Chapter 8: Revelations and Reassignment
Warning: This chapter isn't as angsty as the last, but it's there. I apologize for the lack of fluff, however I hope the ending makes up for it.
Ulquiorra watched the child's chest rise and fall rhythmically. She lay on a metal table in the middle of the Octava's theater, her face peaceful beneath the bright lights of the lab. She'd been unconscious for some time now, more than thirty minutes at least; and even though she continued to breathe normally, Ulquiorra was concerned. He could discern the beginnings of a hand shaped bruise forming around her frail neck, and though her breath came evenly, it still sounded rough and wheezy, as if her airway had been damaged.
He was completely at a loss for what to do. He was no scientist, no medic; he knew nothing. He didn't have the in depth medical knowledge required to diagnose and aid the child. He only knew how to fight, strategize, and analyze his opponent as well as kill and psychologically build up and break them down. He knew how to treat his own wound's should he become injured, but in healing others, he knew nothing. He felt completely useless.
If only he'd declined the request for assistance, if only he'd left the training room when he had the chance, then maybe, maybe this wouldn't have happened. As irritated as he wished to remain at the Octava, at the Tercera and especially the Quinta, really he was the one at fault, the one to blame for the child's misfortune. She was his obligation, his duty. It was his job to do anything and everything necessary to protect her. Not put her in possible harms way.
He felt a pang of something then, within him, something he couldn't identify, something that hurt.
And it disturbed him immensely.
He didn't feel anything. It…was wrong.
He shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind, to shake the unusual feeling off and made himself focus on other more important issue.
Like the fact that on the way to the Octava's laboratory, he was confronted by the Lord himself. He'd been quite displeased to see the condition their 'guest' was in and had immediately demanded an explanation. Ulquiorra had obliged, albeit reluctantly as not only did the information incriminate the Octava, Quinta and Tercera, but himself as well.
Upon Ulquiorra's admission, his Lord had gone silent; his face almost stone like as he'd stared down at the child, his usual charismatic, warm expression gone. His brown eyes had gained a cold gleam; similar to the one Ulquiorra had worn as he'd walked out on the Octava. Ulquiorra had seen that look several times, such as during their last meeting when the Sexta had been insubordinate. So wisely, he remained silent, pensive, wondering what sort of punishment his Lord would deem him in need of.
He wasn't surprised when his Lord broke the silence only to demand his and the Octava's presence as soon as the child was taken care of and in stable condition; in fact Ulquiorra expected him to make such a decision. After all, it wasn't entirely his fault that the child lay in such condition on the laboratory table before him.
However, it would be his fault if her condition worsened, as it was he who left the Octava vindictively at the hands of the Quinta. The thought of the child scientist finally made Ulquiorra aware of the ever present whispering and footsteps of his Fraccion that were hovering in the background anxiously, wondering why Ulquiorra was there and where their Master had gone off to.
He knew where the Octava was and suddenly was regretting the decision in leaving him behind. Not because he was concerned for his well being at the hands of the Quinta, but because he was tired of waiting. He was impatient, the feeling that continued to nag at him only making him more so and soon he was found staring almost heatedly at the closed laboratory door, willing it to open.
He wasn't sure how much time passed with him staring, unfocused into space, when suddenly it swung open. A haggard, pale and slightly bloody scientist strode through like he owned the place; which of course he did. He immediately passed Ulquiorra like he wasn't even there, whether by accident or on purpose he couldn't tell through his analyzation of the Octava's current state of carefully hidden distress. He watched as the scientist made a beeline towards a backroom, bypassing the child to grab a short stool. He used this to prop himself up in front of the laboratory table, giving him the height he once had in order to better assess the damage done.
Ulquiorra approached him, standing beside the Octava's left shoulder, his eyes only for the unconscious child before him. He watched as her mouth was pried open just enough for the scientist to shine a tiny light inside, presumably to assess the damage done to her throat and 'tsking' at the hand shaped bruise that was by then clearly visible on her neck. Then he pulled out a stethoscope and used it to check her heart rate, all the while ignoring Ulquiorra's presence. Afterwards, the Octava carefully inspected the rest of her frail body, searching for broken bones, sprains and fractures that may have occurred in the short fall. It wasn't until he got down to her ankles that he let out an unconscious hiss. Before Ulquiorra could ask what he'd discovered, the Octava had removed her shoe and flitted away for the second time.
When he returned, it was with a small tub of healing salve and a roll of elastic bandage wrap. Upon seeing this, Ulquiorra decided he could keep silent no longer. "Will the child be alright?" This was asked a bit more heatedly than he'd intended, with a bit more feeling than was permissible, as he still had that annoying tinge of…something…plaguing him. Something he couldn't name, or didn't want to.
