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The Girl Downstairs

By Darksknight

Humor / Romance

The Girl Downstairs

The woman who lives down below him is rather… odd. She sings in the shower, loudly. It doesn't matter that she's good, it's just the principle of the thing; if your up-stairs neighbor can hear you showering, then maybe you need to stop screaming. He also catches her doing weird things in the halls and front with her phone- apparently she's pretty popular on Vine. She's one of those compassionate people who makes brownies for her neighbors and such. She probably says "yes" to cashiers when they ask her if she wants to donate to various obscure charities. Despite how odd she is, he has never- never- heard her screaming like this.

Despite how annoying she can be by singing early in the morning when he's trying to sleep, he doesn't really want her to wind up dead. So, of course, he takes off down the stairs to save her from whichever one of her friends that must have snapped and finally decided to kill her.

Wham, Wham, Wham! "Woman!" He yells at the door. She's still screaming, she doesn't answer. "It's Ulquiorra- your-" Why am I introducing myself? He rams into the door with his shoulder, already imagining how it must look behind the door. Did they stab her in the stomach? Put her through a wood-chipper? Something simpler- maybe a struggle of some sort. Hence the screaming.

The latch gives easily and the door swings open very suddenly. He steps into the room- her knight in dark and brooding batman pajamas- and finds her… not being killed. Or attacked. In fact, she's completely alone, standing in the middle of her apartment frantically attempting to save a stack of books from water that's pouring from the ceiling in buckets. She has a "Hello Kitty" umbrella up over her head, but despite this, is completely soaked through.

Before he can think to do anything else, he shouts, "Woman! Stop screaming!"

She freezes. The water continues to pool around her.

"Someone is going to think you are being murdered." He growls. Honestly, how is he the only one to have heard her? She has next-door neighbors, doesn't she? "And like me, they're come only to find-"

"Wait." She blinks a couple of times, one wet sock up on a table as it pushes a stack of papers away from the spill. "You're the guy who lives upstairs."

He feels a vein in his forehead begin to throb. "Yes, that would be me. We've lived in the same vicinity for two years now, woman, and-"

"Wait a minute!" Suddenly her eyes go wide. "You're the guy upstairs!"

"… Yes?"

Not saying anything else, she frantically points up over her head. Oh. Ah, the leak. It's from his apartment floor. The likely conclusion is that one of his pipes have burst and that… oh. Yes, that would be what has caused her apartment to be flooded.

"Oh."

"Oh? Oh?! What is all this? You didn't leave your shower running or anything, did you?" He realizes then, that she is crying. "My thesis paper is ruined and I don't want to go back to the library tomorrow because the printer lady is so scary and it's all ruined and I think I'll have to buy a new history book and I'm already behind on rent and I can't afford to fix all this stuff and-"

"Quiet." He holds a hand to his head. Now he really does have a headache. "I will pay for it all." One of his books just had a really handsome royalty check come in, anyway.

Her eyes go wide. "R-Really?"

He sighs. "I'll call a repair crew and a plumber. Stop your fretting."

She sniffed, starting to look cautiously hopeful.

"You said you have classes tomorrow?"

Unsure, she nods, starting to stand upright.

"Grab your things and follow me. I don't have time for a lawsuit. You may stay out on the couch until the repairs are complete."

She starts crying immediately. "Th-thank you- m-mister-"

"Ulquiorra." He says. "Just Ulquiorra. And you are?"

"Inoue." She replies, teary and looking tired enough to pass out on the spot. "Inoue Orihime- year three."


The pipe that burst ruined her couch, the ceiling, and two books total. The damage wasn't as bad as it could have been, and in the evening after the incident, she ditched the over-sized clothes he'd been forced to lend her to grab her own. All of which was moved up into his apartment that very same day.

"The repairs are going to take a week at most," the reconstruction man said. In other words, this would take a month. "So the broad that lives here is just going to have to find some other place for now. Even her bedroom ceiling is ruined."

"Tatsuki!" Inoue immediately says. "She lives on the other side of town- she owns the dojo over there, it used to be her dad's. I can stay there!"

A perfect idea. Except, after a call from Tatsuki, Inoue realizes that she can't afford commute from the other side of town to college every morning and evening. He doesn't like it, but he feels somewhat responsible for the leak- and again, doesn't want anything messy involving the law happening. He's never had good relations with the cops anyway.

"You can stay." He tells her, grouchy as ever. He has another chapter on psychology to type up and she is definitely not helping his concentration. "Just keep to yourself and leave me to my work."

"Oh thank you! I promise, I'll stay out of your way! Don't worry!"


She's crying. It's late at night and she's just done the dishes- the saint. "Kurosaki-kun" broke up with her. Ulquiorra doesn't know why, but he almost feels bad. More than that, though, he just wants to go to sleep.

He mutters that there's a tub of ice cream in the freezer and an entire season of Maiko-san wa Meitantei on disk in the DVD stack- both leftovers from Nel's most recent visit.

She takes both gratefully and closes his bedroom door so that he can sleep.


She makes him brownies their first weekend together. They're not your average welcome-to-the-neighborhood brownies. She pours all of her heartbreak and cooking skills into this batch. They have chocolate chips in them, they melt in his mouth. They may or may not have weed in them; they make him feel so good.

"No weed." She says. "But I did sneak some salted caramel in."

That explains it. It's no suitable breakfast, but he believes her fully when she tells him she used to work at a bakery a moment later. He almost wants to smile- him smile- when she says she'll make lunch, too.

She serves noodles, wasabi, eggs, and apples all as one soup. It tastes so bad he thinks for a moment she's messing with him. No- she eats it all, and when she's done, she asks if he's going to eat his.

