Orihime's eyes fluttered open to find Ulquiorra sitting on the couch, reading something. Mortification didn't even begin to describe her feeling as the details of the 'dream' came rushing back to her. Flustered beyond words, she stood up and started to leave when Ulquiorra called her.
"Woman, are you hurt?"
"What?" she spun on her heels, "No, why would you think so?"
"You were moaning," he answered.
Holy shit! Taking a deep breath to calm herself she said, "Was I? I don't know."
Ulquiorra put down the book he was reading and stood up, "Alright, this is it. I know you've been hiding something from me. I want to know what is going on."
She knew he hadn't believed a word of the cock-and-bull story that she had fed him a few days ago and that he would eventually question her again. But to think he had chosen this very moment, when her mind was full of extremely vivid and intimate pictures of her and Ulquiorra, although in different avatars. Blushing furiously, she turned her back to him.
"T-there's nothing going on!"
"Are you telling that to me or to yourself?" he queried.
"Exactly what are you implying?" she asked, although not with conviction.
"You know very well what I'm trying to say."
Still facing away from him she said, "I'm sorry Ulquiorra, I don't know what you're saying or what you mean. I really …"
Before she could finish, a hand wound around her arm and she was whirled around. He held her inches away from himself as he stared into her eyes.
"Don't lie to me," he said in a low voice, "I can hear your heartbeat remember?"
She shuddered. He was so close; his breath was tickling her skin. Uninhibited the images from her dream came to her mind. Heat pooled into her lower abdomen. Her knees became week and an unparalleled need filled her entire being. Every pore in her body screamed for her to hug him and she gave into it. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. Burying her face into his chest and clutched his shirt. All the insecurities, the fears and the doubts that had plagued her for the past twelve days melted away. For the first time in a long while she felt safe. To her surprise though, Ulquiorra's arms came around her.
"Why won't you tell me what is bothering you?" he asked gently.
"Please Ulquiorra," she murmured against his chest, "Don't ask me anything. I can't lie to you but I'm not ready to tell the truth yet."
"You're upset and for some reason that bothers me," he said honestly.
Despite herself, Orihime smiled, "That is one of the sweetest things anyone has told me in a while."
"You will tell me when you're ready, won't you?"
She nodded, "Of course, who else will I tell it to?"
The two of them stood there, locked in each other's embrace. It felt so right! Orihime didn't want to get away from him and he didn't make any movement either. After a while she realized that there was one thing she could tell him.
She lifted her head to look at him, "There is something I forgot to tell you."
"What?" his voice was low and beautiful. It was giving her a strange sort of pleasure.
"Sora visited me the other day. He's left the world of the living."
"I know," he replied.
She smiled and burrowed into his chest again, her eyes closed. This was so wonderful, to be able to hold him without any worries any restrictions. Since she had understood her true feelings, she had no troubles in identifying the plethora of emotions that were running through her. His breath, his smell, his feel, they had lulled her to a sense of peace. Her defences had slipped and before she realized it, she told him what was on her mind.
"Ulquiorra, I love you."
It was as if every dream that she had built over the past few days came crashing around her as Ulquiorra shot out of her arms. He was looking at her as if seeing her for the first time.
"What do you mean?" his voice was sharp, cold.
"I … I'm sorry I don't know why I said that. I …"
"How many times do I have to tell you? Do not lie to me. It is futile, Woman," His voice was heavier than usual. The marks on his face were becoming darker, bigger. His eyes were changing colour. It was as if he was slipping away from his human form. His reiatsu was slowly but steadily increasing.
While Orihime had withstood his reiatsu on multiple occasions and had come to recognise its quality, there was a distinct darkness to it now that she was unfamiliar with. Without being told she knew that this cold dark feeling that was emanating from him was the reason his form was known as the embodiment of true despair. Shivering she hugged herself and was about to crumple on to the floor when a taloned hand grabbed her.
"Do you even realize the import of the words you just said?"
