Author's Note: My first attempt at Ulquiorra/Orihime. I know, I know, there are plenty of similar UlquiHime stories already, but I just wanted to write my own take.

I'm on an UlquiHime kick. There's just something deliciously forbidden, sexy, and sensible about these two. And hell, Chapters 353-354 were very poignant, beautiful, and sweet, as unsatisfying as they were because, you know, he kind of ... died.

The chapters are named after songs or lyrics of songs.

Anyway, this takes place mainly after Ulquiorra's death, with some (but not all) canon things intact. If you're caught up with the manga, you'd know which are which.

DISCLAIMER: Bleach and all of its characters are property of Tite Kubo, Shounen Jump, and others who rightfully apply.

Listen while you read: "Adagio" by Amici Forever


[01] My Silent End

- { dust to dust } -

That was it.

Ashes.

Maybe it was a major fault of hers to be so forgiving, the kind of emotional person to be so easily attached to others, even if it was her less-than-compassionate captor.

But those sad, vulnerable emerald eyes and the subtly soft, surprised way he said, "Really..." made Orihime Inoue a believer. A believer of the inherent good in others; of second chances. A chance Ulquiorra Cifer wouldn't be able to have, because he was gone, now lost to the desert winds of Hueco Mundo. Why couldn't life be fair?

The wet blur in her vision told her that his demise affected her more than she anticipated. There was a strong feeling of remorse in her heart, but she had to move on. Her friends' rescue couldn't be taken in vain.

"-nearby," suddenly came Ichigo's voice. Orihime had only gotten the tail-end of his words when she wandered out of her thoughts. But she couldn't formulate a proper response just yet. The image of Ulquiorra's thin, pale hand disintegrating was burned into her mind. It kept playing in her head like the ending to a tragic movie.

"Hey..." struggled another male voice. Orihime suddenly remembered Uryuu, who was gravely injured from both Ulquiorra and the mysterious, but much more dangerous side of Ichigo. She turned her attention to the Quincy, giving him the utmost apologetic expression.

"Ishida-kun!" she gasped, rushing to him as he gingerly moved toward their resident healer. Without wasting any time, she got to work, casting the familiar golden-yellow barrier over her friend and reversing the injury.

She then wondered just how much she could reverse. Like say, someone's life. Ulquiorra had told her she couldn't, but what if he was wrong?

Ichigo, who was too caught up in the battles of war, hastily shot them both rueful looks before taking off.

He didn't even stick around to let her thank him. But in the end, it didn't even matter, did it? Orihime didn't feel like she should thank Ichigo for the death of the one Espada she didn't hate. The one Espada she was willing to hold her hand and her heart out to. Instead, she should apologizing to him. After all, she was the one with compassionate emotions toward someone who had once beaten her beloved Kurosaki-kun to a pulp.

But just how beloved is he to me now...? she wondered somberly.

"Inoue-san..." Uryuu spoke up, catching her attention. He was completely healed.

"Ah, hai!" Orihime squeaked, hastily dismissing her powers. "Gomen..."

He shook his head as he sat up. He rolled and stretched his newly healed arm, making sure everything was completely intact. "Don't apologize. I'm sure Kurosaki's fine now. He's going to catch up to Kuchiki-san, Sado, and Abarai."

Ah, so that was what Kurosaki-kun was saying, she thought absently.

But Ishida's guesses weren't why she was distracted, or why the tears remained in her eyes. However, Orihime didn't bother correcting him.

She should forget about Ulquiorra. All in all, he was the enemy; her emotionless captor. She shouldn't put so much trust in an Espada. He would have killed her if Aizen wanted.

But still, that feeling didn't go away. The feeling of what she could have done. Ulquiorra wanted and deserved another chance. He had only realized it too late.

"Come, we must leave," Uryuu told her, furrowing a brow at her quietness. Clearly, he didn't understand what had being going on with her and Ulquiorra. He gripped her gently by the arm. "Be strong, Inoue-san..."

I'm trying, she answered silently, feigning a smile at her companion. But... I don't understand... why it's so hard...

He started for the door, pulling her along, but was immediately stopped when he felt her not move along with him. "Inoue-san..." he pressed, slightly impatient. "There's no time."

"Gomen."

Orihime had no choice but to follow Uryuu. Giving the Las Noches tower one last, regretful look, she turned and left.

- { - } -

Everything thereafter became a blur. Somewhere along the way, Orihime got separated from Uryuu. Another nameless Arrancar had gotten in their way. Because of his affinity for explosions, the hallways ahead of them became no more than heavy pieces of rubble. Some falling debris then hit her head, knocking her out for a good hour, or so she estimated.

