Hello everyone! First chapter of the new year! Whooo!

First off, I have to answer a few things from the comments I received:

- I was surprised that many of you actually adored the Grimmjow and Sayuri moment. Unfortunately, this is a Ulquiorra story and that is how it will remain. I will try to add more Grimmjow and Sayuri fluff here and there to satisfy your cravings.

- I am glad that you noticed the growing bond between Ichigo and Grimmjow. I wanted this story to have a symbolic meaning between the relationship of Soul Reapers and hollows, if that makes sense.

- I know I have excluded the Soul Society for several chapters now. However, since I focused on the Soul Society for a good three or so chapters, I wanted to devote some time to romantic development. I wanted to do something else besides Sayuri being rescued by Ulquiorra. Also, keep in mind that the last few chapters have all taken place within the last two week of December. As such, it hasn't been too long that the Soul Society has not noticed anything haha. Remember the first arc of Bleach? They took a long time to react to Rukia's action to give her powers to Ichigo! Yep, my defense is solid hahaha. I promise that we will get to the Soul Society part... eventually haha.

- Yes, Ulquiorra has absolutely no idea what is going on between him and Sayuri. Enough said.

- Lastly, thank you to all those you are enjoying this story! I do try to make it as realistic as possible, but of course, I will make mistakes. Please bear with me. I appreciate all the support!

A very big thank you to all those who made this story their favorite and/or following it.

Sorry for the long announcement. On with the story!

-O-

Chapter 28:

Clarity Amidst the Storm

He had intended to go back to Urahara's shop to return his order; it was now pointless to possess it. Afterwards, he had meant to go hunt down some hollows that were unfortunate enough to come across an Espada with blood lust. That burning sensation surging under his skin had worsened, irritating him to no end and thus augmenting his foul mood. His nonchalance was degrading through her presence.

He truly had planned to leave her. As he walked, the temperature suddenly declined, the wind grew stronger, blowing his hair out of his face, and the sky seemed darker. Looking into the distance, he saw the ominous grey clouds appearing like some unstoppable giant riding the air. It was as though nature itself opposed his actions. Even then, he had intended to make his way back. Not even half way to his destination, he suddenly found his legs backtracking to where he saw her last - where he had left her standing amidst a desolate and frozen lot. However frustrated he was at his own rebellious appendage, he continued to walk towards her location. He always returned to her regardless of any circumstances. It was as though he had involuntary become her unconditional pet and she his master.

He had only been subservient to Aizen, which had been due to the Soul Reaper's undeniable power. This woman, on the other hand, had no supernatural abilities to speak of. She was feeble, fragile, and everything human. Should he choose to, he could easily crush her without using a substantial amount of energy. His overly analytical mind immediately painted an image of her with unseeing and lifeless eyes lying in the pool of her own blood. A lurch of discomfort sprinted up his throat. The fact that the very thought of taking her life disturbed him caused him to be disgusted with himself. This weak creature has dared to hold him, the Cuatro Espada, under her orders without even being cognizant of it.

It was infuriating and strangely... not at the same time.

He grimaced. He wondered just how weak he has been reduced to.

As he reentered the gates, he saw them in the distance.

'Grimmjow,' he growled mentally before he could control himself.

"You look like her..." his sharp ears heard the panther begin, his usually obnoxious face contorted into sadness and pain.

For some inexplicable reason, Grimmjow's statement angered him. The flames raging under his skin fanned. The feline was essentially acting as though the human woman was another female that had likely long since died. His subordinate had forced another identity over the woman's own individuality. Yes, he does believe that she is the very definition of human, but that did not justify the act of Grimmjow's delusion. The woman has her own persona; it will not do to reflect another female's character on her. The woman's features, her eyes, her smile, her laugh... They were all hers to own. No one can be her. And she can be no one else but herself.

He watched them, not realizing that he remained rigid at the parking lot's entrance, lost in his tangent thoughts. When they embraced, he caught the woman say, "She did love you."

It was a soft statement - a soothing and caring gesture.

He could clearly discern the strong grip the panther used to hold onto her, as if she were his lifeline. At the normally confident and boisterous Espada's sudden vulnerability, he wondered how such a drastic change came to be. Grimmjow had never once displayed any weakness - even going to great troubles to hide it with uncontained arrogance and narcissistic displays.

Ulquiorra learned another fact; this human woman is powerful. She has her own dangerous quality: she can tame the monsters around her, without using the least bit of effort either. She is absolutely clueless throughout the entire ordeal, and yet, she does it. She tames them... makes them more human...

The proof was right before him. Though he refused to admit it, he knew the proof was within him as well.

He found that he could not watch anymore and returned from his daze. He leaned on the outer side of the gate so that he would no longer have to see them. With his gigai on, he was sure Grimmjow had not sensed him.

He glared at the innocent and blac snow laying at his feet. When nothing changed, he scowled harder, as though wishing for the blasted white thing to melt under his scrutiny. He felt weak and strong at the same time.

She was the root cause of all this. It always points back to her. He should kill her and end all this nonsense.

The sound of barely audible footsteps - those of an experienced hunter - resonated in the emptiness, mingling with the anarchic howl of the chilling wind. A small gap of silence followed and was proceeded by clumsy foot falls. They were finally done with their sickening display of weakness.

The woman paused just outside the lot's entrance, a mere few feet from where he leaned at her left with his arms crossed.

