The Night of Masks

Author: Twilight Lament

Genre: One shot/short story: Fanfiction/romance

Anime: Bleach

Timeline: AU

Summary: Observed by the Soul Society in honor of the dead, the Night of Masks is a time when titles mean nothing, rank holds no sway, and all remember the great circle linking life and death. This night abolishes the normal rules and boundaries and provides for the strangest opportunities.

"Oh Ran, this is going to be so much fun!" Orhime squealed and lifted the colorful mask from the tissue paper inside the box. Weeks ago Orhime had gone for her fitting and endured long hours in a slowly drying clay form in order to get a mask for the holiday that was, at least in Orihime's opinion, the most fun of all. Whether you spent the night trying to guess who was under what mask, playing games, or simply watching, everyone received, if only for a short time, unlimited freedom.

"Calm down, Orihime, we still have three hours before the sun sets and opening ceremony begins." Rangiku Matsumoto, lieutenant of the tenth division, three time winner of Miss Seireitei, and one of Orihime's closest friends, watched the younger woman with rapt fascination. While Orihime possessed a bubbly spirit year round, nothing excited her like The Night of Masks. Rangiku knew that in Orihime's mind it was a night of fairytales and fancy, of ghosts and dreams. In the rigid world of the Seireitei, The Night Masks broke down barriers and tradition and opened up the society and its inhabitants to endless possibilities.

"Nah-uh, Rangiku, you don't fool me. You're looking forward to this as much as I am." Orihime cast an all too knowing look at her friend. She didn't doubt for a minute that the moment the opening ceremony finished that Rangiku would find a certain pale haired Captain and not be seen until the next morning when everyone would take off their masks. Rangiku blushed, offering up neither confirmation nor denial.

With a shared laugh, both women dived back into the pile of clothes before them to finish getting ready.

The Captains of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads stood on the dais with Captain Yamamoto in front of all. His wizened face looked out over the assembled crowd. A sea of masks looked back at him and one wouldn't know that beneath the colorful wardrobes and outlandish masks, lay the faces of his Soul Reapers. Even he could not tell who was who for the masks they all wore also held a kido incantation designed to disguise their spiritual pressure. He raised his arms and called out in a strong if aged voice.

"Tonight we remember those that have fallen since this night one year ago. We remember the hollows saved. We remember the living that have passed on to this world." He continued to speak, naming the names of each that had died, of every hollow purified. No one in the crowd uttered a single word until Yamamoto reached the end then in unison every one issued the same response.

"May peace touch the souls of those departed." The sun brightened in a single breathtaking instant just before it disappeared behind the mountain.

"Let The Night of Masks begin!" Yamamoto lowered his arms and in a blinding flash of kido all of the Captains disappeared. Each of them went off to don their own masks and wardrobe so that they too could join the festivities. A cheer went up from those assembled and fire works burst to life in the darkening sky. It didn't take long for the crowd to disperse.

She twirled freely through the hard packed dirt circle. Normally it was a placed used to spar and train, but tonight the main fighting circle had been transformed for dancing. Colorful lamps hung from crisscrossing ramps and cast a myriad of colors over the earthen floor. Not many people populated the dancing circle and for now, Orihime preferred it that way. She could spin and twirl without having to worry about knocking any one over. Faster and faster she went until her breathe came in sharp gasps broken by spurts of laughter from her lips. Just as her laughs reached a crescendo, her back impacted something soft but very solid.

Orihime gulped and turned around quickly. Her sight was level with the man's chest and she looked up with a sheepish smile. His eyes, like hers, remained hidden behind the tiny mesh screens imbedded in the mask. When his lips twisted into soft smile, the notion that she knew that expression tugged at her memory.

"I'm sorry, so sorry. I guess I should watch where I'm going huh?" She let out a nervous laugh and twisted her hands in the folds of the gown that she wore. He said nothing at first and just held out one hand to her. Without question, Orihime tucked her smaller hand into his.

'He's so warm,' That was her first thought upon her skin contacting his. Smooth and warm was his skin under hers. Orihime felt a strange charge race for just a moment up and down her spine.

"Please, Mi'Lady, grant me this dance." His warm, gentle voice sparked a bubbly euphoria in her mind, and she giggled, nodding vehemently at his request.