When she woke up, Uryuu and the Arrancar were nowhere to be found. With the shortest way out of Las Noches permanently blocked, she had no other option than to find another route, and on the way, search for Uryuu and the rest of her comrades.

She sat up gingerly, immediately noticing the piercing pain in her head. She felt several streaks of something wet and warm run down her face. Woozily, she whispered, "Souten Kisshun; I reject."

In no time, she was healed, dizziness gone and everything. But it didn't improve her current mood.

For once, her healing fairies stuck around. It was rare of them to do so nowadays, but this whole Hueco Mundo business was a unique situation for her, and thus, they felt that they should check in with her.

"Orihime-sama," Shun'ou began worriedly, his brows furrowed as he hovered in front of her nose. "We can sense the sadness in you. It's overwhelming and beginning to affect our powers."

"Even more so than in your cell," Ayame noted. "At least then..." her voice drifted off as she hesitated, "you also had your confidence and will..."

Orihime smiled sadly. "I'm fine. Just... a little lonely. Really."

The two fairies exchanged doubtful looks, but didn't say anymore as they disappeared back into her hairpins.

Now in the desolate, winding halls of Las Noches, the redhead had no choice but to find her way out of the palace. Unluckily for her, every hallway and every crevice seemed like they were built the same way. Orihime was getting vertigo just standing there.

The entire time, she had trouble ceasing all thoughts of the hand she wished she had grabbed. It only reiterated her uselessness. If only she knew how to bring back a life...

But even if she was strong enough to do that, then what would be the point? She was only going to be pushed back during battle. She was just the healer to everyone else. But contrary to what they all thought, she had the will. If she needed to attack, she would.

How sad that she had to remind herself of this every time.

She walked along, up the stairs, down the stairs, and left and right, curious as to why Las Noches felt particularly empty. Was everyone off fighting? Making themselves useful somehow? She wasn't sure if she should think, Oh, just my luck! No Arrancar to abuse me! Or if she should feel scared that she could possibly be abandoned.

The area she was in was starting to look familiar to her. As in, different from the other myriad of hallways she previously walked by. She has definitely been down here before. Here, there was a large, but secret room with an unmarked door leading into it. She knew what it was. It was the one that contained only something that fit into the palm of her hand, even as spacious as the room was.

She almost expected Aizen or someone to come after her right then, scolding her (or worse) for coming to this important (and secret) area on her own, even though the ex-captain was the one who led her here, who showed her the thing himself.

But Las Noches was eerily quiet.

With her footsteps being the only sound in the sterile hallway, she gave the door a hard push from the side, sliding it open with all of her might, even though she physically wasn't the strongest person there was. Despite how easy it may have seemed for the Arrancar, Espada, and ex-shinigami, the door was undeniably heavy. There seemed to be some security after all.

No, she argued with herself, I'm strong.

That was it. She just needed to believe in herself as much as she believed in Ichigo and her other comrades.

And in Ulquiorra...

She shook her head in an attempt to keep him out of her head.

It took several tries, but she managed to get the door open enough for her to get through. Orihime collapsed through the door way, gasping for breath on the cold, tile floor. After recovering, she ventured further inside. It was freezing inside the vast room, but the temperature wasn't the only thing that made goosebumps appear on her flesh.

She made her way to the circular pillar in the middle of the room. Her heart was racing. This was the Hougyoku. She could feel the power of it seeping out of its encasing.

But comically, she found herself clueless at the contraption in front of her. "How do I open this...?" she mumbled with a small frustration. She had watched Aizen do this before, but she wasn't sure if it was via his own powers or if there was an ON switch of some kind.

In the end, it didn't matter to her. She could feel the pressure of the sphere inside, and that was good enough for her; no question about its being there. She would just have a little more to undo than she expected.

After taking a deep breath, and letting it out slow and steady, she set her determined gray eyes on the contraption.

"Souten Kisshun," Orihime began, staring hard at the thing that brought nothing but grief to Rukia, Ichigo, and the Soul Society. Nothing but meaningless wars and pointless battles between individuals with hopes, dreams, and friends.

She was the only one there in that building, she concluded to herself in reassurance. Why such an important artifact was left unguarded, she didn't know, but she wagered that it was because Aizen didn't believe she would be capable of destroying it. She also bet the other Arrancar didn't know about this room; not even Ulquiorra himself.

She had to prove her worth. She had just as much fighting resolve as anyone, and could prove it.