She dropped the numerous bags she carried. With trembling fingers, she zipped up her insufficiently thick jacket. Her white breaths were easily discernible even in the pure white surroundings. He eyed her as she brought her bare hands to her mouth, blowing warm air into her palms and rubbing them together to create some necessary friction.

As she reached for her bags, a particularly strong wind engulfed her. She closed her eyes and braced her arms around her to save any warmth she could. Her ebony locks loosened from the chopsticks holding them and danced forcefully about her before settling behind her back in a messy heap of black. Once the teasing air passed, she scanned the grounds to pick up her hair accessories.

Her trembling had augmented minutely. Her normally olive skin appeared sallow and transparent.

Ulquiorra approached her then.

Just as she bent forward to picked up the two chopsticks, the lily woman felt a heavy pelt of cloth surround her shoulders and back. She immediately stood upright and was face to face with a now underdressed Ulquiorra.

She peeked over at her shoulders and saw the white trench coat he had been wearing comfortably draped around her. Her shivering ceased as hot bubbles rose to the surface, heating her frigid skin.

"You need to learn to dress appropriately," he blandly commented.

"You're not cold, are you?" She knew he was not; he was a supernatural being. Human weather concerns were like flies in his presence. Still, she needed him to confirm it. She worried over him. His health, no matter how absurd it may be, did not escape her worries.

He proceeded past her, his hands tucked into his pant pockets and his white long sleeve flapping against his skin.

Sayuri whirled around, following his movements with her eyes. When she remained fixed to her spot, Ulquiorra turned back towards her.

"Are you coming home or not?" he spoke.

"Huh?" the Kamiya woman dumbly replied before nodding her head firmly. It was the first time he had called her house his home.

"Then walk, woman."

Quickly, she gathered her flying hair and redid her bun using her chopsticks. She ran to catch up to him, stopping just behind his taller form. He was only a few feet in front of her, but a vast distance separated them in reality. She can never reach him. In the fact of such truth, Sayuri can merely watch over him from afar.

In the silence of their stroll, Ulquiorra's keen hearing focused on the crunching snow that resulted from each step the woman took. It contrasted against his own soundless footsteps. It was another reminder that they came from opposing worlds - opposing identities in fact. He had honed his skills to survive, to kill. He was a predator whose absolute silence signaled the end of a life. This female, on the other hand, had thrived in saving lives. Though she was clumsy and irritatingly human and imperfect and weak, her means of existence far surpassed his own. She was a savior. He, himself, was and still is a benefactor of her kindness.

He had indeed realized that she was meaningful in his quest to discover his own heart. Slowly and persistently, he has tried to solve her. Thus far, he has concluded three thing. She is selfless, to the point of stupidity. She acts strangely when she is in his presence. Lastly, and most recently, she has allowed herself to be an anchor to the destructive Sixth Espada. None of these provided much leads as to the whereabouts of his heart. It was infuriating. He knew that the answer is there; he could almost feel his heart beating nearby. He just could not find it.

A rapid wind caused him to focus back on the present. The Cuatro gazed upon the sky and found that the dark clouds now lurked before them. He stopped walking and looked behind him. Sayuri answered his blank stare with her own inquisitive expression.

Just as she opened her mouth to inquire what was wrong, a stronger wind attacked their still bodies. Seconds later, fresh snow flew around them in rapid succession. Instinctively, Ulquiorra felt his body press itself against the woman's form, wrapping her in a protective embrace against the snowy onslaught.

He needed to get her somewhere safe. He could feel the temperature rapidly plummet. Their home was too far for him to carry her to. Even if he ran at full speed in his gigai, it was too risky to prolong her exposure to such frigid conditions. He needed to get her somewhere warm quickly.

"She gets sick really easily..."

Shin's words kept echoing in his head like some sort of mantra.

"Especially when it's cold..."

When the wind subsided for a few seconds, he told her to remove his jacket.

"O-Oh okay," she answered.

Sayuri handed the thick blanc outerwear and extended it to his waiting hands. She could only gawk as he arranged the warm fabric around her so that it covered her head and upper body. Before she could question his actions, one of his arms wound around her back with his hand holding onto the part of the jacket shielding her head, keeping the heavy piece of clothing from sliding off. Moments later, the wind roared to life, causing more snow to pelt against them.

She felt him gently push her forward. Even with a barrier between them, she could practically feel the weak warmth emanating from his gigai. She felt safe and treasured. His strength was extraordinary, but his hold around her was calculated - firm but gentle. Although she was surrounded by wind and snow, Sayuri felt herself overheat as blood loudly spread throughout her body,

'When did he become so human?' she wondered.

Looking sideways, where she could barely see his forehead over the trench coat's boundaries, she watched, fascinated by how discernible his flapping hair was against the turbulent sea of snow that had engulfed them.

Was he not the darkness and night that she had grown so fond of? Then, why is it that he shined so brightly?

Entranced, she continued watching his ebony locks dance unyieldingly and determinedly amidst and against the snow that threatened to hold it down. Her feet continued to move in the direction he guided her to. She trusted him enough not to question his intentions.

Then suddenly, everything stopped. His hair settled down. The howl of the wind ceased. All was silent. A strong warmth quickly hugged her and thawed her weary and frozen appendages.

Ulquiorra removed his trench coat from atop her head. She was met with an unobstructed view of vibrant emerald spheres whose limitless depths swallowed her. Willingly, she allowed her awareness to slip from her tight hold.

The ashen man analyzed the woman's steady and intent expression towards him.

