"Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!" - J.R.R. Tolkien

Chapter One

He walked silently and with a purpose through the dismal underbelly of the city. This was the place where decent people dared not tread. The place where humanity turned a blind eye and hoped it would just disappear. But a blind eye would not rid the world of what lie in this dark, desolate land.

That was where he came in; one of the few remaining of his kind. An ordinary human who hunted those who preyed on humanity - the filthy beasts known as the children of Cain - the vampires. To him they were nothing more than bloodsucking motherfuckers who feasted on the lifeblood of man, and he would not rest until every stinking one of them was dead.

The tunnels beneath the city were their stomping grounds. This was where they fled when they were hunted. But he knew during the day these bastards walked the city streets disguised as ordinary men. Mankind, secure in their beliefs passed down through history, would never believe these beasts walked among them. But he knew better.

Sunlight barely fazed them. It drained their powers enough to be an inconvenience, but a short time within a darkened room would restore whatever was lost. Besides, the tricky shits had come up with some rather ingenious ways of protecting themselves in this modern world of theirs.

Mirrors were more their friends than enemies. In fact they were rather conceited fuckers. Very conscious of their image and the outward beauty they hid their hideous true selves behind.

Even religion, the one thing that held them at bay for so many centuries, had lost its power to contain them. Mankind had become his own god. And by casting aside faith in the divine, they had thrown away their only true defense. Hell, some of the most vicious of these monsters sat in the pews every Sunday, openly mocking the God that had cast out their creator thousands of years ago.

Now was their time. Now was the age where they roamed free. Yet there were men and women like him. Humans who knew who they really were. Humans who still believed in the power of faith. And armed with the weapons of the past they had finally put the bastards on alert.

He paused. The air around him was heavy with the coppery scent of blood. The dark tunnels grew unearthly silent. This was the domain of the dead. This was where they walked.

He could sense his prey. The monster was close.

His hand gripped the sawed-off-shotgun that was strapped to his back. Slowly he eased it out, and pointing it into the space in front of him, fired. The shot, loaded with silver pellets, exploded as it struck the monster before it could rip out his throat with its sharp claws. It screamed in pain as the silver worked to paralyze it long enough for him to pull the katana from its sheath. Pantera was his blade; made from the strongest steel and baptized and blest in holy water. He grinned as he lifted it shoulder height.

"Time to die bloodsucker," he stated calmly as he swung, decapitating the vampire.

Its body fell to the ground. He reached down and picked up its head. The body he set on fire. Turning, he walked back the way he had come. The head left a bloody trail behind him, but he knew they wouldn't come for their brother. When he reached the opening to the sewer, where it emptied into the harbor, he set the head ablaze as well.

He stood staring out into the early morning sky. The sun was just rising above the waterline. Shit, it had taken most of the evening to track this bastard down. Too much time wasted on one creature.

He was tired. Bone tired. And he wished nothing more than to sleep, but it would seem that this prick's friends were not as callous as he originally believed. Turning back towards the tunnel he noticed three more making their way. He lifted his shotgun…

"Orihime," he breathed into her ear as he squeezed her shoulder lightly. "It's late. Maybe you should save that for tomorrow."

Her hand stilled from its place above the paper. Her eyes held the figure of Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez, the protagonist of her popular graphic novel, Pantera. He stood proud and confident, ready to face the new threat coming his way. How could she just leave him like that? It would be unfair and cruel.

Without meeting her husband's gaze she resumed her drawing, "I need to finish. Go ahead without me. I'll join you later."

He stood silent for a moment and she could feel his eyes boring into her back. When he spoke again his voice was cool, "Can't you put aside the story for tonight and spend some time with me?"

"I'm at a crucial place," she replied. "I can't leave Grimmjow as he is…"

"He is a fictional character, Orihime," cold anger now crept into his voice. "I'm your husband. I think I deserve a little more of your time."

"You were the one who chose to work late at the office tonight," she stated just as coldly.

"I had an important project…"

"And my work is not important?" she placed her pen gently down, still staring at the hero of her story, refusing to look at her own husband. "I was ready to spend time with you four hours ago when our supper sat on the table growing cold."

"I called," he started, but she didn't want to hear it.

"It's so easy for you to put me aside when it is convenient for you," she could not hide the bitterness in her words. "Yet when I am busy, you expect me to drop everything and pay attention to you."

He grabbed her chair and turned it around so that she had no choice but to face him. Green eyes stared at grey. Locked in a silent battle of wills, no one spoke. She wanted to look away. It was always so hard to hold his stare without wishing to simply disappear. But she refused to back down.

"Sometimes," his voice lowered, but she could still hear the anger, "I think you love this character more than you love me."

She laughed nervously, "You are being ridiculous. Grimmjow is simply a character I created…"

"Is he?" he held her gaze until finally she looked away, "Because I wonder Orihime. I fear that deep down inside you prefer his fictional life to our flesh and blood reality."

She stared at her hands in her lap. He was right. She knew that. She did sometimes write to escape from him; to escape the pain.

