Man! You guys are great! Seven reviews total (3 new), 13 favorites, 5 alerts, and 222 hits (from 31 countries - I'm actually seeing one or two country's names I've never even heard of!). I'm very pleased!

So here is the third chapter of this story. It's longer than the others, and somewhat different, as the POV differs between sections, and, of course, none of it is canon. It is, however, somewhat more upbeat: I tried to put a little humor in there, where I could. Again, this could be taken as Ulquihime, or not. All depends on how you want to read it. Any part that is more romantic is usually there for humor's sake. There are also some parts that deal with Ulquiorra and his relationships with the other major characters, sometimes in connection with Orihime and sometimes not.

This is also the final chapter of this story, since it seems like a proper way to end it. However, writing this has given me the idea for a possible follow-up to this story, which would be inspired by this chapter, but written in my usual style, and would go into more events and more detail. It would most likely be a oneshot collection. Let me know if you guys would be interested in reading it!

Here are a few cultural notes for those of you not as familiar with Japanese culture:

In Japan, Valentine's Day is when girls give chocolate hearts to their male acquaintances/friends/sweethearts. "Giri choco," or "obligation chocolate," is given to non-romantic guys the girl knows, perhaps coworkers. "Honmei choco" ("chocolate of love," I think?), is for their sweetheart/boyfriend/husband.

Tanabata is a festival celebrated around July or August to celebrate a story of a couple who is separated for all time, except for one night a year (look it up, it's interesting!).

In Japan (or at least in Bleach), the school year begins at the beginning of the year and ends at the end (EDIT: actually, this is slightly off; the school year begins in April, and there is only a one week break between school years. My goodness...).

In Japan, high school students study for the "national exam" to enter college. It is very, very, very important.

And by the way, chopped potatoes, eggs, and ketchup is an actual recipe given to me by my mom, who learned it from her mom. It's actually very delicious.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the final installation of "Missetsu na Kokoro"! Please leave a review and let me know what you thought, and thanks again!

Oh, and by the way, to those of you who don't speak Japanese and don't know how to translate it, "Missetsu na Kokoro" is my best English-to-Japanese translation of "Connected Hearts."

Chapter 3: Ningen to Houro no Seimei

Orihime knew that she should have had a plan for what to do when he opened his eyes.

She even thought that she had had a plan for what to do, how to explain herself, and how to answer any questions he might have.

But the instant the glowing shield disappeared around him, Orihime only acted on impulse as she threw herself at him in a tight and relieved hug.

It took her pulling back a few moments later and seeing the shocked expression on his face to realize that maybe she should have been a bit less direct.

But Ulquiorra did not seem to mind.


Even Ulquiorra was not entirely sure how they came to the conclusion that he would go back with them.

He was just about certain that the Quincy did not want him there, for every time Ulquiorra made a movement, the Quincy stiffened as if ready to attack.

But as soon as Ulquiorra was back on his feet and had dusted himself off, Inoue Orihime smiled at him and the Quincy suggested that they try to get back to the human world to help out if they could.

Ulquiorra merely stood there on the dome as the Quincy and Inoue Orihime began to walk away.

But it did not take long for Inoue Orihime to turn around and look at him.

"Come on, Ulquiorra, let's hurry!" she called out to him.

And though he did not know what possessed him to do so, he followed her.


Kurotsuchi Mayuri gave them the news of the victory of the War by casual mention as soon as they were back within the dome.

Orihime, on the inside, was relieved beyond comprehension.

But a second later, she turned her head, looked Ulquiorra straight in the eyes, and took his hand.

Ulquiorra just looked at her.

That was the first time Orihime realized that Ulquiorra did not seem to care about the outcome of the War.

But she still held onto his hand.


It was on the journey back through the Garganta that Ulquiorra noticed that he was not the only Arrancar traveling with them.

The other Arrancar he recognized as the child Kurosaki Ichigo had been carrying with him during their first encounter in Las Noches.

He looked at her for a long time before she turned her head to look back at him.

And the first thing she did was scream.

It took plenty of coaxing from Inoue Orihime to calm her, but at last, she came to walk alongside him and stared up at him for a long time.

"What?" he asked after the silence.

"I'm Nel," she announced, as if expecting a response. "Nel Tu."

Ulquiorra blinked. "… and?"

"Your mask looks weird."