One arm slid around her waist and the hand already holding hers lifted up. His kind smile never changed and she found herself wholly drawn into the moment. No one ever asked her to dance, even on The Night of Masks. She was strange happy Orihime, friend to all but never more than that. It didn't matter that she was the Lieutenant of the Fourth Division, or that she could use kido exceptionally well. For some reason everyone (well almost) thought her as needing their protection and her tender heart their understanding. It was a situation she'd learned to live with over her long years as a Soul Reaper. But now, in this moment, she wasn't strange, sheltered Orihime in this man's eyes, and situation pushed another burst of euphoric laughter from her.

Orihime rested a hand on his shoulder and marveled at how well he led her through the airy motions of the dance. Each step had to be taken quickly and flawlessly so that the dancers appeared to glide on the air rather than touch the ground. Orihime looked down. The motion of his robe and her skirts entranced her. The fabrics of their clothing twined and shifted against one another in a hypnotic display. The vibrant blue of her gown contrasted sharply with the pale silvery color of his robe. Her smile deepened and she closed her eyes and concentrated until all she heard was the music, his breathes, and all she felt was the wind and the gentle pressure of his hands upon her.

It was his warm breathe against her ear that called her back to reality.

"What are you dreaming of, mi'Lady?" His low tone coiled in her ear and sparked light shivers in her chest. While her head tilted back up, she didn't open her eyes.

"If I close my eyes, it feels like we're really flying." She said with a satisfied sigh, thinking this might just be the best Night of Masks ever.

"Whatever the Lady wishes." He said with a smile she could hear though not see. Orihime giggled, glad to have someone indulge her flights of fancy instead of give her a weird look and a confused, resigned sigh. It wasn't until the wind sent a chill up her legs that Orihime opened her eyes. A sharp gasp left her when she saw that she and her mysterious partner now hovered above the rooftops and still moved through the graceful dance steps.

"I…thank you." She said in a small, sheepish tone and found herself glad that the confines of the mask hid her blush.

"What use is a night for dreaming if a few of them can't come true?" He asked with that same quiet, gentle smile. Somehow through the mesh screens obscuring their sight, their eyes locked together and the dance continued uninterrupted.

He pulled her closer, and she didn't protest.

She slid her hand from his shoulder to the curve of his neck, and he leaned into the motion.

The faster they spun, the closer they came. Her heart fairly hammering in her chest as an unknown urge blossomed in her mind.

'I want to kiss him,' She realized with no small amount of surprise. 'Well it is a night for dreams.'

With a burst of daring brought on by anonymity, Orihime quickly pushed up, pressing her lips briefly to his. Though her courage waned almost as fast and she released the tentative touch in the next instant. She looked away, worrying her lower lip with her teeth especially when he stopped spinning her around. Orihime did not know how to take his soft, rumbling laughter and resisted when his hand left hers and tried to tilt her chin upwards. When he persisted, she relented and looked up again.

"I think a proper kiss is in order." Her breath caught in her throat and the curve of his mouth left her mesmerized and helpless. When his slow decent ended with his lips warm and soft upon hers, Orihime unleashed a needy groan she didn't even know she held.

Instinct guided her when his teeth sank softly into her lower lip and Orihime stepped into him. The arm around her waist tightened and his hand released her chin only to slip under her arm and up to the back of her neck. The touch of his fingers on the nape of her neck sent pleasant tingles down her spine while the light touch of his tongue coaxed open her willing lips.

He wrapped her closer in his embraced and this oh so delightful fanciful tale spun around them. Her head tilted and her tongue touched and played with his. Orihime tasted the unfamiliar passion in his unhurried motions. Where others might fumble and rush in the heat of the moment, even though she herself felt a frenzy need, he continued his slow, deliberate tasting.

When he tried to break their kiss, Orihime's hands plunged into his hair and refused to let him back away from her. She almost giggled when she felt his surprise tense his strong body, but he understood the gentle pleading noises emanating from the back of her throat. It felt so wonderful with his body against hers and his lips and hands playing havoc with her senses. She only hoped he felt the same unfettered thrill.

Sadly, where it might have gone remained unknown when the first weak rays of dawn slashed oh so cruelly across her closed eyes. With a whimper she opened them, hoping that by sheer force of will she could keep the sun down a little longer.

His hand pressed hard into the small of her back and brought their flushed, breathless bodies as close as their clothes would allow. He seemed as reluctant to accept dawn's intrusion as she, yet his lips left hers and his forehead touched against her own.

