Finished the story (there are yet another TWO parts I need to proof after this one), and even after losing 14 pages of part three, I felt good getting this one out. I haven't felt a fic lacking in a audience since I wrote The Girls (but that one did get well-received) and I haven't gotten as much out of an emotional purging from a story since Bright Majestic Winter. I think this one is a re-writing of "Winter""in a strong way--another excuse to play with the ideas of sexual power and identity, but this time I didn't want Aizen pulling all the strings. This is the new, un-victimized "Winter?" A dominance fic with romance? XD I tell you, I'm in outer space with this one.
Having writer's solipsism for breakfast, lunch, and dinner--it's the weekend after all.
*turns up choral music*
Without further ado, the part I am sure is going to make people go "huh?" :
Disclaimer: Kubo Tite owns Bleach; Bleach owns my soul.
Description: Hard R. A story about identity. Can Ulquiorra’s allegiance ever waver? Can Ishida’s? Aizen, Gin, Tousen, Orihime, Zael-Apollo.
Warnings: Spoilers for Hueco Mundo arc, (mild) dark-fic-ness, (not overly explicit) sexual weirdness, mind fuckery, a hougyoku with erotic powers, and a long author’s note at the end.
A/N: This story, written the week chapter 272 appeared, begins with the presumption that Renji and Ishida were defeated by Zael-Apollo.
It makes her think that she chose this path of her own free will…
And thus her heart wavers a bit~ Ulquiorra, chapter 249
Orihime didn’t think anything in Las Noches could surprise her anymore. When first brought to this room, she had startled at every stirring of reiatsu. Ulquiorra--adept at hiding his spirit energy--had made her nearly hit the ceiling the first time he opened the door. “Knock, please,” Orihime had asked of him. “People with manners don’t sneak up on other people.”
Ulquiorra would announce himself before entering her quarters now.
Even as the malevolent-looking Espada had popped out his eyeball and showed her image after image of her friends being murdered, Orihime wondered if maybe Ulquiorra was an Innocent. Were not all the Arrancar the tragic creations of a truly evil man? Maybe her tear-stained keeper was someone who didn’t understand his crimes.
Then, after the fourth time Ulquiorra entered to show her eyeball projection, she watched Ulquiorra’s face instead of the friend’s death.
The Espada didn’t know he was being watched, and Orihime’s never veered, even though the periphery of her vision caught Abarai Renji kneeling and having his head sliced off. An unseen murderer, as always, swung the sword. As always, there was nausea and horror as head and torso tumbled together, but Orihime didn’t cry. Orihime had already seen Kurosaki-kun, Kuchiki-san, and Ishida-kun die the same way, and she didn’t believe any of it. What she did believe now was that Ulquiorra had a conscience.
He had a conscience because a trace of pride had flickered in his one eye. A look of accomplishment. An infinitesimal betrayal of feeling. She’s fooled, the eye had said. This is very good.
Only a monster, Orihime had thought, would take delight in deceiving people like that.
Still, doubt was part of her human soul. Orihime worried that her friends had not escaped Las Noches after all. She doubted her assessment of Ulquiorra. Maybe she was reading him all wrong; maybe he was indeed an unemotional fact-bringer and the images in his retina were real. Orihime had doubted, with an ache in her belly and dread in her chest, until she sensed Ishida-kun.
Her hopes, at that moment, were so overwhelming that they buried her. She couldn’t think straight. If Ishida was alive, then the others might be somewhere in the palace. If Aizen wanted Orihime for her healing powers, then he might want everyone else alive for similar reasons. To harvest their powers--something like that. Orihime could save them. Orihime could still destroy the hougyoku and save them all.
It was not a half-hour after her emotions were settling and Orihime was sitting dreamily on the couch, basking in Ishida-kun’s undeniable reiatsu, that Ulquiorra came to stir up her anger.
“Ulquiorra here,” came a voice behind the door.
“Monster,” Orihime whispered. The sense of feeling betrayed surprised her.
Ulquiorra walked inside, and Orihime felt nothing but fury at the sight of him. She sputtered a bit before she managed to yell, “You--you MONSTER.”
The great Espada Number Four took one step backwards. His surprise over finding Orihime like this was that great.
“They’re not dead! They’re not dead!” Clenching her fists, Orihime rose from the giant white couch. “Ishida-kun is here! I can feel him!”
“Why do you care?” Ulquiorra asked. He was composed now, and he sounded genuinely curious. “Why does it matter? You will never see Ishida Uryuu or the others again.”