Szayel paused begrudgingly in his ministrations to address his superior, who he still resented for abandoning him at the hands of the Quinta. He inwardly noted with some amusement the hardly veiled emotion in the stoic Espada's voice and the way Szayel was being watched attentively as he analyzed and administered treatment to the girl. If the scientist didn't know better, he'd say there was a bit of guilt lacing the Cuatro's relatively simple question. This in turn brought a rather vindictive smile to Szayel's face; a smile he inwardly cursed himself for indulging in as it nearly resplit his busted lip.
When he spoke his voice came out weary, though no less confident in his diagnosis. "Yes, Inoue-chan will be fine. Her throat is obviously bruised, as well as the muscles inside, though not dangerously so. They are stable enough on their own and are not in need of an endotracheal tube to assist her in breathing. She also has a mild sprain." He indicated this by pointing towards her left ankle which was swollen and slightly discolored. "It's not broken, I can tell just by looking at it. The salve I will apply for pain, which will also cause it to heal at a quicker rate and then wrap it. She must stay off it for a week at the very least."
He paused in his explanation, turning slightly to look at the normally stoic Espada, a shadow of false concern darkening his features. "Why do you ask, Ulquiorra-sama? You're not…ill are you? If I didn't know you for the Aspect of Emptiness, I'd say you sound concerned, guilty even!" In his feigned show of distress, he brought up his arm in attempt to place a clothed wrist against the Cuatro's forehead, only to snap it back in a grimace of pain, barely holding back the startled gasp it caused.
He was suddenly reminded of his broken clavicle and it turned his once merrily vindictive expression sour. He'd been so focused on the problem at hand that he'd completely blocked out the wound; and now everything it represented returned with startling clarity. Not only that, he was irritated that he'd been cut off in the middle of his deceptively mocking jeer. Humiliated, and hurting both mentally and physically, he grew defensive, spitting out a cynical barb as he turned back to his work; his bitterness renewed at his superiors blatant disregard for his subordinates welfare. "Of course, after your earlier display of cool detachment, I'm surprised you can feel anything at all."
He stated this with the upturn of his petite nose, completely ignoring the Cuatro as he uncapped the small tub of salve and began applying it to the marred skin of the child's neck, then ankle; losing himself to his task as he did so.
However, Ulquiorra had begun reflecting upon the scientists comment at the word 'guilt' and was no longer paying him any attention, completely missing the bitter remark regarding his typically stoic personality. The feeling, the pain that flared and grew within him the longer he stared at the unconscious child, at the bruise still darkening around her thin neck and at her discolored ankle; that feeling…was guilt?
No…impossible. The Cuatro Espada, the Aspect of Emptiness, didn't feel remorse, let alone guilt. The scientist was wrong; this feeling that burned within him was not guilt. No, it was something else, most likely the lingering effects of the failure he'd incurred through letting harm come to his charge, his obligation and duty. He'd failed in the task set before him, allowing misfortune to befall their guest.
Yes that was it. His failure, it was paining him. But why? Since when did failure bother him so much before? 'Maybe because I've never failed before.' He thought reluctantly. It was his duty to assist their Lord Aizen-sama and complete the objectives set before him and up until then had done so with unwavering accuracy.
But in this task he failed, miserably; and inwardly he was bothered by it. But wouldn't that be similar to feeling guilt? The feeling that increased as he continued to look upon the child told him so, as much as he wished to deny it.
He was displeased over his failure, failure that aided in the unfortunate condition he found his charge in; a condition which he found himself feeling responsible for. A feeling the Octava mockingly identified as guilt.
The cries of the previously unconscious child brought him out of his reflective state of mind. He refocused his eyes, watching as she slowly came to awareness and struggled to comprehend what had befallen her.
What ended up bringing Little Hime to near consciousness was the sharp pain that flared up through her ankle as something or someone probed it, causing her to awake with a pained sob. Her eyes blinked open rapidly, only to shut them immediately as she was blinded by the rooms bright light. The sharp pain happened again and this time her shut eyes filled to the brim with tears which started spilling down her soft cheeks as she sobbed. The stabbing pain continued until it faded to a low throb, dulled by the cream and bandages she didn't realize had been applied to it.
As she cried, her throat grew constricted, making the bruising and tenderness in the muscles even more apparent, confusing her. She didn't know where she was or what had happened to hurt her so badly. She couldn't remember.
"Shhhhh Inoue-chan. It's alright. Calm down. You're inside my theater."
A soothing voice caught her attention that sounded vaguely familiar and she latched onto it desperately, focusing on it. She fought to open her eyes again and blinked frantically in an attempt to clear her bleary vision. She caught a flash of pink and felt a wisp of aura and immediately recognized who it was.
"Pi—Pinky?" she choked this out between hiccupped sobs which intensified as she realized just sore her throat was. "My…throat hurts." She whispered this out feebly and raised a hand to hesitantly rub at her bruised throat as if that would help get her point across.