"Do you feel ill?" he asked, brows lowering. He was sure that it had taken him only ten seconds to find this haven. Had he overestimated the time necessary to make sure she would not get sick?

Sayuri blinked repeatedly. His baritone voice had called her back from her willing descent into his presence. Mentally, she slapped herself for her own lack of self-control. They just had an argument less than an hour ago, and she had immediately forgotten everything by just staring into his eyes... by being in his presence... by being held by him... It had all felt surreal and wonderful...

Catching herself, she shook her head clear of such thoughts and scolded herself mentally once more.

She had just missed him so much. She hated having to avoid him.

Noting that he was waiting for an answer, she smiled and answered that she felt fine.

She set her attention before her and realized that they were at a small inn. Behind them, beyond the closed front doors, she heard the muffled cries of the storm. Her blue jewels trailed around the front hall, taking the time to absorb the ornate wooded frames that outlined landscape paintings and floral assemblages. She recalled that she had passed this house each time she had gone to the mall. At the end of the narrow hall, an older woman stood at the counter. The young pair made their way towards her. The lily child could see signs of graying hair on her neatly combed head, but the woman's wide smile added a youthful touch to her aging facade.

"Are you two alright?" she began, "The snow storm is supposed to be a strong one."

She had a high pitch, but the soft tone rounded what would have been hard edges on her voice. It sounded motherly and comforting.

With a shy grin, the Kamiya child answered, "We're fine. Sorry to barge in on you."

The lady waved her hand in front of her, dismissing Sayuri's apology. "Nonsense. It's a pleasure to help young couples, such as yourselves, find a warm and comfortable place to stay."

"C-C-Couple?" Sayuri squeaked, the word coming out several pitches too high.

"Come now," the aged female laughed, "No need to be shy. I know how you youngsters are these days. Love is nothing to be ashamed of anyway."

Petrified cerulean jewels widened. "L-L-Love?"

The woman looked at Ulquiorra's face as though absorbing his essence before turning her attention to Sayuri and doing the same thing.

She gave them a mysterious smile. "My name is Manami. How may I be of service to you?"

"May I use your washroom?" the ashen man requested.

"Of course," the woman replied. She pointed to a short hallway to the left of them.

Sayuri gave the Cuatro a withering look, begging him to not leave her. Ulquiorra caught it. As he walked past her, he felt his arm lift. He flicked her forehead lightly. Sayuri rubbed the reddened spot, almost pouting at him. What brought such an action out of him, both of them had no idea. He lightly ruffled her hair, directly looking at her eyes while doing so, before walking off. The blacked haired teen could only stare at his retreating back with wide orbs and an open mouth. His green windows had not been unreachable in that ephemeral instant; they had been open for her to read and interpret. Within those verdant pools, she found comfort and unspoken words. He basically communicated that she would be fine.

Her heart began to stir, and she had to clench her teeth shut. No, she could not - should not - open that lock. She needed to keep it close.

When they heard the door to the lavatory click to a close, the older woman squealed like she was a pubescent girl fawning over some pop star.

"You two are so in love!" she gushed.

"What? N-No!" Sayuri stuttered. However, she was aware that the carmine painting her face greatly reduced the strength of her denial. The woman's smirk demonstrated that she had not believed the statement either.

"My child, the way you two looked at each other," Manami argued, "There's no other thing it could be."

The black haired maiden shook her head rapidly. "He doesn't feel that way about me, ma'am. I think he likes someone else." Sayuri brought her gaze to her feet at the end of her sentence. She had already accepted it, and it felt ridiculous that she still felt saddened by that fact.

The older woman hummed. "Does he know you love him?"

Her statement immediately caused Sayuri to snap her head back up. The blush across her cheeks spread to her ears and neck.

"I take that as a no," Manami remarked, a soft grin gracing her features. Her caramel eyes shined knowingly.

The blue-eyed teen could only glance away.

"Men are often very dense creatures, my dear. They need things spelled out for them. That's what women are good for! We nag them until they get it!" the woman laughed, "You should tell him."

"I don't think... it would do any good," came the whispered reply.

"It's your choice. But I believe that if you try, his answer just might surprise you," she advised.

Sayuri did not reply. She cannot tell him. It would go against the very promised she gave herself- the oath she had made to make him happy. Besides, Orihime's trusting and tender face acted as a supplemental reason that kept her hands tightly locked behind her back. No way in her right mind would Sayuri Kimura confess her love to Ulquiorra Cifer.

"Don't just sit back, and watch the love of your life pass you by."

The front door opened and closed then, briefly circulating cold air into the warm space. Sayuri shivered unconsciously at the sensation.

"Welcome!" the older woman greeted automatically, "How may I help you?"

Two pairs of stomping footsteps caused the wooden floor to creak uncomfortably. When they were close, Sayuri turned to get out of the way.

"Yes. We w-" the pitchy voice halted.

Muddy orbs met ocean ones.

They were the first to regain their composure. "What the hell are you doing here?" the female barked.

The animosity in her tone cause the Kamiya woman to glare in retort.

"Maybe she was stalking us?" the male roared in laughter, "We had been her only friends. She was probably lonely being all by herself."

"I'm sorry, but can you please let me know what it is that you need? I have some household chores I need to tend to soon," Manami intervened. Her onyx spheres steeled.

Dark orbs turned to her. "Aren't you supposed to wait on customers? You're not supposed to rush us. Can't you see that we're talking?" the girl nearly snarled.