“What?” Orihime had been stomping in the direction of her keeper with violent intent but at those words she stopped cold. “But you let me believe they were dead! Why? Why would you do such a thing?”
“Aizen-sama’s orders,” Ulquiorra said.
Orihime’s lip curled and she shook her head. “No, no, you enjoyed it. I know you did.” The tears were starting in her eyes. “What kind of person are you?” Orihime hated Ulquiorra and she hated herself for having doubted his wickedness once. Aizen’s envoy. Something not human. How could he be so inhuman?
“If Aizen told you to kill me and then kill yourself ….” Orihime felt the question fly out of her mouth, apparently from nowhere. “You would do it, wouldn’t you?”
Ulquiorra was looking at a corner of the ceiling.
“No,” he said. “I would not kill you.” His gaze swept around the giant, luxurious drawing room as if looking for a flaw in its perfection. “And I would certainly not kill myself.”
That was not the answer Orihime had been expecting.
“You’re too important to Aizen’s objectives,” Ulquiorra explained. “And I myself am important to them. Aizen-sama would never give such an order. An Aizen-sama who would. …” Espada Number Four actually hesitated. “Such an Aizen-sama would be an illusion.”
Orihime didn’t understand, but there was something changed about Ulquiorra. He didn’t seem any less monstrous but he did seem more real. Less Hollowish and more plain bad person like Tousen or Gin. Maybe that was because Orihime had actually been disappointed in him. What kind of person was she that she had expected anything less than malicious intent from this being?
Orihime was still breathing hard from rage. “I can sense Ishida-kun in the room right next to this one, but where are the others? Kurosaki-kun and--”
“You couldn’t tell? They were thrown back to the Living World.” Ulquiorra’s truth-telling voice was no different from his lying voice. “They need to grow up. They may yet develop into beings Aizen-sama would find interesting.” He walked further into the room and placed one palm on the wall. “If your sensing abilities are keen enough to penetrate this construction and recognize Ishida Uryuu, then you must have felt your friends leave this realm alive.”
He stared at her. “You doubted, though.”
What kind of accusation was that supposed to be? Orihime felt accused of something.
“What are you going to do with Ishida-kun?”
“He asked the same of you,” said Ulquiorra. “Wouldn’t it be better if you and he considered one another dead? You only distract yourselves with this unnecessary doubt and worry.”
“Unnecessary?” Orihime was certain that her friends were alive but there was a chalky taste of fear rising in her mouth. What could be worse than believing a friend was dead? How was grief supposed to save her from distraction? Who was this person?
“Well, I came to see if you were alright,” said Ulquiorra. “And so you are. Passionate, even. Aizen-sama may find that interesting or he may not. In the meantime I have some business with your friend next door….”
He seemed about to turn to leave but then he looked like something occurred to him.
How could other Arrancar say that Ulquiorra was expression-less? Orihime clearly saw glimmers of this and that in his eyes, and right now he was looking at her with self-satisfied delight again.
“I do what I please on assignments like these.” His head cocked ever so slightly to the left and his expression took on a sudden guilelessness. His eyes no longer seemed haughty. They looked curious. “Would you like to watch?”
Orihime didn’t understand what he meant, but she knew he was insinuating something terrible. She flung herself at Ulquiorra’s chest and tore at his clothes with her nails. His jacket seemed to be as steely as his flesh. It hurt her fingers to clutch it. She was sobbing hysterically now. “What are you going to do to him? What are you going to do?”
Ulquiorra grabbed Orihime by the wrists and noticed the bracelet he had given her in the dangai. “Zael-Apollo didn’t take this back?” He unsnapped the clasp, and the silver chain dropped into his palm. “Why didn’t you try passing the barriers of this room with this on?”
Orihime swallowed a sob. “What?”
“Not too bright of you,” said Ulquiorra. “And now you must stay here. You’re clearly too upset for a proper reunion with your Quincy friend.”
He let go her hands and--holding the bracelet--walked through the wall and into Ishida Uryuu’s room.
Aizen’s eyes were narrowed with seriousness when Gin entered the observatory.
Gin was smiling broadly, as always. “Permission to rip the stick out of Kaname’s ass and to poke it into one of his blind eyes?”
When he got no answer, Gin leaned over Aizen’s shoulder. “Anything spicy happening yet, Sousuke?”