"U-Ulquiorra, I …" Orihime was completely overwhelmed by him. She was incapable of even thinking. Just his proximity was chilling her to the bone.
"Love?" he asked disdainfully, "What is that? Why do you feel the need to associate such human sentiments with me?"
Unbidden tears started to roll down Orihime's eyes but Ulquiorra wouldn't stop.
"Did you forget who I am woman?" He pulled her hand up and placed it on his chest, "Heart. That is where the emotions come from, right? Where is mine?"
He emphasised by putting her hand over his hollow hole, "Something is missing, don't you think?"
By now Orihime had broken down completely. He let go of her hand and she collapsed on to the ground, crying. Ulquiorra cast her a cold, unfeeling glance before walking over to the bedroom and flying out of the window.
Foolish, foolish woman! What had she been thinking? How could she even think of him in human terms? How could she have forgotten that he was the predator and she was the prey? For a prey to develop filial attachment towards its predator, the very idea was laughable.
But then, he hadn't exactly maintained the required status quo of their relationship either. He had actually toyed with the idea of having her as his mate. So it was actually a tad hypocritical of him to accuse Orihime of stupidity. But he had reacted purely on instinct. When Orihime had confessed her love to him, something deep within him had stirred. A cold, dark and very primitive feeling had come over him. It was only now, in retrospect, that he understood that he had been scared. Not for himself but for her. She had no idea that she was playing with fire.
She was tempting him, sorely. He desired her desperately and she was freely offering herself to him. His grip on himself was tenacious at best and this evening he had come dangerously close to losing it completely. One small slip on his part and the woman would be dead or worse. And he didn't want that for her. With her words, his lust had threatened to overpower him and he had done the only thing he knew to do to save both of them – lash out.
He changed his form and became a human. He had left Orihime crying on the floor and he didn't like it but it was for the better. Better for whom though, he had to wonder. He walked along the deserted streets of Karakura, hands shoved in his pockets. For some reason his hollow hole ached and he felt slightly suffocated. He frowned. Strange, this had never happened before. Ensuring that there was no one around to witness his actions, he unbuttoned his shirt. He fingered the edge of his hollow hole and inhaled sharply. It was slightly warm to the touch. What could have caused that unusual occurrence? Absently he buttoned his shirt and was about to resume walking when he felt a distinct reiatsu.
"Kurosaki," he called out.
The tall shinigami walked into his field of vision dressed in casual human clothing, his hands in his jacket pockets. "Undressing in public view? Is that a new fetish that I'm unaware of?"
"Are you here to exchange banalities?" Ulquiorra didn't let on but he hoped Kurosaki hadn't seen him fingering his hollow hole. That could lead to some uncomfortable questions.
"No, I'm here to ask what exactly are you training Orihime for."
"As her baby sitter, shouldn't you already be aware of it?" Ulquiorra queried.
"Keep walking, we'll attract attention otherwise," Ichigo said brusquely.
"Really? Whose? A few stray crickets'?" Nonetheless he joined Kurosaki.
The Shinigami and the Hollow walked in uncomfortable silence for a while before Ichigo's patience ran out, "So are you going to tell me or not?"
"To withstand reiatsu," Ulquiorra answered.
Ichigo stopped, "Excuse me?"
Ulquiorra continued to walk, "Are you hard of hearing or are you so dumb that you don't understand what I said?"
"Why would you train her to withstand reiatsu?"
"She asked me to," he answered.
"Ulquiorra," Ichigo caught up to the hollow, "You need to stop, now! She collapses at the slightest spike of reiatsu she will die if she endures the entire weight of your power."
"Where is this concern for her safety stemming from?" Ulquiorra turned to face him, "If I recall correctly, you knocked her out with your reiatsu and then abandoned her. You left her alone and defenceless. So you have lost all rights to preach."
"What I did was for her own good," Ichigo countered.
"Is that what you tell yourself to assuage your guilt?"
Ichigo changed tack, "What I did was different. I'm not saying it was good but it was different. What you're doing might harm her. You have to stop."