"I know Inoue-chan. Give me a minute and I'll fix you up a bit of warm chamomile tea, okay?" Szayel said this clearly, in an unusually warm, calming voice as he shown the small light into the child's eyes and checked her pupil dilation. It was about time she'd regained consciousness. Sprained foot, sore and bruised throat aside, he deemed her in decent health.
"I'll be back in a moment Inoue-chan with something to make your throat feel better, okay?"
"I'm afraid we do not have time for that." Ulquiorra interrupted. "I encountered Aizen-sama on the way here and he has requested our presence in the throne room as soon as the child was deemed in suitable condition to attend." Ulquiorra tore his eyes from the child almost reluctantly, feeling a painful twinge as he did so. "I suggest we go now, as Aizen-sama is most displeased and will be angered further if made to wait longer than necessary."
Szayel paused from stepping down from his stool. The Cuatro was right, unfortunately for the child, an audience with their Lord took precedence over all else. "Ah, I see. In that case…" He turned back to the child and made sure he had her attention once more before speaking. "How would you like to go see Nii-sama, Inoue-chan? After we see him we can get something for your throat, okay?"
Little Hime tore her attention from the Clown, who she'd been focusing on intently through her watery eyes. Eyes that were red and puffy, yet despite this, they lit up a fraction at the mention of seeing her Nii-sama. She nodded just visibly, not wanting to speak, and not wanting to move her stiff neck. When Pinky smiled back at her, she returned it, albeit wearily, before shifting her gaze to her guardian.
Ulquiorra was oblivious to the child that stared up at him and instead watched as the Octava turned to him, his warm smile fading as the seriousness of the situation settled upon him.
"If you'll give me a moment to change into something more appropriate, we'll be on our way." He said this with a sneer, his tone slightly accusing. After all, it was partially the Cuatro's fault that his clothing was in the disgraceful state it was in. Not one to dally, he immediately hopped off his stool and quickly made his way out of the laboratory.
Ulquiorra watched him go detachedly before his attention was called back to the child, who had by then had managed to push herself upright into a sitting position and was still staring up at him with watery eyes.
He watched as a wave of awkwardness and guilt overcoming him as the child raised her arms expectantly. It was quite obvious what she was asking for but he couldn't quite bring himself to accept it. Despite the pain she was in, despite his failure as the guardian who'd been assigned to protect her, she still wished to be in his presence. Yet…she was a mere child. She didn't know better. He'd been her only constant in her short life since the accident. This thought and her actions made him suddenly aware of how much the child had begun to rely on him.
The guilt tugged even harder at him while he continued to stare down at the child, who still had the occasional stray tear sliding down her flushed cheeks.
The incessant nagging of his guilt pulled harder at him, driving him to do something, anything to help the pathetic human in front of him. And before he could stop himself, he did; reaching out to pick her up beneath her arms and holding her awkwardly to his chest, letting his hands fall to catch her legs, which reflexively wrapped around his waist. Little Hime in turn wrapped her tiny arms around his shoulders and borrowed into his neck, seeking the little protection he could offer in her confusion. He stood there stiffly, body tense as the child clung to him, feeling exceptionally awkward and wracking his mind for a logical reason for why he'd picked the child up in the first place.
"I don't feel good Ulqui…"
Ulquiorra felt a painful tug within him at her mumbled words that couldn't be anything other than the guilt of his failure. Unconsciously his grip on her tightened, but only just. "I know." Those were the only words he spoke to her since she awoke and continued to remain silent thereafter, while they waited for the Octava to return.
That was exactly how Szayel found them when he'd walked back into his laboratory; clean uniform donned and shoulder on the mend after a small injection of condensed liquid reishi. After having a bit of time to himself and mind been given the opportunity to think upon the unpleasant memories of what happened that day, his mood had turned even darker. So when he walked in and saw the two it was with a sardonic air he informed them he was ready.
"Good, I see you've taken the initiative to carry Inoue-chan to our destination. It seems you're capable of mercy after all, and all it took was a bit of failure and a wounded human child to bring it out. Hmph." He arched his brow as he said this before turning away disdainfully and heading towards the exit. "Let us leave, the longer we make Aizen-sama wait, the worse our punishment will be." This was said bitterly as he did not looking forward to confronting their Lord. He had enough problems and stress to deal with as it is, the last thing he needed was a reprimand to top it all off.
Ulquiorra stared after him incredulously, fuming inwardly at his words though not a flicker of emotion was discernible on his features. He wasn't going soft, as the scientist not-so-subtly accused him of. The child was his obligation, his responsibility. It was his duty to make sure the child was protected; and in that he failed. However, it wasn't his duty to care for the child as he was now. Yet, in this his logic prevailed. Yes he could force the child to walk, but it would hurt her, something he was supposed to prevent. Carrying her would also allow them to travel quicker; rather than having to wait upon the crippled child and making their Lord wait longer than was needed.