"Calm down," the young man soothed, rubbing his girlfriend's shoulders slowly. "We have all the time we need to catch up with dear Sayuri."

He took his female companion's silence as a sign of agreement. Turning to the older woman, he said, "We would like a room for the night."

"Names?" the receptionist asked curtly.

"Hiro Kurosawa and Mai Akiyama," he replied.

Manami took down their names before entering a narrow room hidden behind the counter to retrieve their keys. Sayuri stood stiffly beside them, looking at anywhere but the duo staring at her. She refused to move from her position just because they were present. It would be a sign of subservience and surrender. She fortified herself mentally, absolutely refusing to do such a thing, especially to these two who had used her for their own amusement.

Hiro broke the silence first. "You sure have gotten ruder, Sai. You're supposed to look at the people talking to you."

The young lady in question could only clench her jaws. She did not want to talk to them, and she will not allow them to provoke her.

Mai gave a loud cackle. "What? You're just going to ignore us?"

Through her peripheral, Sayuri could view Mai's pointer finger aimed towards her forehead. She clenched her jaws tighter as the well-manicured nail came close to her skin, cogitating what she would do should her former friend actually poke her with those filthy hands.

When she blinked, Ulquiorra had appeared alongside her. His hand was fisted over Mai's extended finger, his eyes glaring into hers. Mai had frozen. Regardless of the makeup caked upon her former best friend's face, blue pools could still discern the increasingly pale palor that laid underneath. The lily child could only imagine what it was that those brown puddles saw in the Cuatro's boundless greens.

"You should take your tainted presence elsewhere," he commented, tone blank, "It is disgusting being near you."

His hand squeezed the stout appendage threateningly. Sayuri had expected to hear the bones crack, but only Mai's horrified expression came.

Ulquiorra gathered the remnants of his self-control to prevent himself from breaking the tiny extremity immured in his fist. It required more restraint to ensure that he did not kill them. Trash should be disposed of, but should he do it, it will only cause more trouble for himself and the woman.

"Let go of my girlfriend, you bastard," the shorter male ordered, stepping forward to block half of Mai's figure from view.

The Fourth Espada looked at him next. Hiro, too, stood petrified. A sheen of sweat coated his forehead in seconds. The dark-haired maiden gulped. She grasped that the baritone-voiced hollow was a rational being and would not perform rash decisions. His actions would be contingent to his logic and the necessity of his human cover. However, she could practically feel the negative aura lurking within him. He was angry.

"Teach her how to be more cordial then, you filth," Ulquiorra stated lowly.

Sayuri thought she had almost heard a rumble radiating out of Ulquiorra's chest, the dark shroud around him almost tangible. Only after another second did he release Mai's immured finger.

Swiveling his head, he gazed into Sayuri's unguarded orbs. She was too surprised to pull her defenses up.

"Are you alright?" he asked, tone almost uncharacteristically tender.

The lily woman could only nod her head. He continued to scrutinize her, as though probing for any lies. When he was satisfied, he took hold of Sayuri's hands and tugged her away to a nearby wall, effectively putting much needed space between herself and the traitors.

Manami returned then. "Sorry about that," she spoke, handing the key to Hiro. "My husband needed help with something."

Wordlessly, Hiro took the keys and ushered Mai up the stairs located to the right of the reception desk.

The older woman shook her head when the duo was no longer in view. "Those kids need to learn to show some gratitude. While they're at it, they need to learn how to treat people properly, too."

She peered at the couple that now remained. "They sure were rude to you."

Sayuri, still processing Ulquiorra's unorthodox behavior, could only gawk blankly in the direction of Manami's voice. It frustrated her that her mind worked at such a languid pace whenever he was concerned. Only when she traced Manami's gaze to their still entwined hands did the young woman finally regain some sense of reality. However, even then, she just found herself ogling her hands cradled gently in Ulquiorra's grip. Her hand in his felt so right.

'Is this really happening?' she wondered. 'Is this a dream?'

The older woman cleared her throat to hide the growing grin on her own face. "So what are your plans?"

"Give us two rooms for the night." Sayuri was thankful that the Espada had answered for her. It was highly doubtful that her voice would function any time soon.

A polite frown etched onto the dark-haired woman's full lips. "I'm sorry, but we currently have only one room vacant because of the storm."

The ashen man's reply was quick and final. "One room is sufficient."

"Alright. I will be right back with your key." Again, Manami made her way through the back door. A grin spread across her face secretly as she did so.

The young flower brought her wide gaze to look at Ulquiorra's unmoving facade until he shifted his attention back to her.

"We already share your room," he answered her silent inquiry. "I do not see any problems with doing the same in this case."

Unconsciously, she began to form fists with her hands, and immediately realized that she had squeezed his hands.

"S-S-Sorry," she stammered, immediately removing her appendage from his grasp. She twisted her fingers in front of her and inspected her shoes. After swallowing the nervousness going up her throat, she whispered, "They'll get the w-wrong idea..."

"It's nonsense to care about a stranger's opinions," he pointed out.

Sayuri scanned his face then. "So you don't care if people think we a-a-a c-c-c-couple?"

"That is correct," Ulquiorra confirmed. "There is no other alternative than to share quarters for the night."

She returned her gaze back to her feet. She thanked the heavens when Manami reentered a second later.

