"The Farther I Fall..."

Grimmjow had been more irritable than usual lately.

While Orihime considered things to be relatively smoothed between them, she could not help but notice that he was more prone to confrontation, whether violent – against Hollow challengers – or verbal – with her.

New followers had been trickling in throughout the day, but the numbers were far fewer than he had hoped for by this point. She knew this frustrated him, but she wished he would curtail his aggression and let things play out a bit. He’d waited long enough for this; surely he could endure for a while more.

She was a very patient and forgiving young woman, but sometimes his abrasiveness disagreed with her, and she would tire of trying to cater to his carnival ride of mood swings.

The girl was sitting atop a stone staircase on the outside of the compound, wanting to take a break from its confinement. She kept knees tucked under her chin as she stared off thoughtfully into the nighttime desert. Grimmjow had noted her absence and walked out from the cover of the Negal Ruins to find his missing companion, a heavy scowl marring his features.

While she understood he wasn’t wearing it because of her, she also knew it meant his temper was a volcano ready to erupt. She wondered if it gave him a headache.

After noticing her, he strolled over without haste, stopping at Orihime's side and joining his ally as she continued her silent contemplation. He didn't bother to look down at the woman, instead scanning the sands reflectively and waiting for her to speak. It did not take too long.

"It's so peaceful," she said softly.

Grimmjow furrowed his brow even more deeply in confusion and finally turned to the perplexing girl. "And how the hell do you figure that?" he asked her, annoyed. Orihime was almost amused by how little she needed to do to ignite his irritation this time. Instead she plowed on, at the moment indifferent to censoring her thoughts. She was relatively certain that he’d find a reason to be pissed off by whatever she had to say anyway, so she decided to share what was on her mind.

Grimmjow interrupted her before she could continue though, and started ticking off on his fingers.

"You're running for your life from a being who's sworn to defend you," he said, referring to Aizen's former role as a Shinigami captain, "in a world full of monsters that want to eat you. Explain to me what's so peaceful about that." This girl’s absurd reasoning could tick him off so thoroughly, sometimes.

Orihime did not look at him as she hugged her knees to her chest and followed a thoughtful silence with a quiet explanation.

"Yet, despite all that, I'm here with you, aren't I? Two supposedly natural enemies," she pointed out. Her eyes softened on some undefined point along the dark horizon. "I'm spending time here just as easily as I could spend it during a struggle in Soul Society or the world of the living. No one is attacking us right now, and we're working together and protecting each other and getting along. We're proving that Hollows and humans don't necessarily have to be at odds with each other all the time." She paused momentarily, curtailing the passion building in her heart for this imaginary Elysium.

"I just... I just wish it could go on like this forever, us helping each other like this. No bloodshed, no fighting. Just... Balance. Peace."

She had felt like this for a while now, she’d realized. Ever since Grimmjow became her ally, and especially once she started considering him her friend, Orihime came to feel that the relationship she had with him was one of the most natural, unforced things in her life. She wasn’t warring between admiration and jealousy like she sometimes did with Rukia, and she wasn’t craving his attention like she did with Kurosaki-kun. In fact, if she had to compare her relationship to Grimmjow with that of anyone else’s, she would have to say it most closely resembled what existed between her and Tatsuki.

They were both so different yet still so compatible. Tatsuki was the dragon to her princess, and she would do anything for her fierce best friend. Their loyalty to one another was matched only by their faith in each other.

Grimmjow possessed that same determinedness she so admired in her best friend. Beyond his physical strength and his battle prowess and his ambition, he had a certain pure simplicity to him at his core. He, though, was a slave to his passions, and his complexities lay in his drive. He consistently hungered for something, and Orihime wondered if that was a result of the hole in his center or if he had been that way all along.

He was like Tatsuki, if she had been male and feral and missing something so critical in her soul that Orihime’s heart broke for it.

An ice-cold chill ran down her spine and she tensed up slightly as she felt Grimmjow's reiatsu grow and curl across her skin menacingly, like smoke. Her brow furrowed slightly in challenge, but she still refused to look at him and his bothered reaction until she felt him crouch next to her and tightly grab her chin in the fingers of one hand. He forced her to look at him.

She met furious blue eyes, cold yet sparking like lightning inches from her face. She did not expect such a reaction from him, but defiantly met his expression regardless of the threat he was trying to pose.

"Don't you fucking get complacent with me, you weak fool of a human," he raged silently, pushing into her personal boundaries and causing her to unfold from her position, unbalanced. She caught herself with her hands as he forced her to tip backward somewhat. His fury intensified when she merely continued to stare back, showing no fear. He towered over her average frame and said, "Don't you forget that I could kill you whenever the thought occurs to me, you little bitch. You're nothing," he hissed in a demonstrative show of dominance.

The corners of her lips tilted downward as she scanned his facial expression and read his mixed messages. He was angry, yes, but Orihime wasn't so sure he was angry at her. He'd demonstrated a rollercoaster of emotions since she'd known him, and she was hard-pressed to figure out exactly what his triggers were. She knew she was consistently making the former Espada have to revisit his usual way of doing business, and that had to have been driving him crazy.

She resolutely refused to let him threaten her for it anymore, though. She realized how much she frustrated him, and she recognized how thoroughly she was turning his ideals and attitudes upside down, but...

Wasn't he doing the same to her? And...

She didn't hate him for it.

Frowning, she looked him directly in the eye. Making a decision then and there and invoking a certain risk, she said something that shocked him to his empty center.

"You won't hurt me."

Before she could gauge his reaction, his large hand shot up to wrap itself firmly around her delicate throat, his threat wordless and evident. She winced as his grip tightened, but remained resolute in her challenge. Her comparatively small hands rose to grasp his own, her fingers desperately pressing into the cold hierro that was his skin. Hard as it was, it was pliant, and she knew he felt the pressure by the twitch in his eyes. She refused to back down as she stared back up into his furious eyes.

Grimmjow was struggling. He wanted to make his point, but Orihime was clearly not intimidated by his violence anymore. He was the Espada of Destruction, yet his defining aspect could do nothing to sway this worthless little human girl's opinion of him. His grip tightened even more, and he knew he was making it difficult for her to breathe.

For weeks now, this young woman had been worming her way into the heart he didn't have. At first he had no problem with it; she was an amusing curiosity, and there was a sense of mutual loyalty there. Recently, though...

He respected power. He demanded respect. And this damned girl had... Both, he realized. In abundance. His hand trembled around her throat as his mind was wracked with unfamiliar indecision.

He was fucked.

His grip loosened slightly, opening Orihime's airway again and letting her breathe freely. His hand stayed on her neck for a moment as he kept staring at her both relieved and increasingly beseeching face. Her warm hands were still wrapped around his own, and he resisted the strange desire to hold them, instead. Her lips were full, pouting slightly as color rushed back into them along with the breath in her lungs, and her eyes were wide and glistening and imploring and so easy to read.

She was a fucking temptress and didn't even know it.

Electric eyes locked on her lips as if about to make an important decision, and Grimmjow realized he was at a loss.

Orihime was kind, charismatic, and deceivingly insightful. She was energetic, imaginative, and the damned prettiest thing he'd seen in ages. She was powerful.

He couldn't taint that.

He cursed under his breath and shot back to his feet. He escaped back into the maze of ruins so fast that Orihime's head spun, and he disappeared from her sight.

The girl let out a shuddering breath as her hands raised to her own neck. Her eyes fluttered closed, and tears lined her lower lids as her emotions brimmed to the edge.

Nothing would be the same anymore.
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