But there was another reason he held the child, a feeling that continued to nag at him as they made their way from the Octava's wing to the throne room; a feeling that had been recently named 'guilt.'
'Guilt that was born from his failure, not from the fact that the child was hurt.'
He repeated this thought again and again in his head as they entered the throne room.
He strode inside, following the Octava who had immediately dropped to a knee in subservience. Ulquiorra would have done the same if not for the child, so he stood there, head bowed and eyes down respectfully while he glanced at the others from his peripheral vision.
The Tercera was there to his left, standing with her arms crossed and looking quite collected behind her mask. She shot Ulquiorra a questioning look, her eyes lingering momentarily on the child in his arms. If Ulquiorra didn't know better, he could have sworn that she smirked behind her mask, the expression reaching up to her eyes and making them glimmer knowingly. However it was gone as quick as it was there, her eyes shifting back to their Lord respectfully.
The Quinta was leaning against the wall to his right, his posture tense despite his relatively casual stance. He'd been glaring resentfully at Gin when they'd walked in, however when his eyes alighted upon the Octava, his expression changed to a promising leer.
Gin on the other hand was standing behind and to the right of their Lord; his eyes slits and a small, knowing smile on his face aimed at the Octava.
Then, there was their Lord, whose expression and demeanor he couldn't discern through his lowered gaze.
"How fares our guest Cuatro Espada?" His voice came out falsely warm as Ulquiorra watched him approach, his feet drawing ever closer.
Ulquiorra answered without preamble, knowing that delaying the inevitable would only increase his punishment. "She is on the mend now and only sustained a sprained ankle and bruised throat." He cut himself off there, knowing that if he gave more than what their Lord asked for, he'd be reprimanded for it.
"I see. That is why you failed to give me the proper respect upon entering, just as the Octava had humbly done. Rise, Szayel Aporro Granz." He passed the Octava as he relieved him of the formal subservient position and stopped next to Ulquiorra. Aizen eyed the child curiously.
Little Hime was still clinging to the Clown, her face buried safely in the crook of his neck. She didn't want to let go, she felt safe, comfortable in his arms. He was warm, despite his cold demeanor, and his aura seemed to flicker around her, soothing her, reassuring her. Soon, she found herself drifting off, dozing as her mind began to succumb to exhaustion.
It wasn't very long though before she was reluctantly pulled from her light slumber.
"Imoto-chan, are you alright?"
She frowned into Ulquiorra's neck, her little fists clenching at the hem of his collar.
"Imoto-chan, look at me."
It was her Brother, his voice full of concern and begging for her attention. She wanted to see her Brother. Pinky had promised she'd get to see him and he'd held true to that promise. Somewhat reluctantly she lifted her face out of the comforting nook, her eyes squinting against the bright white of the hall. It took her a moment but she stubbornly managed to clear her vision, focusing it against the sudden strain to turn her still very sore neck to look at her Brother as he'd requested; grimacing slightly in doing so.
"Good, Imoto-chan. Are you alright?"
She stared blearily at her Brother, his warm brown eyes and charming smile welcoming to her. She smiled weakly in turn.
"Okay, Onii-san." Her voice was rough, scratchy, and she gave a slightly pained expression as she spoke. "Throat hurts." She said quietly.
"My apologies Imoto-chan, I don't like to see you hurt." Aizen lied skillfully, his voice full of false sincerity and concern. He raised his hand and gently pressed upon the bruise that had formed around her neck, causing the child to let out a small whimper and flinch away. "Who did this to you?"
He of course knew, they all knew. Yet they waited on baited breath all the same for their 'guest' to point out the culprit.
Little Hime furrowed her brow in concentration, her eyes down cast for a moment before they flickered up to meet her Brother's once more.
She really didn't. She couldn't remember what happened after Pinky had greeted them in the hallway to speak with the Clown. Then nothing and she woke up in his home, her foot and throat hurting.
Aizen cocked an elegantly sculpted eye brow while Nnoitra shifted anxiously against the wall.
Though before anyone could speak up, the Tercera stepped forward, her head held high yet eyes reflecting the guilt she felt within. "It's my fault the human child was hurt. I gave her a gift, a bracelet. It—"
"That is enough Tercera." Several sets of eyes shifted from the Halibel to Aizen, whose eyes never left the child. "It was a gift bearing no ill will, correct? No, you are not at fault my Tercera Espada. The fault lies in the hands of another." He frowned deceptively, gently removing his hand from the bruised expanse of skin he'd been inspecting. "Would you like to know who hurt you, Imoto-chan?"
Confusion flickered across her face. Did her Brother know who hurt her? How could he know, why did he seem so calm about it? Her brow furrowed and she unconsciously clutched tighter at the hem of her guardian's collar, only conceding after a moment with a reluctant nod of her head.