The lock... it was cracking. Sayuri bit the inside of her cheek, attempting to gather herself. She cannot let it break. It had almost shattered during the time when she had been sore. He had treated her kindly back then that she nearly allowed the burden in her chest to spring free. Now, he was acting as though he cared for her yet again. She took a deep breath. He was confusing.

'Steady Sai,' she chanted mentally.

After passing the key to the ashen man, the older female readied her pen, hovering it over a fresh page inside a velvet-covered notebook, and asked for their names.

"Ulquiorra."

She waited for him to continue, and when he did not, she looked at the lily woman.

"O-Oh, Sayuri Kimura."

"Your room is on the third floor," she explained as she scribbled their names. "I hope you two have a fun night."

Without hesitance, the bat began to make his way to the ascending staircase.

Just as Sayuri was about to follow Ulquiorra's lead, she saw Manami give her a quick wink. The blue-eyed teen froze momentarily and blushed instantly. When she noted that the Cuatro was no longer present, she began to run up the stairs to catch up to him.

She shook her head to free herself from the now turbulent and incoherent thoughts plaguing her. Alas, much like how demanding it was to rid of the gnawing in her chest, it was also difficult to clear her mind.

Once she reached the second floor and began on the last flight of stairs, her foot caught the front face of the previous step instead of landing on top of it. Her vision went in slow motion when her center of gravity tipped backwards. Frantic hands reached forward to catch hold of the maple rails, but they only managed to graze it. She was falling backwards too quickly. Knowing she no longer had any way of stabilizing herself as her body was now nearly parallel to the floor, azure depths met the harsh light shining down on her from the ceiling.

Then, those arms were around her again, encircling her in a shroud of fleeting warmth and protection. It had all happened quickly. She had barely managed to catch a hold of his figure speeding down the stairway. His hand had wound around her wrist and yanked her forward sharply. Her face came into contact with his chest as his arms hugged her waist securely. She felt his head press against her hair. She had not regained her footing. Her hands and feet dangled limply as she remained pressed against his lean body.

He held onto her for a short while. Moments later, he slowly lowered her back onto the step below where he stood. Sayuri stared up at him through her lashes, her shy persona taking reign. What was she supposed to do?

His eyes were burning again; it was not out of fury or annoyance. It was something else. As another second passed, she became acutely aware of his hands, which lightly squeezed her sides. Neither of them spoke. Everything was still moving far too slowly, as though the heavens were relishing the encounter between them. Finally, time returned to its normal pace. The entire experience had only been a few seconds. She watched as his hand took her left one and allowed him to tug her up the final flight of stairs..

'What's going on?' she thought, her eyes looking at their joined hands. 'What's going on here?'

Only questions flooded her consciousness. No answer was in sight.

Ulquiorra permitted the strings in his body to take reign. He was too busy trying to suppress that odd burning under his skin to do much else. That woman had done something to him, again. His hold on her remained until they reached the third floor. Once she had safely planted her foot onto the wooden landing, the strings returned control to him, and he unceremoniously dropped her appendage. From there, he continued to saunter towards their room without giving a backwards glance. He ignored the presence stalking them, and just walked. The only sure thing he could do at that moment was to move one foot in front of the other.

Downstairs, a handsome man with long black hair tied neatly at the base of his neck walked through the small door to the reception area.

"Dear," he began, "Why did you lie to those youngsters? We have several rooms available."

Manami laughed, slightly embarrassed at being caught. "Those two are in love, I tell you!" she squealed, "They make the cutest couple I have ever seen in the longest time!"

"Don't meddle, Manami. It's not our business," he reasoned. His auburn pools flickered in the evening light.

"But Kai, all they need is a little push," she retorted. "This Ulquiorra fellow is just like how you used to act outwardly: cold and unfeeling. But I know that deep down, he cares for that girl. Just like how you loved me."

The light-skinned man shook her head disapprovingly. "Kami help those kids."

-O-

The hollow and the woman entered the room. After the stairway incident, they had ceased all eye contact and conversation- not that they talked much to begin with- as though they were repulsed by each other. They acted much like how light and dark would when they meet. Their existences contradicted and clashed. Yet, even with such an antagonistic relationship, one can never exist without the other. Light allows for darkness to thrive; darkness allows light to shine.

The room was only large enough to fit two futons, a table, and two chairs. The futons were already prepared, a dark violet blanket folded at the foot of each. What appeared to be two white robes sat neatly folded on top of the pillows. Two windows were situated on the birch wood wall opposite the entrance to the space. Outside was snow dancing freely in the air amidst the company of the night.

Three paintings hung between the two windows. One was an image of the sun setting behind a tall waterfall in the forest. The second was an oil painting consisting of a full moon hovering over a blooming sakura tree. The last illustrated the sun rising over an endless horizon.

Sayuri dazedly made her way to one of the chairs. However, just as her hand was about to pull one out, Ulquiorra stopped her.

"Woman, take off your clothes."

"Eh?" she managed to respond. Her head snapped up to look at him, but a white, fluffy thing was thrown in her direction. She reflexively caught it.

She shifted her attention to the blanc robe now in her clutches, stared at Ulquiorra, and then looked back down to the soft piece of cloth.

"Go change," the ashen man responded. "Your clothes are wet from melted snow."

Sayuri's blue orbs scanned herself from the foot upwards. She then glanced at Ulquiorra, again.

"My clothes aren't that wet," she stated, confused.

Emerald windows stayed blank. "Change. I do not need you getting ill in the middle of the night, especially when you have no access to medicine or hospitals."