"I reject!"

A dome-like barrier covered the Hougyoku's pillar, but she felt that nothing seemed to change about it. Orihime gritted her teeth, forcing every ounce of mental strength into the spell. "I reject!" she yelled again, her voice rising.

Why won't it work?

Aren't I stronger than this?

I can fight, too...

"Souten Kisshun! I reject!"

Tears filled her eyes. Was she really as useless as Urahara said? Why couldn't she do a simple thing like destroy a marble-sized orb with her supposed god-like powers?

Feeling a sense of hopelessness, she sank to the ground, in front of the pillar holding the orb. With her hair curtained around her tearing face, she only wondered why she felt so limited. She didn't care how much reiatsu she put into this or not, whether or not the spiritual drainage would be the cause of her death; she just wanted to affirm that she had to ability to save others.

And yet, why couldn't she save what she wanted to save?

Why couldn't she stop thinking about Ulquiorra's death?

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust... she thought listlessly. Immediately following the words in her head, she remembered the image of Ulquiorra fading away, disintergrating into nothing.

She closed her eyes. As if he corroded...

And unexpectedly, something clicked. Rising again to her feet, she took a breath, beginning a spell she has never done, but at the same time, felt completely familiar with.

"FUSHOKUTEN SHISHUN!" she cried. To her surprised, but unwavering silvery gray eyes, ribbons of brighter, white-yellow surrounded the barrier that was already around the Hougyoku, encircling the spherical shield with a glimmering power of its own.

A new foreign energy, heavy and blindingly luminescent to her mind, surged within her as she finished her newfound spell.

"I REJECT!"

As soon as the words left her lips, the dome of gold and its swirling strings suddenly expanded; so fast and so unexpected that Orihime suddenly felt scared and confused. Not because she was afraid of injuring herself, since her spells were incapable of harming her, the user, but because she didn't know how to harness it. She found herself inside her own barrier, looking upward.

The dome began to spin, clockwise to the ribbons' counterclockwise, twirling ever the larger, beyond the room and probably beyond Las Noches, looming ominously over her surroundings. Nothing seemed to happen within it yet, judging from the pillar's unchanging appearance, but she knew that if she didn't do anything soon, that might change.

What's going on? She wondered in concern, discovering that her full attention wasn't even on the spell anymore. It was taking on a life of its own. She began to worry for her nakama, who were all still somewhere in Hueco Mundo, fighting for her sake.

"Ayame-san... Shun'ou-san!" she called urgently. "What are you doing?"

They did not respond.

It was strange. They always answered to her, no matter what.

"Tsubaki-san?" she cried, her voice shrill and quick. "Baigon-san? Hinagiku-san?"

What...

Budding helplessness.

"Lily-san...?"

It was as if they disappeared.

Well, if her Shun Shun Rikka weren't going to be responsive, she would have to take matters into her own hands. She didn't need them to manifest for her powers to work, did she?

I'm strong.

She stretched both of her hands above her head, concentrating her reiatsu into her palms. She found herself praying for any god's cooperation. Because in reality, she didn't know what to do.

Suddenly, without her realizing it, she began to sob, her heart wrenching as she struggled to control her powerful shield. She cried for her fallen nakama, her fallen hopes and dreams, and her fallen captor. Every emotion she has bravely withheld from Aizen and his subordinates began rushing out out of her like water rushing out of an open dam. Perhaps it was the imminence of this situation that triggered it, or because she was too weak to keep holding such a strong face.

Why me? Why, why me?

She just didn't understand. However, there was no use in pitying herself any longer.

"I reject..." she whispered with a trembling voice, closing her eyes.

"Please..."

- { - } -

Ichigo turned, feeling Orihime's reiatsu spike dramatically. So high, in fact, that it was almost like there were five of her. Eyebrows knitted together in concern, he turned to Renji, Yasutora, and Rukia, who were all equally stunned.

"What is she doing?" the petite girl wondered, her voice soft and cautious.

Before he had the chance to come to his own conclusions, he and his friends were suddenly engulfed in a blinding yellow light.


Fushokuten Shishun = Sacred corroding death shield.

LOL, my Japanese sucks now, so I'm not sure if I put it together right, but it'll stand.

I know the first chapter was short and cryptic. D: ... It'll get better, I assure you. AND you'll get some Ulquiorra in the next chapter and on.

Also, I'm not sure of all the suffixes Orihime or Ishida use, so forgive me if they're the wrong ones. XD - Thanks, LovelyMasoka, for some corrections!