Aizen leaned backwards in his large white chair and allowed Gin to rest a bony elbow on the shoulder of the king of Las Noches. “Zael-Apollo shut down communications and cameras in his laboratory again. It’s his way of asserting his independence but his moment with Ulquiorra wasn’t even recorded. Ulquiorra wasn’t there for long but--”
“Ohhh, how unfortunate,” whined Gin. “Zael is always so much fun.”
“You’ll have your fun soon,” Aizen said. He flicked a switch to show Orihime kneeling on the floor and crying into her hands. “Ulquiorra is frightening the Quincy at the moment. Nothing interesting, the usual taunts.
“Your Number Four tells lies so well,” Gin said. “That doesn’t bother you?”
“Your lies are better,” Aizen said. His face was relaxing into a slight smile. “Your tongue is more talented.”
“You flatter me, Sousuke.” Gin settled himself in the seat next to Aizen’s. “I really don’t understand why you wanted to hide the truth from your boy. You seem to think he’s the most devoted creature in your universe.”
“There’s a simple answer, Gin. An intelligent being will fight humiliation more than death. Otherwise there would be no military suicides. Ulquiorra may suspect that he could die during this experiment, but that doesn’t bother him. He is wary, though, of being humiliated.”
“By what? He’s your darling. Any unknown effects of the hougyoku shouldn’t matter to him. Limb loss, hair loss …unsightly rashes.”
“If this experiment is successful, each of the two Quincy souls will suffer from a loss of identity. Ulquiorra would forever be subordinate to a mere human in order for me to manipulate spiritrons.”
“Ohhh.” Gin faked a shudder. “I don’t even want to know the details myself. I skimmed your notes and it all sounds very disgusting. A little sexy sometimes but generally disgusting.”
“This is a necessary experiment,” Aizen said. “Not to mention a fascinating one.”
“Really, Sousuke--you’d give up your most faithful Espada for one night’s entertainment?”
“I would need the two of them, Gin. A Quincy-Arrancar hybrid is as yet beyond my grasp. This is a first step. Soul mutation.” He flicked a switch to show Ishida’s room and leaned closer to the monitor. “Why should I have told Ulquiorra that I expect two incomplete beings on the order of Grand Fisher or Aaroniero Aleri? I didn’t think he would cooperate fully if he understood that he would be a humble prototype and that prototypes are always discarded.”
“Alas, poor Number Four, you didn’t trust him after all to make this veeeery special sacrifice.” Gin shook his head slowly. “Fu-fu-fu, the things we do for you, Sousuke. You would think that Number Four would volunteer for the job based on its status-value alone.”
“My army is devoted,” Aizen said. “They would die for me but they are still individuals.”
“Even Number Four?”
“Yes, I know. Yet another reason why he’s perfect for this experiment. His apparent lack of personality. But it’s there, Gin. Even in the most conscious-less man, it is there.”
The issue of self had never mattered to Ulquiorra before. He had never thought about who he was or who he wasn’t beyond being Espada Number Four. He knew that he had preferences in clothes and that he enjoyed lying more than killing. He also knew that he wasn’t like other Arrancar; most of them were soldiers with unsubstantiated bravado or bloodthirsty intent.
Ulquiorra entertained no foolish goals about challenging other Espada for a higher rank. He served Aizen-sama, that was all. It was the only practical thing to do; there was no one more powerful than Aizen-sama.
Aizen had promised all who followed him a release from the tortures of the Hollow soul; he had prophesized a universe reborn with justice for all Hollow. Ulquiorra, though, had never felt tortured and he had little interest in the particulars of this New Kingdom.
Ulquiorra believed that Aizen would be true to his promises, but he felt no investment in the matter. He believed in the thorough completion of his duties and in the reward of being stroked by Aizen’s large palms while lying in Aizen’s large bed. He didn’t care if he was Aizen’s favorite, his second lover, or his third.
But disappointment and rejection were things Ulquiorra had yet to experience.
“Who are you?” asked Ishida Uryuu, and Ulquiorra didn’t answer.
The human standing now before Ulquiorra looked young, but Ulquiorra was younger. The Quincy was a boy warrior, but Espada Number Four was a three-month-old being with a head full of facts and--despite the talents that made him an expert psychological torturer--no variety of personal memories beyond those three months. Apparently, this is how Aizen had wanted to create him. Ulquiorra’s memories had been deliberately stifled.