Ulquiorra knew from the very first moment that it was not going to be easy convincing the Soul Society to allow a former Espada to remain in the human world.

At first, he thought it was ridiculous for such a thing to even be requested.

He did not expect the captains of the fourth, eighth, and thirteenth divisions to put in a good word for him, along with all four of the humans, Urahara Kisuke and Shihoin Yoruichi.

He was allowed to stay with the humans, on the condition that he be kept in a restraining gigai under close supervision.

And Ulquiorra couldn't decide if the good words put in for him were acts of kindness or stupidity.


Orihime knew a little about gigais.

But she had never gotten to chance to see a soul get into one for the first time.

And she was certainly not prepared for the sight of two Ulquiorras, one lying limp in a chair, and one standing, still in his torn Arrancar uniform, staring and looking bored.

"And how am I to use it?" Ulquiorra asked.

Urahara-san smiled wide and opened his fan in front of his face. "We just put you into it, that's all!"

Orihime jumped when Jinta ran up behind Ulquiorra and gave him a hard kick to the center of his back.

And before she could gasp, the gigai was standing, blinking, pale, without a mask, and dressed in a school uniform.

Though she was sure Ulquiorra would not appreciate it, Orihime giggled.


Finding Ulquiorra a place to live was the first of his trials as a human.

Urahara Kisuke had been the first to offer residence, but within a day, Ulquiorra packed up and left, deciding that a staying with the man was not worth scrubbing all the store shelves with a human toothbrush.

Sado Yasutora, in an act of kindness apparently typical for him, had invited Ulquiorra to stay with him, but Ulquiorra had merely to walk inside to find that he would get not a hint of free space or privacy, and politely declined the invitation.

It had been suggested briefly for him to stay with Kurosaki Ichigo, but that idea was dismissed before it could even turn into a possibility.

It was entirely by accident that Ulquiorra found his place of residence, when Inoue Orihime invited him over for dinner, and he walked into the empty apartment next to hers by mistake.

When Orihime and the landlady came in to find the once-dusty apartment clean and tidy, with all the papers that had been stashed there organized, the landlady offered him the room on the condition that he help her with filing and chores on the weekends.

And that was how Ulquiorra Cifer and Inoue Orihime came to be next-door neighbors.


It was the first time that Ulquiorra actually ate dinner with Inoue Orihime that he got his first impression of human food.

He had gotten a few quick meals from Urahara Kisuke, but he had never suspected that those were to be taken as normal.

So he was not in the least bit surprised when Inoue Orihime skipped out of the kitchen carrying a large platter with a bowl of potato chips, curry mixed with chopped chocolate, noodles topped with ketchup and wasabi, and something that looked like sliced fruit.

After the meal she seemed very anxious when she asked him if he liked it.

He set down his chopsticks. "The chocolate is too sweet, but the meal was … good."

He couldn't understand why it was that she smiled so ridiculously wide. But he couldn't say he minded.


The first thing Ulquiorra saw when he walked into the classroom on his first day of human high school was a strange girl with short black hair aiming a punch at Inoue Orihime.

And he wasted no time in snatching the girl's wrist in his own tight grasp, ready to break her arm in two.

It took Orihime nearly a minute to stutter out a full explanation.

That was how Ulquiorra Cifer met Arisawa Tatsuki.

He already did not quite like her.

He saw from the looks she gave him from across the room that she did not particularly like him either.

And at least once, he strangely saw Inoue Orihime put her face in her palm and sigh.


Later that same week, the Tatsuki girl invited him to a friendly sparring match.

He did not particularly want to fight the girl, but the idea made Inoue Orihime smile very wide, so he had trouble saying no.

He won the match, even in his gigai and even without using any more than slightly above average human strength.

Tatsuki never looked at him quite the same after that.

After that, she started smiling.

They sparred together Friday afternoons from that day on.


The first exam of the school year came very quickly, and Orihime did all she could to teach Ulquiorra how to study.

She was more nervous for him than for herself when they sat down to take the test.

When results were posted a few days later, there was a commotion in the hallway next to the bulletin board.

The group of them did not even need to see the announcement. The other students all looked over to them as soon as they arrived.

Ranked second, Ishida Uryu.

Ranked first, Ulquiorra Cifer.

Orihime offered Ulquiorra her most enthusiastic congratulations.

She invited Ishida-kun out for ice cream after school, but he declined, saying that he had to get home and study.