"Take it." He moans.

"Should I make dinner, too?" She asks happily. She gulps down his food with no thought to germs. "I can whip something up with the lemons in the fridge!"

"No." he insists. "I will make dinner. You stick to doing the dishes." And dessert. He adds to himself.

Her smile is blinding. "Sounds like a deal to me."


She's singing in his shower when Grimmjow comes over.

"What the fuck are you listening to, Bat Shit?

"Nothing."

"Is that Marina and the Diamonds? I thought only Nel listened to that weird American crap."

He doesn't bother to say that the band is British, not American. Grimmjow will only make fun of him for knowing that much about the band, anyway. "What I listen to is none of your concern."

"It is if-"

The music stops. Back in his room, a door opens, and the woman yells, "Ulquiorra, we're out of soap!"

Grimmjow's eyes go wide. "Holy shit is that a-"

Ulquiorra slams the door to his bedroom shut before Grimmjow can possibly see her. "She is a guest." He says. "Nothing more, nothing less. Whatever ideas you may have about her, put them to rest now."

Of course, it's Grimmjow he's talking to, so the words go right over his stupid electric blue head. "You've got a princesa in the castle and you're holding out on me? What the hell man, I thought we were friends?"

"I'm not your friend. Please leave."

"Tell me who she is and what she's doing here or I tell Gin you've got a girl and have him use his detective skills to rat you out to everyone we know."

He glares.

"Well? What's it gonna be?"

"Blackmailing is very low of you." He says. Regardless of this, he opens his door open a crack to speak to Orihime. "Woman, are you dressed?"

"I am now! Why?"

He sighs. Pushing the door open fully, he says, "Grimmjow, Inoue Orihime. Orihime, Grimjow Jaggerjacques." Grimmjow stares and Orihime waves. Gravely, Ulquiorra says, "She is only here because I flooded her apartment."

"Sure." Grimmjow says, still staring. His eyes have locked on her chest. "Tell that to Nnoitora once he sees her."


She's crying again. He knows she works harder than anyone in the world, and despite it all, she's still up at three am trying to complete a research paper. He comes in when she starts blasting K-Pop in order to stay awake. He notices she's downed a pot of coffee.

"Go to bed."

"I can't." She cries loudly. Her hair is pinned up with three different ties and still falling in her face. "I have to ace this or I'm done. I've gotta pass this class, Ulquiorra, I've got to-"

"What class is this for?"

She sniffs. Takes a long gulp of her coffee. Pulls her blanket tighter around herself. "Psychology."

He almost wants to laugh. "Go to bed." He insists. "I'll do it for you."

"But-"

"Go to bed." He growls.

She is too tired to fight him on it.

The next day she comes home and tackles him in a hug. "The professor was so impressed!" She cries. "Even if he did think it was a little bleak for me. You're a life saver."

"You owe me a favor, don't be so excited." He says gruffly.

"Oh, I can't wait!" Her excitement doubles. "I love doing favors!"

He's tempted to tell her his favor includes her moving out. But then, the repairs aren't done yet, and in the week she's been there they've fallen into a sort of routine.

"Save your excitement for later."

She'll be gone soon enough, anyway.


She bakes him pie on Friday. Chocolate pie with a cream filled center, so that the tip of each slice was white in stark contrast to the black it led up to. He loves dark chocolate and wonders how she found out.

"Do you like dark chocolate? I know it's not super sweet, but it's my favorite."

Ah. "It is agreeable."

They talk about batman comics over pie and watch one of the original movies that evening. He notices that she's wearing his pajama bottoms and finds he doesn't mind as much as he should. They look better on her, anyhow.

"I hope your girlfriend doesn't mind me staying here." She says when they clean up for bed. "I don't want to cause any trouble for you."

"Girlfriend?" He raises an eyebrow.

"Y-yeah. That Nel girl who leaves things here. She's your girlfriend, isn't she?"

"She's my cousin." He hurries. He will never want anyone thinking they're dating. He'd rather get romantically involved with Tia, and the woman is a lesbian for crying out loud. Not to mention more like a mother to him and the others than anything else. "Not my girlfriend."

"Oh." She sighs in relief.

"What about you?" He says. "Is your living arrangement here the reason Kurosaki left you?"

She smiles sadly. "No… that one was a long time coming. I'd been prepared for it for a while. Still hurt, though."

"I see." Awkwardly, he says, "Do not despair. There will be others."

"Yeah." Her eyes linger on him for a moment longer than usual. "Maybe."


Grimmjow drags him out for drinks on Saturday. He wants to be the designated driver to avoid having to drink with the lot of them, but they take a taxi, and Grimmjow buys, so he can't really complain. Better than spending money on gas. Additionally, they go to Tia's bar, so they get things marked down just a bit.

Nel breaks a table in half before they leave, and Nnoitora nearly tackles her while he shoves his tongue down her throat on the way out the door. She moans and dominates him, slamming him back into the wall, and he practically rips her lip off when he bites her back.

"Disgusting." He says. He's a little tipsy and it comes out slurred.

"Hey, I'd dap that." Grimmjow muses.

"She's your cousin, you imbecilic."

"Adopted cousin." Grimmjow stresses with a grin. "And hey, people 'ave been banging their cousins since- since, uh… since the dawn of time! Heh, heh, you'd bang that lil' princesa if she was your cousin, wouldn'cha?"

"You disgust me." He says. He hails his own taxi to get away from his adopted brother. "Please do not say such vulgare- culgal-" he curses quietly under his breath. "Vulgar things. Especially around the woman."

