Night with her thickening wall imprisoned us,
eyes groped for widening eyes the black withheld,
I drank thy breath, o sweet, o poisonous!
thy feet slept in my hands fraternal held;
Night with her thickening wall imprisoned us.
-Charles Baudelaire, "The Balcony [Le Balcon]," from Flowers of Evil/Fleurs du Mal, trans. Lewis Piaget Shanks, 1931
Please note: In this story, Ulquiorra sometimes thinks (though does not speak) in Spanish. It's minimal, and I've translated the terms at the bottom of each chapter if you're interested.
Chapter One: Looking
The throne room is empty, the object unattended. He picks it up and looks at it.
He finds it absurd that the lines on his face should parallel so closely those on the face of his captive—hers, however, red, the tracks of sorrow now becoming close to permanent on her pale cheeks. And his?
Before now his markings have never elicited interest within him. He simply was; the form he had taken, in Aizen-sama's hands, was unimportant. The only significant considerations were his rank, strength, duty. Now, though, he finds himself wondering why he looks as he does.
And how he must look to her.
"Whatcha doing. Ulquiorra?" The sly tone unmistakable. How could Gin have slipped through his pesquisa? A burst of cold rage at being caught doing something as absurd, as human, as looking in a mirror. He places the mirror back on the table and returns his hand to his pocket.
The only consolation, if there is one, is that the object belongs to the contemptibly vain Ichimaru, who is therefore in a poor position from which to cast aspersions on the espada.
"I was simply wondering… whether such an object might be of comfort to Aizen-sama's captive."
Gin raises a brow.
"Her current state of sorrow is not only tedious but damaging to her health and powers. The woman might long for a human face to look at and this would at least give her-her own."
"That's quite a speech, from you."
Ulquiorra meets Gin's eyes without speaking.
"Y' really surprise me sometimes, Number Four. If I didn't know better, I'd say that's kinda a compassionate thought." Gin's eyes are even more tightly closed than usual, his mouth adopting that particularly sardonic curve so loathed by all of the espada. "I didn't think you were capable of those feelings. Or any feelings… though perhaps our buxom young guest has rubbed up some heat inside ya?"
The slender espada brushes past the taller shinigami wordlessly. His face is impassive as always, but his thoughts brim with disgust.
Nnoitora, Grimmjow, Szayel, Gin–all degenerate in their appetites. Like the human trash he sprang from, Gin cannot believe that Ulquiorra's relationship with the woman is strictly in the service of Aizen-sama's interests.
But Gin follows, laughing. "Wait, Number Four!" When Ulquiorra doesn't stop, Gin uses shunpo to catch him. "Take it."
Now Ulquiorra does stop, turning to face Gin, who instinctively takes a step backward. The shinigami extends his hand, the mirror in it. "Take it."
As always, Gin's face is inscrutable. The temptation to fire a cero at him is a tickle—but easily overcome. Duty.
"I want you to give it to her." Gin laughs and licks his thin lips. "I mean, we all want you to give it to her—especially if we get to watch. But right now I'm talking about the mirror."
Ulquiorra turns on his heel. Vicioso.
"Wait." Gin begins, in a more serious tone. "If it would make the girl happy, wouldn't Aizen-sama want you to provide it?"
The unusual formality of Gin's speech catches the espada off-guard.
Ulquiorra turns back. "Whatever serves my lord." Though he hates to remove his hand from his pocket, and even more to reach toward the shinigami, he does so, taking the mirror from Gin's hand and concealing it in his garments.
"I don't know why you espada don't like me," says Gin as Ulquiorra turns and walks away. "It's not like I never do anything for ya."
As he moves toward the corridors leading to the woman's room, the Fourth encounters Nnoitora. Surely this is no accident. The leering jackal seems to pop out of the walls regularly when Ulquiorra is en route to that location.
Nnoitora leans across the passageway, his back against the wall, his preternaturally long legs nearly reaching the other side. Ulquiorra pauses before the taller espada. Nnoitora does not move.
"What's that in your pocket? Or are you just—maybe-happy to see our little pet?" the words drip from between Noitora's teeth. "Wouldn't I love to be a fly on the wall, or a bat on the ceiling maybe, in that room?"
"I but do my duty to Aizen-sama. I suggest you find yours elsewhere before I remind you of our relative rank and strength."
Noitora stands to let the smaller espada pass. But there is one more insolence to be endured.
"Ulquiorra-dono," comes the voice from behind him, the exaggerated respect even more infuriating than mere familiarity. He stops and turns to face Nnoitora.
That forefinger itching again. But no mere insult to his person, however annoying, is worth damage to Aizen-sama's interests. Not now.
And Nnoitora knows it-knows that he is protected by the fourth's icy control and sense of duty.
Nnoitora narrows his eyes further. "You really are bloodless, aren't you? It's wasted on you."
"I have no idea what you're talking about. Nor do I care."
"She's a woman. It's what they're for. The only thing they're good for.
"I mean, if it were me, I'd be in there—just—lapping it up." And holding up two clawlike fingers in front of his face, the thin espada thrusts his numbered snakelike tongue between them.
Ulquiorra spins on his heel and continues on his way. Once again contempt swells in him. But with it confusion, a new and—it must be said-increasingly frequent phenomenon. He is sure that the gesture Nnoitora has just made is an insult worthy of punishment, but what does it mean? Why do these lower-ranking fools seem to have knowledge-and appetites-he himself lacks, despite their weak intellects and powers?
And that word—"bloodless." Absurdity. Of course he is bloodless. Blood is for human trash. It spews out of their thin skins at the slightest touch. Basura. Of course he is bloodless. Impenetrable. Unlike her. He could put a finger through her skin. Right through her. Qué ridículo.
Vicioso=Depraved one, "scum"
Qué ridículo= How ridiculous