It did not take Ulquiorra long to notice that on the 13th of February, Inoue Orihime began acting very strange.

She seemed peppier and happier than he had seen her in a while.

She laughed more, if that was possible, and her smile got even more ridiculous.

At first, Ulquiorra thought she might be ill, and began looking up local doctors.

It took an act of what might have been called mercy by Kurosaki Ichigo to explain that the next day was Valentine's Day.

But took an even more merciful act by the Quincy to explain what Valentine's Day was.


Ulquiorra woke up the next day to find a small strangely-shaped box with a yellow bow under his pillow.

He opened the box and found what the Quincy had called a chocolate heart.

He stared at that chocolate heart for a long time.

And though the thought was brief, he found himself wondering if it was giri or honmei.

He also found himself wondering how the girl had gotten into his apartment in the first place.


He went over to Inoue Orihime's apartment for breakfast.

She still had that goofy grin on her face and had prepared a mixture of chopped potatoes, eggs, and ketchup that was now steaming on the table.

Without a word, Ulquiorra broke the chocolate heart in half and held one half out to her.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, her face going red and her hands flying up in front of her. "I can't take that! It's yours! Really!"

Ulquiorra held it out again. "You will take it, woman. I will not eat any if you do not."

Inoue Orihime took the chocolate.

And over breakfast, he noticed that she never once stopped smiling.


Ulquiorra could tell very easily that Inoue Orihime's friends did not particularly like him.

Kurosaki Ichigo treated him just the same as before, blunt and a little rude, but he never once brought up the events of the dome. Ulquiorra figured that was for the best.

Ishida Uryu seemed to have convictions against both Hollows and Shinigami, so Ulquiorra did not expect him to show much kindness. Yet the Quincy still treated him politely and occasionally helped him to assimilate to the human world.

It took Ulquiorra a while to realize that the Quincy believed he had saved his life, however accidentally, and felt that he was in debt.

Sado Yasutora, he found, was gentler than the rest, despite his size and brute strength. He did not talk much, but when he did he was kind. Ulquiorra supposed Sado Yasutora was the closest he had to a friend of any of them.

Abarai Renji and Kuchiki Rukia, when they visited from the Soul Society, seemed to be trying to remain indifferent to his presence. But Abarai Renji made a habit of yelling at him when he was in a bad mood, even if Ulquiorra had done nothing amiss, and Kuchiki Rukia, he supposed, still held a bit of a grudge for what he had done to Kurosaki Ichigo.

But she spoke to him without yelling, and once even smiled in his direction. He could not figure out for a long time afterward whether she had been forcing herself to do so or not.

Ulquiorra did not care what humans—or Shinigami—thought of him. Even if they were not trash, their opinions did not matter.

But on the days when it seemed that they disliked him a little more than usual, Ulquiorra was glad that he still had Inoue Orihime.


The first time Ulquiorra even saw Kurosaki Ichigo's home was when his father invited him over for dinner through a message given to Tatsuki.

Ulquiorra was not particularly keen on spending time with the boy or his family, but he supposed that declining the invitation would just make the tension between them even more concrete, so he reluctantly accepted.

He was greeted at the front door first by the young Arrancar Nel, who had apparently taken up residence there, and then by a man with a messy look about himself. The man greeted him enthusiastically with a very firm Western-style handshake.

"Welcome! So glad to finally meet you! I'm Kurosaki Isshin, Ichigo's father!"

"Ulquiorra Cifer," Ulquiorra introduced himself, trying very discreetly to remove his hand from the man's grip.

Kurosaki Ichigo's younger sisters didn't seem much like the boy at all, though the one with the black hair had a little of his sarcastic personality. The taller one was friendly as could be, and Ulquiorra had to wonder if any of this family had any idea who he really was.

It all went quite well, until Ulquiorra had taken a seat at the table and had several plates of steaming food placed in front of him.

For that was when the girl called Yuzu called out, "Nii-chan! Come eat your dinner!"

That was when Kurosaki Ichigo waltzed unexpectedly into the kitchen, and his eyes immediately went as wide as saucers.

That was also when Ulquiorra learned that Kurosaki Isshin had invited him over without once consulting his son.


Orihime had been knitting a new hat for herself when Ulquiorra knocked on her door that Sunday afternoon.

