couldn't bear that look on his face when she reached her hand out to take his. That rare, shocked expression that only came over his features at small intervals in the heat of battle. And once before, when she had told him that she was not afraid to die alone. Hadn't he ever felt someone reach out to him? To want to touch him?

The emptiness that followed when she grazed her fingers with his own, embracing nothing but dust, had finally forced the moisture to slide silently down her cheeks. Orihime had to wrap her arms around herself to ward off the sadness overtaking her.

"Kurosaki," She had whispered. "Please...hold me." She choked back a sob as she felt his arms wrapping around her from behind, fighting off the darkness together. "Hold me tightly."

"He...was the one who took care of me." She answered him.

"Ulquiorra Schiffer," Ichigo murmured.

"Yes," She nodded softly.

"Inoue, the first time I encountered him, I ended up refusing to fight him. When he asked me why, I told him even though he was my enemy, he hadn't hurt any of my friends, thus, I had no reason to kill him. But then he said, 'what if I told you that I was the one who forced Orihime Inoue to come to Hueco Mundo.' I hadn't noticed it at the time, but I later realized he only said that after his attempts to provoke me into a fight with taunts of Rukia's death had failed. Is that true, Inoue? Were you forced? Or was he just saying that to get what he wanted from me?" He moved his head to the side to meet her eyes.

Orihime nearly laughed. It seemed he even knew the right things to say to get under Ichigo Kurosaki's skin, she thought.

She moved her lips to speak, running her past choices and decisions through her mind. "I...I'm not sure." She admitted honestly. "It's true, I did leave on my own, I wasn't forced physically." She saw his eyes widen marginally by this information as a small sound of shock caught in his throat, and her heart ached as she looked away, ashamed. "But, I was told that if I didn't go with him, my friends would die. I thought that if I didn't do something, I would loose everyone and I would be at the cause of it. I couldn't bear that. I wanted to protect you, but in the end, I let the crew down and caused more trouble than I prevented. Instead of believing in you, I betrayed you and created a great deal of pain." She blinked away a tear. "I'm sorry, Kurosaki," She apologized. "It seems he was just saying that to goad you into a fight."

"I see." Ichigo pulled his hands back down to his lap to grip at his knees, brooding over this knowledge.

"Kurosaki, if it wasn't for me, everyone wouldn't have had to go through this, no one would have gotten hurt. Sometimes I feel like it was all my fault. Like either way, no matter what, I couldn't do anything to help."

"You know that isn't true." He said. "That war was inevitable from the start. They were just trying to use you and you got swept away."

"Yes, but it is my fault that you lost yourself, that you changed. I know you must hate that you were forced into those circumstances."

"You're right, Inoue, I didn't want things to end up the way they did. But, you know what?" He smiled a little. "I'm kinda glad I did loose it, in some small way. If I hadn't, my friends may not still surround me today and we may not have had the opportunity to push forward with our lives. Going bonkers wasn't so bad."

"Kurosaki," She whispered, her eyes twinkling with gratitude for his uplifting words. "Sometimes..." She held her breath and brought her other hand up to encompass its companion over her heart. It felt strange trying to explain this, giving away her secrets. "Sometimes, it's as if I can still see his hand reaching out to me." She swallowed back her confusion. "And I can't explain why."

"Inoue," His mouth opened partially in astonishment. It was heartbreaking to see her like this, the eternally bubbly and energetic Orihime so solemn and dispirited. The heart and soul of their team brought to near tears.

"He would say I was redundant, predictable, conventional, emotional, degrade my humanity and use so many other manipulative devices. He would throw the fact that my friends would probably die in my face, that they were imprudent for even coming to Hueco Mundo trying to save me, I even smacked him for that. It made me so angry. He made me feel things I'd never felt before, sad things. But he never hurt me." Ichigo sat in silence, listening carefully as she finally began to explain some of the trauma's she had suffered. "At times, it felt like he was trying to get me to see things his way, like it would actually save me the trouble of suffering when the time came for my friends to die."

She worried her lip between her teeth. It all seemed so heartless at the time, and it truly was, but as she reexamined her imprisonment, the trials she had been subjected to had matured her in a way no other life lesson could be capable of achieving. She had learned to be a stronger person indirectly through Ulquiorra. And in his daily discussions, she had discovered a new part of herself that could stand up against adversity. It was easier to face and reevaluated her problems, her past and expel the infatuated non-relationship with Ichigo.

She took a deep breath and decided to try to regain some clarity for part of his soured name. "One night, the Fifth Espada, Nnoitora, had come to my room. No less to harass me, I suppose. His smile always made my stomach churn. He kept making explicit demoralizing comments and innuendo's."

She paused, watching as Ichigo leaned forward and planted his elbows on his knees, supporting his chin by the backs of his hands. Reacting as if he were troubled by this information and glad now more than ever that the vile Fifth Espada had been properly escorted to his death.

"Ulquiorra came in then." She bit her lip again. "'What are you doing in here?' He just said it so calmly, like he didn't even care, like he had just been passing by and happened to glance in. Nnoitora was suggesting they...do things...to me and kept calling me their pet and have some fun. I was sure Ulquiorra was just going to turn around and leave me there with him...

"No need to be so uptight all the time, Ulquiorra." The smile plastered on Nnoitora's mouth moved like a wooden puppet jaw opening and closing. "I know we could have a little fun around this place, at least until her friends get here, it is so dull sometimes."

He stood like a willowy tree behind her. Orihime tried to pull away as Nnoitora grasped her wrist and pulled it high above her head. He was so unnaturally tall she was nearly on her toes. "Stop it," She closed her eyes, hating this helplessness. Alone here in this strange place with no one to shelter her like she was so accustomed. She used her free arm to cover her chest, a sinking sick assumption that area would be his next target. She knew how men reacted to her body, even if she was a bit too naive to notice it most of the time.

Her eyes shot up to Ulquiorra as a lanky finger ran up the side of her waist. "She is our little pet," That finger seemed to dig in around her ribs. "You can't keep her all to yourself."

Would he not do anything? Did he not care? When she could see nothing more than the customary aloof detachment in his eyes reflecting back at the scene before him, she clenched hers shut and turned her head from him, shunning the man. Of course, she shouldn't have expected anything more than that. She would have been a fool if she'd thought otherwise. "Please, don't touch me." She said sharply.

"Oh, she wants to protest? How interesting." Her fear was confirmed as the long, ductile hand of her tormentor raised to hover over her breast, as if he were going to grasp it. Her own small hand would offer no protection against the expanse of his.

The sound of steady, booted footsteps closing in on them caught her ear and she wanted to refuse the hope blossoming within.

"Come on now," Nnoitora pulled her up even higher until she was finally hanging by her arm, her toes were only dangling over the floor. He stooped over her body to bring his horse-like face closer to hers. "I'm sure Lord Aizen wouldn't mind, especially if he didn't know." The tips of his fingers pressed hesitantly down on the organ she was trying so desperately to shield. She made a small noise of disgust and felt the urgency to vomit. "She is so soft."

The footsteps stopped in front of them.

"Nnoitora," He said quietly, his voice never raising above its dull, formal pitch. Even bordering along monotone.

Orihime slowly lifted her eyes, silently begging him for mercy. Please...just this once...

She sobbed when she saw his hand pull out of his pocket to reach for her breast as well. Nnoitora chuckled behind her, maniacal in its hushed tones. This couldn't be happening.

Her body flinched away, jerking her head to the side again, refusing to look at him. Why did it feel as if she'd just been betrayed?

The next moment, however, she hit the ground with a muffled thud and surprised gasp. She heard a growl of pain from above and her palms pushed on the cold floor to twist her body around to witness the scene of Ulquiorra's fingers wrapped immovably around the wrist of the Fifth Espada.

"I don't remember Lord Aizen giving you permission to be in here."

Nnoitora's squinty eye was fixed on the hand trapping his wrist, a strange look of shock on his stiff visage.

"How many times do I have to tell you," His fingers flexed, the hand in his grasp bent fractionally in a gruesome manner. Nnoitora's other hand shot out to wrap around his own forearm, as if trying to pull it away. Orihime's breath caught at the ugly sight. He squeezed it again, deforming it further and she could hear a stomach churning crunch of cartilage."To mind your own business."

"Wait!" She reached out, watching as nothing more than a bystander as the offending hand was crushed between his pale fingers. The splitting snap of bones cracking in the air.

Nnoitora gurgled a long list of curses as his mangled appendage was finally released.

"Ulquiorra," The Fifth Espada glared menacingly, enunciating his name. "You bastard."

"Leave," Ulquiorra tucked his hand back into his pocket. "Before I get rid of you myself."

The Arrancar took slow, purposeful steps around the other. Apparently he knew better than to provoke a fight he could not win.

"Nnoitora," Orihime stuttered as he advanced on the door. The tall Arrancar paused and turned to her as she lifted herself from the floor and aversely approached him. "L-let me see your hand." She reached out, pushing back the heavy feeling in her gut that told her not to touch him. But she was better than that, she was not like them. She would prove it.

The Espada's eye narrowed as she took the wrenched fingers of his hand in hers and began to heal it.

"What?" The skin around the corners of his mouth were wrinkled in what looked like an impossible attempt to frown. He jerked it away when she was finished and stormed out of the room.

She watched as the door closed behind him. Leaving the room in relative darkness save for the stream of moonlight filtering in from her window.

"You shouldn't have done that," She jumped, nearly forgetting that he had still been in the room. "It was a foolish move on your part," Orihime turned around, his back was still facing her. He hadn't moved an inch, it seemed. "It's none of my concern what you do, but it will only encourage him to harass you again...and I'm left having to clean up your mess."

She lowered her eyes, knowing he was probably correct. Instead of agreeing with him, she walked over and sat on the massive couch that she usually slept on.

"Why...does he keep bothering me?"

Ulquiorra's eyes slid to the side of their sockets to glance at her before returning to the wall on the other side of the room. "Don't ask me."

There was another short silence that hung over them.

"You shouldn't let his actions interfere with your judgement of Lord Aizen. He rarely acts on proper orders."

He began to leave then. His footsteps echoing in her ears, making her feel lonely at the thought of being left in this solitude again. "Ulquiorra," She said and waited until she heard the progression of his steps abate. "Thank you." She kept her gaze in her lap.

"Don't get the wrong impression,"

That's right, she closed her eyes and smiled, it was his job...

"...and then he left." Orihime's eyes looked down from the moon she had been studying to that of her companion. "I guess reasons like that are pretty stupid, though, huh?" She shrugged and took a deep, calming breath. "I suppose that's why some things bothered me so much in the end. But, every time I thought there might have been some small redeeming qualities hidden inside him, I'm reminded of situations like with Menoly and Loly and realize it's nonsense."

"You've got a point," Ichigo nodded. "But I'm not sure those things slipped for reasons you might assume." She gave him a puzzled look, not understanding. "I doubt it was anything directly callous. Just like with Grimmjow, men like that do anything necessary to get what they want. Grimmjow acted against orders and hijacked you out of your cell to heal me just so he could have a good fight. They don't care. In that particular instance with Ulquiorra, it was letting you get hurt in order to force me to fight. He was just using you as leverage, knowing that your pain would affect me, to make me try harder. Which is precisely one of the many qualities that separate us from hollows." He concluded.