"Whatever you say, Batsy."

He definitely doesn't think about doing those things with the woman.

"Oh, Ulquiorra! You're back."

He stares. "And you are in a towel."

She pinks. "I- um- just got out of the shower so-"

"Excuse me a moment." He practically runs to his room to escape the sight of her- dewy shoulders and soft curves and just as innocent as ever despite being practically naked. He doesn't think of her like that, doesn't want to be involved with her, not even a little-

It smells like her inside.

He likes it.

Shit. He thinks. I'm doomed.


"I'm going to a party tonight."

"Tonight?" He looks up from the miso he'd been cooking and to the calendar across the way. "It's Monday." She doesn't go out. Ever. She's too busy with schoolwork and her children's shows, so why is she going out tonight, of all nights?

"We have tomorrow off. Holiday."

"Oh. I see." Except, he doesn't.

"Yeah. Anyway, do you want to come?"

He raises an eyebrow. "To a college party?"

"You may not be, but you look college age. Hey- wait." She narrows her eyes at him, as though he's been holding some great secret from her. "How old are you, anyway?"

"I am twenty-four."

"Oh, wow, really? I'm only nineteen!"

"And you are already in your third year?"

She grins. "I may have graduated early."

Impressive. He hadn't thought she had it in her. He should have guessed, what with the way she's got the time it takes for his stove to warm up and for water to boil all committed to memory. "I hadn't realized. What are you studying to be, by the way? I don't believe I've asked before."

"Don't worry, you haven't. I'm hoping to be a cardiologist."

He almost spits out his drink.

"What is it?" She asks, almost concerned.

He swallows. "N-nothing, nothing. It's simply that, ah, I'm a psychologist."

There's a beat. Then, she starts to snicker. "The heart and the brain, huh?"

"It seems that way."

She grins. "Don't tell Grimmjow."

"Why would I?"

"You might see him tonight at the party!"

He doesn't recall saying that he'd go with her. And yet, he finds himself nodding like that makes sense. "Of course." Looks like he's going after all.


He hates parties.

"I think you and me," A girl leans in and bats her eyes at him. He knows her- she lives near by. He will forever picture her and her twin with the eye patches they wore when they came to trick-or-treat at his place. "Should find some place to be alone."

"I'd rather die." He says point-blank.

She persists. "Oh come on, baby. Don't play hard to get when I can get you hard so easy." She winks, as if her word play was clever. "I know a closet not too fat away-"

He turns on his heel and walks away from her.

"Hey!"

"Do not follow me." He says over his shoulder. "You're detestable."

"What?!"

He doesn't engage her further. He begins his search for Orihime, whom had been whisked away by an aggressive red headed lesbian a moment ago. Orihime had seemed familiar enough with the girl, so he figured there was nothing to worry about, and had let her go. Hanging back on the wall had run its course, though, and he was more than ready to leave. Abandoning her would be rude, so he seeks her out.

She's dancing with a tall man who has loud orange hair. She watches him with soft eyes as he talks, eyes scanning the room for something. For some reason, he bristles, and not just because this moron is ignoring Inoue while she talks to him. It's the way she's looking at this man that makes his temper suddenly spark into existence. It's not jealousy induced, it's frustration. He can already tell this is her 'darling' Kurosaki-kun.

She sees him.

"Oh, Ulquiorra!" She stops her dancing and he fights back the wave of satisfaction within his chest when Kurosaki looks confused by her departure. "I was wondering where you were! Do you want do dance?"

"No."

She takes his hand. "Do you not know how?"

Her hand is very warm and soft within his. Here he is; twenty-four years old, successful, established, and he's at a damn college party acting like a high school student with his first crush.

"I know how."

She blinks. "You do?"

"…" He looks away from her. "Perhaps I'll show you another time." Not here, though. Not with all these people and that Kurosaki- who is looking at him through narrowed suspicious eyes now.

Inoue notices. "Oh! Kurosaki-kun, this is Ulquiorra! Sorry, I forgot to introduce you. He's letting me stay with him while the water damage is fixed in my apartment."

Kurosaki's eyes narrow further. "He is?" He grounds out. "What a nice guy."

"I am simply taking responsibility for my own actions." Ulquiorra says. "The burst pipe in her ceiling was my fault."

"Oh really?" He leans in, challenge in his eyes. Either he's just one of those over-protective guys, he's upset someone is moving in on his ex, or he just doesn't like Ulquiorra. Maybe it's a mix of the three.

"Really."

Orihime fidgets.

Kurosaki straightens, examining Ulquiorra again. Recognition suddenly sparks in his eyes and he says, "Aren't you the guy who sued the hardware store on Main for having uneven parking spaces?"

This is not going where I had hoped. "Perhaps."

"I'm not even going to go into what a dick move that was, but-"

"The spaces where all too small or too big for regulation." Ulquiorra interrupts. "If you are going to go through the trouble of painting your own parking spaces it is best to do it, first of all, in a legal space which is not on the street, and- second of all- according to the length stated in the city regulations."

"Wow." Kurosaki blinks. "Uh… I'm not sure what to say to that."

Orihime laughs nervously. "Um, well! Parking spaces aside, it's good that you two have met. Ulquiorra, how about we go-"

"Wait a second." Kurosaki's eyes widen. "Ulquiorra? I knew I knew you from somewhere else, too! You're Grimmjow's brother, aren't you?"

Oh, here we go. "Adopted brother." He stresses.

"You know that guy tries to fight me or hook up with me every time he sees me, right?"