Or so Zael had said. The story, as Ulquiorra heard it, made sense. Other Arrancar were motivated by hatred and resentment, but Aizen had wanted to create one with no easily manipulated or inflamed desires. A pure Arrancar, one whose only reason for existence was Aizen.
“I suppose your being a Quincy makes you my brother,” Zael-Apollo had told Ulquiorra in the laboratory. “Espada usually don’t have brothers. They’re a mélange of Hollow unless there’s Quincy in their make-up. I must say, you’re more tolerable as a sibling than Ilforte was. One of the most interesting things about your arrogance is that it’s inconspicuous. You’re not conceited; you’re convinced. Wish I were you. Really, brother. Overlooking your height deficiency, you’re quite the Espada.”
Even as a Hollow, Zael-Apollo had been privy to Aizen’s plan of making a Quincy-Arrancar hybrid, and the would-be scientist had been eager to be a future subject in this experiment. He hadn’t cared about the consequences; all Zael knew was that all transformations brought him farther and farther from an existence of mourning. An existence of blacks and grays, bitterness and sorrow over the murdered Quincy people.
“Trust me,” Zael had said with lowered eyes and his pink lashes resting on his cheeks. “Whatever Aizen and the hougyoku did to your memories was a gift. A blank past is better than sex. Quincy were such pitiful beings. I still have the occasional nightmare.”
Zael had been reborn an Arrancar only to discover that he was the beta for the Quincy experiment. He didn’t mind; he had lingered in Aizen’s bed for a time while Aizen searched for another Hollow, a smarter one, a crueler one, one whose reasons for becoming a Hollow had less to do with mourning the Quincy people than they did with wanting to detach himself from history.
“You claimed to be fed up with the boring cycle of reincarnation,” Zael-Apollo had said. “Your sassy little Hollow self walked right up to our leader and asked how his vision of the universe was going to be different from the Shinigami’s. You were fearless. No wonder he wanted to fuck you.”
This was not the kind of information that Ulquiorra had wanted from Zael-Apollo, but the scientist seemed genuinely ignorant about how to prevent the experiment from ending with the Espada’s death. Whether or not Ulquiorra would relinquish his Espada identity to obtain Quincy powers--that, Zael-Apollo couldn’t predict. Too many variables involved. Maybe blowing up the hougyoku was the only way to stop the experiment from succeeding. But that might just kill the participants as well.
“You’re in luck,” Zael-Apollo had said. “Aizen won’t know what I’ve told you. I periodically tamper with his surveillance just to get some privacy now and then.”
“You do realize,” Ulquiorra had said, “that I have to verify this information. The only way to do that is to question Aizen-sama.”
“Aww, really? Would you do that to him? I think that our leader would be … disappointed to know that his Espada with the virgin memory has been tainted.”
Zael, Ulquiorra had seen clearly, was nervous about what Aizen might do upon discovering who had spilled the secret.
“How about this, Number Four? I tell you what you need to know to emerge from this experiment unscathed, and you never tell Aizen about my little role in helping you survive.”
A useless contract, because Ulquiorra could tell Aizen and still kill Zael anytime he wanted.
“But do as you please, Ulquiorra. Doesn’t Aizen like it that way? Doesn’t he give you absolute freedom?” Zael had the most effeminate voice. It had never annoyed Ulquiorra until that moment. “I must ask, though--do you seriously doubt me? Do you doubt at all that you were once a Quincy?”
“Is it your job to stare at Aizen’s prisoners?” The Quincy wasn’t twitching under Ulquiorra’s silent gaze. “Who are you?”
“Ulquiorra Shiffer.” The name carried a meaning now, but Ulquiorra didn’t know why or what that meaning was. “Espada Number Four.”
The rank didn’t impress the boy. “Took you long enough to tell me your name. Now, can you tell me where Inoue-san is?”
The coat with the purple lining meant for Aizen-sama suited Ishida Uryuu. He had adjusted for its bigness by tying the purple sash two times around his waist. He was still armed with the weapons he’d carried before on a belt. Ulquiorra imagined him as an Espada. He looked like one. Maybe he would become one today.
“Let’s get to the reason why I’m here.” Ulquiorra broke the Quincy’s gaze and spoke in soft, measured words. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the hougyoku. Maybe you saw it when Aizen-sama retrieved it from that female Shinigami?” Ulquiorra took his hand out of his pocket and there, in his palm, was the small gray ball. “There’s a fake one in the original crystal casing. I carry the real one around with me most of the time.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because it is the truth.” Ulquiorra raised his chin and knew that his voice sounded prenaturally calm, even for himself. “Since neither of us has significant reiatsu in this place, you were thinking your paltry human fighting skills could stand against my own, weren’t you?”