Orihime ran this through her mind, not entirely sure if this hypothesis was correct. She supposed it was a possibility. She had often felt on occasion much the same confused sadness for Grimmjow like when she thought about Ulquiorra...and even brief moments of pity for Menoly and Loly. They did bad things, they did good things. Either way, everything they did, whether it seemed kind or not, was for their own personal benefit and progression.

She recalled that foreboding moment when even her powers couldn't properly heal the whole in Ichigo's chest, she thought he was going to die. She had wondered who could do such a terrible thing as to seal it off with such deliberate, vicious brutality. Grimmjow had told her it was Ulquiorra's doing.

For a minute, she had refused to believe him.

She didn't know why, but somewhere in the back of her mind she had somehow always assumed he wasn't possible of immense violence. She had never seen him flaunt such mannerisms, even the fist time they'd encountered him at the park in Karakura Town, he had not engaged them. He had suggested against it. When she had smacked him, he did not react. It seemed he acted like such primitive behaviors were beneath him.

But the more Grimmjow explained, the more it made sense.

Still...

"I'm not so sure, Kurosaki," She smiled. "I believe that some hollows are not much different from us at all. Just like humans, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Not every person is innocent, nor is everyone evil. Many of them feel loneliness, sadness, loyalty, honor...characteristics that people say hollows are not capable of. I think people can be prejudice against things which they fear. Perhaps we see much of the same beastly qualities in hollows that we try to suppress within ourselves, and whatever both humans and Shinigami alike fear...they tend to destroy."

"Inoue," Ichigo uttered her name again, flabbergasted. Brought to momentary laconism by the intense words coming from the usually airy girl next to him.

"When my brother became a hollow, everyone immediately jumped to the conclusion there was no hope for him. He was gone, he wasn't even my brother, the majority vote won out and that was that, end of story." She looked at him with a smile. "But, then he sacrificed himself." Orihime rested her hand on his as she continued. "How can you believe such actions are heartless? Look at Nel Tu, was she so bad?"

Orihime watched in amazement as, for the first time in her life, she was the one made Kurosaki Ichigo blush. Not the other way around. She giggled quietly.

"You know, Rangiku has been really worried about you." He quickly changed the subject, eyeing the bracelet on the hand that was still covering his.

"I know," She agreed, her insides warming as she thought about her roommate along with all the concern her friends had been showing towards her. "But, I assure you there's nothing to be worried about. I've just been going through a little stress recently."

"She thinks it has something to do with that bracelet." He cut straight to the point, he didn't like to beat around the bush. He noticed her fingers flinched at this as she removed her hand. The thing obviously meant something to her, most everyone that was truly close to the young girl could see how she habitually touched it more than just a nervous, impulsive tendency.

"Why would she think that?" Did they feel or see strange things around her, too, whenever she had it on? By any other means, it was nothing more than a single accessory to the world, they had never took any observations of her sense of style before. But to her, it was much more. It was a physical memory, a keepsake. Something she could hold in her hands and touch. And sometimes, only when the house was completely empty, she sat in her room in the lull of the night and would put it in her mouth, running it over her tongue. Savoring the metallic taste and essence of salt from her skin.

"Where did you get it?"

Her throat bobbed as she swallowed hard. Once again she began to contemplate lying, but she disliked the dishonesty so much, it was impossible to continue with the charade. "He gave it to me." She admitted. "Not as a gift...it was more like a pair of handcuffs."

"What do you mean?" He inquired.

"I was told that as soon as I put it on, I became invisible to everyone, even the Soul Reapers and that I could willfully pass through any material object. Only Arrancar would be aware of me, but I knew he just wanted to follow my every move. He wanted to make sure I didn't try to spoil their plot. Even though we now know it was nothing more than an elaborate part of Aizen's scheme, I was allowed to say goodbye to only one person." She gave him that smile again. "Do you know who that one person was, Kurosaki?"

He didn't answer.

"It was you."

"...that was the night you healed my wounds."

"Yes,"

"Thank you, Inoue." He smiled in return, finally able to show his gratitude. Would he still have been so thankful if he knew she had almost kissed him without permission? This time, she blushed faintly, so she turned away and continued before it had a chance to catch his attention.

"I know it's a ridiculous notion, but when he died, I couldn't just throw it away. Because, when I put it on...I could feel him somehow." She lifted her arm and showed it to him, pleasantly twinkling around her wrist. "To this day, I still can't make sense of it. It should bother me, but it doesn't. I don't seem to mind that it's a loose connection to an enemy Arrancar, and for these reasons, I do not understand. I'm not ashamed." She wisely decided to cut out the bits of her nightmarish visions and sensations. She couldn't decide if it was her fear of his judgement, or fear that he might try take her last piece of Ulquiorra away from her. "Somehow, I feel it's my own personal duty to carry on his memory and I have this sad feeling that he had nobody else to do it for him, not even any Fraccion. Even worse, I don't think he even cared."

His smile morphed into an empathetic frown. "You know that if I could have done things differently, if I could change the way that battle went, you know I would, right?" It seemed he, too, had believed the circumstances were undesirable. Whether or not the outcome had been the same, the road taken to get there was something that neither of them had wanted.

"Of course, Kurosaki."

"As for that bracelet," His upper body dragged back into the position it had been in previously, taking on that soothing air of indifference once more and easing her worries. But she still held her breath, hesitant of what he might say about it. "I think you need to pay a little visit to Kisuke."

"Ki...Kisuke Urahara?" What for? She wondered. "But why?"

"I don't know, he just always seems to know about these kinds of things, ya know?" He shrugged.

It clicked. Kisuke was kind of a 'mad scientist'. "Now that you mention it, I guess that would make a lot of sense." Her finger tapped on the bottom of her chin, wondering why she hadn't thought of it before. "That's such a good idea, Kurosaki!" Ichigo's eyes suddenly widened as he watched her lunge for him, her arms outstretched with that girly look of rainbow hugs and sunshine written all over her face.

"H-hey..." He stammered as he bent forward to unravel his arms from behind his head, planning on dodging the ambush. As much as he was glad to see her back to normal, he had to avoid the demasculinization process and spare his boyish pride. "Wh–"

"Thank you, Kuro–!" A resounding crack reverberated through the tree branches and shook the leaves above, quickly followed by a loud groan of pain echoing off the shrubbery around them immediately after her forehead collided with his.

A cricket ceased somewhere in the night.

"Oh, my gosh. Kurosaki, I'm so sorry!" Her hands froze in front of her, wanting give aid, but too mortified that if she touched him again she would only cause more harm than help. A comically horrified expression marred her pretty face as she stared down at the young man hunched over himself, his trembling hands pressing to the large bump forming on his head. "K...Kurosaki?" She sniffed, feeling the hot flush of embarrassment run up her neck.

"It...it's okay," His laugh was broken and strained. "I'm just f-fine!" He bravely shoved back the pain and removed his hands, revealing a swollen, red forehead throbbing under his skin. There was a tear in the corners of his eyes as he squeezed them shut and smiled.

"Oh, Kurosaki..." She whispered and it almost looked like she was about to cry. His face twisted into pure dread as she opened her arms again and started to lean towards him. He had a momentary flashback of what had happened only seconds ago and he jumped from his seat, zipping around her arms and laughing to hide his consternation.

"Huh?" Orihime blinked when it seemed her arms wrapped around nothing but air.

"Well, it's getting pretty late," Ichigo stood, his voice shaking in dismay as he nervously scratched the back of his head. What happened to the days of the shy Orihime? When she'd blush and stumble over herself if he'd just bump into her in the school hallways? "We'd better get going if we want to drop by Urahara's before it gets too dark."

Orihime glanced up, studying him and the poor, abused spot between his eyes. He was putting on a gallant show, for sure. Desperately swallowing his pride for her sake, and her concrete-filled head, like any chivalrous young man would do.

And suddenly, at the strangest moment, she realized how good life really was.

Deftly, she reached up and covered her mouth as she giggled happily. "Yeah," She said, breathing in deeply and enjoying that wonderful scent of strawberries that she loved so much.

-

'The human heart dares not stay away too long from that which hurt it most. There is a return journey to anguish that few of us are released from making.' - Lillian Smith

-

With grey eyes, she realized now that she was surrounded by the shroud of night. The pitch black mist consumed her vision from every direction. It seemed to reach past her perimeter and enter even the farthest corners of her mind. Had she not been in her room in Las Noches only moments ago? Now, there was no moon, no stars, nothing graced her with the usual sight of quartz rocks and trees that spotted the landscape. Not even a breeze to flutter through her hair. Only the pale sands of Hueco Mundo were there to soften beneath her bare feet and spill over the province.

Those white sands, ever motionless around her, seemed to take on a life of its own in the extent of the uninhabitation of the desert.

A distant sound captured her attention and she turned to inquire.

There was a magnificent bed standing in solitude amongst the sands, the sheets were as dark as the sky overhead and it had a canopy that hung with a silky veil projecting from the posts, covering all four sides in an effortless attempt to be camouflaged against the matching black backdrop.

She heard another noise and stepped forward to investigate, fixated on the strangely musical vibrations in the air. The feel of cool sand sinking between her toes felt amazing in its simplicity.

The faint sound grew into that of a voice, her voice, she recognized as she drew closer. A voice of soft, heady moans and breathless gasps of passion.

She saw what had, at first, appeared to be one single mass morph into two forms moving in sink behind the veil that barred her from a coherent view. Covered from the waist down by a thin, black sheet that seemed to shimmer with its glossiness and their movements. She could see her auburn hair spilling over the mattress in striking contrast to the dark covers. A stranger in her own dream.

The figure atop her was surging downward, pressing the lower half of their body slowly and steadily into her own, the moans escaping her lips shook in the night and made her dizzy. The back was muscular and male, hunching only slightly over her form as he moved. The strangers face was too obscured by the angle she was standing at to identify.

With a reluctant hand, she reached out to slip the veil around her fingers and slide it back. All at once, the image of herself went limp as her arms slid from the strangers neck, falling lifelessly to the bed like a doll. Her head lulled to the side on the pillow with an empty expression on her face, eyes frozen open as if in death. She had somehow expected to find the warm face of her white knight to appear, to speak soft, kind words.

But the strangers hair was black and fell just past his shoulders. His skin was nearly as pale as the sands that surrounded them. Her heart sunk to her stomach as he turned his head, revealing hollow, verdant eyes and that morbidly lifeless face stained with sorrowful dark green lines pouring from his lashes.

Everything shattered.

"No!" She woke with a strained jerk of her head, her chest heaving under such tension and her blood pressure pounding in her ears. Orihime had to blink away her grogginess to take in her surroundings.

Sure enough, she was still in her dark, confining room in Los Noches.

A nightmare?

She rolled over and faced the back of the couch, resting her arm on her hip as she lay there, trying to forget that which she could not understand. "How terrible..." She whispered, forbidding such a thing to ever enter her mind again.

But...her insides were throbbing and her breasts were sore, almost painfully so. She squeezed her thighs together and wished the moisture there would dissipate.