"I was not aware." He says in what he hopes is a polite tone and not annoyed. "But I do not find it hard to believe that the man who owns as many 'raging bisexual' shirts as he does Fight Club shirts would do that."

"Why does he like to fight so much?"

Ulquiorra sighs. He did not come her to talk about Grimmjow. He did not come her to get hit on by freshman girls. He did not come here to talk to Orihime's ex, of all people, and frankly he wants to leave. "I do not know. If you are curious about Grimmjow, perhaps it would be best for you to ask him these questions. I am not the imbecile's keeper nor am I an index. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to be leaving."

Orihime jumps in, then. "Wait, already? But we just got here-"

"If you do not want to leave, then stay. You have money for a taxi, do you not?"

She frowns. Awkwardly, she looks back at Kurosaki, and then shyly she turns back to Ulquiorra with pink in her cheeks. "I was hoping that you'd want to stay until Karaoke so that we could do some batman duets together."

He pauses. Yes, the idea of karaoke in front of all these people makes him want to deafen and blind himself, but the fact that she wants to do it with him actually makes him feel a little glad. "I don't sing."

She pouts. "You sang the theme song last night so well, though."

At this point Kurosaki gets that he's no longer the topic of conversation and leaves Orihime and Ulquiorra alone.

"Fine," Ulquiorra says. Before she can get to excited, he goes on too say, "I can sing. But will I? No. Absolutely not."

"Please? For me?"

"No."

"I'll bake more triple chocolate brownies!"

For a moment he is tempted. "… No. You will bake them anyhow."

She pouts.

"…" He stares her down, willing himself not to be fooled by her teary eyes, but it's too late. She's caught him in her sights and he knows she won't let this one go. The only thing he can do now is compromise. "If you wish for us to sing together than we'll do it at home- not here in front of all these… people."

She brightens considerably. "Really?"

"If you're that determined, than I suppose I will allow it."

"Ah!" She lunges forwards and wraps her arms around him, unaware of how startling the movement is. Even as she hugs him she jumps up and down several times, her earrings jangling and tangling in her hair. She draws back with stars in her eyes, looking absolutely ecstatic. "Thank you so much! Let's go right now!"

He raises an eyebrow. "You were so eager to stay here a moment ago."

"I only came for the singing. It'll be more fun with you, anyway! Tatsuki's not here, Rukia's not here, Ishida's not here- and Chad doesn't sing. So it wasn't really going to be that fun anyway."

He can't help it. He asks, "What about Kurosaki?"

"Oh, Kurosaki?" She smiles- though the expression lacks its usual luster. "He only sings if Rukia is with him. She has this way of asking… uh, well, demanding that makes him actually have fun."

"Ah."

She smiles. "Ah." She repeats. Eyes glimmering with mirth she says, "I see."

"Assume to mock me again, woman." He tells her as he turns for the door, "And I'll forget to tell Nelliel to bring season two of Maiko-san wa Meitantei."

"Oh dear. You're a harsh warden, aren't you?"

"Indeed."

They leave the party very, very early on. He still hates parties, but he supposes that maybe they're not as horrible as he originally assumed-

He steps in puke on the way to the car.

Never mind. Parties are worse than he thought. He won't go to another one even if Yammy comes knocking on his door with the threat of moving in should Ulquiorra refuse.

Batman-themed karaoke, on the other hand… he will do again.


Gin calls. He's getting married to the beautician he's been seeing since high school. Everyone else says it's about damn time, but Ulquiorra couldn't care less.

"Woncha' come with the rest a' the crew, Ulquiorra-san?" Gin teases over the line. "Don' want fer' Aizen to be left without his star child, ne?"

"I am very happy for you." Ulquiorra says monotonously. "I am very sorry I will not be able to make it."

"S' a shame. Lemme' ask ya' this one, Cifer-san. Are ya' skimpin' out on me because ya' don' like me or because ya' hate weddings?"

"I don't see the point." He answers honestly. Gin is someone everyone can tell the truth to, because he couldn't care either way. "A wedding seems all for show. I cannot possibly understand going through so much trouble simply to promise myself to someone. It seems like a waste of time, money, and effort."

"Can't say I don't agree wich'a." Gin snickers, amused. "I thought me an' Ran-Chan were married already til' she proposed. But when ya' love someone like I love my darlin' Ran-Chan you'll do what they want so they'll be happy."

"Ridiculous." He scoffs.

"Oh come now, Cifer." Gin says. He sounds awfully sly- as though he knows. "Doncha' got a girl you'd go the extra mile fer'?"

He glances at Orihime out of the corner of his eye, watching where she's studying. He does not reply to Ichimaru Gin- if the detective knows something, he'd better spit it out. Ulquiorra certainly won't be giving out his secrets without help.

Gin laughs quietly. "You should come." He says again, lightly, casually. "Yer plus one 'd look real nice dressed up fer' a fancy little wedding."

Ulquiorra narrows his eyes. "My answer is no." He says sternly. "Congratulations to you and to Miss Rangiku. I am sorry again that I will not be able to make it."

"S' a real shame." Gin says lightly. "Damn real shame."


"Ahhh, Ulquiorra, come here, come here! Look at the stars!"

During a sudden storm the entire block loses power. He lights up some candles and she builds a blanket fort- he has no idea why- against the windows. Now she's got hot chocolate in her hands and is wearing a cape made from his sheets. All in all, she's acting like she's about ten, and in all honesty he has to say it warms him to her.

"There's the big dipper." She says, pointing. He follows her finger and can sort of make out what she sees. "There's the little dipper. Oh! There's the moon!"

"You can always see the moon, woman."

"Not when it's the new moon."

He gives her a long dry stare.