She invited him to sit down and have some tea. It was a simple recipe she had made before, bland in her opinion but apparently good in his, but he did not take a single sip.

After a very long silence she asked him what was wrong.

He looked away. "What do humans do," he started, his voice quiet, "when they have done something they regret?"

Orihime set down her tea. "They apologize."

Ulquiorra stood up from the table, leaving his cup full. He looked down at her, his hands in his pockets, his eyes soft.

"Then I am sorry."

Orihime sat there for a long time after he left.

And she did not drink any more of her tea.


He did not speak to her for a week after that, and she began to think that he was ill or she had hurt him somehow.

She finally caught sight of him walking into his apartment one afternoon, and grabbed his arm to stop him from going inside.

"What are you sorry for?" she asked in a firm tone.

He blinked and stared to the side. "I have caused you pain."

Orihime drew in a sharp breath.

Then, slowly, she removed her hand from his arm and moved it over to touch him softly on the shoulder.

He looked to her when she smiled.

"But now you bring me joy."

Ulquiorra did not say anything.

But he did not seem sad again for a long time.


Ulquiorra supposed it was by his own luck that he was walking home from school with the Quincy when he met Ishida Ryuken.

He noticed his presence without difficulty and glanced to the side, only to see a glowing bow and arrow aimed at him from a mere two meters away, held by a suited man with white hair.

"Step away from him, Uryu," the man announced as Ulquiorra stared at him in boredom. "Or you may get hit as well."

It took Ishida Uryu five full minutes to explain why an Arrancar in gigai was walking with him on the street.

It took Ulquiorra only two to quietly turn away from them and find his own way home.


Ulquiorra only used his powers once during his first year living with the humans.

It was on a quiet afternoon when he was in the park with Inoue Orihime, and he heard the familiar screeching of a Hollow.

He did not even look to see her reaction before he forced himself out of his gigai with his own power and sliced the Hollow once down the head with his sword.

It was not until he turned around that he realized Inoue Orihime was staring at him in shock.

Several nearby humans had passed out from his reiatsu, there had been significant damage done to the surrounding area, and Urahara Kisuke had to make him a new gigai, since his old one had been destroyed from the force of him escaping it.

He had also gotten several stunned looks from Kurosaki Ichigo and Ishida Uryu and a scolding from Shihoin Yoruichi before a full day could go by.

It wasn't until a few days later that Inoue Orihime approached him at random and asked why he had acted so impulsively.

Ulquiorra waited a long time before he glanced briefly away.

"I did not want you to get hurt."

And then he walked away, fully aware of Inoue Orihime practically gaping at him as he did so.


It was on June 17th that Ulquiorra learned something new about Kurosaki Ichigo.

No one seemed to question why he was not at school that day. Even Inoue Orihime.

Tatsuki was the one who finally approached him after class and explained what had happened on that date seven years before.

Ulquiorra had never seen Arisawa Tatsuki look that sad.

And suddenly, Ulquiorra understood more about humans than he had before.

It was only a little.

But it was there.


It was in late July when Inoue Orihime showed up at his door one evening dressed in a pink kimono and carrying a dark blue yukata in her arms, a wide smile on her face.

When he gave her a strange look, she giggled nervously.

"Well, you see, I was going to get you a green one, since I know you like green more than blue, but when I was picking one out for you I saw this really great blue one and I thought 'Wow, I think that would look great on him!' so I …"

It took her nearly three minutes to stop talking.

It took her five minutes longer to announce that that night was a human holiday called Tanabata.


Ulquiorra had never heard of Tanabata.

By extension, he had certainly never heard of a Tanabata Festival, nor did he see the point of celebrating a day because of a silly human story.

But he still found himself walking with Inoue Orihime down the street toward the hustle and bustle of the bright and colorful lights in the distance.

As his dark blue yukata flapped in the wind around him, and his maskless hair blew with it, Ulquiorra thought of how the other Espada would have laughed if they saw him now.

But as he glanced toward the girl who walked with him, he knew quite certainly that, even if they had, he would not have cared.


Tanabata was filled with fireworks, and colors, and people wandering about the festival dressed in kimonos and yukatas.

There were games that made no sense and had no point, games that Inoue Orihime insisted on playing, though Ulquiorra tried to convince her, however briefly, that there was no good reason to.