Grimmjow had once called her the Espada's whore. She'd blushed and quickly denied ever feeling attraction or having a relationship with Ulquiorra. At her omittance, Grimmjow gave her a baffled look, then a wide smirk spread across his rugged, wild features. 'I was talking about serving Aizen's army...but it seems you have other ideas in mind, sicko.' He walked away laughing about how Ulquiorra must be having a hell of a time trying to put up with her.

Dreams like this...is this what he had meant?

Still, it wasn't important enough to dwell on and she closed her eyes to regain some peace of mind.

A noise behind her, something touched her skin.

She froze.

A hand crept around and surrounded her breast, giving a squeeze. Her lips parted in a single shocked moment in time. For when she looked down, the hand was liken to the shade of paper and possessed black, abraded nails that dug into the thick flesh of her breast.

A cold breath on the back of her neck.

"Stop it!" Orihime lurched up in bed as she awoke yet again. Still panting, still in shock...her inner thighs still wet. Tremors consumed her body as she reached up and squeezed her own breasts, as if to verify that they were still attached and the nightmarish hand was no longer there.

Her breaths were short and staggering as she tried to make sense of it all. Was this a dream too? Would she wake up from this, as well?

She wrapped herself up in her arms and brought her knees up to her chest. She missed her friends, she missed her home so much. "Sora..." She let her brothers name roll past her quivering lips, asking for strength from beyond the grave.

The heavy scrapping sound of stone sliding across stone broke the silence and a sliver of light spread across the floor, illuminating the darkness. The pain it sent searing to the backs of her eyes as her pupils tried to adjust to the sudden light proved that it was very real, not a dream.

A lithe silhouette appeared and stepped inside, only stopping when it had reached the couch she was lying upon. Her thin bed sheet had twisted and entangled around her legs when she had slept, only covering her from the waist down. She denied him eye contact, if not in defiance, but for her own sensible modesty.

"What do you need?" She was not bitter, but this time, it was she who spoke before she gave him the chance. What could he have possibly wanted from her at such an ungodly hour? To brainwash her again? She couldn't imagine so. She doubted the ever-scheming Aizen wasn't even awake right now, let alone give orders to continue the subjection of her mind in the dead of the night.

"You were calling me." He answered, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

Her eyes shot up to his in disbelief.

"I...was?" She suddenly blushed upon looking at his face, remembering that nightmare far too clearly for her to feel comfortable around him. She shook her head softly, choosing to deny this truth. "Please...leave, Ulquiorra." Even if she had been calling his name, was his hearing really that acute? Probably, just like everything else about these Arrancar, they were highly adept creatures. She didn't suppose it was in his character to come in here on nothing more than a whim.

It was strange though, how her eyes seemed to wander momentarily. Observing how his clothes had slight creases in them, as if he'd just unfolded them and they hadn't found a chance to fill out. Maybe he'd just recently put them on after hearing her summons? It was the only explanation to the typical immaculate image he projected, now in partial disarray. Had he been asleep? What did he sleep in? Maybe just a pair of loose boxers...or perhaps he slept in nothing at all...

Orihime swallowed, trying to push the image back to whatever dark cavern of her mind it had crawled out from.

He seemed a bit more peeved at her request, to have called him in here only to abruptly ask him to leave. He was not a servant. But she knew he would not voice such opinions on his agitation, it would waste his time, she was sure.

She watched his void face staring down at her for seconds that felt like a pointless eternity. His white clothed figure stood out in stark comparison to her sombre room, like a phantom that she could not exorcize from her imagination. He took a hushed, steady breath through his nose and she thought she actually saw his brow twitch, just ever so fractionally. Quickly followed by a slight narrowing of his eyes, as if he had just ascertained or scented something that had intrigued him.

She swallowed back her trepidation, cautious of his intentions. If his sense of smell was anything like hers...

"You humans are a contemptible breed." He said commiserably.

"Excuse me?" She didn't understand where this unprovoked attack had sprouted from.

"It is called Stockholm Syndrom," He said, observing how her eyes somehow grew wider by his words, so calm was the sound of his voice it was incongruent with the censured remark. "It is a feeble attempt by your weak mind to cope with stress." He explained, as if he knew all too well this inner dilemma she had been facing so frustratingly during the night, and like she was too stupid to realize this herself.

"No," She refused vehemently. He forced her to believe many things, but she would not tolerate this slander.

"You try to identify with the one causing you the most pain,"

"Stop," She whispered, covering her ears, trying to sink into herself and block it all out.

"It is a psychological, even primal, reaction to your consciousness as you try to become less cogent to your despair."

"Please, Ulquiorra," She didn't need to be reminded.

"You want to connect with them in your isolation. Disambiguate from once rational thoughts and beliefs."

"Why..."

"You begin to have...highly sexualized fantasies about them."

"I can't take it," One of her hands slid from her ear to cover half her face to hide the tears from him. "You win."

"What did it feel like, Inoue Orihime? To have my–"

"No more," Her heart hammered in her chest, her other hand clutched her wrist, shaking her head more intensely than before. Hating the way her body suddenly reacted to his words. It wasn't true, it wasn't true...

"Tell me, how did it sound when you cried my name? Did you shed tears like the ones you do now?"

"Why do you persist?" Orihime weakly lifted her face to him. Her tears marvelously twinkling like the flicker of a candle in the sparse light of the room. "How can you expect me to go on?" She knew he gained no pleasure from this, he'd seen an opening in her defenses and now he was taking advantage of that to break her down.

"Such a fragile mind," He commented, as if he thought she were endlessly pathetic."You can rest assured I would not violate my own body with that of a humans."

"I would never ask for such a thing!" She quickly maneuvered herself until she sat on her knees as she leaned forward and attempted to slap him again. This time, however, he stopped her. Apparently, he wasn't feeling particularly magnanimous this time around. She shivered as icy fingers enclosed over her thin, frail wrist. His thumb pressed unforgivingly into the underside of her palm and she nearly fell off the couch as she tried to twist her body to create some slack. It didn't hurt very much, but it was immensely uncomfortable.

"I already told you once, I am not here to comfort you either psychologically or physically."

"Why would I even think of it?" Her eyes were hot and fiery.

"You tell me, girl." He said with implicating judgement, his eyes pointing analytically to her chest only to return back to hers a few moments later. A swollen, flushed breast had popped out from her flimsy nightgown in their shuffle and a pink, tight nipple served as such evidential proof of his point. They ached to the point of madness. They always had been ungodly large, but like this...it felt as if she would explode if not properly attended to.

She should have lurched away and covered herself like any respectable, virtuous woman would do.

Instead, in a brief lapse in sanity, her back arched closer to him, her eyes pleading. Offering up what she wanted so desperately to be eased. Just a touch... Heat pooled between her thighs at the feel of his thumb digging further into her palm, warning her to stop. Images from her dreams flashed in her mind, hips surging downwards, fingers searching, her voice crying...

The heavy, immovable frown on his face seemed to deepen as he watched the drama unfolding behind her eyes."Disgusting," He blinked slowly with a slight incline of his head as he released her hand and it slid limply from his grip. Orihime slumped backwards into herself on the couch. What...what was wrong with her?

Her eyes were nearly as blank as his as she listened to that wretched door groaning shut behind him.

And she was alone again.

Alone with her thoughts, with her cries and her despair.

God, she hated this place.

-

"Ichigo! Inoue!" Tessai's deep voice greeted them amicably as they approached the Urahara Shop. "How are you? What brings you here tonight?" His large mustache bobbed as he spoke and his blue apron hung from his shoulders, forever tied around his waist. His dark skin blended with the shadow of night and his eyes were hidden behind narrow, reflecting glasses. Corn-rolls remained ever tightly wrapped on his head.

"Hello, Tessai," Orihime smiled at the quiet man. "Got any new recipes for me to try?" She asked jokingly to one of the few people who actually shared her unusual taste in foods. She eyed the small porch behind him where a little black cat lounged on the railing, a tail swinging lazily over the side. "Good evening, Yuruichi,"

"Hey, you two." The feline yawned as she sat up and stretched her back, her claws picking at the wood as she did so. "How's it going?"

"Fine," Ichigo nodded, yawning as well after seeing the cat perform the involuntary gaping action. They really were contagious. "Is Urahara around?" He asked.

"Yes, he's inside," Tessai answered. "I'll be right back." And then he turned and walked away, disappearing inside the door presumably to fetch the shop owner.

"Thanks for walking me here, Kurosaki," Orihime said, angling her face towards him as he stood next to her.

"Do you want me to wait until you guys are done talking?" He suggested. "I could walk you home."

"Wow, you're being really polite tonight." She laughed teasingly.

"What do you mean 'tonight'?" He shoved his hands in his pockets. "I'm always polite." He declared, his head still smarting from the near-concussion she'd given him at the park.

"You call?" Urahara's laid back voice broke through their mild laughter. His geta clapped loudly on the thin wooden steps of the porch as he strode down to meet them. It was easy to see why he was dubbed the sandal-hat guy. That hat was his crowning glory.

"I was wondering if I could speak with you," Orihime asked, realizing that it had been several weeks since she was last here to visit the friendly occupants and employees of the beloved Urahara Shop.

"Of course," He smiled lopsidedly. "I hope it isn't anything too serious," He quipped pleasantly. "C'mon, we can head underground. We won't be disturbed there." He motioned over his shoulder for her to tag along after him.

Orihime nodded and started to pursue, but halted and looked back to her escort. "You don't have wait for me, Kurosaki." She offered, relinquishing him from his duty.

"You sure?"

"Uh-huh, I'll be fine going home by myself." She waved, her fingers waging up and down over her palm.

"Heh, suit yourself. Rukia and I have work to do tonight, anyway. I can already tell we're going to be out later than normal." He looked over his shoulder to the low running skyline of Karakura town, as if sensing some disturbance in the air. "Listen, I'll see ya around, okay?" He turned and began a slow march down the sidewalk. "And try not to be so stressed out, alright?" He ordered over his shoulder.

"Yeah," Orihime had to smile. She was so grateful for her friends. "Thanks for everything," She called out again before turning to follow the familiar path Kisuke had already taken. Fleetingly, she stopped inside the shop to give a curt greeting to the fiery-tempered Jinta and the tiny, shy Ururu.

At her heels, the small girl was dragging a heavy black trash bag that was nearly two sizes larger than her own body, Jinta was goading her from behind as he sat torpidly, munching on a bag of chips.

"Would you like help with that, Ururu?" Orihime asked politely, even though she doubted the kid needed her help. She was deceptively strong for a child her size, still it was common courtesy.

Ururu's violet eyes lifted slowly, almost lethargically and stopped when they reached Orihime's wrist. Her eyes locked onto the piece of jewelry that sat there, two locks of onyx blue hair falling between her brows.

"Ow!" Jinta's incensed voice cried out as Tessai had snuck up on him from behind, tapping him over the head with a rolled up newspaper. Jinta's raspy, young voice retorted as Tessai chided the dilatory boy for slacking off again.

Despite the bickering commotion around her, the young girl did not react. Her fingers were wrapped around the plastic of the bag in her hands as she continued to stare eerily at Orihime's wrist.