She just grins.

For a moment, they simply stand looking at the skies, but then she suddenly laughs. He turns to her, knowing she'll tell him what's on her mind so long as she knows he's listening.

"Hey… Ulquiorra." She says with a smile. "Come into my blanket fort."

"I'm twenty-four." He says. "Not twelve."

"Fine." She hurries to set her cocoa down and then bolts for the table, grabbing paper, pen, and tape off the counter as she goes. Hurriedly, she scribbles something out on the paper, and then runs to tape it over the entrance of her fort.

"Adults only blanket fort!" She reads to him loudly, clearly smug about her quick thinking. "Eighteen and up only."

"Just because I am the target audience of this… fort… does not mean that I will indulge in it."

"Go put your jammies on, Ulquiorra-kun! You can come in and cuddle with me while we talk about tomatoes."

He pretends he didn't hear her offer to cuddle. "Tomatoes?"

She nods seriously as she ducks beneath a sheet. "A very serious topic of discussion, despite what you may think."

"Hm. I hardly believe-"

"Come in here and disprove me if you want to, you big meanie, but I'm not letting you in until you're in your pajamas!"

He sighs.

This is my apartment. He thinks as he trudges to his room. Why am I allowing her to act as though it is hers? He pulls on his PJs, just as instructed, and comes back out into the living room.

He squats down and peers into the dark little cave Orihime's made.

Why is it all her ideas of fun end up with my dignity getting destroyed…?

"Come in, Ulquiorra." Her voice giggles in the dark. "There's room for two."

He groans- simply so she knows that this is a huge inconvenience- and slides in after her. Her scent very familiar by now, and that worries him. It's been three weeks, and already he's closer to her than he ever was to Grimmjow- and they'd had to bunk together for years.

She leans back so the crown of her head touches the window and sighs wistfully, tracing patterns on the glass above her head while she follows her fingers with sleepy eyes.

"I wanted to be an astronaut when I was little." She says quietly. "So I could be friends with all the stars."

"What happened?" He asks, because he knows one thing, and that is that Orihime Inoue will do whatever it takes to attain her dreams.

She sighs. "In third grade I found out that stars are just burning balls of gas. My teacher said that if I tried to hug one I'd be killed instantly by the heat. Melted away." She pauses, her fingers stilling where they hang above her head, and then turns to him with a small smile. "I'm sorry, this must be silly to you."

"Not at all." He says, because there is actually something acutely tragic about picturing a young Orihime Inoue learning she can never touch a star. "Before… before you knew what stars really are. What did you think they were?"

"You'll think I'm an idiot."

"I won't."

"You'll laugh."

"Highly unlikely."

She blows her bangs out of her face and then looks back up at the sky. "… Fine." She smiles a little, chewing on her bottom lip out of embarrassment. "I thought that they were little girls made of sugar. I thought they glowed because they were always so happy up there, dancing around in space with the other stars. It's funny, but I always knew they were far away- always knew they were just out of reach."

He watches her. She's so honest and open about it all; so innocent and full of life and dreams. He can hardly believe it. It's like he can't breathe. "What nonsense." He finds himself saying. Once he starts to speak he cannot seem to stop. "If that were true, and all of the sweetest girls in the world were up there dancing and glowing with happiness, you would have been there too, you fool."

She flushes despite being called a fool. "Th-thank you." She looks over at him with wide silver eyes, mouth slowly quirking into a smile. She worms a little closer to him, so that their sides press together. "Hey, Ulquiorra?"

He pretends he's annoyed. "What now?"

"You know, you're not as mean as you pretend to be." She smiles when he glares. "Everyone thinks you're so scary and tough, but inside you're just a bunch of cheesy noodles."

"Cheesy noodles?"

"Squishy."

"Clearly you must be delusional. You forget, woman, it was I whom sued that hardware store for their parking spaces. It was I who purposely sabotaged my sale's class bake-sale so that I could leave early. It was-"

She slips her hand into his.

His mouth goes dry.

"See?" She says, barely suppressing the sun in her smile. "You're just a big nerd with a lot of batman merchandise who stops talking because a girl holds his hand."

"On the contrary." He mutters. "If a girl were to hold my hand, I would most certainly continue to speak while disengaging her from my person."

She furrows her brow. "What?"

"I stopped speaking because Inoue Orihime held my hand." He says simply. "It is the closest I will ever get to touching a star."

Her eyes go wide again, turn watery, like he's said something completely profound and lovely instead of something corny he came up with on the fly. Quietly, she whispers, "When you were little… What did you want to be?"

"A tax collector."

She blinks. The look of mystification is gone in an instant. "… What?"

"A tax collector." He repeats.

"A…. Tax collector? But… why?"

"Because." He makes sure to keep her stare while he answers, so that she will know he is completely serious. "I liked the idea of taking money from others and putting it into order."

She blinks. Blinks again. Turns her head slightly.

He gives a half-hearted shrug.

"… Wow. Okay, Ulquiorra, you're great and all, but… your childhood dream was to collect money and put it in order? I'm kind of disappointed. Not a zookeeper or a firefighter or something cool?"

"At one point when I was in second grade I briefly considered becoming a radiologist." He says with a shrug. "But then when third grade came around I realized that things exist which my eyes cannot see, and I sought to understand them."

"… That's."

"Boring?"

"Actually… that's kind of cute." She tightens her hand around his. "And very you."

"I fail to see how developing a theory of-"

They both jump as suddenly his phone starts to buzz in the pocket between them. He is hesitant to let go of her hand, but must. He quickly takes his phone out and answers it with a simple, "Hello?"