"Quinta, come forward."
Nnoitra let out a hardly restrained sound of exasperation, his lip curling as he shook his head in denial. "I didn't fuckin' do anythin' Aizen-sama!" He lied unconvincingly as he reluctantly pushed himself off the wall and trudged begrudgingly towards the trio, stopping a couple yards away.
Szayel scoffed as Aizen beckoned the Quinta closer. "Of course you didn't." He replied smoothly as he brushed fiery bangs out of the child's face.
Nnoitra edged closer, a sneer on his lip as he looked between the human bitch and Aizen. Despite the satisfaction he felt at the large hand shaped bruise forming around the bitch's neck, he knew he'd fucked up. Stolen bracelet or not, he knew he couldn't touch her and he did. He was just so pissed off at the thought of Tia giving it to the human…
"Look at the Quinta, Imoto-chan."
Her gaze shifted obediently, her tired eyes falling upon the Spoon man. She didn't understand why she had to look at him, how he had anything to do with…her trail of thought faltered, distracted by Spoony's wavering violet aura. It was drawn in, pulled close, as if for protection, yet hidden within she could feel dark, malicious intent. When she looked into his eye, saw the curl of his lip, she understood why.
Her skin paled and lip trembled as she remembered. His frightening face, his dangerous aura and the pain she felt when he'd hurt her. Fresh tears slid down her cheeks. Why did the man hurt her? What did she ever do to him? She couldn't understand it. Didn't know why he was so mean and his aura so evil. She hiccupped out a simple, one worded question in her confusion and quest to understand. "Wh—why?"
Ulquiorra felt himself pull the trembling child closer, the need to comfort her once again arising at the most precarious moment. He went unnoticed however, as all eyes were on the Quinta and child.
"Tch…I ain't gotta explain shit ta a fuckin' human brat."
"Why not Quinta? You had to have had a reason to hurt her, to cause her such distress, against a direct order not to, nonetheless." Aizen's icy tone turned warm and concerned as he redirected his attention back to the child. "Do you want me to punish the Quinta, Imoto-chan?"
Nnoitra's sneer faltered and he backed up a step, though he had nothing to fear.
Little Hime shook her head immediately. "No! Don't hurt Spoony! Pease stop fighting!" She looked wide eyed between her Brother and the tall Spoon man. She wasn't sure what was going on but she knew that she didn't want anymore fighting. No more people hurting. Even if the Spoon man had hurt her she wouldn't hurt him back.
Nnoitra's sneer returned full of incredulity at her words. The hell! He didn't need any fuckin' mercy from a human brat! He could take whatever the bastard decided to throw at him. Bring it on! The hell was he waiting for? He opened his mouth to voice a taunt when Aizen cut him off.
"As you wish, Imoto-chan. We won't fight anymore, okay?" He smiled warmly at her as he lied through his teeth.
Nnoitra stared at him stupidly. Huh? He'd gotten off that easy? No fucking way. An amethyst eye narrowed skeptically, searching for the truth. He's gotta be up to something…
"Szayel, please escort our guest and the Cuatro to your wing where they'll be staying for the remainder of her…condition. It is not safe for her what with renegade Arrancar and the ryoka roaming around. With you, your heavily defended wing and the Cuatro by her side, an 'accident' like this will not occur a second time." He paused for a moment looking thoughtful. "Also, I wish for you to find out immediately if it is possible for her to use her powers in that form."
"Of course, Aizen-sama. Rest assured. No more harm will come to Inoue-chan and I will start working on that at once." Szayel reaffirmed smoothly, acknowledging the underlying threat that their Lord had hidden beneath his words. He bowed elegantly, turning on his heel and leaving, his calm and collected mask slipping. He knew a dismissal when he saw one and wanted to leave immediately, as inside he was positively seething.
Wonderful. Just fantastic. On top of everything-fucking-else now he had to play host to the Cuatro and Princess. As if he didn't already have enough stress to deal with. Nnoitra. Gin. Now those two. It was enough to make him want to pull his pink hair out if not for the fact that he'd look hideous in doing so. For lack of a better outlet, he pushed hard on the solid sekki sekki stone door, expecting it to open with a satisfying slam and bounce back—something, anything relatively destructive that he could take his frustration out on.
His brow twitched when it didn't move a single inch.
'You have got to be kidding me!' His face flamed, turning cherry red as he glared daggers at the immovable door. Just fucking peachy; the topping on the god damn proverbial cake. He couldn't even open a door! Of all the unfortunate accidents to befall him, he had to turn into a useless, weak, pathetic little child! 'This is just…and I can't even…and they're…' He twitched again; flexing his hand sorely tempted to cero the god damn thing and bring it down. But no, he couldn't even do fucking that. He might leave a smudge mark, if he was lucky. And they were watching him. Aizen, Gin, that bastard Nnoitra…
He drew in a breath, attempting to compose himself and maintain what little dignity he had left. He mustn't lose the rest of his control, at least not while in the presence of his superiors.