"Can you blame me?" she asked.

He released his grip on the arms of her chair and stood.

"You can continue to run Orihime, but eventually you will have to face me, and face what we have lost."

She closed her eyes tight, but the tears slid past her sealed lids. It hurt too much - simply being with him sometimes hurt too much.

"I can't do this tonight."

"Then when," his voice grew louder, "When are you going to leave that world behind and deal with me?"

She merely shook her head.

"Grimmjow is not real," his voice was now ice. "His world does not exist, but if you continue like this you will lose yourself and your ability to discern what is real and what is pretend."

"I am not an idiot," her eyes met his again. "I know the difference."

"Do you?" he asked. And then he sighed, "I suppose you do, which only makes your choice more painful."

"I'm not trying to hurt you," she replied honestly.

He said nothing. Looking to her desk he stared silently and then turned to leave.

"I'm going to bed," he finally spoke. "I have an early meeting, so I will be gone by 6:00."

With that he left. She knew what his unspoken words meant. If she remained here she would not see him again until tomorrow evening. But she was not ready to face him. Not ready to give herself to him right now. Her heart still hurt too much.

She turned back to her work. Grimmjow's eyes met hers. He was such an uncomplicated man, unlike her husband. Grimmjow wore his emotions for all to see, where as Ulquiorra buried his deep in his heart.

He had been right though. Some days she much preferred Grimmjow's company. And some days, more now than ever before, she longed to escape to his world, because in his world the enemy was tangible, and with the proper weapons could be defeated. Her demons, in this world, were not as easy to distinguish, and honestly she had no clue as to how to make the pain disappear.

The sun made its way through the window warming her face. She burrowed deeper into the blanket, but the couch in her office, where she had finally collapsed exhausted late last night, was not comfortable enough for her to desire to remain. Slowly she sat up and checked the clock on the table beside her drawing desk. It was past nine. Three hours since Ulquiorra had left for work.

She swung her feet over the edge of the couch and stretched. Taking a deep breath she exhaled as she glanced to the desk. She had successfully written Grimmjow's defeat of the three vampires bent on revenge. Now her hero would head home, but she had plans in store for later that evening.

It was time, she believed, to add a female character to the story. A possible love interest for her hero. But first she needed to pee, and then maybe breakfast and a shower. Once done she would complete the first chapter of her latest book about the vampire hunter. The final book actually. She had not mentioned that to her husband yet. It was time, as much as she dreaded it, to bring her beloved hero's story to a close.

Rising she said, "I'll be back shortly Grimmjow."

Of course there was no answer from her desktop. Grimmjow after all was just a man that she created, and no matter how much she desired at times that he was indeed real, she knew that he would never exist beyond that place in her imagination where she had formed him two years earlier.

Ulquiorra sat at his desk staring at the computer screen, but his thoughts were far from the project that was due at the end of the week. Orihime had not come to their bed last night. Instead she had stayed up finishing her work on that damn story. He had looked in on her before he had left that morning, only to find her asleep on the couch.

So it would seem she did prefer the company of Grimmjow to him.

He let out a frustrated sigh as he ran his fingers through his hair. When this had started two years ago he had left her alone. He figured it was simply her way of dealing with the pain. His path was work. Yet the more he threw himself into his career, the further she dove into the book, and suddenly they had grown so far apart that he wondered at times if anything would be able to mend this rift.

Of course he had never thought her book would have become such a hit. Now with a movie deal in the works, she was busier than ever. But he didn't begrudge her that success. She deserved it. What concerned him was her ability to discern reality from fiction, or more truthfully, whether she had created Grimmjow to fill those spaces that he had been unable to.

The man was his polar opposite. Not just his build, or his looks, but in his core. He was overtly passionate. Always spoke his mind, even when it was best not to. And most of all he could never do any wrong – at least in Orihime's eyes, and that of her readers. To Ulquiorra there wasn't a rule the man didn't break. He found him irresponsible and dangerous, but maybe that was what Orihime wanted.

"Damn it," he swore as he rose from his desk and walked over to the window that overlooked the city, twelve stories below.

He was lost. All of this was so far removed from what he had envisioned their marriage to be when he had proposed to her eight years ago. However, who could have foreseen the events and trials they would face. And where some couples dealt with loss together, they seemed to just drift further apart.

Grimmjow faced the latest vampire he had been tracking. This bastard had dragged its victim below the city and into the tunnels. Now with her body pressed against its own, the creature smiled, its gaze on the hunter, as its fangs stretched over the creamy flesh of the woman in its arms.

"What ya gonna do hunter," it said as saliva dripped from its fangs.

"I'm going to blow your fucking head off," Grimmjow replied calmly.

"You try that and the girl will die too," it grinned. The fangs now skimming her neck, riding over the pulsing artery that it intended to puncture.

"Is that so," he seemed to consider. "Ah shit, it's just one woman…"

The vampire's eyes widened a fraction as Grimmjow pointed the shotgun.

"Actually I'm a damn amazing shot," he pulled the trigger and half the creature's face exploded.