As he spoke, the lily child consciously brought the robe to cover the lower half of her face. She was blushing, and she knew it. Worst of all, she could not help but smile.

'He's worried... about me,' she realized.

"Mm." The sound came out muffled due to the fabric still pressed to her face. She nodded her head in agreement. Her feet thankfully understood the situation and walked to the adjacent bathroom.

"Go take a warm bath, as well," she heard him instruct her. He could feel unwanted eyes watching his every move. "The warm water should be good for you in this cold weather."

Sayuri held the robe tighter to her front when she felt the heat under her skin augment. She closed the door behind her, leaning against it for support. She removed the robe covering her face as labored breaths escaped her mouth.

"Breathe..." she whispered.

Inhaling and exhaling slowly, she attempted to calm herself. She clutched the center of her chest. Her heart was beating too fast, and it showed no signs of slowing. She breathed in and out again. However, it was no use. She slid herself down the oak wood and settled on her knees. Her hands clenched more tightly, likely wrinkling the fabric of her clothes. She could feel it. Her heartbeat was loud, unceasing, and rapid.

He had been amiable to her recently. Training her. Helping her when she was sore. Protecting her from the snow. Saving her from Mai and Hiro. Catching her in the stairway. Caring for her well-being and health. The most profound fact of all was that all these things were only the recent examples of his benevolence towards her. Sayuri was unsure whether his recent actions were kindness or toleration. She had indeed saved his life, but he had repaid his debt- not that she had wanted any payment in return- to her over and over and over again. If she lived a dozen more lifetimes, she would still need another dozen to fully repay him for all he had done for her so far. She would undoubtedly owe him more the longer they remain in each other's close company.

He carried himself as a distant individual, even going to the extent of declaring himself as heartless, but his actions proved otherwise.

"No..." she prayed, biting her lower lip.

It was crumbling. The lock was weakening, and she could do nothing but hope that she could resist him.

When Ulquiorra heard the shower go on, he walked purposefully out of the room. The door slid to a close with a definitive thump.

-O-

Sayuri exited the bathroom, her towel thrown around her shoulders to separate her still wet hair from the dry fabric of the robe. As was expected, the Cuatro sat against the furthest wall, eyes intently on hers. He, too, had changed into the white robe during her absence; his clothes had been hung over the edge of the circular table. He had, after all, walked in the blizzard without his trench coat protecting him. He had sacrificed himself to keep her warm. The unsettling head of guilt encroached Sayuri's thoughts. She was still inconveniencing him. That was all she was: something that needs tolerating.

The loose clothing he now adorned left his ankles and feet and center area of his chest bare. Just as she had remembered, his skin was smooth throughout- pale, almost translucent. The lily child diverted her attention to her feet like a coward when her heart started to once more give a cry of longing. However, she still felt the unmistakable presence of his stare even as she hung her clothes on the backside of the chairs. What made her most conscious of all was that she knew that he was aware of the direction of his gaze. She could feel him examine over her form as though he could read everything about her.

Trying to ignore him as best she could, she picked up her cell phone and dialed home while turning her back towards him. The wild drumming in chest had ceased when the warm water of the shower cascaded over her, washing away her inhibitions, anxiety, and fears. She needed to get her mind off of him. Besides, she needed to tell her parents the situation, or most of it, anyway.

The phone at the other end started to ring. At the third one, she was greeted with the sound of Shin's voice.

"Can you tell Mama and Papa that I'm caught in the blizzard and can't get home?" she inquired, "But tell them I'm safe."

Ulquiorra, even in his gigai, was able to clearly discern the young boy's calm tone amidst the muffled, anarchic whistles of the storm outside. "Where are you?"

"At an inn by the mall."

"By yourself?" A hint of worry laced his voice that time.

Sayuri paused. "...No. I'm with Ulquiorra."

"Ok," Shin replied, "I'll cover for you."

"Stay warm, alright?" she told him.

"Yeah, yeah. I know. See you soon."

"Goodnight."

"Night," the growing male spoke. The line became silent after a final click signaled the end of the connection.

Sayuri placed her phone on top of the table. Without anyone to talk to, she was back to where she began. Ulquiorra was still scrutinizing her. Goosebumps gradually began to trail up her arm at the attention she was being given. She peered over her shoulder slightly as she rubbed her hands against her arms to help settle her nerves. One direct contact between their eyes and the unease returned tenfold. The steady beat within her chest turned to a marathon- a sprint that she knew she could not handle. She was in trouble.

She brought her face forward again, so she would not have to see him. The lily woman new that it was too dangerous to be near him right now. It was too dangerous for her.

"I hope this storm ends s-soon," she commented, cursing herself mentally for stumbling at the end. The subject needed to change. She doubted she can take much more of him boring into her; it seemed as though he could hear what she was thinking. Even worst, she felt as though he could tell what it was that she was feeling.

Without fail, he answered, "I had called Urahara earlier, and he informed me that this blizzard will not end until a few hours before dawn."

"Ah..."

Sayuri noted that he had at least clarified why he had to use the washroom upon their arrival at the inn.

Just as silence began to envelope the space, a knock came from the room's entrance. The young teen immediately seized the chance to answer it and was rewarded with the older woman's wide grin.

Manami allowed her attention to travel from Ulquiorra to Sayuri. "I brought you some dinner," she explained, elevating the tray in her hold a little higher to capitalize on her statement. "You must both be famished after the ordeal you had gone through."