They even ran into Inoue Orihime's friends, all dressed in the same traditional attire—save Kurosaki Ichigo, who was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans—and Ulquiorra tried to hide his annoyance with the group and their ridiculous enthusiasm.

But as the night wound to an end, and the two of them started on their way back to the apartments, Inoue Orihime stopped briefly on the street and smiled at him.

He glanced down to see that she had taken both of his hands in hers.

"Thank you for coming," she nearly whispered.

And suddenly, though he said nothing in return, Ulquiorra thought that perhaps the evening was not quite as ridiculous as he had thought.


The first holiday that was properly announced to Ulquiorra in due time before the event was Inoue Orihime's birthday.

Ulquiorra did not bother to ask what it was, or why it was important. He deciphered the word's components and origin and took his own guess.

Kurosaki Ichigo and Ishida Uryu took him out to shop for gifts with them the day before the party.

He watched Kurosaki Ichigo pick out a pink blouse with ruffles and a floral pattern.

He watched Ishida Uryu purchase a silver necklace with the kanji for "joy" on a small plate hanging from the end.

When they reminded him that they were about to leave, he was still standing there, staring at the store around him like a foreign world.

It was only when they yelled at him for the third time to hurry up that he snatched a golden pin shaped like a heart off of a nearby shelf and placed it silently on the front desk.


Orihime ate a chocolate cake with red bean paste for icing, green bean jelly filling, and bits of eggplant on top at her birthday party.

Everyone else politely declined their slice. Ulquiorra took one bite and commented that it was too sweet, but it wasn't bad.

He did not anticipate the stunned expressions all the other guests gave him for a long time afterward.


When Orihime received her pink blouse, she smiled very wide and thanked Kurosaki Ichigo twice.

When she opened her silver necklace with the kanji for "joy," she squealed and clapped her hands until Ishida Uryu's face turned bright red.

But when she unwrapped the little box and removed the heart pin from inside, she leapt over the piles of wrapping paper and hugged Ulquiorra tight.

Ulquiorra did not understand her. But the rest of the group did not hesitate to laugh.


Ulquiorra had heard his fair share of strange questions from humans.

But the strangest ones were almost always from Kurosaki Ichigo.

And the strangest one from him came out of the blue, when they both happened to arrive early to an evening study group and had fallen into a long, awkward silence.

"Are you going out with Inoue?"

Ulquiorra glanced up from the book he had brought along to read. "Going out where?"

And Kurosaki Ichigo had never laughed so hard.


Ulquiorra waited until they had arrived home, and he was in the middle of their noodles, eggs, and chocolate chips.

He looked at her as she took a sip of her juice.

"Are we going out?"

Inoue Orihime choked on her drink, and Ulquiorra spent all of two minutes making sure she could breathe again.

Ulquiorra did not ask her again, and the topic was dropped.


A week later, a chuckling Kurosaki Ichigo explained what "going out" meant.

And he broke into another fit of laughter when Ulquiorra stared at him with the eyes almost as wide as saucers.


It was two weeks after her own birthday party had ended that Orihime asked him when his birthday was.

He gave her a strange look when she gasped upon him telling her very plainly that he didn't have one.

Orihime thought that was very sad.

Ulquiorra just went back to his homework.


The following Monday evening, Ulquiorra walked into his apartment to find a large group of people yelling "surprise!"

He hoped no one noticed that his hand had gone instinctively to his waist to grasp the hilt of a sword that wasn't there.

The other guests, some of them humans and some of them Shinigami and some of them Vizards and even the young Arrancar Nel, chatted amongst themselves as Ulquiorra approached Inoue Orihime to ask her exactly what was going on.

She smiled. "It's your birthday party. You said you didn't have a birthday, so I gave you one. September 23rd."

Ulquiorra did not say anything more about it.


Orihime offered to do the dishes after the guests had left.

Ulquiorra stood for a long time in the main room of the house, looking at nothing in particular.

It almost made her jump when he showed up behind her.

"Thank you," he whispered, his gaze strictly locked with hers.

Orihime beamed.


Orihime knew that by the time the end of October rolled around, she should have realized that Ulquiorra knew nothing about human holidays.

But still, she couldn't help but feel surprised when she asked him what he was going to do for Halloween, and he just looked at her.

Her five-minute explanation didn't change his blank stare. He merely glanced away and muttered something she couldn't make out.

Orihime sighed a little sadly and walked away.