"Uh, Ulquiorra Cifer?"

"If this is a sale's call, I encourage you to take this number off your directory."

"No, um, this is Nakazowa. You're covering the damages done to Orihime Inoue's apartment, right?"

"That is correct."

"Well, we finished. Do you want us to mail you the bill or…?"

They're… finished? "It's only been three weeks."

"Yeah, sorry about that, I know we said we'd have it done in one but things were a bit complicated when we got to the bedroom ceiling."

"I see." He breaks from his stupor and says, "Mail the bill in then. I will attend to it."

"Thanks man. Sorry for calling so late- it's just I was supposed to do it yesterday so-"

"It is fine. Goodnight."

Without waiting for a reply he kills the call, swiftly shoving his phone back into his pocket. It's done already. This woman- once a pest and now not a pest in the least- can go back to her own world.

"Who was that?" She asks, pushing her hand into his again.

"… Grimmjow." He lies. "He broke a table at Tia's bar again. He can't cover the bill, so I will be doing it for him."

"Oh. That's nice of you!"

"Hm."

Just one more night. He promises himself. Just one more night and then she goes back to her own world. But for now… He laces their fingers together and looks up when she cries out about a shooting star. For now, let me stay like this. Just a little longer.


He wakes up with a stiff back and a dead arm. They're on the floor, the power is back, and it's noon. Orihime's blanket tent has survived the night, somehow, and she is using his shoulder as a pillow; an ample puddle of drool soaking into his shirt.

He groans.

The noise that awoke him was knocking, which he had assumed to be on the neighbor's door until he realizes it's at his. Carefully he shakes Orihime, corners of his mouth turning up at the sides as she jerks up with a, "I'm awake!"

"Stay here." He says. There are very few possibilities as to who is at his door. Either it is maintenance with the bill despite his wishes for it to be mailed, Grimmjow, Nel by some weird work of nature, or the lady down the hall who so frequently ran out of flour.

He opens the door with a glare and finds it is D. none of the above.

"Well, well, Cifer-San." The silver-haired man grins like a fox. "I can't say I've ever seen ya' in yer' jammers."

"Jammers are a type of swimming suit." He mutters. "This is my sleep wear."

Gin Ichimaru stands before him for no reason at all, his busty blonde fiancé standing just slightly behind him. She smiles eagerly and gives him a wave, to which he pointedly ignores.

"What do you want?" He grounds out. "I'm busy."

"Busy?" Gin raises an eyebrow.

Orihime chooses that moment to appear behind him, looking for all the world like she'd just woken up from a rough round of hot sex. The blanket fort had done its best to create static electricity, and the hardwood floor has her walking a little funny, too.

Ulquiorra quickly puts two and two together and knows what is to come before Gin even open his mouth.

"Ah, busy I see. Well, I'd hate to bother ya' when yer' at it, but-"

"Orihime." He says plainly.

She stops rubbing her eye to look up at him tiredly. "Yeah?" Quickly, she crosses the distance between them to stand at his side.

"This is Ichimaru Gin. An acquaintance of mine."

"Acquaintance?" Gin rumbles with a slow wave of laughter. "That's no way to refer to yer' godfather."

"Ichimaru Gin," Ulquiorra continues tersely. "This is Orihime Inoue. She is a neighbor of mine. She is staying here while her apartment is repaired."

"That so?" Gin smiles, tilting his head.

"Oh wow!" The blonde pipes up, eyes going bright. "You're so cute!" She lurches over Gin's shoulder to grab Orihime's hands, lifting them up in an odd sort of embrace between fingers.

Orihime laughs. "Aw, thank you so much! You're cuter, though! I love your nails!"

Gin's trap has been set. The girls instantly become best friends, and because of this, Ulquiorra has no choice but to let Gin inside. "Please," he says through his teeth. "Come in."

They do. Rangiku and Orihime instantly disappear into the blanket fort, never mind that Rangiku is 30 years old and Gin stays back with that 'everything-as-planned' look that Ulquiorra had hoped to get away from when Aizen had been sent to an institution.

"What do you want?"

"My, my, Cifer-San, what a short temper you have! Ah, I know, all tha' better to kill me with."

"You are trying my patience."

"Was' so wrong 'bout yer' ol' pal droppin' in to see yer' girlfriend?"

"She is not my girlfriend."

Gin raises an eyebrow and looks pointedly at the fort. "Ah. So that 'adult's only label' isn't indicatin' that she wanted ta' do ya' in a blanket fort. Good ta' know, I s'pose."

He glares. "Ichimaru Gin, if you do not state your business this instant-"

"Ah, fine." He droops, as though he's actually disappointed. "Truth is that yer' brothers wanted intel on the girl. I gave 'em what they wanted and then decided I wanted to see 'er myself. Lord knows she's gotta be special if she's been 'ere more than ah day an ya' 'aven't killed 'er."

"Fine. You've seen her. Now leave."

"Temper, temper." Gin smiles, and slowly, cracks open his eyes. "Now, do you really want me to leave because you have things to do, or do you want me out of here because you're afraid of what I may do?"

"I do not fear you." He says simply. "I want you to leave because you are a nuisance."

Just like that, Gin closes his eyes, smile sated again. "I see. Well, that's a real shame 'an all, but I understand. Ran and I'll get goin' sooner rather than later."

"Good." He says.

Inside the blanket fort, the two women giggle.


She makes noodles for dinner. No extra fruits or candies in it, no weird sauces or spices. She makes rice noodles and chicken, and that is the end of it. She knows.

"I went by my place today."

He nods. "I see."

"It's… um, it's all fixed up now, huh?"