"Um, okay then, I'll see you later..." Orihime smiled nervously, a bit nonplused by the bewilderingly lifeless girl, and left the room.

"Hey, what's the matter, Ururu?" Jinta walked up to his coworker, still dramatically rubbing at his head as he looked up at the older girl.

"I can sense...an Arrancar." She whispered.

"Huh? Really?" He blinked, he knew that she reacted strangely to such Spiritual Energy, but he found himself hard pressed to believe her. He didn't sense anything out of the ordinary, neither did anyone else, for that matter.

"Whatever, stop being stupid," He scoffed and turned to leave her. "Renji's gonna be back soon, so you better start cooking something good. We all know how much that freeloading pig likes to eat."

"But, Renji didn't say he was coming back–"

"I said I want something good to eat!" His stomach suddenly growled.

Ururu sighed, her puny arms started pulling on the trash bag again, only making a small noise of consentient as she went about her duties...

The dirt under her feet crunched as Orihime walked up to the individual figure standing alone in the underground training range. Compared to the dark night outdoors from where she had just came, it was blindingly bright in the secret chamber. It had been designed to appear sunny and vivid no matter what time of day it was, and constructed to be covered in light brown dirt, dead trees and columns of rock jutting out of the landscape. A perfect training ground.

Despite the desolate appearance, the scenery felt strangely comforting and familiar to her. It reminded her of all the days spent training and perfecting her skills with her friends after school, sometimes even skipping class. Ah, but when one had a whole world to save, school seemed so trivial, like it was nothing more than a social gathering. Still, she took education very seriously so she could claim with dignity that she was the third highest ranked honor roll student. Not for vanity, but because she knew it would make Sora proud.

Urahara's slender frame was guised by his heavy black and green haori that stood out in contrast to the limpid colors around them. His blonde hair flipped around his ears and she liked how he always seemed to be smiling, his everlasting humor perpetually offering an easing effect on his wary charges. "It's good to see you again, Orihime," His voice was charming and lackadaisical as usual. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd dropped of the face of the earth." He chuckled.

"Not yet," She jested, returning the witty banter. "I hope I'm not intruding too much," She apologized for the abrupt, unannounced visit.

"Hardly," He said as she edged up to him and they began to walk companionably. "So, what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Well, nothing much really..." She trailed off, not sure where to start or how to explain it.

"It's gotta be something important for you to come and visit ol' Urahara?" His blue eyes peeked out from beneath his eccentric, pinstriped bucked hat. "Come now, what have you got for me?" He knew she had something appealing, he could sense it.

They hadn't trailed very far before her steps became delayed until she finally stopped, him alongside her. "It's this," She lifted her forearm. "I was wondering if you might know anything about it."

With one arm crossed over his mid-section and the other raised to tap his stubbly chin with his index finger, Urahara leaned forward to examine it. "Where did you get this?" His regard was piqued.

"Oh, um..." She blushed softly. "Nowhere,"

His blue eyes gave her a brief, exasperated look. "Alrighty, but I doubt you came all the way out here to ask me about a bracelet you got from 'nowhere', Orihime." He humored her. "It must be quite a tantalizing little anomaly, otherwise you wouldn't be asking me about it." His curiosity was roused, but he respected her enough not to push the subject and let her keep her privacy on the matter of its origin. After studying it a second longer he said, "Hm, it looks to me like an Alma Buresuretto, at least that's the vibe I'm getting off it."

"An Alma Buresuretto?" She echoed and looked at it as if seeing it for the first time.

"Yes," He inclined his head, leaning away from her again as he propped a hand on his hip. "It's formed when the creator compresses part of their Reiryoku into a single point and moment in time until the air around that point is pushed out of space and a material object is the result of the infusion. I know it sounds like a complicated undertaking, but it's actually quite a quick, simple process. I believe it's usually beget to develop some type of flaccid connection with the person wearing it and although it doesn't really acquire a great deal of power to fashion, oddly enough, I've never know anyone who does not wield a Zanpakuto to construct one." Orihime blinked, barely able to follow along with what sounded like some kind of babbling about quantum mechanics and the space-time continuum. "Hm, that's strange," He reached out and asked, "May I?"

"Oh, of course," She quickly slid the loop over her hand and placed it in his palm.

He held it up to the light, tilting the brim of his hat back slightly to examine it. "I could have sworn these kinds of things were made to camouflage a persons spiritual and physical presence, even against Shinigami." He deduced, running the possible options through his genius mind. "But it doesn't seem to work on you, I could see you perfectly fine."

"No, you're right." She did not dispute these facts. "It was meant for exactly that." She admitted. "But it hasn't worked since the person who made it died."

"Really? That person is dead? How intriguing..." He gave the silvery object back to her awaiting hands. "The moment that person died, the item should have vanished from existence. Since it was created with pure spiritual energy, it can only be sustained by the one who forged it." There was a small interlude as he tried to calculate a logical, conceivable answer to the riddle. "The only explanation I can imagine is that you may have experienced a strong emotional trauma, sensation or bond when that person died and with your knack for rejecting the impossible, well, we can only assume that you unconsciously sealed away some part of that persons soul inside the bracelet."

"I...sealed his soul away?" Her eyes widened.

He laughed, "Of course, this is all loosely based on estimated guesses and easily shakable theories."

"Urahara?" Orihime asked, her voice suddenly quiet as she slid the topic of their conversation back onto her wrist. "If all this is true...does that mean this person could still be alive?"

Kisuke tried not to frown, concerned by the way her words held a tinge of desperation and how the answer might affect her. He didn't want to extinguish that spark, but he had to be honest. "I'm afraid not," He saw her eyes lower. "The only thing that would be in the bracelet is your memories of that individuals personality. There's a very fine line between 'living' and having a portion of your soul concealed in an inanimate object, especially if that person was already dead during the coalesce. I'm going to suspect that since it wasn't made here on earth, and that it consists of pure Spiritual Pressure, only those with Spiritual Awareness can see it."

"Couldn't it be a possibility, though?" She wondered, deprecating the idea that only her memories of Ulquiorra lingered in the bracelet. "I mean, this bracelet technically shouldn't even still exist, right?"

"The chances of it are pretty much zero." He contended. "I would have to say, the only proof of life would be some type of physical manifestation, at which during such times, their Reiatsu might be detectable, most likely within a small perimeter of the phenomenon. But frankly, it's all rather unplausible."

Orihime's pulse surged, recalling her hallucination in the bathroom earlier that the day. "And what if these things are happening?"

He looked briefly shocked. "Wow, well, then I'd reckon that bracelet is most definitely haunted and you've got yourself one hella pissed off person living in there, or should I say, trapped. I gotta say, that person would have to be pretty strong in order to project themselves from a completely different plain of existence inside the bracelet." He said with a certain twinkle in his eye, as if he knew something she didn't.

"I..I can't believe it." She was stunned. It wasn't possible. It couldn't be.

"Neither do I," He laughed. "Then again, Orihime, you do tend to live outside the realm of variable probability."

"Well, thank you for your input, Kisuke," Orihime smiled almost robotically and her eyes remained unfocused.

"No prob," He shrugged.

"I should get going. I still have homework to do," She made up an excuse to dismiss herself. He watched as she started to turn, then hesitate. "Oh, could you do me one more favor?"

"Sure,"

"Could you not tell the others about this? I'd appreciate it."

"Swear," He held his hand up and vowed his silence.

"Thanks," Her footsteps were mechanical as she began to walk away, mulling over all this insane information that she still could not come to terms with.

"Orihime," She ceased when he called, glancing over her shoulder. "I never got around to apologizing to you," Her expression softened at his next words. "When I told you to stay behind while we fought, I never took into consideration your feelings on the matter. I should have, at the very least, given you a proper explanation why I couldn't let you go."

"Kisuke,"

"I was trying to protect you because I knew Aizen would realize you'd be too good an opportunity to pass up...but, the plan failed and he still got his hands on you. You were his perfect excuse to start a war. Believe me, that was the last thing I wanted."

"You don't have to apologize, Kisuke. In fact, I think we were both kinda guilty of the same crime. I did the same thing, I didn't alert anyone on the situation and I did it without bothering to have even an ounce of faith in my friends or caring how the repercussions might affect them when I left. It's obvious I didn't think my friends were capable of handling the dilemma, otherwise I wouldn't have gone to Hueco Mundo and caused such a mess. What on earth possessed me into thinking I was better suited and more capable than them when I couldn't even defend myself...who knows. I was being selfish, because I thought my 'heroic' sacrificial actions were justified and would render my feelings of inadequacy obsolete. Like it might be good enough to protect everyone, instead of asking for help and sticking together to protect each other like a true friend should have done." Guilt predominated her features. "But we've all learned our lesson now. So give yourself some credit, you were just doing what you thought was best."

All he could do was bow out by conceding to her authentic, heartfelt words. That consultation had only demonstrated how she had matured immensely since her return, he noted.

Of course, he knew where that bracelet had came from. The moment he touched it, he recognized the concentrated Spiritual Pressure radiating around the thing from months ago in the park. He hadn't asked to hold it just to look at it, he was sending waves of his own Reiryoku through the object, scanning it for signs of life. He had found none, but the pressure inside of it was thick, heavy and asphyxiating...Ulquiorra Schiffer. The smothering despair was easy enough to identify. If he truly was alive, he hid his presence well.

But how the hell did that girl wear the thing all day with direct skin contact and not feel an ounce of misery? With the pressure it contained, even he felt gloomy just from a momentary touch.

However, the pestering question on his mind had been, was there any threat? Had he planned to use her and was she in danger? Part of him rationalized that if he was alive and meant harm, he would have already made a move. Unless, the man was just waiting for the right opportunity.

Normally, he would have immediately jumped on the concern bandwagon. But, strangely enough, he had an inkling she had it all under control. He saw the way she blushed and averted her eyes when he asked who gave it to her. Even if the conditions were vague, he wasn't blind and to put it bluntly, whatever had went on between the two of them was nobody else's business. He was old enough to understand such matters, he could only hope her friends could, too, and would let her keep some part of her private life intact.

The best thing to do for the time being, he decided, was to keep a healthy eye on the girl until the situation cleared itself up. And he had a feeling things would be clearing themselves up very soon, indeed. Too bad he wouldn't be there to witness it. He was glad to see how her smile was warmer this time as she left. "You're a smart girl, Inoue Orihime," Urahara mumbled to himself, lowering the brim of his hat as he watched her walk away...and then catch herself as she tripped over a rock. Despite maybe even being a little clumsy, he chuckled.

-

When Orihime returned home that night, it was late and the house was as empty as her stomach was. She hadn't eaten all day, she'd skipped lunch to attend that little 'conference' her friends held and she'd skipped dinner after she'd gotten home from school due to the disturbing 'mirage' in her bathroom. At least now she knew she wasn't going crazy.

On the kitchen counter, she found a napkin with the words 'Went to Soul Society, be back by morning' written in blue ink, Rangiku's sloppy penmanship. She abruptly wondered where Toshiro had been all day.