"How thoughtful of you, ma'am. Please come in," the Kimura female said while stepping aside to allow room for Manami to walk past.

The aging woman placed the tray on top of the table, away from the dark-haired lad's drying clothes. As quickly as she had entered, Manami had exited the quarter with a larger smile planted on her face.

The oceanic-eyed young lady pulled out a chair and sat in front of two bowls of fresh food. Her gaze immediately zeroed in on the note written in neat and simple script beside a quaint porcelain teapot.

Drink this. It will give you the strength to get through the night.

She could not help but lift an ebony brow at the bold statement. Then, when the meaning became clear, crimson overpowered the usual olive color of her cheeks.

'A woman's intuition sure is a scary thing,' she noted.

"Is there something wrong with the meal?" she heard a baritone voice inquire.

Returning from her thoughts, Sayuri realized that she had been beaming and smiling at the note like an idiot.

Laughing sheepishly as she looked his way, she claimed, "No! Nothing at all."

"Then why are you not eating?"

"I, uh, got sidetracked," she admitted.

"Hn."

The Kimura child instantly poured a generous amount of the liquid from the pot into a black cup. A light mist of steam floated just above the surface. It was a clear and flowing liquid. She had almost assumed it was water until she brought it to her lips to take a sip. Her nose detected a diluted sweet aroma radiating from it. Naturally, she tasted it. It was warm going down her throat, leaving a slightly sweet, with a hint of bitterness, aftertaste. Deciding that it was not entirely disagreeable, she drank the entire cup and poured herself another. The heat from the drink carried on to her stomach, warming her to the core.

She ate one bowl of the miso soup languidly in order to prolong occupying her mind with eating. However, Sayuri was soon reminded about one crucial courteous thing that she had forgotten.

"Forgive me. I didn't ask," she apologized towards Ulquiorra, "Would you like some?"

"No." His answer was expected, but it was still necessary to ask him out of politeness.

As she proceeded with her meal alone, her thoughts began to unfortunately wonder to the night she would have to endure. She was essentially stuck in that small room with him without any means of escape. At least at home, she would have the option of sleeping on the couch if it got too uncomfortable being in the same space as him. She drained her second shot of the oddly calming liquid. It felt as though the drink was massaging her nerves; it was soothing. She could feel him inspecting her, but she did not bother to care this time around. She was exhausted.

Mysteriously verdant orbs observed the scene taking place before him. Her eyes were gradually closing, and her face was growing more flushed as she continued to finish the dinner. The expression on her face can also be characterized as guarded and wounded.

'Is she ill?' he wondered but thought against it. If her exposure to the frigidity of the storm had any effect, it should have emerged soon after they had entered this home. Her constitution was such that any detrimental effects on her person would immediately occur following the cause. As a result, he suspected that something else must have taken place earlier. She had indeed been acting odder than usual.

"What had those two foul creatures speak to you about while I had been gone?" he found himself asking.

Sapphire jewels momentarily bore into him, shocked at his random question, before returning its attention to pour another cup.

"Those pricks just wanted to belittle me again," she practically spat. She drank the cup and nearly slammed it onto the wood of the tabletop. Her attention was completely on him now. "They think they can get under my skin. Well, pft, too bad for them! I won't fall for their tricks anymore."

"Were you not bothered by their presence?" he continued.

"Of c-course I was! But I don't want to fight their way. I'd rather show them that I won't stoop to their level," she explained. "What's with all these questions anyway? Did you suddenly get curious about my life?"

Her expression was confident. Her oceanic pools clashed with his directly. She did not waver.

"Am I not allowed to ask questions?" he retorted as Sayuri began to pour more of the watery substance into her cup. "If I recall, I had answered a fair share of your questions while we had been in Hueco Mundo."

Sayuri paused her actions and brought her gaze upwards, trying to remember what it was he was referring to. "Oh yeah. That's right," she agreed. She gulped down the liquid, enjoying the feel of it going down her throat. The taste had gotten better. "Mm, my turn to ask questions now."

Ulquiorra studied her, and then nodded his head.

"Ok... um..." The lily teen placed the tip of her right pointer finger up to her lips, tapped her left fingers against the side of the half-full cup, and casted her attention downwards. "Oh! What were you doing at the mall?"

She courageously met his blank stare once more.

"I wanted to ensure that Grimmjow had not done anything foolish that would jeopardize our cover," he elucidated.

Ulquiorra watched as a pout formed on her lips. "What a boring answer," he heard her mutter. He glared at her odd response. It was unlike her.

She was acting and talking unlike herself. His attention fixed on the cup in her hands. She finished the remaining drink and made a move to stand up. He followed her movements as she made her way towards her futon.

"Is that all?"

"Yep! Too tired to think of anything else," she giggled.

She leaned forward to lay on her futon, when in the process, her vision began to blur. She closed her eyes in reaction. Without her sight, she fell clumsily on her knees and landed on the soft cushion of the futon. Immediately, she felt a presence in front of her.

"What happened?" Ulquiorra practically demanded. His hands remained by his side as he kneeled before her, his sharp emerald windows scanning her for injuries.

Sayuri clutched her head as a sharp jolt behind her forehead ravaged her nerves. She sucked a sharp breath of air through her nose and gritted her teeth. The pain soon abated to a dullness inside her skull. She opened her eyes and lowered her arms.