The boy was good at not showing fear.
Ulquiorra raised his palm and the hougyoku higher. “Do you understand what sort of power stands before you?”
“You’re lying,” said Ishida. “You’re always lying. I don’t feel anything.”
“Not yet.” Ulquiorra closed his hand around the ball. “These walls have no effect on this particular weapon.”
Even defenseless, the Quincy had an impressive glare. Did he think he was about to die? He was brave indeed.
The spaces between fingers that held the hougyoku glowed white, and then panels of blinding light shot past Ulquiorra’s knuckles.
A glassy, weightless substance spread from one corner of the room to another, and Ishida Uryuu dropped the fierce expression to watch the crystalline panels of reflecting light multiply.
“It’s like being in an ice cocoon, isn’t it?” Ulquiorra returned the hougyoku to his pocket. “I’ve seen these before but this one is particularly large.”
Ishida didn’t speak, but his eyes were alert. Ulquiorra had seen battle-weathered Hollow face death with significantly less poise.
“Summon your bow, Quincy.”
“Summon your bow.”
Ishida lifted his wrist and the eight-speared weapon materialized. The warrior’s look returned to his face.
“We’re to have a battle,” Ulquiorra said. “But it is a battle that reaches no further than the perimeters of this room. Reiatsu-inhibiting walls, a hybrid-encouraging hougyoku, and our unique powers--this makes for something quite new.”
Ishida shot a thousand arrows and they splintered behind Ulquiorra’s back and fell in sparkling pieces to the floor.
Ulquiorra lifted his finger, launched a cero, and Ishida ducked.
There was no damage to the walls, the ceiling or anything else.
Hirenkyaku speed carried Ishida to his opponent’s back. Ulquiorra felt a thin blade of energized reishi pressed against his neck, just above his Arrancar hole.
“Bring me to Inoue-san.”
“You haven’t figured it out yet?” Ulquiorra fingered the sleeping hougyoku in his pocket.
“We’re absorbing one another’s attacks,” Ishida said. “That still doesn’t mean I can’t kill you.”
Ulquiorra placed his hand on the blade held at his neck and pushed it through. There was a small spray of sparks but nothing happened otherwise. Ulquiorra’s body was intact. The blade was disintegrated
“Explain this, Espada!” The words were shouted into Ulquiorra’s ear. The boy had some nerve. “Where does the power go? I’ll have you know that my blade--”
Ulquiorra spun around and shoved Ishida against the transparent wall. “Your blade? That toy that stole reiatsu? You’ll have it back again.” Ulquiorra grabbed Ishida by the shoulders and pushed him against the wall again for emphasis. “We’re not stealing power from one another. We’re exchanging it. We’re exchanging the ways we express our power.”
Ishida made a move for the holder inside the purple sash and before the weapon could fully materialize, Ulquiorra had grabbed the guard.
Ishida watched, eyes narrowed, as the blade lengthened and its edge sharpened.
Then Ulquiorra drove it through the Quincy’s chest. Again, nothing happened other than Ishida’s expression becoming one of undisguised alarm.
Orihime could sense the movement in Ishida’s room. Even though there was static interfering with the spiritual pressure, Orihime could tell that something more than a battle was going on.
And then it happened.
Blue and beige. Images of sky and earth. Vague patterns that shaped into recognizable objects. It was as if Ulquiorra was showing her a projection from his eyeball again, but this time the scene was not at all gruesome.
Children wearing the old-style clothes of picture-books were running towards a well. One of the children wore a familiar tunic. Oh, it was Ishida-kun! No it wasn’t. It was a smaller face with larger eyes. Actually, the child didn’t look like either Ishida-kun or Ulquiorra, but Orihime knew who it was.
It was Ulquiorra dressed like a Quincy.
Ulquiorra was a Quincy.
The knowledge didn’t surprise her, and then other visions followed.
“No Quincy here,” said a woman. She was standing in front of the large-eyed boy. The child was dressed in brown knickers now and he wore an over-sized cap that shaded half his face. “Nuh-uh, no Quincy.”
The two Shinigami at the door exchanged looks. “Fine,” one said. “It’s just a boy. Raise it to be decent, and you won’t have any trouble.”
“Obasan,” said the boy when the Shinigami left. “Am I the last one?”