She hated being in an empty home, it was so lonely. But she supposed it wouldn't be too torturous tonight, she wouldn't complain about a little private time. She sighed and threw the napkin in the trash as she left the kitchen and headed up to her room after getting nothing more than a drink of water.

It was hard accepting, let alone understanding, Kisuke Urahara's words as a reality. Even if it was a remote possibility, it all sounded so farfetched. Then again, she had once never thought things like Shinigami, Hollows and Soul Society even existed. Maybe she was trapped in one big, quirky nightmare and soon she'd wake up to find herself still locked away in her Las Noches chamber. But she knew how unlikely that was.

Stopping by the bathroom again, she brushed her teeth and combed her hair before changing into her pastel, thin strapped nightgown. It was short and almost see through, but it was silky and comfortable to sleep in when no one was around.

When she reached her bedroom she started to pull back the covers of her bed, but stopped and just stared at her mattress. Thinking how it was so empty, just like the rest of the house, in that the desolation was nearly exhausting. Despite being a fairly large room for an apartment, it still felt confining somehow. It made her feel even more alone, although small pictures of her friends sat on her dresser, their smiles offered little comfort.

Orihime looked at the whitewashed ceiling above.

Yet again, she found herself seeking some reclusive, solitary moon bathing, especially after previously being interrupted earlier by Ichigo. To sleep somewhere less suffocating sounded enticing enough to make her contemplate forsaking her bed for someplace open and free. She'd had enough of feeling cramped and contained for the last few months.

So, she grabbed her blankets and as many pillows that she could carry...and headed up to the roof.

The sweet smell of a late spring night hit her as she opened the door to the rooftop and inhaled the warm aroma deeply. Summer was soon approaching. The crescent moon above shone bright and vibrant, casting a glimmer of creamy light over the clear air and shingles of the fellow rooftops around her.

Ah, now this is was relaxing. Tranquil and calm, surely nobody would be interrupting her so late at night. There were no walls or bars to hold her back. If only she had wings, she'd fly right up and touch the sad face of the lonely man in the moon.

She smiled deftly and almost started to reach up with her hand. But then, a peculiar sensation struck her. Atypical and alien as a rarity to the human world and yet, undoubtedly an intimate specter.

Something was wrong...

She was not alone.

Somewhere on the deck of the roof, from the other side of the open door that obscured her view,

"Inoue Orihime,"

The pillows in her hand fell to the ground. Her fingers gripped the doorknob tightly, trying to refrain them from shaking.

That voice.

It isn't possible...

Her first reflex was instantly trepidation. Warning bells were ringing in her head and told her to keep her guard up.

She began to move her lips, but quickly retracted the idea of vocalizing her bewilderment.

She closed the door behind her and with the metal slab now out of her peripheral vision, clearly saw a figure from the corner of her eye leaning against the opposite wall beside the entrance.

She would play it safe, she could reject this sick fantasy and dismiss these excessively depressing daydreams. Selfishly, she took it upon herself to suddenly deny everything about Kisuke's explanation of the bracelet and almost began to label it as a lie simply because she was feeling the reticent reality of uncertainty sink in. The lucidity of her mind slipped as she became cowardly all over again and attempted to run away from the truth that was so clearly in front of her. Even so, despite herself, she couldn't check the rapid beating of her heart or the anxiety she felt over the hope spreading warmth in her chest. Her heart and her mind were making quite a contradiction of themselves.

Ignoring the shadow, and almost moving mechanically, she bent down to retrieve her pillows and laid a dark blanket near the same wall. The rooftop was small and the only other place to set up camp was...seemingly occupied. After methodically laying down a comforter on top of the blanket to cushion against the concrete floor, she proceeded to spread a thin white sheet over both layers and tossed her pillows atop them all.

Orihime then lay down, her back facing the intruder, and closed her eyes.

There was an excruciatingly long, deafening silence that hung in the air and even seemed to make the wind stop blowing. It nearly strangled the breath right out of her and she struggled against hyperventilating.

"You're not real," She whispered, refusing for even one second to open her eyelids. "You're not real." Maybe this would all go away if she kept repeating herself. All one need do was to chant the mantra until it became a fact. "You're..." She choked.

His boots were quiet as he approached her. She could hear those footsteps as they were memorized in her mind, their cadence was all too familiar.

"Haven't I already told you, girl. That the only things that are real are the things you exclusively see with your eyes."

She didn't budge.

"Look at me." He ordered, his tone hushed.

Her lower lip began to tremble. She could most definitely feel his Reiatsu, it was very real, very nostalgic. She wanted to look so badly, she wanted to see his face. But, she feared, if she allowed herself that one pleasure, a single ounce of leniency in believing in such a desperate hope, he might disappear again. Float away into dust just like he had done last time. Her hope was abundant, but it was limited and fragile when it came to this man.

"You're a waste of my time if you fail to even acknowledge my presence." Despite the harsh words, there was no annoyance in his voice.

"I...I can't look," She sat up and explained warily. "If I do, you won't really be there...or you might vanish again if I try to touch you."

"Don't hold your breath," He looked up to the sky in mild exasperation. Her raw artlessness was tiring. "I doubt that's ever going to happen again."

"Ul...Ulquiorra," Agonizingly slow, she lifted her eyes to his. She took in every inch of him along the way, beginning from his boots, to his black, high-waisted pants, hands forever grooved into his pockets. And then on to his white, high collared long-sleeved shirt...until finally, she found his face. Searching his eyes, she examined this place especially hard. Every corner of his being was absolute in its elemental simplicity. No wrinkled clothing, no hem out of place, not a single stray hair. Helplessly flawless, helplessly proper, helplessly perfect.

It was strange seeing him in 'civilian' clothing, plain as they were, his shirt wasn't so different, minus the coattail. His boots were much the same, in that their design deceptively resembled traditional sandals. His pants fit much more snugly, by no means tight, but not nearly as billowy as the traditional Arrancar uniform he so proudly sported as an Espada. His posture was lax and calm and marginally slouched, not a care in the world. It was easy not to care about anything when one refuted attachments. "How did you...?"

"I see you have grown skeptical and derisive," Now that she had opened them, she couldn't take her eyes off his face. Those green eyes, the eyes liken of a chiropteran, gruesome and grotesque...yet alluring and beguiling. They almost glowed fluorescent in the dark. She never realized she could have possibly been the only creature alive capable of praising those severe eyes. Her fingers were clenching the sheets under her, trying to find purchase on any stable matter. "Am I going to have to remind you of what Kisuke Urahara has already told you?"

She was temporarily stunned. Had he overheard her conversation with Kisuke? Did that mean he could hear and see everything?

"Then, it's true?" Her voice was a mere shadow of its normal pitch. This time his eyes did narrow marginally, clearly annoyed. He abhorred repeating himself. Still, his irritation did not stop her from voicing one of the first questions to enter her mind. "What about Aizen?"

"What of him?" Aizen was dead, what was her point?

"Well," She bit her lip. "Aren't you..."

"The limitations of your mind have never failed to astonish me."

She almost looked affronted. "How do you mean?" Was that an insult? She wouldn't have been surprised if it was.

"If you believe any individual Espada were ultimately loyal to Aizen, then you're worse off then what I had originally thought." It was amazing how his remarks being acrid and austere, never seemed to sound condescending or egotistical. They just sounded like...words. Empty, lifeless, calculated words sputtering out from a machine.

"But, weren't you–"

"Is it your intention to bait me with these pointless questions, Inoue Orihime?"

"No, I...I just thought,"

"That my allegiance to Aizen was absolute?" Well, she hadn't planned on putting it into so many words, but yes. That had been the impression she was under. "Naivety will indeed be your downfall, as you have already proven to be the case once before." He jabbed at her 'betrayal', knowing all the right notches to dig in and open up old wounds to make them bleed anew. Orihime was on the brink of breaking down all over again. It was like she was in her Las Noches chamber and nothing had changed. Everything he said cut straight to the bone and usually rang all too true to face without a sturdy defense.

"Unlike others, when I appoint myself a task, I analyze it thoroughly to ensure the benefits and disadvantages before I see it through to the end. You will find deceiving the ones around you is not hard if you simply remain ardent to their cause. Unfortunately for some of the other Espada, it's not easy enough for them to stay their posts, let alone exert the least bit of self-restraint. And so they sought to overthrow the power. I, on the other hand, am content to have the power. There is no room for advancement if you cut the roots out from under the tree before it has a chance grow." She heard the muffled clank of his Murcielago Zanpakuto as he shifted his weight to his other foot. "For most of the Arrancar of Aizen's army, it was unsatisfactory to not have complete domination of power and most got too far ahead of themselves without proper foresight. Although such desires are similar in myself, I am capable of pacing my progression."

"I suppose I never saw it that way,"

"Of course you haven't." That's right, she was too oblivious and witless to have seen it.

"...you supported Aizen's war because you profited from it? Not because of loyalty." This new revelation troubled Orihime even more. If he had seemed heartless before, his incapability of loyalty to even Aizen, the one person she believed Aizen had trusted most, had left forlorn emotions free to roam her mind. Did he simply deceive everyone surrounding him day-to-day?

"Aizen's plan was flawless, until the factor of Kurosaki Ichigo entered the picture. It was a simple choice for him to put the most amount of trust in me because he knew I was proficient at getting a job done properly. I delivered my end of the bargain if he held up his. He saw through my charade just as he could see through everyone else's. In the end, Aizen used us just as much as we used him. I was just along for the ride." Orihime clenched her fist even tighter in the covers. It cleared up so many things and would explain why he hardly fought anyone unless it was absolutely necessary...he didn't prosper from it in any way. Here she was thinking it was because he wasn't as 'barbaric' as the other Arrancar, as if he were actually 'noble'. In reality, his nature was just as crude. And so where did this leave her? What was she to him? Just another bridge to cross and burn on a quest for strength?

Finally, she looked away. "Is that why you're here now? Was it easy for you to make me want you? Is this how you had it all mapped out in your head?" He didn't want her as a companion, why should she reveal her weakness for him? He loathed amity, which worked perfectly for him because no one else wanted the abnormal man, anyways. "Why must you haunt me? Can't you let me be?"

Another pause.

"Fool,"

She sucked her breath in.

"Don't be so presumptuous. It was you who trapped me in that thing." His eyes briefly pointed to the bracelet on her wrist.

"What?" Must he always be so...so damn correct all the time?

"Did you actually think I wanted to be tied down to you? Do you assume this is by choice that I am bound to a human?"

"No, it's not like that." She tried to deny. When in truth, for a brief moment, she had begun to believe he had planned this. Her anger quickly dissolved as she was now defending herself.

"Was it not enough that you could not have me in your bed? Is that why you did this to me?" Contrary to his words, he did not sound angered. Though, she doubted that meant anything worth a grain of salt, Ulquiorra's emotions were notoriously nonexistent and his face was about as readable as a sheet of ice. "Or was it because I harmed your friends?" Orihime staggered over this, he actually thought she was trying to punish him?

She shook her head so softly, so gently. "I only wanted to save you," She answered, she had to make him understand that. She did not do this out of spite because he did not return her feelings or because he inflicted damage on her friends. She didn't even realize what she had done to him until it was too late.