Ulquiorra lifted her chin and brought his head closer to better inspect her face. She stared at him, but he could tell that her eyes were slightly unfocused. Her orbs were dilated.

"Ne..." she breathed, "Why don't you like me?"

His dark brows lowered. Her question was bold and fearless, completely devoid of the self-conscious and withdrawn quality that was ingrained in her personal. However, that was not what caught his attention most. With their faces so close to each other, he could now smell it. It was incredibly faint, but it was there- the slightest hint of alcohol. Her mouthwatering scent had nearly disguised it.

"Is it because my boobs are small?" she asked. He watched as she peered down at herself. "Hmm... they are small aren't they?" When she began to slide the robe off her shoulder to better assess her own chest, his hand circled her wrist.

"Don't," he ordered firmly. "You are drunk, woman."

Sayuri removed her immured appendage from his grip and twisted her hands on her lap. "So it's true... You don't like my small boobs..." she whispered dejectedly, completely ignoring the second part of his statement.

"I did not say such a thi-"

She interrupted him. "It was implied! It's either you like me or you don't. And it's obvious that you don't!"

A layer of gloss was forming on her eyes. She looked up at him with another one of her pouts.

Ulquiorra looked away. He had no response. What was he supposed to say? A hollow should never have to deal with such human matters.

"Don't ignore me, Ulquiorra!" she chided.

When he continued to remain silent and avoiding her gaze, she threw herself at him. The towel on her shoulders flew behind her due to the sudden momentum. Surprised by her actions, the Fourth Espada could not react as they fell onto the futon with him on his back and her sprawled on top of him. He observed as she lifted herself up on her elbows and directly stared at him, mouth slightly parted. Her eyes were metamorphosing into that interesting teal color he had once seen.

"I know you'll never love me, s-so... so just..." the human woman murmured. Her full and rosy lips moved slightly with his word.

The feel of her lips gently caressing his did not register in his mind at first. When it did, his eyes widened. This weak creature dared to touch him. She dared to force herself on him as though she had the right. Yet, her lips were as soft as they had looked. The burning sensation in his chest engulfed him. Paralyzed, his mind had gone blank. Never had he been in such a situation. Slowly, his eye lids shut, and he found himself gently pushing back against her lips.

A moment later, she rolled to his right side, sound asleep with him as her pillow. Ulquiorra looked at her face. Her nose was petite. Many of her features were quaint. Her arms and legs were skinny. Her chest was modest. Her fingers were slender. Her neck... it would be so easy to snap it. Experimentally, he wrapped his left hand around her neck, imagining what it would be like to kill her this way. He then pointed his fingers to the center of her chest, imagining what it would be like to tear her heart out. He should kill her. He was turning into some unrecognizable individual due to her presence. Instead, he found himself mesmerized by the feel of her beat beating against him. The Cuatro Espada allowed his appendage to travel back up to her neck. When he attempted to order his hand to squeeze, it did not, and he had known that. Instead, it merely pushed the hair that had intruded on her cheeks behind her ear.

As she exhaled, he could still discern that barely detectable trace of alcohol in her breath. Her naturally appetizing smell overpowered it easily. The light olive skin of her cheeks were still rosy. She sighed contentedly and snuggled closer to his chest when he wrapped his right arm around her shoulders. One of her hands had wound tightly around the fabric over his torso.

He felt a throbbing in his chest. Again, that endless emptiness that was his identity was lessening, gaining boundaries.

He reached for the blanket and covered them both underneath its violet mass.

For the first time, he wanted to sleep. He closed his eyes and relaxed. His ears focused on the soft humming sound of her heart, soothed by the lullaby of her heartbeat. No hollows were nearby anyway. As he nearly dozed off, he felt the semblance of a heartbeat beating somewhere near him. It was not hers. No, he could still distinctly hear her heartbeat beating softly beside him. This second heart was weaker and barely audible.

When sleep finally embraced him, the last thing he noted was the strange heartbeat and the woman's own pulse drumming harmonically, in perfect sync.

-O-

Sayuri Kimura woke up to an empty room. She looked from one end of the space to the other, thinking that the ashen man was somewhere nearby. The sun had not yet risen. Outside, however, was silent. There more no more snowflakes cascading from the chaotic sky.

"What happened last night?" she murmured into the emptiness.

Her head pounded when she sat up. She massaged her forehead lazily to ease some of the discomfort.

The sound of her cell's ringtone echoed in the pre-dawn air. The loud noise caused her migraine to augment. The young woman walked on all fours to the table, where her phone continued to blast out noise. Using the chairs for support, she was able to stand up.

In bold letters, the caller I.D. read "Shin Kimura."

Sayuri answered the call and placed it on her ear. There was only a clear and short message from the other line.

"Come alone to the playground at the park. The game has begun."

The call dropped afterwards. Sayuri immediately redressed. She ran down the stairs, stopping at the reception desk to quickly write a letter to the owner.

In her hurry, she had missed the note, written in elegant cursive handwriting, that had laid beside her pillow.

Do not leave this inn no matter what. I will come back to get you.

Ulquiorra

-O-

Ok, the big question for this chapter is did you all think Ulquiorra was believable? He is becoming increasingly difficult to write as he develops into a character who "feels." Any observations, comments, or concerns would really be helpful.

See you all soon! Have a fantastic 2014!

IMPORTANT:

I am writing an original story and was wondering if anyone wanted to read the first chapter in confidence. I just wanted to know about people's reactions to it. Thanks! Let me know if you're interested.