“I am the last one?” It was a question asked over and over by this child and that one in different frames, in different seasons. Orihime saw Ishida-kun ask it of his grandfather, and she smiled--for the first time in Las Noches--at the response.
Your people will never be gone, Uryuu. One day you will understand that there are as many souls in the universe as there are stars in the sky and they, the stars and the souls--Quincy or not-- are all your people. One can connect them--the way the ancients drew dragons on pinpoints of light.
Connections? All souls the same? Orihime could understand this, but she could also tell a star from a person, and she could distinguish a Quincy soul from other human souls. This ability didn’t surprise her either. She saw Quincy souls drift from Soul Society and back. Specks of blue light, they dropped into oceans, glanced off the shiny beaks of finches in a forest, entered human bodies….
The little blue lights were scattered everywhere.
See, Orihime whispered to no one in particular, but she hoped Ishida-kun could hear her. Everything’s alright. Everyone’s a good guy, and you’ll all be together again. There’s no need to be sad. There’s no need to--
The blue sky turned blank. Whiter than the white walls of Las Noches.
And all at once, Orihime could feel the wrongness happening in the next room.
Ishida’s wrists were hurting him, and Ulquiorra was bleeding--not blood but something more essential.
Orihime saw the genocide of the Quincy in one frame. Blood saturated the vision before she could make out a single detail. And one by one by another and another, the blue lights with torn hearts that rose from the blood-masked scene and became masked souls.
So this was what it was like to be a Hollow? This is what Onii-chan had suffered? No, this suffering was colossal. Quincy Hollow after Quincy Hollow followed one another into a Menos. The Gillian type Shiro-san had talked about.
It’s like a population of sadness in one monster.
Then Orihime saw the Adjunca type--a Menos composed of many heart-disintegrated human souls. But with the addition of one Quincy Hollow into one Adjunca, all other souls inside the Adjunca were overwhelmed.
Quincy grief…. Was Quincy grief that powerful a force in the sky of many stars and many souls?
Orihime dropped to her knees. Ishida-kun, what is happening to you? And Ulquiorra--?
Ishida’s personal memories, in an incomprehensible blur, were throbbing behind Ulquiorra’s eyes and Ulquiorra’s sufferings, centuries of Hollow sufferings, were paralyzing Ishida’s limbs.
They were going to kill one another. They were going to die somehow. Maybe not physical death but a terrible one nonetheless. Something to do with….
That, and their bodies hurt. What was making their bodies hurt? Even if they didn’t die, this force would continue violating their bodies somehow.
Without understanding completely, Orihime knew that a desecration of the body does matter as much as a desecration of the soul. In the Living World, she saw Quincy mothers and their children speared through their throats. In Soul Society, Quincy bodies lay cut open on examination tables. This was Hueco Mundo, and the worst was yet to come.
Ishida-kun wouldn’t want this. Ishida-kun needs me to stop this.
The masked motives and transmutations of Las Noches--they were trespasses against God.
Ulquiorra palm covered Ishida’s face and pushed. The back of Ishida’s head should’ve slammed against the strange clear enclosure, but this time there was no sound.
“It’s not hard.” Ishida’s lips moved against inside of the Ulquiorra’s hand. His voice was soft and analytical. “I thought this place was impenetrably hard--like a diamond. It looks like we’re inside a diamond, but now it feels like we’re in water.”
Ulquiorra saw a vision of a gemstone, a type unknown to him, with many facets and a colorless shine. He looked at Ishida again and saw a Hollow mask over the boy’s face. No, not a mask. Ulquiorra’s fingers. He moved his hand away.
“Are you still trying to kill me?” Ishida asked. “Or are you just trying to knock me out so that my memory can’t send you any more images?”
Who am I? Ulquiorra asked the question of himself for the first time in his three-month-old life.
Ulquiorra had watched Arrancar being born. A Hollow would twitch and agonize inside a transparent womb, change shape and grow humanoid hands. Pieces of mask and skull would spray like hail inside the enclosure until it broke, spilling water all over Aizen’s throne room floor.
Sometimes the energy from Aizen’s experiments was too much for the Hollow and it died. Its half-formed, often limb-less torso would slide out with the water, and Aizen would raise a single finger and zap it into ash.
Tonight the experiment held two beings instead of one, and the reishi around them was spinning illogically. It belonged to neither Quincy nor Arrancar.
“You’re not trying to kill me,” said Ishida. “I think we’re both in danger inside this thing.”