Vacant.

That's all she could see in those eyes.

"I did not ask for your salvation."

Of course he would say such a thing.

"I...I know. I'm sorry, but I don't know how to undo it." She almost felt guilty, but she knew she shouldn't. After all, he was one of the Espada that had held her prisoner. Perhaps, it was time for Karma to hit him, to make him feel that same powerless desolation he could not control.

"I could kill you, I'm convinced that would solve our problem."

"But, then you'd die, too." She said hurriedly. "Since it was my powers of rejection which sealed your spirit, killing me would undoubtedly be killing yourself, as well." She explained logically.

His silence conveyed how little he valued that outcome, it did not matter to him, since he had already died. He'd rather die, again, than be disgraced by a human. But it just went to show how inconsequential the matter of her 'trivial' life was to him. He was the type of man to do anything to get what he wanted. At least he would be free.

Still, she already knew what order of man he was, he fell under a very specific classification. If he had came here to kill her, if such an action was really what he thought would be best for him, he would have done so by now. Ulquiorra was not a man to dawdle. He didn't experience second thoughts.

Perhaps, in knowing that she was safe somehow, was why Orihime closed her eyes yet again and inhaled. Breathing in deeply until it filled every corner of her lungs. That scent which was so intoxicating. Like a cool, dewy field in that it was very earthy and organic. Yes, that's what he smelt like, a moon bathed midnight mist. She could lose herself in it, she wanted to taste it, to be dipped in it like water and have it stick to every inch of her body. It was so flustering to have this man within her grasp again, she was beginning to find it arousing and alluring...

"Stop scenting me, woman." Her eyes flickered open. This time, she did hear the cutting tone in his voice.

Orihime blushed and turned her head away. Is this the way she was destined to always react around this creature? "I w-wasn't doing that." She chewed her lip, she was a terrible liar. "I was just wondering how none of the Shinigami have not been able to sense you yet?" She spun a quick cover for her slip up.

He had to wonder how she hadn't figured it out for herself even after Kisuke Urahara's commentary. He knew she was dense, but he'd also known she had been smart enough to deduce Aizen hadn't spirited her away to Las Noches just for her powers. "My Reiatsu is only traceable within a ten foot radius of that bracelet, at least that I have been able to calculate as of tonight. That perimeter appears to be expanding with every passing day and the outline of that barrier looks to be the limitation of distance I can travel from the center point. It would seem my strength is rather weak, pathetically so, but has nearly quadrupled just in the last month. I'm assuming the quicker my body adapts to this confinement, my powers will recover in full by the end of the year and the fringe of those boundaries will continue to broaden." So, the sooner his vitality was returned, the further his Reiatsu would stretch until he was distinguishable as an individual mass of energy no longer designated to an allotted boundary. If all normalcy would be balanced within his soul, could he regenerate his body permanently?

Until then, he was presumably at her mercy. The tables were momentarily turned. He held her life in his hands, but she held his in her nimble little fingers, as well. But such tantalizing thoughts were quickly smothered as a chilling premonition suddenly swept over her. At the end of this year, if his strength was restored, would he be strong enough to leave her when that time came? Would he forget about her and break free of the seal? Would he...try to harm her friends? Sure Ichigo had already defeated him, but it had kinda been on a technicality.

"But," Orihime gracefully raised herself from her fortress of blankets, her hand clenching over her heart. "I...I can," Her fingers reached out and brushed down his cheek, her eyes softening when he didn't jerk away, or even disappear for that matter. "I can touch you." She said it almost as if she didn't believe it. "How? I couldn't feel you or even hear your voice when," She wasn't too inclined to finish her sentence about the vision in the bathroom, it was, to say the least, humiliating.

A hand retreated out of a pocket to wrap carelessly around hers, leniently pulling it away from his face. He did not give her permission to touch him. "Those were your own visions, Inoue Orihime. Not mine. I influenced none of it." The cold touch of his fingers was so very real. "I'm certain you underestimate the amount of concentration required to retain a solid form. I would not waste that concentration on a menial–" He stopped mid-sentence.

Even though he was pulling her hand away, some unknown gravity pulled her closer. She stepped, uninvited, into his space, nearly grazing her body with his. Instead of letting him release her hand, she intertwined her fingers with his and lifted the other to touch his face again. Tracing the scraggily melancholic streak under his eye. He was either too appalled or too indifferent to revoke her.

The mans countenance remained unmoving, but she watched the way he blinked slowly, his eyes a touch narrower after the action. And that's when she realized how obsessed she had become with him, to the point where she had to dissect every action and reaction from the stoic man like it was something gravely important.

"I...I've missed you, Ulquiorra." Her touch was filled with longing as the tips of her fingers flowed down to his lips, so black. Eternally frowning.

What on earth was she saying? Couldn't she control herself better than this? It never seemed to be the case around him, he easily pulled emotions out from inside her that she always had to struggle to keep concealed around others. He was the complete opposite of what she thought she should find so endearing in a lover. He was everything Ichigo Kurosaki was not. So why was it that her 'Stockholm Syndrome' prevailed even when she had become the captor?

He gripped her upper arm gently to stop her when she began to lean in, the aim of her lips obvious. "You're out of line," He stated, but did not push her away. She moved in closer, but he turned his head slightly, denying her.

Rejection tore through her heart. Withering her hopes to ash and dousing her ambitions. How could she have envisioned anything more? He had never given her anything to hold onto, to stock or cherish. Why did she crave him so much? But instead of crumping to the ground in self pity, she gather her resolve and pushed forward, past his barriers. She needed him, she burned for him. Couldn't he see that?

For once in her life, she became brash. She faltered only for a moment before wrapping her free arm around his neck, lifting herself on her toes to kiss him under the ear. The pale fingers intertwined with hers flinched. "Ulquiorra, please..." She kissed another spot, just below his cheekbone and softly pressed her body against his. A strange, soundless breath left her at the contact. She had never been so close to him before. "Don't discard me anymore."

"Must you persist?" He asked so quietly it would have been difficult to hear if she hadn't been so near.

"Yes," The hand holding his captivate began to lower to her waist, guiding it to press his palm there. Satisfied that he would not remove it, she lifted her hand, traveling up the hard length of his arm to stop at the wide bicep above his elbow. Grasping there for balance, she continued to trace her lips up his neck and grace his sharp jaw with short, chaste kisses. Hoping maybe, just maybe, if she tried hard enough he would crack and give her what she coveted...what she lusted from him.

Her limbs shivered when she felt that hand slide down the profile of her small frame, the silky fabric of her gown creating a lovely friction against her skin beneath the caress. When it slipped around her hips to her lower back and began to descend over her derriere, she let a gracious sound of appreciation flow past her lips. His cold touch landed on the right side of her ass, squeezing as he pressed her hips into his.

Orihime's arm tightened around his neck in victory as she arched her back into him, reciprocating the hunger. Her head was already spinning, her nipples already tightening, her heart already pounding and he had barely touched her. Whispered pleads of passion left her as the other hand on her upper arm migrated up to her shoulder.

"Tell me, Inoue Orihime," Her eyes closed when she felt the flesh of his lips graze over her ear. A knuckle hooked under the flimsy strap of her gown, his skin so cold against hers. "Do you still dream about me?"

Her framework was small and petite, despite having exaggerated attributes impending over her chest and ass. Her body was achingly young and grievously human, so different from his. The texture of her skin was nothing like the Hierro flesh of the fellow Arrancar women he had taken to bed and it had been so long since he'd died a humans death that he did not even remember what a mortal woman's flesh felt like while incited under a spark of lust...or how heat seemed to radiate from every part of her body. She was soft and pliable and had few defenses. If he dug his nails in too deep, she would bleed. If held her too tight, she would shatter. She was too easily broken and he almost felt he could crush her life in his hands, despite being cursed by that very girl, she had outstanding powers and still remained insurmountably weak.

Was this human girl a...precious thing?

Weren't precious things, by definition, meant to be protected?

She moaned lightly and lulled her head to the side when she felt his lips slide from her ear to her neck. "Yes," She gasped, far too absorbed with the urgent ball of tension growing in her stomach. The pull of his lips were not kisses, but more as if he were tracing invisible lines that covered the little corner of her jaw and the graceful slope of her neck. It felt like an intimate lovers touch, but if she could have seen his eyes...she would have grieved over the distance in them.

He pulled her stings, smoothing out all the edges. He remained calm and collected. Easily refusing to loose repose to a sexual response and began to search his mind for an explanation for even allowing the tryst to escalate this far.

These needs were basic and simple to fulfill.

But, she...

She was so genuine in everything she did, every action a direct reaction to his languid stimulation. Honest and innocent and begging for his attentions, she wanted something more that he would not give. Nothing could splinter that harmonious balance he held over the disquieting and vexing thing called emotions.

He was not one she could expect any degree of a commitment from. And she was never one to put a value on such a thing as virginity, perhaps because of her upbringing. However, she did believe these actions were to be reserved for an individual you love. Now, more than ever, she wanted to show this man love and make love to him.

She would show him how to feel. Not with your eyes, not with your hands, but with the heart. She would hold him so tightly only a corpse wouldn't be able to feel her warmth.

That's why she let him slide the strap of her gown down her arm, her senses tingling as the silky material flowed over her chest until a pert, pink nipple popped out. God, she wanted him to touch it, to manipulate it until the heat from her own body began to rub off on his. His fingertips pressed deeper into the firm slope of her ass, applying that pressure to make her feel how she had begun to affect his resolve. Her lips had parted, as if trying to speak something, but the words would not come and her head was swimming with stars.

"Ulquiorra, I..." She breathed, taking in that fresh scent again as his finger glided down her side, barely skating around her bust as it tucked into gown that had gathered beneath the exposed breast.

Orihime whimpered when the back of his hand skimmed across the underside of the thing, following the hem up to her other shoulder to slide the second strap off her skin, as well. She suppressed a nervous shiver as the gown fell to her ankles and the night air kissed her ivory complexion.

She kept her resolve as she reached up to the zipper of his collar, tugging it down to expose the hollow hole at the base of his neck and the bare masculine chest that soon followed. The cuatro tattoo was long gone. She had to keep her eyes locked with his for strength, only closing them in exhilaration when her palms flattened on his abdominals, marveling at the tough Arrancar skin and the smooth ripple of defined and hardened muscles. Touching a man like this was making her insides feel so...so carnal and sultry. She pushed upwards until her fingers mounted his shoulders and his shirt was soon on the ground next to her gown, all the while he'd been backing her up against the cool wall behind them.

His forearm rested above her head when her back hit the solid structure and chilled her skin. His head dipped down to press his lips against her delicate collar bone. Sucking and nipping at random intervals, wetting her skin and leaving it to be cooled by the night air around them. His hand grasped at her neck, just below her ear to run his thumb under her jaw, lifting her head and tilting it back as he edged his way up. Ascending her neck until he could kiss the soft underside where mandible met nape. The skin there was so frail and tasted so sweet.