It dropped the woman to the ground as it screamed from the searing pain of the holy water that burned its skin. Its jaw exposed. Bone. Blood. Tissue. The flesh trying to mend, but the water continued to burn its path faster than the vampire could regenerate.

"Holy water!" it yelled. "Holy water doesn't work…"

"It does if you believe it will," he grinned as he drew his katana. "I happen to believe. And you are about to kiss your sorry ass goodbye."

The creature hissed lunging forward, but the hunter was too fast. In one swift motion the vampire's head was sliced clear from its body.

"Stinking piece of shit," he bent down to retrieve the head. Kicking the body with his bloodstained boots, he continued, "Think you can threaten me?"

He laughed as he looked into the half melted face of the creature. Switching to the holy water was a good decision. This one had been rather egotistical. A fashion model if he remembered right. Now the pretty boy's face was a mess of oozing flesh. Actually he should have let him live. Scars like that wouldn't heal completely. But then the only good vampire was a dead vampire.

On the ground the woman moaned as she pushed up onto her hands and knees. Not sure what he would be facing he aimed the shotgun in her direction…

Ulquiorra stood beside her looking down at what she had drawn. She turned to gaze at the clock. It was past midnight.

"Did you just get home?" she asked.

He turned his eyes to meet hers. "This project is due by Friday, and since I will be going in late tomorrow morning, I needed to put in extra hours to stay on track." He glanced back at her work. "I see you have been busy as well."

She nodded and placing a smile on her face said, "I am about to introduce a possible romantic interest."

His eyebrow arched as he inspected the woman crouched before the hunter. Grimmjow's gun was aimed at her head.

"A vampire?"

Orihime smiled, "Maybe. Maybe not."

He stared a little longer and something in his gaze changed. "She looks familiar."

"You can't even see her face," she too looked at the drawing.

"I know, but there is something…" He turned back to her. "Are you coming to bed?"

"I think I want to finish this." She replied.

"We have an early morning," he said and then adding emphasis, "Together."

She stared straight ahead, no longer able to meet his gaze. She had successfully managed to put it from her mind most of the day, but now with his reminder, she felt her chest tighten.

"I suppose this will have to wait then," she turned to leave the room.

"Orihime," he reached out and grabbed her wrist.

She looked back at him. His eyes searched hers a moment before he dropped her hand. "Never mind."

She wondered what he was about to say, but felt relief that he was not about to force anything out of her. It was odd that he had become the one that wanted to talk lately. That had always been her role, ever since they met in college. Now it would seem their roles had reversed, and she found herself avoiding his intrusion into her feelings. She wasn't ready. Maybe she never would be.

Together they walked from the room. Both changed and got into bed, but there was no holding each other. They each rolled onto their sides facing the opposite direction. It had come to this.

As she drifted off to sleep she imagined instead another man. A dynamic man who she realized she was falling in love with, whether he was real or not.

They stood outside the church. She hesitated to go in. She hated this. As much as she knew it was necessary, she still hated the pain it would cause her. Ulquiorra had been quiet all morning, more so than usual, but as they stood outside the church he took her hand and gave it a squeeze.

She couldn't meet his gaze. Instead she pulled her hand from his and whispered, "I can't Ulquiorra. I know this mass is for him…but I just can't do it…I can't…"

She turned quickly, her tears blurring her gaze. She had to get away from him and from all those painful memories. Heading into the street, she didn't notice the car intent to beat the red light. And when it struck her, she was so caught off guard that she didn't even hear Ulquiorra's terrified yell. In fact she didn't know that she had been hit. Around her the world went black as her head slammed hard into the windshield and her body was propelled off the car and onto the ground several feet away.

Ulquiorra ran, unconcerned for his own safety, into the street. Orihime lay crumpled on the pavement. He was shocked. It had all happened so fast, and all he could think to do was to grab her broken body and hold her, but as he reached for her a hand another shot out and gripped his firmly.

"You shouldn't move her," a deep, calm voice spoke. "It may cause more harm." Taking his hand he placed it in Orihime's outstretched one. "Here hold her hand." The man smiled reassuringly at him. "It's okay, I'm a doctor. I'll help her best I can."

He knelt down too stunned to argue. Blood pooled around his wife's head. Once more he was helpless to do anything to protect her. Helpless to save her from pain. Just as he had been before. And if she died he didn't know if he would be able to pull himself together again.

Without her why even try.

Orihime blinked hard. Her head was killing her. Disoriented she pushed up onto all fours. Behind her she heard the click of a gun cocking.

"Just take it slow and steady," the deep male voice called out. "One false move and I won't hesitate to blow your head off as well."

She turned slowly, as she got to her knees. The barrel of a shotgun tapped lightly against her cheek.

"Don't even think about trying anything."

Blue eyes pierced her own grey ones. His expression was deadly serious, and she knew he would kill her if she gave him reason. After all she had created him.

"Grimmjow?" she asked.

She watched his eyes open wide in surprise before she lost consciousness.