"Why does Orihimwe look sad, Ulquiorra-sama?"

Ulquiorra glanced at the child who sat next to him as Kurosaki Ichigo's younger sister finished dinner, not bothering to remind her that he no longer needed to be addressed in such a manner. "How would I know, child? Perhaps she isn't pleased that I refused to participate in this Halloween festivity."

"So Ulquiorra-sama made Orihimwe sad!" the Arrancar child almost shouted.

Ulquiorra let out a soft breath. "Perhaps."

She paused and stuck out her bottom lip and crinkled her eyebrows. "If Ulquiorra-sama made Orihimwe sad, Ulquiorra-sama should make Orihimwe happy again!"

To this, Ulquiorra said nothing.

But he did not forget it.


Orihime had just gotten into her costume when she heard a knock on the door.

She opened it cautiously.

And her jaw dropped when she saw Ulquiorra standing there with a large black hooded cloth draped over all but his face, and what appeared to be a mask that had been moved briefly up to the top of his head.

"Ulquiorra … what are you wearing?" she asked, blinking.

"Is this not what you do on Halloween?" Ulquiorra asked as if a little confused, obviously shifting around within the cloth. His eyes flicked over her. "And is that not why you are wearing false wings and that golden circle above your head?"

Orihime had never smiled so wide, and even she was sure that she had never hugged Ulquiorra so tight.


Everyone seemed to know what the girl was mimicking with her costume, though Ulquiorra could never quite figure it out.

But by the looks they gave him, no one at Urahara Kisuke's Halloween party seemed to have a clue about him.

Finally, Shihoin Yoruichi wandered up to him in her black cat outfit and gave him an odd smile. "So what are you supposed to be?"

Ulquiorra looked at her for a long time.

At last, he closed his eyes and sighed quietly, before reaching up to the mask he had kept above his head and moving it to rest in front of his face.

He heard a very loud, boisterous laugh.

"You're a Gillian!"

Ulquiorra instantly decided that next year he would give himself more time to think of a less amusing costume.


The anniversary of the victory of the Winter War had become a holiday in the Soul Society, and hoards of Shinigami crowded into the warehouse of the Vizards for the celebration that November.

Ulquiorra sat on the roof.

It took only ten minutes before he heard the faint sound of someone climbing up and walking along the roof behind him.

He glanced up to see Inoue Orihime gazing at him.

She didn't say a word, but merely sat down next to him and placed one of her warm peachy hands over his own.

And Ulquiorra did not feel quite so alone.


Due to his high marks, the teacher suggested that Ulquiorra take the national exam early with her special permission.

Orihime convinced him to agree.

Not long after, the teacher took pride in announcing to the class that Ulquiorra Cifer had received a full scholarship to attend university one year early.

Even Ishida-kun offered his congratulations, but Orihime couldn't help but notice that his study habits got even more obsessive after that.

Ulquiorra asked her after class what the big deal was.

Orihime just smiled, patted him softly on the shoulder, and said that that evening, she would bake him a cake.


According to the teacher, Ulquiorra could have attended a top university in Tokyo without having to pay a single yen.

But Ulquiorra applied and was accepted to a small, respectable school a few kilometers outside of Karakura.

When Orihime confusedly asked him why he would turn up the opportunity of a lifetime, he was silent for a good few minutes.

"Because," he answered at last. "You have taught me that some things are worth more than such opportunities."

Orihime tilted her head. "And what's that? What's more important to you than that scholarship?"

Ulquiorra looked to the ground, and after a few seconds of silence, turned to walk away.

But briefly, before he did so, he glanced back in her direction.

"You."

And then he left.


It was a quiet, uneventful night in December when Ulquiorra found himself on the roof of the apartment with Inoue Orihime, watching a fireworks display.

As the colors burst and exploded in the distance, she watched them, and he watched her, and he couldn't help but notice that her face seemed to glow.

"Why?"

She looked at him and raised both eyebrows. "Why what?"

"Why did you bring me back?" he asked, his green eyes serious, but not unkind.

It was a very long time before she did anything.

But at last, she scooted the short distance between them and reached over to take one pale hand in her own warm fingers.

He watched a smile glow on her lips and in her eyes.

"Because," she whispered.

And though he could never be sure exactly why, and as the sky filled with color and light, for the first time, Ulquiorra Cifer felt truly content.