Ulquiorra's eyes narrowed, "Make me."
Ichigo met Ulquiorra fierce stare squarely. The two of them stayed locked in a stare match for a while. The honk of a passing car caused both of them to blink.
"See you around, or not," Ulquiorra said and left the scene using sonido.
"Ichigo," the blond man said in a condescending voice, "You just have to be on standby. Is it so difficult?"
"Get someone else to do your work," Ichigo snapped, "I've just about had it with the two hollows and their impudence."
They were in the small shop that doubled up as Urahara's convenience store. He had planted reiatsu suppressing devices all around the shop to prevent detection by either of the two powerful hollows. Gathered in there were Ichigo, Rukia, Urahara and his black cat.
"You know it can't be anyone else," the cat said from a chair.
"AND PLEASE GET RID OF YOUR TALKING CAT! IT FREAKS ME OUT!" Ichigo screamed.
Urahara merely continued to smirk idly while the cat proceeded to scratch its ears. Rukia looked at the cat for a bit then turned to Urahara.
"Seriously, why do you possess a talking cat?" she asked, "He's a little creepy."
"It's a she," the cat said, "I'm a female. Honestly, one would think being a female yourself you'd recognise your own kind."
Rukia stared at the cat flabbergasted, "I'm sorry," she said finally, "I don't quite know what to say to that. Your voice sounds like a man's. "
"So?" the cat asked.
"Cut the chatter," Ichigo said irritably, "I really don't get it. Why does it have to be me? I mean couldn't someone else do it? Someone with more patience? Someone like Kira for example?"
"No," Urahara replied, "It has to be you. Like I said earlier, there is something very precious and invaluable waiting for you at the end of it all."
"You just wanna mess with me, that's all," Ichigo grumbled.
"That too," Urahara agreed gleefully.
"While we are talking about that," the cat said seriously, "How's this for some messing?"
Saying so the cat morphed into a beautiful, full grown, curvaceous, purple haired woman. If that transformation wasn't disturbing enough, she was also completely naked. Ichigo let out what sounded like a cross between a mouse's squeak and a pig's oink and fell off the chair. Rukia blinked several times but managed to stay on. Meanwhile Urahara and the woman were in splits.
"What the hell?" Ichigo screamed pointing at her, "Why are you a woman? And why aren't you wearing clothes?"
"Don't you think a stray cat wearing clothes would attract attention?" she asked innocently.
"Yoruichi Shihoin?" Rukia said seriously, "So this is where you've been? Hiding in plain sight, masquerading as a cat?"
"What?" Ichigo said perplexed, "This is Yoruichi? The girl your brother was supposed to marry?"
Yoruichi's smiled softly, "Yes, I am Yoruichi. The girl Byakuya was supposed to marry."
Several days later, Grimmjow sat in his apartment engrossed in a hilariously entertaining T.V. program called "The Jerry Springer Show". He loved the way the people in the show beat each other up for ridiculous reasons and the drama that it contained. It made him chuckle. The episode he was watching had a woman who was complaining about her boyfriend running away with her best friend's sister. The two women were pulling each other's hair and Grimmjow was laughing his butt off on the couch. The doorbell distracted him and he walked over to the door chuckling his heart out. He opened the door and to his intense surprise he found Orihime standing there, looking distraught.
"Orihime?" he was perplexed.
"Hi Grimmjow," she said hesitatingly, "Can I come in?"
"Uh, yeah sure," he moved to the side to allow her in.
She walked in and sat on the couch. She looked pale and thoroughly shaken. Grimmjow frowned and switched the TV off.
"What's going on? Has Ulquiorra said something?"
Orihime shook her head, her lips set into a tight line.
"Then what the fuck is wrong?"
Orihime fumbled with her purse strap for a while. She bit her lips and looked up at him.
"Grimmjow, I need your help."
"Sure," he replied uncertainly, "Who do I have to track?"
"I don't need to track someone," she said shivering, "I need something bigger."
"And that would be?"
"Take me to Hueco Mundo."