Tia, who had watched the whole display felt sympathetic towards the Octava. The Arrancar caught so much grief from subordinates and superiors alike…and now this? It was a wonder they hadn't seen him lose his composure sooner. Seeing as her presence was no longer needed, she bowed respectfully to Aizen-sama and departed, quickly making her way to the stone door where Szayel still stood glaring at it. A glare which was directed at her as she stood beside him, his amber eyes narrowing as if to dare her to say anything.
She arched a golden brow at him, her own eyes staring at him defiantly. Bright green eyes that hid well the sympathy and concern she felt for Szayel. She knew that last thing he wanted was her sympathy. He was too prideful for that.
"Don't you look at me like that Szayel, you know better. When have I ever judged you?"
She narrowed her own eyes, daring him to contradict her. She had him on that one. She never judged him. She never judged period. It wasn't her place to, and she would not tolerate disrespect of any form from the small Arrancar, regardless what mood he was in.
Szayel continued to glare heatedly up into fierce green eyes for a few moments before he reluctantly deflated. She was right. Tia had never judged him, ever. She always happened to be around to offer him a smile with her eyes or kind words. And here he was attempting to take his frustrations out on her. Damn he really needed to find a proper outlet…maybe he'd dissect one of his fraccion the next day…
"Ah…yes of course Tia. You're right. Please excuse me…I've…" He huffed, cutting himself off. The last thing he needed was to lay his problems out on her, in the middle of the throne room no less. "Would you please open the chamber door so I may be on my way? I must make preparations for my…guests." He said the last with a sneer, his annoyance peaking once more.
Her expression softened, appeased. It was extremely difficult to get Szayel to admit to being wrong let alone apologize, and she'd just succeeded in both. "Alright, just don't let it happen again. Or I may just have to 'reprimand' you." She teased as she pushed open the chamber door and stepped out into the hallway. Her smile intensified at Szayel's suddenly mortified expression and flushed face.
Ulquiorra watched bemusedly as the chamber door shut on the Tercera and Octava. Judging by the way the Octava was handling the reassignment; he resigned himself to a forced, uncomfortable stay in his wing. Intending to follow the duo, he bowed awkwardly to their Lord and departed. He didn't get far as the child in his arms began squirming frantically.
Little Hime twisted around in her guardians hold, peering over his shoulder to stare longingly at her Brother.
Ulquiorra took the not too subtle hit and turned around on his heel and walked resolutely back to their Lord, a tightly concealed look of amusement on his face. However as the child twisted around once more and held her arms out to her 'Brother,' his amusement disappeared, replaced by the urge to yank her away. The man before him was sinister, deceptive and powerful. What could the child want with him and why was she so insistent that he was her 'Brother'? Her naivety continued to appall him and he could do nothing to stop him when their Lord gathered the child up in his arms and hugged her to his chest.
"Aww I'm sorry Imoto-chan. I forgot to say goodbye." Aizen said warmly, tightening his hold on the child and kissing the top of her head with false affection. Inside he was gloating. The child was much too easy to manipulate. It was absolutely imperative that the Octava discover if it is possible for the child to use her abilities in this form. To be able to raise and mold her to his will, using her powers of rejection to suit his own needs, was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Little Hime tightened her little arms around his shoulders and neck as best she could, squeaking a little bit with the effort. It felt really good to be hugged by her Brother. His warm, comforting aura wrapped around her and she felt safe. Happy. All she wanted to do right then was stay with him, where she felt whole and loved. She pulled back, craning her neck up to beam at him, her tears long gone leaving nothing but a slight stain on her round cheeks.
"Onii-san I wanna stay with you!"
Ulquiorra felt his gut clench painfully at her words, at her enthusiasm. And he glared, though not at the child or their Lord, but inwardly at himself. The child was getting to him and he didn't like it. Not one bit.
Aizen smiled warmly down at her as he smoothed fiery bangs out of her face. "As much as I'd love that Imoto-chan, Onii-san is a busy man. I have work to do. We can have tea later, okay?"
She pouted and her fists tightened around the hem of her Brother's collar. She knew he was busy but she missed him. She didn't like having to spend all her time away from him and really, all she wanted right then was to be held by him. She smiled weakly up at him, suddenly feeling tired and let down. "Okay, Onii-san."
"What's with the look Imoto-chan? I'll make some time for you soon I promise. How about when we have our tea party we get Gin-sama to play dress up with you and Tosen-sama to braid your hair?"
Gin's customary grin faltered and he shifted to his other foot uneasily. He was jest jokin', right?