A knee probed between hers, spreading her thighs and it wasn't long until his leg was edging closer to a crevice of endless warmth and rapture. His tongue reached out and slid over the dip at the center of her collar bone the same moment his hips moved against hers, pushing her into the wall. On instinct, she cried out and lifted her knee up to wrap around his waist, her leg hooking onto him to pull him closer.

As if on cue, his hand reached behind her and grasped her ass firmly, lifting her until she depended solely on his support.

Orihime arched and pleaded, fingers skimming softly over the boney mask covering his left profile, shamelessly beseeching him to tend to this unquenchable need as both legs latched onto him. His grip seemed to tighten, the grinding motion between them deepened and slowed, his hips pressing her harshly into the partition. She heard a heavy breath leave his lips and an urgency to be inside her that he tried to suppress consumed this impulsive appetite. The girl wanted his dick...and he wanted to give it to her. Every animalistic quality about his basic Arrancar self told him to have a feast of it.

But he was above that, he detested those attributes that his fellow hollows let run amok within their psyche without restraint or control. He refrained from letting his guard down. Such defenses were so ingrained in his intellectual awareness that he couldn't let go even if he tried.

She breathed encouraging whispers, begging him not to stop, afraid he might leave her and abandon these desires she harbored inside. Her fingertips were like silk and satin, grazing over his nipple and around the empty space at his collar causing an uncomfortable warm feeling to shoot through him. A hand hooked under her knee and lifted it to her side, fluently leveling it to the wall with her flexibility to leave her open and vulnerable. He left love marks on her neck, shoulders and breasts. Tiny painless little bite wounds...he wanted to leave them all over her body, cover her with them. He wanted to make them permanently scar, so no one else would want to touch her.

When his hand slid from her ass, to her hip and skimmed over her rib cage, torrid fire gathered in her lungs. Intense yearning struck her, soaking her core and dripping from her thighs. He held the boney section of her upper waist, his thumb coming forward to press into the side of her breast, lifting it close to his mouth. His eyes glanced up to hers, a cruel sort of provoking look about him that she knew was only in her imagination. When in fact, he was looking at her with the same amount of disconnection that he always gave her.

He could leave her high and dry and addicted to this suffering temptation.

But she cried with a tear pouring from the corner of her eye when his lips wrapped around the aroused, rosy nipple. "Ulquiorra," Her fingers buried themselves in his dark hair. It was fine and limp, but thick and fathomlessly black. She clung to his broad shoulders for stability as her vision swam, his tongue swirling around it, tasting the honey coated flesh. His fingers slid around to her back, pressing gently between her shoulder blades to arch her and bring her closer to him as he opened his mouth to further take in the luscious breast.

Consuming, devouring and sucking the nectarous flavor out of her flushed skin. It was an absolute impossibility that this girl literally tasted of sweet sugar, it was a fact he could not seem to wrap his logic around. He disliked sweet things, they were disgusting. Yet, the savory tang that lingered in his pallet had him rethinking his impartial views on candies. It pestered at him until all he could do was smoothly transition from grinding with her, to gradually, almost listlessly, thrusting into her body. His free hand migrated from her ass to her other breast, engulfing the heavy bulb in his palm. Molding to it and praising heavenly perfection in such a callow, fresh young female.

She had to wonder if he was the only man alive whose hands could fit perfectly around her astoundingly large breasts. He must have been, because not only were they a perfect fit, the electricity that flowed between them was earthshattering.

The sensations were so foreign it was frightening, but so wantonly gratifying that she could easily become dependant on him. His body was athletically slender, muscular and carved to such masculine perfection it was lewdly pleasing to feel pressed against her so closely. His control was so securely woven she would never have to worry about losing her own grip on reality, which she was coming dangerously close to relinquishing over to him.

Her entire being was positively glowing by the time his fingers ran past her navel, inching between their bodies to find the moist recess amid her thighs. She was restless and filled with a smoldering fever as the rough texture of his fingertips slipped into the damp pool of dew gathered at her entrance.

"Do you think I'm going to fuck you, Inoue Orihime?" The pad of his middle finger swivelled over the tiny hole of her core. Soaking his black nail until the liquid seeped down the knuckle and into his hand.

"Please, don't talk like that," She blushed and looked away. The color was radiant and charming on her complexion. He wondered, is this what a humans interpretation of an angel looked like?

"Isn't that what you've always wanted from me?" It graduated up to her clit.

"No, I want to show you–" He applied pressure to the slick pearl and her legs began to spasm around his waist uncontrollably.

"What?" He mocked. "What do you want to show me that I have not possibly seen?" He circled it masterfully, driving her sanity from all coherent thought. The thick tension inside her began to coil like a spring about to fracture, building up after months of hot dreams and unfulfilled fantasies. He spurned her salacious desire for an inter-species relation. "Do you not realize that you would be having sex with an Arrancar?" It returned to her entrance, and slowly slipped inside. Instantly her tight defenses clenched onto him. When he curled the finger deep inside her, touching the hidden cavity that was a crucial key to her very femininity, it all exploded like a finale of fireworks behind her eyelids.

It was like something finally clicked into place and she was whole. Raining down on her like manna from the heavens as she peacefully succumbed to the light. The inner fortifications of her body constricted with the new burden, molding to him.

"So soon?" He taunted in her ear, inhaling that arousing scent her orgasm dispelled into the atmosphere, branding into his senses. It seemed she wasn't much of a conquest, still, he could easily admit how it had appealed to him how ardent she was and how willingly she gave herself to him and engulfed herself in the momentum of her release, as if she had never felt such rapture before...or how tightly she was still fastened around his finger.

He secured his arms around her limp body, turning them until his back was pressed against the wall and slid down so they sat on her bed of blankets, straddling his lap. His hand fastened on her hip and lifted her forward until he could reach around behind her to free himself from his pants.

Orihime felt as if she'd woken from a dream, her hands were searching his solid body, her lips kissing his neck and chest. He spread her legs further and she felt him position the head of his erection at the aperture of her entrance. It felt very hard and very real. She leaned back slightly to look at him, her chest panting softly. She mouthed his name silently, all ideas of communication on her part seemed hopeless in such mindless pleasure.

The hand on her hip moved to the shallow dip in her lower back, resting just over the protrusions of her spine. "Do it yourself," He said quietly, urging her down. He wanted to see that exquisite human body of hers moving for him, over him, and taking every inch of him inside her tight lining. The creamy concoction of her orgasm had began drizzling down to coat the stiff member awaiting her cradling warmth and she moaned when she felt the thick pressure easing into her.

Grey hazy eyes were reflecting his own focused ones, slightly hooded and glistening prettily behind auburn bangs. His other hand rested on her thigh as she began to push down without his assistance. Immediately she gasped and clenched her jaw, supporting herself by planting her hands on his abs, trying to get past that first obstacle of simply fitting him inside.

She moved her hips slightly, rotating them slowly in an attempt to find a purchase that would let him in. Her nails scrapped along his skin, not even making a scratch on his nearly impenetrable hide until finally... "Ah!" Her head tossed back modestly and her body arched as she became ridged. She paused a moment, breathing heavily before pushing in another inch until several moments later, she had to stop.

"Wait," She pleaded with tears in her eyes when he started pushing her down again, intent to engulf him completely after deciding she was incapable of doing so herself. "Please, Ulquiorra, I'm not sure if I can take in anymore..." Her voice was broken and unstable, it felt like his girth was ripping her apart from the inside and there was no more room to spare. She was at her limit and her fingers trembled as she tried to hold herself up.

He briefly examined her body. Her figure had developed sinfully curvaceous for one so young. She was not unhealthy, but she had protruding ribs, rail thin arms and a narrow waist that he was sure even if he wrapped his hands around the thickest parts, his thumb and index fingers would certainly overlap.

He was not exactly brawny himself, but...

Was her diminutive size...inadequate to accept him?

It was an awkward, if not irritating complication to think about.

She watched his eyes narrow and she expected to see frustration.

"I see," Her breath caught when his palm cupped her cheek, his thumb brushing away a stream of tears. "Come here," He said almost tenderly, but she knew it was her mind playing tricks with the natural hush of his voice. Verdant eyes reflected the moonlight, making him seem unforgiving when he was, in fact, quite mellow. Eagerness swept over her as she obeyed and leaned forward, his hand guiding her lips to his.

She accepted his kisses with vulnerability and swelling emotion. His strong arms encompassed her, holding her tightly to him as he began to grind softly into her, opening her up. Training her body. Didn't humans know how to mate properly? Then again, her sexual ineptitude had suddenly became painfully apparent.

Their lips met softly, molding to one another like pliable, velvety clay. Pink on black. He had to slip his tongue between her lips to show her the next steps. Hooking together and swirling around in a wet slide of slippery saliva. She made feminine mewls of wonderment at this new revelation, that he wanted to kiss her, he allowed it and even instigated such an intimate undertaking.

She wasted not a moment of it, memorizing every line of his lips, his taste, the way he angled her head and the method in which he commanded so much from the action.

He swallowed the sudden gasp from the girl as the thin veil of human inexperience was breeched. He felt the membrane shatter and she shivered, her narrow inner walls trapped him like a vice, choking him. She was so taut, so enduringly secure and unyieldingly binding even the stoic Ulquiorra closed his eyes in bliss. He pushed even further, grazing her womb until finally, she had accepted all of him and their hips locked into place. Another cry caught in the back of her throat at the deep penetration. A small amount of blood spilled out, running down her thighs and painting his in a stark contrast to his pale skin.

His hand gathered in her hair, cradling the back of her head as she showered him with her loving kisses, despite his slow, if not sometimes reluctant, responses to them.

Orihime knew his patience had saved her from great pain. And now, he was inside her, a part of her. Filling her with a sense of completion like she had never felt before. It seemed like an impossibility to be penetrated so profoundly, so abysmally inside her own body. "Ulquiorra," His name rolled from her lips like the worshiping of a God. "I love you," She moaned amorously, rotating her hips and awed by the sensations she never even knew existed. "I love you," With candid adulation she kissed his shoulder, his neck, his temple."I love you..." His lips.

"Love?" She pressed her breasts into him, encouraging him to lavish her. "Isn't that a strange thing to say to someone who is, by all accounts, your enemy?" His hand belatedly slipped from her hair to her waist.

She had expected something cynical like that from him. But, when she thought about those words again, something struck her so profusely, she could have cried with the hope springing to life throughout her soul.

He did no ask what such a thing as 'love' meant...he did not question her relentlessly on its origin and definition and deny the existence of such an artificial, invisible and all round fictitious human falsehood. Whether he realized it or not, he'd spoken as if he'd understood the word and the meaning, like he thought she was silly for feeling such a thing for him.

But now that she had him, she refused to let go. Considering that he knew love truly existed and was aware of its implications as more than just a mockery, she would show him such affection and give it unconditionally. She wrapped her arms around his neck as she lifted herself and slowly slid back down. She nearly moaned at the friction it produced. Moving against him and urging him with silent whispers until his hand slipped under her thigh and began to lift her himself, like she was nothing more than the burdensome weight of a feather. Easing her back over him while wordlessly steering the girl how to oscillate and curve her hips felicitously.

He seemed to become detached as he guided her, closely observing behind passive eyes the point of conjoinment as the thickness of his dick raked in and out of her. Gripping him like an unrelenting shackle.