The energy wasn’t high enough yet. Ulquiorra needed the reishi high enough so that it would break the enclosure but not too high so that it would invert itself, mutating and possibly killing those inside.
“I need your power,” Ulquiorra said to Ishida.
“What for?” Ishida had slumped to the floor and was sitting there, exhausted from the exchange of a half dozen invisible attacks. “Tell me what this place is. Tell me--” Ishida drew a large breath. “Tell me or I won’t help you get out of here.”
“The hougyoku created this place and continues to create it,” said Ulquiorra. And then more loudly, for Aizen’s sake: “Whatever happens here serves the purposes of Aizen-sama. Whether we want to live or die is inconsequential. There’s nothing to be done.”
But there was. Aizen’s plans didn’t matter to Ulquiorra at the moment--had they ever mattered? Ulquiorra wanted the experiment to fail, and he needed to find out how to do that. At the moment, the reishi was too low and too slow--it was, in fact, spinning at a rate that would ensure a successful transfer. Both Quincy and Arrancar spiritrons had begun to orbit one another like ancient planets accustomed to their cycles.
Had Zael-Apollo lied to him? Was getting the Quincy to draw over and over going to stop the experiment? The boy looked finished. So much for the famous Quincy spiritron-manipulating abilities. So much for the lauded power seen once in Soul Society.
This weakling, this human trash, is not my brother and comrade. There never has and never will be any connection between the Quincy people and Ulquiorra Shiffer.
A high-pitched, vibrating scream. It leaked through a reiatsu-stifling wall, and Ishida and Ulquiorra could both hear it from inside their enclosure.
A swell of spiritual pressure shook the crystalline cocoon and knocked Ulquiorra and Ishida off their feet.
“Who else could it be?” Ulquiorra shut his eyes and was disappointed in Inoue Orihime. What was she doing? Whatever it was, the reishi was skyrocketing but too high.
And her screaming was definitely unnecessary.
“Are you alright?” Ishida was smashing his hands against the walls and meeting no resistance. The watery walls rose to cover his elbows and then ebbed when he pulled his hands away. “Inoue-san, talk to me.”
She stopped screaming but the crystal enclosure didn’t stop shaking. “I think she’s trying to break us out,” Ishida said to Ulquiorra.
Ulquiorra had overlooked the possibility that the foolish girl would act on her own.
For one moment in Orihime’s room Ulquiorra had wanted to taunt her into lending her powers to the experiment. “Would you like to watch?” had been an open invitation. If the girl’s senses were sharp enough to see into a reiatsu-sealing room, then maybe she could sense the danger to her friend inside and would add her own powers to help raise the reishi. Aizen, who was expecting great things of Orihime, would be distracted by her attempts to break the crystal cocoon--maybe distracted enough to ignore Ulquiorra’s attempts to foil the experiment.
“She’s still got that bracelet on,” Zael-Apollo had said. “I designed it to keep her presence known only to Arrancar but it probably increases her own sensing ability.”
Ulquiorra had decided the risk of involving the girl was too great. What risk? He’d taken her bracelet and walked out of her room. Aizen wouldn’t want the girl involved. Ulquiorra didn’t need to get the girl involved.
“Inoue-san, are you there?” The Quincy sounded uncharacteristically panicked.
It was probably due to Quincy memories that were currently infecting his soul, but Ulquiorra was feeling concern for the girl’s safety. No, it wasn’t that. She was Aizen’s prize. She was a more important experiment. Ulquiorra needed to keep her out of this.
The energy the girl was emanating was too much. She was going to smash the whole experiment like a soda can underfoot.
Soda can. I know what a soda can is. Ulquiorra’s new store of human knowledge weakened his strategizing.
Another swell of power followed by a series of bursts. She was pounding on the door of her room and on the outside of the crystal. She was not at all in control of her power.
“Inoue Orihime.” Ulquiorra spat the name. “What are you trying to do?”
Save you, came her voice inside his head. Save you both by destroying the hougyoku.
The hougyoku? Was that even possible? Zael Apollo had said--
Ulquiorra’s voice was still calm. “Inoue Orihime, this isn’t helping.” Even if it was, Aizen needed to know that the loyal Ulquiorra was still trying to follow the experiment through. “Stop right now, Inoue Orihime. You have to curtail your powers now. If you don’t stop your friend will die. If you do stop … ” Ulquiorra’s persuasive abilities faltered. “If you stop, he may have an actual opportunity to kill me.”