Little Hime's eyes lit up at the idea. Yeah she wanted to spend time with her Brother but she liked making new friends too! "Okay Onii-san!" Easily pleased and feeling much happier she straightened up and gave her Brother an innocent kiss on the lips.
He returned it just as chastely, not at all surprised by the unexpected move. After all he was a manipulative mastermind, though inwardly he was fuming. Having to act so soft and weak in front of Gin-sama and his subordinates was ridiculous!
Still smiling, his immaculate teeth gleaming in the bright light, he passed the child off to the Cuatro Espada. "I'll see you later, Imoto-chan. Please be sure to get plenty of rest so you can heal quickly!"
For a strategic genius, their Lord was completely oblivious to the searing look Ulquiorra directed at him as he awkwardly gathered the child back in his arms. With one last final, somewhat mocking bow, he turned to depart.
Little Hime waved goodbye to her Brother over her guardian's shoulder as they exited the chamber.
"Goodbye, Imoto-chan!" He smiled, giving a little wave of his own before he turned, his expression going from warm the serious and cold as he turned, unsheathing his zanpakutou and addressed the Quinta. "Shatter, Kyoka Suigetsu."
Back in his culinary lab, Szayel was focusing on the task at hand.
Making tea. Lots of tea.
He found the process oddly soothing. He allowed his mind to go blank as he waited for the kettle to whistle and gathered the required ingredients and utensils. Two tea balls full of loose leaf chamomile. Four apple slices, which he'd mashed up and put into the kettle for flavor. Honey and milk, and two tea sets; the small mesh wire tea ball chains dangled off the side of each tea pot.
The first tea set was sort of plain, bland. It was nothing but a white tea pot with a gold trim, the lower half encircled by an amber strip; the tea cups were similarly decorated. The other set however, was much more intricate. It was made of porcelain, its color a beautiful, milky mother of pearl. Fired upon its smooth surface was the life cycle of a phoenix that seemed to shimmer as it grew, died and was reborn. The single matching tea cup was colored and painted likewise.
With nothing else to do, picked up the canister of tea and opened it, bringing it up to his nose to inhale the wonderful, sweet scent. It was a guilty pleasure he rarely indulged in, chamomile. Usually he'd stick to lighter more energizing teas such as jasmine and orange blossom as he was often busy running experiments, so he couldn't afford to be hindered by the effects of chamomile.
Tonight however, he'd make an exception. His day had been extremely strenuous; taxing mentally and physically. There were times where he thought he'd explode or crumble in frustration and shame. Like when he arrived back at the lab just a short while ago, he nearly ceroed one of his fraccion. The only reason he'd stopped is because he needed them to prepare the parlor for their 'guests'.
He sighed as he recapped the canister and set it back on the counter.
His guests would be arriving shortly; he could sense them traversing his trap leaden corridors. Soon his quiet solitude would be broken.
He stared at the tea kettle and watched as the steam began shooting out of the spout. Soon after it began to whistle quietly signaling it was nearly boiling and ready to pour. Stepping off his stool, he went and turned off the burner. He picked up the kettle with a sure hand and brought it over to the island where the tea sets awaited. Stepping back up on the stool, he poured the simmering liquid over the tea balls. He closed his amber eyes and inhaled, savoring the soothing, fragrant scent the leaves released as they opened up. After a moment, he exhaled, sighing as he felt himself pulled back from the edge of insanity that he had been preciously balancing on earlier.
He smiled weakly to himself, covering both tea pots so it would steep properly and set about rearranging the tea sets on a large platter. One he was satisfied he carefully picked up the tray and balanced it on his forearms as he made his way out of the lab into the parlor.
"Lumina! Verona! Escort our guests to the parlor once they arrive and see to it that they are well taken care of. Inform them they are welcome to anything in that room however they are expressively forbidden from wandering about my lab." Szayel said this irritably, despite the calming effects of the chamomile, the thought of actually living with other Arrancar, let alone a human for any length of time made him anxious and paranoid. He didn't like company unless said company were the subjects he frequently experimented on. He liked his solitude damn it! He didn't want to have to stress all the time about whether the human child will listen or go wandering about his lab. It was dangerous! And if anything else happened to her…
He set the tray down on the short coffee table in the parlor and pinched the bridge of his nose. Really, what the hell was their Lord thinking? This was the least safest place for her! Normally he could care less if a human were harmed, but this particular human? She held their Lord's favor. He couldn't let harm come to her, period. Or it would be he who suffered the consequences.
Pocketing the honey and a stirring spoon, he grabbed his tea pot and cup before he made for his room, not even bothering to check to see if the parlor was in living condition for their guests. It's not that he didn't care. He did have his pride to uphold. He just had faith in his fraccion. They wouldn't fail him in this. Yes they were unquestioningly devoted and would die for him, but they weren't complete idiots. He'd made them that way.