"Indeed."

Silence hangs in the air.

"I should probably leave tomorrow, shouldn't I?"

He swallows hard. "I suppose so."


She makes triple chocolate brownies after dinner. They don't even let them bake all the way through and then sit on the couch spooning the molten cocoa magma into their mouths while they watch the newest batman. The dub is terrible, Ulquiorra says, so she keeps her eyes glued to the TV in order to not miss a single word the subtitles present.

They sit in complete silence for the entire movie. They've both seen it before- they both know how this ends- and yet this time watching it feels like more serious and neither of them know why.

"Come with me," Catwoman says. "Save yourself. You don't owe these people any more. You've given them everything."

"Not everything." Batman says. "Not yet."

For reasons he doesn't know, Ulquiorra turns to Orihime in that exact instant. Perhaps to gauge her reaction, maybe to see if she'd noticed he mouthed the words as Batman spoke them, maybe just to make sure she's still there.

She's looking at him.

The movie disappears completely from his view. He can faintly register the sounds of an engine roaring to life combating against the violin music and the rush of the sea. He knows what's happening- he can see it in his head- but in front of his eyes there is only Orihime. Orihime, who is closer now than ever, cheeks stained red and her eyes wide.

"Ulquiorra?" She whispers.

He stares.

"I… I don't want to leave." She doesn't move, doesn't cry. She just says it.

He doesn't know why he does it. He doesn't understand why he stops thinking, and for the first time in his life, just does, but that's what happens. He drops the remote for the TV on the ground and leans forward, hand gracing the gentle curve of her jaw, and kisses her.

She kisses him back.

In the background, Alfred watches as Bruce Wayne orders a meal with his family.


"Condoms." She whispers fervently, and dear god, he didn't even know she could say condoms without blushing and stuttering, much less demand them.

"Night stand." He rumbles back. He bites at her lower lip and swallows back a groan when she moves to his neck, sucking and kissing over his pulse point without pause.

"Bedroom." She pants.

"The sheets." He protests. They nearly trip over said sheets on their way past the ruined blanket fort.

"Don't need them."

He'd argue, but she's offering him several reasons as to why he shouldn't, the first of which being that she's taking her top off, and the second of which being that she's unbuttoning his while she bites his ear.

They stumble into his room and he nearly trips as she shoves his pants down. He'd once thought something about her doing whatever it took to get what she wanted, and now that thought has been confirmed a thousand times over. She's fast, but not pushy.

He feels like he's been waiting for this an entire lifetime. It's as though his entire life he'd only ever eaten rice, and suddenly, from the sky, he'd been shown fish. Substance, flavor, texture, tenderness. He was wolfing it down like a starving man, and she was giving just as quickly.

The backs of his legs make contact with the naked mattress. In nothing but boxers he falls back into bed, Orihime eagerly crawling up over him. She unhooks her bra and then tosses it behind them. She takes his face in both her hands and kisses him deeply, fully, tongue slippery as it twirls around his.

"Inoue-"

"Orihime." She corrects him, breath coming fast. "Ulquiorra."

He swallows hard.

He kicks off his underwear as she slips out of her own, head thrown back in ecstasy as she just barely teases him with the plump flesh of her thighs on either side of his hips.

"Ask me for it, Ulquiorra." She demands, face bright red. "And I'll give it to you."

"Enough games." He growls, and then flips them. "You will tell me to stop if you desire it. Do you understand, woman?"

"I-"

He swoops down and pushes his face into her sex, warm and dewy; his mouth eager upon her. She cries out once and bucks her hips. "Is this agreeable?" He asks, pulling back for a moment.

"Yes! Oh, yes, yes, this is agreeable!"

He smiles. "Agreeable?"

She nods with vigor.

"I see." And so he goes back to it. It is a very simple matter, going down on her. He doesn't see what on earth Grimmjow was complaining about- so long as he pays attention to the nub of flesh and nerves near the peak of her sex she shivers and moans out his name.

She comes undone with a long relieved sigh, gentle, head tossed back as she breathes for a second. For a moment he thinks they're done, but then she sits up, a glimmer of mischief in her eyes as she says, "My turn."

His eyes widen as she pushes him back into bed, nuzzling gently at his throat while she peppers kisses over his collarbone. He is amazed by her ability to make things so heated and fast while keeping them tender and loving and slow at the same time. It's a world of contradiction, but he doesn't mind.

She isn't very shy as she pleasures him. She is unsure about her methods, at first, which makes him think she is either new to this or that it has simply been a while, but after a time she gets her technique adjusted to his liking by gauging how much noise he would make when she did certain things.

He is sad to say he comes to his peak much sooner than her. He does it with his eyes rolled back in his head and hands clutching his hair, willing with every fiber of his being for his hips not to buck up into her mouth.

"Woman, I-"

She understands before he can say it and draws back, hand flying down to finish what her mouth had started. When he is done he immediately looks to clean the mess, but she's already there, using her shirt of all things.

"I have towels and the like." He mutters. "And-" Feeling too much like a child, he grabs her shirt from her hands and continues to clean himself alone. "Give me this, I can do it myself."

She just laughs. "Don't act so irate, Ulquiorra-kun."

He gives her a look. "Do not refer to me as you would others."

"My mistake." She kisses him in apology. And then she kisses him again. And again. She starts to move down to his jaw, stopping to suck lightly at his skin every now and then, causing him to grunt in discomfort- her weight is upon his hips awkwardly and his arousal is causing problems.

She moves in a second, rolling to the side so that she can lie beside him and kiss his shoulder. She takes his hand and holds it up so she can make a path down his arm, then leaves a hickey at the bone that juts out on the inside of his wrist, and then very suddenly takes his index finger into her mouth.