"I fear, mi'Lady, that our story must end for now." Orihime calmed her breathing, or at least tried. A part of her wanted to break the magic and see who was behind the mask, but no the potential consequences frightened her. She didn't want an awkward relationship with anyone. So she nodded, nuzzling his neck and inhaling deeply so that she could imprint his scent into her memory.

"Thank you, and Goodbye." And then she added, "M'Lord," with an impish grin before flash stepping away back to the assembly place where the unmasking would take place. She missed his self-satisfied smile.

"Still dreaming of your mystery man, Orihime?" Rangiku teased as she leaned over a spacey Orihime's desk. The woman blushed from her cheeks to her chest which Rangiku found all too cute. Two weeks had passed since The Night of Masks, and it took nearly that long for Orihime to finally blurt out her surreal encounter to Ran.

"It's just hard wishing that I knew who he was and strangely glad that I don't." Orihime said with a frustrated sigh. No matter how hard she tried, the memory of his kiss would interrupt her at the most inopportune moments.

"Well maybe it's just your mind's way of telling you that you need to be more assertive and maybe finally ask out Shuhei?" Rangiky grinned deviously as Orirhime's blush deepened.

"Look just because I said he was good looking, doesn't mean I'm going to ask him Ran! What would he think?" Rangiku rolled her eyes and huffed.

"You're no fun, Hime. Besides your mystery man didn't mind you getting aggressive." When Orihime swatted at her, Rangiku danced out of the way and headed for the door. "Think about it!" She yelled before closing the door behind her. Orihime scowled and crossed her arms in front of her.

"Go away, Ran!" Orihime called out when a knock came to the division's door. Really that woman was too persistent at times. A horrible imagine flashed into Orihime's mind. What if Rangiku had ambushed Shuhei, tied him up and dragged him over here? The possibility seemed all too real and Orihime raced for the door, practically knocking it off its hinges in her haste

"You be…." She paused and blinked in surprised. "Captain Aizen! I'm sorry I thought you were someone else." The kindly man chuckled.

"So I heard. I'm sorry to disturb you so late, but I'm afraid there was a bit of an accident while my squad was practicing earlier. The Captain pulled up his torn sleeve to reveal a bloody bandage beneath it.

"Oh gosh, come in!" Orihime ushered him through the door and lead him to one of the treatment rooms. "Captain Unohana isn't in, I can get her if you like." Captain Aizen smiled gently and expression reached his warm eyes. He shook his head.

"Ah, come now Lieutenant Inoue, you should not discount your skills." He admired her blush even though she lowered her head. With gentle ease, Orihime helped him out of the long Captain's robe and gently rolled up his sleeve.

"Sir it looks like the blood had dried in places. It might hurt to get this off." He nodded and clenched his jaw. Orihime worked the bandage off gently, using water on the places where it had stuck. Still though, she heard his soft hiss on occasion.

"It doesn't look too bad, Captain Aizen. The wound is long, but it isn't deep." However his sleeve kept slipping down despite her best efforts. With a growl, she pushed it out of her way for the tenth time. He laugh again, softly and simply slipped the sleeve off his arm. Orihime did her best not to stare.

Being in the Fourth Division meant that she got to see a lot of naked, male chest, but never one of Aizen's stature. Usually Captain Unohana treated other Captains and it some how felt wrong, like she was breaking some moral code, to see him unclothed even a little. He grinned at her gently, shaking his head.

"I promise I don't bite hard, Lieutenant." He winked and the pair shared a laugh that erased Orihime's tension entirely.

"I'll remember that, Sir." She giggled before pulling a small tray containing various instruments. Though she possessed the power to heal nearly any wound with her Zanpakto, Captain Unohana had instructed her to only use her powers when necessary so that she would learn the other healing arts.

"I'm sorry, but this is going to see sting some, Sir." She looked up at him again cheerful smile. "Of course you could always do what I do, close your eyes and pretend your flying!" Without another word, Orihime dove into her task at hand, forgetting that a half naked Captain sat on the table in front of her.

"There!" She exclaimed. "All done." Orihime declared as she finished securing the bandage over her careful stitching. "As long as you don't strain it, it….." She looked up with a smile only to find Captain Aizen, without his glasses, staring her very intently with a strange look upon his face. "shouldn't scar." She finished her sentence in a distracted tone. Why was he looking at her like that?

"Do you like to fly?" He asked, but this time his voice was different. It was rumored that Aizen never had a hard word for anyone and an endless supply of both kindness and patience. Yet his voice contained a note of intimacy that shocked her. All she could was nod, too lost in and confused by his intense gaze. He leaned forward until he almost touched her.