When it seemed she was finally capable of moving on her own without instruction, he reclined back and rested his head against the wall lethargically to watch her stunning body moving provocatively just for him. As she supported herself, her hands landed on his abs again and she bounced her hips in the flowing rhythm, her knees digging into the blankets beneath them. His hands covered her ass, squeezing at random moments of intense pleasure. Satisfied that he had so accurately molded her into his own personal pleasure doll.

His eyes leveled on those divine breasts. They were...jiggling. He'd never envisioned himself contemplating so immensely such a simple reaction of the momentum of flesh to gravity. Radiantly glowing as they were and rapturously moving in time with her movements until he had to surge his own hips up to meet hers. His hands guided her better, making the impalement process reach a higher plain of serenity. She seemed to habitually cry out his name and after each breath and he found himself thrusting harder to make her scream it louder.

Her body collapsed on his chest as he gripped her hips, bringing his knees up as he kept pumping. Slow, steadily and exhaustingly hard. He felt her begin to tremble as she curled into him. "Ulquiorra, I'm..."

A staggered breath stumbled past his black lips into her hair when her sheath nearly crushed him as she came again. Fluttering around his erection and bathing him in hot, searing liquid. He dug his nails into her generous ass, sealing their hips and grinding desperately into her tight opening, urgently trying to prolong her orgasm, lost in the smothering channel that was like an impervious padlock of purity. Not caring for an instance that he had actually begun to experience the uncontrollable drive of desperation. Unfamiliar warmth consumed him every time she stuttered his name, clenching his teeth in vicious pleasure and attempting to purge the possession incapacitating him.

"Damn it," He cursed, powerless to the basal instinct pushing him. Rearing it's ugly head as the girl contracted again. Squeezing him for something he wasn't yet ready to deliver.

He had her on her back in the next moment, his hand lifting her waist as the other dipped behind her back, latching onto her shoulder to steady her against the heavy, jarring thrusts. His hips curled into hers, straining to get deeper. Her nipples browsing his chest, her hands splayed over her head in helpless surrender.

He was obsessed, she had to come again, he would do anything...

His lips found a nipple and quickly devoured it, playing masterful tricks on her body. The cadence of his hips pushing her to something he had to have. The girl beneath him arched, her breathing becoming hitched once more and he knew she was about to combust.

Both hands grasped thick strands of auburn hair as she finally broke. Achieving the aspired result that was so crucial to this ravenous need. His lips hovered over her collar, the exact spot his hollow hole resided as he felt her dance over the bulk of his intrusion inside her body. He watched her eyes clench shut in euphoria, every cry shook her to the core. He covered her mouth with his own, greedily swallowing each mewl of passion as he laboriously pumped into the pliable creature beneath him. The confines of her supple body provoked him with their consuming covenant of ecstacy. Embracing and compacting his wide girth in a quivering, pulsating metre.

Ulquiorra failed miserably to suppress a groan as he bit her bottom lip, brought to his proverbial knees once more upon that throbbing pressure enveloping his member. Poised equanimity seemed like a lost word and his naturally dull, archaic countenance was barely concerned to keep his calm mannerisms in check.

Still, this wasn't enough.

He turned her over, pressing his palm into her upper back in the most devout of dominating positions.

Her spine arched so sharply she nearly snapped, her ass perched high in the air and legs spread wide. Her body bowed so beautifully, her hair spilling to the side like an ocean of color. The whimpering of her lips escalated into a keening sob that echoed off the neighboring rooftops as he reentered her. On his knees, he hunched over and grasped the pillow by her head as he met with even tighter resistance.

She had to be stretched again, the new position changing her anatomy enough to taper the already cramped opening into a precariously sparse passage. Her thighs were sticky and wet and stained red, quivering as he pushed to the point of no return. Her breasts seemed to flatten against the blankets, large enough to see the round bulbs protruding out from each posterior side of her rib cage.

He loomed over her, gradually retracting, only to drive back in with deliberately prolonged strokes. Each withdraw faced delectable difficulty as it seemed her covetous body desired to suck him back in like a vacuum. Strands of her hair clung to her skin in exhaustion and she panted with every punctual thrust.

"Ulquiorra, wait," A lock of her auburn hair fell into the corner of her mouth and hung there. "I...I'm going to..." The tiny, feminine grunts and beguiling, breathy pouts she released into the pillow were arousing and endearing. "I'm...uhn...again," Her eyes were dazzling as she attempted to look at him over her shoulder, only have her face planted in the cushions beneath her after another inflicting drive.

She had to give it to him, just once more. She was so close, nearly debilitated with the depleting and draining copulative session. When he reached around and slid his hand between her legs to manipulate her clit, she eagerly acquiesced to his patient and indulgent demands. Submitting to the lust and coming hard. Her firm, fleshy ass jostled and shook as his thrusts became shorter and interspersed, stressing his own need to come soon.

Her sheath shivered over him, vibrating like a small repressed earthquake inside her body. Encompassing and adhering to him so tightly in a naturalistic, unconscious attempt to recognize his prevalent dominance and milk every ounce from the one she reverently submitted herself below in the chain of power. Cinching and tethering around his dick until it hindered his resolve and resistance had finally become futile.

Ulquiorra gripped her gaunt arms above the elbows, pulling her upright. A hand wrapped around her waist just below her breasts, squeezing her so hard he was sure her ribs would bruise. His other hooked under her knee, lifting and holding her flush against his chest as he leaned back on his haunches and pumped into her relentlessly. His pants had bunched around his knees, rutting like an asinine beast in heat. He could feel the weight of her breasts, propelled by the brutish force of primal humping, bouncing over his firm, thick forearm tucked securely beneath the swollen orbs. His compact, whipcord muscles were straining not to crush the very life out of her. Her orgasm was still pounding hard against him and he clenched his jaw and closed his eyes, his composure quietly slipping under the fortitude of a human girl.

She moaned his name one last time in beautiful abandon and he buried his lips at the juncture of her neck.

"Fuck,"

He groaned and pushed himself as deep as her tight body would allow. Emptying himself completely into her womb, grinding and packing himself further into her paradise. He savored her pungent trembling and, without objection, received another wave of rapture as she started to flutter softly around him in one last palpable, tiny orgasm at feeling his seed spilling so thoroughly among her innermost parts...he was certain his scent would linger in her for weeks after fucking her so severely. If he was lucky, that human trash Kurosaki might know how to properly use his olfactory senses and get a fucking clue.

Even if he had died, he didn't want his pity...and despite life or death, it was obvious Inoue Orihime would always come running back to him, an Arrancar.

He'd heard that ridiculous conversation the two had in the park, impudently discussing him like they actually deserved to spoil his name.

Loneliness?

Sadness?

Memories?

He could hardly stand to listen to it. The girls ignorant lesbian friend was more accurate in judging him as a 'heartless jerk' than the two of them had even come close to pinpointing. Phrasing that he had deserved to die was less insulting than some of the things Kurosaki had said. That he'd 'change' things if he could? The only thing Ulquiorra would have changed is the fact that he would have cut of the hollow-wannabe's head to ensure his death, instead of stabbing him through the chest. It only further proved that the subject of good and evil was simply a state of mind, usually of an austere, homely and unmitigated mind.

Ulquiorra held her steady as he pulled his dick out, listening with curiosity as she mewled almost mournfully over the loss. He could see his cum exuding from her core and weeping down her thighs, mixing with the soft pink of blood and he felt himself stiffening again at the sight. But, the moment he gently placed the girl back onto the blankets, she was asleep.

He stood and dragged his pants up from his ankles to fasten around his waist. Raising his eyes to the horizon, the bright golden beams of sunlight contracted the slitted pupils of his verdant eyes and chased the last remnants of night into the distance.

The vibrant light contrasted harshly against his livid complexion. He never had been partial to the more ambient hours of the day, not that he preferred one above the other. But, when he looked down to the girl, her skin seemed to glisten illustriously with nourishment of the sun.

Her breasts were covered in little purple bite marks, and blue hickeys were running amok up her neck. Small bruises the size of fingerprints were tattooed on her thighs and ribs. And still between her legs was his cum culminating with her own to continually overflow from her body and pool beneath her on the blankets. He was wholly unsatisfied with his loose actions, and more than uncomfortable with the needy desperation he'd indignantly experienced over her.

His eyes suddenly slid to the side just in time to see a slithery black tail disappearing behind an adjoining rooftop chimney. He narrowed them slightly in musing contemplation.

That woman...

He couldn't stand prying eyes. Or meddling nuisances.

He gathered the girl up in her sheet and took her to her bed, placing her in a messy heap on the mattress. But just when he was about to dismiss himself, he wondered how convenient or troublesome it would be to stay for a bit longer...and what the best way to awaken her to receive him again might entail.

He reached over and slid his palm down the racks of blinds beside her bed, effectively closing them as he spread her legs and buried his face between her thighs. Eliciting faint, amorous responses until her eyes fluttered open and he slid himself inside her once more...

-

'The workings of the human heart are the profoundest mystery of the universe. One moment they make us despair of our kind, and the next we see in them the reflection of the divine image.' Charles W. Chesnutt

-

"Finally back?" Kisuke yawned as he reached unattractively around to scratch his back. Stretching and bathing in the glow of the morning sun as he stepped out onto the Urahara Shop porch. "What took ya so long, Yuruichi? I was actually starting to get worried." He said apathetically.

"I followed her home like you asked," The cat pounced up and landed gracefully on the wooden rail.

"How did it go?" He slumped down into a chair, lazing back and propping his feet up on the railing next to the cat. His hat tilting down over his eyes to shield them from the sun.

"Well, he's definitely alive," Yuruichi supinely lifted her paw up to examine her claws. "Though, I think he saw me."

"And?"

"And what? He fucked her."

"Ya know, I asked you to follow her home, not to spy on her. Where's your decency? They are entitled to their own privacy. How pathetic."

She continued to examine her claws, undaunted by the empty insults. Patiently, she waited for it. Knowing all to well it would be coming right...about...

He cleared his throat.

"...so, how was it?"

-

Wow, Tatsuki's gonna be in for a whopper of a shocker when she goes to check on Orihime when she didn't arrive at school that morning!

You know, I bet Ulquiorra's nipples are black, too...

And for those of you who don't know what a chiropteran is, it's a 'bat'. Since Ulquiorra's release form and Zanpakuto is technically in relation to such, it gets kinda annoying when people say he has 'serpentine' or 'demon' eyes. Is there anything about him that remotely suggests he's snake-like in any way?

Alma is Spanish for 'soul' or 'spirit'. Buresuretto is Japanese for 'bracelet'. I know, real clever of me, huh?

Anyway, I can't derive from the fact that Ulquiorra is a 'bad guy' I just can't change character personalities like some authors take the liberty to do. So I hope I succeeded in capturing our favorite Espada...and maybe this time he'll stay with Orihime.

Oh, and I swear to God, I hate it when people call Ulquiorra 'EMO'. Ooo, uh gee, kinda hard to be emo when you don't have...oh, what's that word? EMOTIONS. Brain check.

Please review! : ) I worked especially hard on it!