So it was with the assurance that his unwilling companions were taken care of and with much relief that he entered his room and shut the door behind him with his foot, just as his fraccion greeted the Cuatro and Little Hime in his foyer.
The fraccion did their job flawlessly, as ordered. They promptly escorted their 'guests' to the parlor, only pausing for a moment along the way to point out the restroom. Inside the parlor they pointed out the sofa and a small but comfortable looking futon in the corner which was stocked with fresh blankets and pillows. They also delivered their Master's order, withering beneath Ulquiorra cool stare as they did so. With their task complete, they retreated to the control room where they could keep a watchful eye on them.
That left Ulquiorra alone with the human child which he still held uncomfortably in his arms. It was unsurprising that the Octava, their 'host' had chosen to retreat to the solitude of his chamber, leaving his fraccion to settle them in. 'At least the scientist hadn't forgotten his earlier promise to the child,' he thought as he strode over to the sofa and sat the child down, her little legs left to dang precariously over the edge.
That wasn't to last however. Predictably, the human slid off the couch in an attempt to go explore and immediately cried out in pain against the added pressure upon her sprained foot.
"Ow ow owie!" Despite the pain in her ankle she clung to the side of the couch for dear life as her lip trembled and tears began to prickle once more at the corner of her eyes.
Almost mechanically, Ulquiorra picked her up beneath her arms and sat her on the couch once again, this time all the way back. "You must remain off that foot until it heals, otherwise you will keep hurting yourself. Do you understand, girl?"
She stared up at him with wide grey eyes and red cheeks. She sniffled, nodding reluctantly after a moment that she understood, even though she didn't like it.
"Good." He sat down on the cushion beside her and poured her some of the steaming tea from the pot. He didn't know what flavor it was by the sweet scent it gave off, but nonetheless found himself oddly soothed by it. Turning to her, he asked her how she liked her tea prepared.
Well he didn't know either. He never drank the tea offered to him during meetings, never cared to. However he did occasionally watch how it was prepared. Green eyes scanned the small tray, picking out the items he needed and imitated those he'd watched during the meetings. He poured a little sugar, added a bit of cream and stirred. The liquid turned a smooth beige color and seemed to cool down to the proper temperature as well. Placing the cup on a small saucer, he carefully handed it to the child, hoping he'd prepared it correctly.
"Here. Try this. Sip it slowly. It is hot."
Little Hime took the proffered cup and saucer and hesitantly took a sip. The warm liquid felt really good going down her bruised throat and it tasted really sweet and creamy. Just right! She let out a relieved sigh and beamed up at the Clown. "It's good! But…"
"Needs sawbearwy seerup!" She nodded her head to accentuate the fact with a very serious look on her face.
He looked down at her, not at all amused. Did he not do it right? He'd never seen Aizen-sama or Gin-sama add…strawberry syrup?...to their tea before. Ulquiorra was not familiar with tea flavors and what items were good to add to taste but he had a distinct feeling that strawberry syrup was not one of them. To his relief however, the girl continued to sip on her provided drink.
He sat back as he waited for her to finish and attempted to figure out what to feed the child that evening. Neither the Octava nor the fraccion informed him as to the availability of edible human food in their wing. His only option if he wished to feed the girl would be to take her back down to the common dining area.
"Quickly finish your tea. I must escort you to the dining area for your scheduled meal before it gets too much later."
He heard the clink of glass and looked over to see that the child had placed her empty saucer and cup on a small table at the end of the couch and then proceeded to crawl over to him and curl up against his side, uncaring.
"Not hungy, tired."
Little Hime burrowed underneath her guardians arm and nuzzled into the warmth of his side as she wrapped a tiny arm around his waist. If she couldn't have her Brother hold her, then she'd get Clown to do it. She was tired and he was warm and comfy.
And stiff. Something Little Hime was oblivious to. Ulquiorra sat tense as the child used him as some rendition of a pillow, trusting him not to move or push her away. Her ignorance of the world she lived in was truly astounding. He was a monster. A killer.
But of course she's too young and naïve to realize this.
Slowly and carefully he tried to get out of the girls grasp, scoot away from her, pry her fingers away from his jacket…but frustratingly, the sleeping child held firm.
Resigning himself to yet another unpleasant experience, he allowed himself to sink down into the couch and attempted to relax as best he could and prayed that his subordinate and host didn't walk in on him in this ridiculous position.
A/n: So yeah. Ulquiorra was being emo cause he learned guilt and compassion :3 and he's a horrible tea maker. I mean really, cream and sugar in chamomile? Ugh!
Well, two month wait. I have no excuses. I just hope this chapter didn't disappoint too badly. The angst had to happen to get Ulquiorra to learn those emotions, ya know?
You might be confused by the drama centered around Szayel…well that's all explained in my other fic, which is explicit and rated M. Read if you want but beware.
Also, the liquid reishi injection concept belongs to my friend Emochromatic aka Tinari