"As mi'lady wishes." The shock on her face was priceless and would have been even more so if he hadn't been as shocked to discover it had been her behind the mask. Her hands still rested on his arm and he felt the heat of her flesh permeate the fabric of the bandage.

Invitingly, her lips remained partly open in her state of shock and he swore he heard the quickening of her heart. Slowly his hand lifted to her cheek, giving her more than ample time to pull away. Her soft gasp broke the air and his touch broke her mind out of its frozen state. Though then it was his turn for surprise when she bolted up from the small stool and stole a kiss from him.

Well perhaps steal is too strong a term for when she attempted to pull away, his good arm circled around her and crushed her lovely form to his. Not that she protested…..

Years later…

She coughed from the dryness in her mouth and uncomfortable weight of the collar around her throat. She'd long since lost the strength to stand for long periods of time with the weight of the chains around her wrists, ankles, and waist. Her bindings muted her spiritual pressure and bound her Zanpakto. Perhaps that was the most unnerving aspect of all. She could no longer hear the six voices know collectively as her Shun Shun Rika in the back of her head.

The door of her cell opened and Orihime didn't waste the energy to look and see who it was. His spiritual pressure was unmistakable, and the feel of it made her bristle. The chains rattled and he lifted her up by her arms. He was so gentle even now and somehow that just added to her anger and her despair.

One could say that he'd fooled her as surely as he had everyone else. Yet know she could recognize the moments when his façade had slipped. Even though she'd glimpsed his calculation and his ability to move others almost effortlessly with his will, Orihime had never once suspected it would lead to anything like this.

It's why she'd used her powers of rejection to rip a hole between the world of living and Hueco Mundo. It's why she'd torn through the barren desert, teaming with hollows to find him. She hadn't cared if the Soul Society thought her traitor because she'd known one thing at the time. Either she would die, or he would die. That she would be captured alive hadn't even entered in the equation during her grief fueled madness.

"What do you want?" She spits out with all the bare strength she possessed, even as she sagged in his arms.

"Ulquihorra tells me you refuse to eat, to take care of yourself. This displeases me, my Orihime." He stroked her hair so softly and the motion conjured up a thousand images, of times when she'd put his head on her chest and he'd done the same thing. Unbidden tears sprang to her eyes and her only solace was that he cannot see him. One arm moved away from her and she heard something scrap against the table next to her.

"I don't give a damn, Sosuke," His hand forced her chin up and she let out a gasp of pain from the pressure he applied. Like everything else about him, the rough gesture turned out to be nothing more than a ruse to get her to do exactly as he wanted. His lips fell upon hers and his hand held her jaw open, her head in place. Slowly the water, warmed by the interior of his mouth, trickled over her parched tongue. His lips worked over hers slowly as he fed her the small amount of water. When the last bit passed her lips, he pulled back.

Though his hold loosened, he did not let go. She couldn't help but look at him. While his eyes no longer bore the false, yet unending kindness of his days in the soul society, he did not look at her with the cold, calculating gaze he'd worn at the moment of his departure either. Once again she found herself entranced in the effort to figure out the mystery and the feeble hope that maybe everything hadn't been a carefully calculated lie.

He lifted the water bottle and drained a bit more from it. She didn't resist when his cooled lips touched hers again. How many times they repeated the process was lost to her. Only the surreal nature of it all touched her. That and the even, deliberate slide of his lips against hers. She couldn't remember what led up to the exact moment his tongue swept into her mouth, but it was the sudden weakness in her knees that broke the silent spell.

She pushed against his chest and turned her away, gasping for air and sanity.

"Stop, I'm not Momo. I won't keep believing your lies." The admission sounded weak to her ears, yet it was the truth. He might break her into nothing, but she wouldn't surrender to the illusion again. Aizen frowned and she thought she saw frustration in his expression.

His lips touched her neck and traveled up to her ear.

"If it was only your powers I wanted, Orihime, I would have bound you to me with the prettiest lies and unbreakable chains." His teeth tug at her ear lobe and she bites her lip against the slow fire starting in the pit of her stomach. "But your eyes I wanted open above all others. You are my own weakness." He murmured, "And no one will take you from me." After one last searing kiss, Aizen lowered her back to the ground. She refused to believe that she saw conflict in his eyes and looked away when he headed to the door.

"Eat, Orihime, or I will ensure that you do. This story doesn't have to end like this." Then the door closed behind him, once more casting her in darkness.