He feels as though that shouldn't turn him on, but it does. She doesn't try to look sexy or seductive- not that she would need to try anyway- she smiles around his finger and makes eye contact with him. She looks happy.

"Condom." He remembers. He grabs the one that they'd sort of gotten out and tears it up, startled again when she takes it from him and applies it to his member on her own. He narrows his eyes at her, though there is no actually annoyance behind the gesture. "I can do these things myself."

"I know." She says happily. "But I can do them for you, can't I?"

"No."

She pouts. "Really?"

"… I will consider this further at a later time."

She grins. "That's better than a no!"

"Hmph."

"Stop frowning." She commands, kissing his lips. She seems to like kissing more than anything they have done so far. "I only want to do this if it's going to make you happy."

"I figured you would have other motives behind this."

"If you're insinuating that I'm about to sleep with you so that I don't have to go back to my own apartment, mister, you're sadly mistaken." She grins. "Besides, my shower has way better water-pressure than yours. I only want to stay here so I can be with you."

"Is that so?" He puts a hand at the small of her back, marveling in how she arches below it. "And why would you want to be with me, of all people?"

"I already told you." She says simply. "I want to make you happy."

"You already have." He admits quietly. He wants to ask her if he makes her happy- because suddenly that matters more than anything else- but her lips interrupt his own.

"Can I top?" She asks excitedly.

He raises an eyebrow. Such a strange woman. But still… "I do not see why not."

That's all she needs. She jumps up from her spot beside him and throws a leg over his hip, biting her lip to stop a smile taking her over. She grabs his member to align it with her, but then stops, giggling.

He frowns.

"I-I'm sorry! I can't help but laugh, I'm just happy!"

So long as she's not laughing at him it's fine. Her mirth is its own brand of sexy, he supposes. He cracks another smile. Two in one day. That has to be a record. "Laugh all you will so long as it makes you happy."

She pauses, glances up at him. She flushes.

"What?"

"No one's ever, um…" She straightens. "No one's ever been okay with the laughing before."

"No one has ever been okay with me before." He informs her.

She smiles. "I can't imagine why, mister don't-fold-the-towels-if-you-can't-do-it-exactly-symmetrical." She laughs again, showing she doesn't really mean what she says, and then leans forward while balancing her weight on her knees. She kisses his lips- this time chastely- and says, "I'm joking. I like that about you."

"I'm glad."

She starts then. She lowers onto him slowly, taking her time to adjust to a comfortable spot. He sighs in content and watches her eyes as she goes, looking for any sign telling him that she might wish to stop. He finds none, but despite himself, he asks, "Do you wish to stop?" While she pants above him.

She shakes her head 'no' and then gives a tentative roll of her hips. "J-just takes a second to get used to. It's been a while."

"I understand." He grounds through his teeth. One simple movement on her part had been a lot for him to take. It's been a long, long time for him, too.

"Sit up." She demands softly, giving another tentative move.

He does as she commands instantly, clenching his teeth as she throws her arms around his shoulders and holds him up with her. She bucks her hips again and he gaps, head falling back a little, his fingers digging into her hips because holy shit.

"I really like you." She rambles as she moves. "Like, really like you. I don't know if I love you yet- ah! And, ah, and um, I don't think that so soon would be a good time to say I loved you if I was already in lo-o-ove! Oh, ah- um, in love with you. But you know. Nn- ah, yeah. Yeah I like you a lot."

"You're rambling." He manages.

"I can't help it." She comes down particularly sharp this time and they both gasp, tears springing to her eyes. "Also I might cry after I finish- oh, ah- it's just something that happens I don't know why."

"Nn."

"You talk to much." She teases- though her voice is strained and breathless and not her usual teasing tone.

He can't hold out any longer. Her breasts are pressed flush against him, there's too much sweat built up behind his knees, and his stomach muscles are contracting while he feels a hot pleasure in the heels of his feet and in his stomach. He bucks up a couple times more, fingers digging into her sides, and then moans softly into her shoulder while she continues on her way. He tries his best to keep thrusting up into her so that she can come to, but he doesn't have to do much work. She grinds on him for only a couple seconds more before she comes, too, gripping his hair so hard it almost hurts.

For a moment they sit tangled up in one another, but very suddenly Orihime starts crying- just as she said she might. She rolls off of him and throws an arm up over her eyes, letting out a long sigh as tears start streaming down her face.

Unsure of what to do, he slowly reaches out and touches her stomach. When she accepts the touch her presses into her skin further, awkwardly rubbing circles around her bellybutton.

"Thanks." She whispers. "That's nice."

"Hm."

She wipes at her face and then slowly turns to him, a smile creeping up onto her face. "Hey." She says, nudging his naked thigh. "Lets have a sleepover."

"Only if you fix the blanket fort mess in the living room."

"Double or nothing." She shoots off.

For a second he just looks at her, but then he can't help it. Pretending to be annoyed, he groans. "Name the game."

"Rock paper scissors, best two out of three!"

"Fine. If I win, you go clean up that mess in the living room and re-make the bed. You will also make breakfast- a normal breakfast- in the morning. Three eggs, a pinch of pepper, and two strips of bacon."

"Okay." She says with a happy smirk. "And if I win we keep the blanket fort up, use the spare sheets in the closet, and then have after-noon sex in the blanket fort tomorrow since I have the day off. Plus watch The Little Mermaid. Please."

Well, he's happy either way. "Fine."

"Rock."

"Paper."

"Scissors- Shoot!"

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