I care about you both.
Ishida’s eyes widened. So the boy could hear the girl speaking as well?
You don’t care about me, answered Ulquiorra before he could stop himself.
A cracking sound. A clear hexagonal plate the size of a Hollow mask but the weight of a sugar cube fell on Ulquiorra’s shoulder. The enclosure’s structural density was changing. The girl’s powers were impressive.
Why shouldn’t I care about you? You’re a person. And I can save you.
“Inoue-san?” The Quincy was looking around for the source of the illusion. “The real Inoue-san wouldn’t say things like that about you, Espada.”
Ulquiorra sensed that the skeptical boy would be asking a lot of questions, but Ulquiorra had no time for them. What mattered now was not being killed when the crystal cocoon was smashed from the outside.
“Quincy.” Ulquiorra grabbed Ishida by the upper arm. “Tell her to be quiet and to stop annoying us with her powers.”
The Quincy didn’t appear ready to do anything that an Arrancar ordered.
“Orihime’s power was, predictably, inspired by the experiment,” Aizen said. “But she’s attacking the wrong pressure points and too randomly. She’ll never break the enclosure.”
“I don’t think she wants to,” said Gin. “I think she’s after your little magic ball.”
“Maybe. But the hougyoku is inactive in Ulquiorra’s pocket. Nothing can affect it when it’s inactive.”
“Look.” Gin’s voice dropped to an excited whisper. “Your boy has the Quincy by the arm. Sparks should fly, mmm?”
“If you don’t tell her to stop interfering, she could die,” Ulquiorra said to Ishida. “We could all die.” Ulquiorra voice deepened. “She’s dead, Quincy, unless you make her stop.”
It wasn’t the truth, but it wasn’t not the truth. Ulquiorra didn’t know what the effects of Orihime’s powers on the hougyoku would be.
Surprisingly, threatening the girl’s life worked.
“Inoue-san,” began Ishida. His voice was soft and patient. “Inoue-san, please.”
Yesterday, the boy’s face would have puzzled Ulquiorra, but today he recognized the tenderness there.
Was some of Ishida’s human-ness already in Ulquiorra’s mind? Where was the Quincy-ness? There was nothing more distasteful than having something human or Quincy inside his body. Having entered this experiment was giving Ulquiorra a grasp on his identity--his identity was whatever he was losing.
“Inoue-san,” said Ishida. “Please stop. There’s a time for everything. We’ll get out of this, I promise. Let me handle this Arrancar and then--”
Egotistical even on the brink of death, Ulquiorra thought.
“Let me handle Ulquiorra and then I’ll come back for you.”
Again, surprisingly, the girl didn’t argue with the request.
“I’ll be back for you,” Ishida reiterated.
Ulquiorra noticed Ishida opening and closing his hands as if his joints ached.
Everyone will be alright, Ishida-kun. I know that if I believe in a happy ending instead of just stupidly hoping for it, it will come true.
It took another few moments, but the spirit vibrations from the adjoining room diminished and then stopped altogether. The reishi, unfortunately, dipped too low again, too low to break the enclosure from the inside. The girl’s voice was gone. Ulquiorra couldn’t sense her anymore.
Neither could Ishida, apparently, but he looked as if he was still listening for the voice.
“Forget her, you have to fight me if we’re going to stand a chance of--” Ulquiorra was about to draw his zanpakutou and expedite further reiatsu-raising, but something stopped him.
The look on the Quincy’s face went beyond human affection and concern for a friend. Ishida’s guard was gone and under ordinary circumstances, Ulquiorra could have killed him ten times over before the blink of an eye.
Ishida responded, turning his face to Ulquiorra without a word.
He looked impossibly young. Like someone who had never been reincarnated. Like a new Arrancar still shining inside a crystalline womb. The Quincy’s eyes gleamed. His cheeks flushed and his mouth was a pale line. The sight of that vulnerable mouth made Ulquiorra do something he had never initiated before.
He leaned forward and--in imitation of Aizen Sousuke with each of his newborn Arrancar--Ulquiorra took Ishida’s face in his hands and kissed him.
Heh heh. I think I may be picking up some of that "it's not what you think it is" evilness from my boyfriend, Kubo-san. This is what happens when I write for myself; I'll probably take drabble requests soon (I know, Cal! I owe you Ikitaku/Unohana!) The chibis want to play Reader Rabbit on the computer now, so adieu until part 3.