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For a human, you’re uniquely tolerable. Ulquiorra has never interacted with many others that he finds bearable to be around– everyone is too loud, too emotional, too grating or aggressive for him to stand. You, a human, weak enough to never be a threat to him, only existing in his world through accident, are different. You’re a curiosity more than a nuisance. 

You smile at him. Ulquiorra doesn’t know whether it’s human habit or something unique to you, but you smile every time you greet him. Bizarre, by Hollow standards. Somehow vaguely fascinating when it’s you. 

“Good morning,” you say, even though there’s no concept of morning in the world you now live in. How foolish. Your silly little human head must not understand that your world doesn’t bend to the patterns of human sleep and waking anymore. You must not be able to comprehend it. 

You’re smiling anyway, a disturbingly happy thing that somehow reaches your eyes. Smiles like that aren’t meant for Hueco Mundo.

Ulquiorra gives you a blank look in response. Your smile falters just a little bit. You’re afraid of him. You should be. It’s a good sign that even a creature as stupid as you can comprehend that he’s a threat. That you can take him as seriously as something as breakable as you should. Something about the look of nervousness on your face makes Ulquiorra’s chest pinch. Watching you take a step back when he keeps staring makes him feel like he’s looking at a piece of prey. In any other situation, he would be.

“Keep smiling,” he tells you, because it seems like the right thing to say. So long as you don’t give that expression to anyone else, Ulquiorra thinks that this human’s smile might be bearable after all. 

Your eyes go a bit wide, but you obey. Your smile stretches wider, your eyes crinkling around the corners. It’s visibly artificial, but Ulquiorra can live with that. You doing what he tells you to is satisfying in a way that it’s never been with anyone else. Something about that kind of vaguely terrified expression from you makes him feel like he’s doing something right.

. . . 

It keeps happening. You remember to smile every time you see him, and Ulquiorra doesn’t know why that little fact makes a place high in his chest go tight. It’s pleasant to watch you scurry to please him. Ulquiorra has never bothered to care that much about anyone else. 

You don’t interact with him all that often, but in the moments that you’re in front of him, Ulquiorra feels vaguely like he could eat you alive. A natural feeling for Hollows, perhaps, but one that Ulquiorra has thought himself to be above for quite a long time now. You’re obedient in the most tolerable of ways, quiet enough that he can stand to be around you, and your soft, nervous little voice eases some line of tension that typically goes ignored. You’re pleasing, and that thought is a strange one indeed. 

And then, Ulquiorra starts finding out things that he doesn’t like. 

You spend the most time around Grimmjow, it seems. Somehow, the Sixth hasn’t killed you quite yet. It’s surprising for Grimmjow, but since Ulquiorra himself hasn’t bothered to kill you yet either, he supposes it’s explainable. Even so, the idea of you near Grimmjow is unsettling. Ulquiorra decides very quickly that he doesn’t want that bad influence near you. 

It’s simply not good for you, Ulquiorra decides when seeing you near the hyperaggressive excuse for an Espada makes his throat prickle with something sharp and cold. You don’t need to be associating yourself with someone like that. Not when he’d do a so much better job of keeping you alive. It’s unclear exactly when he started thinking like that, Ulquiorra thinks. He reminds himself that you’re, in the end, just a human. 

. . . 

Ulquiorra sees you speaking to Grimmjow, sees the kind of smile that you’ve never given him. Something boils over inside of him, a heavy feeling situated somewhere below the hole through his throat. 

He doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like the way you look at that man like he could ever slip into your life in a way that matters. They’re Hollows. Neither he nor Grimmjow are the kind of creatures that humans should be interacting with. But... if it came down to the two of them, of course, Ulquiorra would be the one who could imitate human behavior better. 

It’s a strange and sudden thought; that he’d much rather have you all to himself than see you getting so close to Grimmjow. Perhaps it’s mere competitiveness. Perhaps he’s simply interested in what makes a strange human like you tick. Perhaps, a little part of him whispers, perhaps there’s some other reason that he just doesn’t want to think about. No matter what the answer there is, Ulquiorra decides, he can’t let this go on. 

“You. Human.” He approaches you, forcibly tearing his thoughts away from the unlike-him idea that simply killing Grimmjow would be the better option here. “You’ve been speaking to Grimmjow often, correct?”

“Um... yes?” you reply, looking like you might either want to run or lie to him. Ulquiorra notes that you’re forcing a smile nonetheless. 

“You are to stop interacting with that man from now onwards. He’s a bad influence. It would be a hindrance if you were to be corrupted by someone so impulsive and reckless. Stay away from him.” Ulquiorra stands a little closer to you than he has before, just to see how your expression changes. Your eyes are a pleasing color, he notes. How strange. 

“Wh-What? Why...?” Your little human voice shakes on the words. Ulquiorra can’t decide if he likes the sound or if he’s just irritated that you’re questioning him. You can’t see that Grimmjow is a terrible choice for the human concept of ‘friend’? What a foolish creature you are. 

“I told you a moment ago. He’s a poor influence on your behavior. If you continue to associate with him, he’ll turn you into a nuisance of his caliber. Cease to speak to him.” The reason he’s giving makes sense, but Ulquiorra can’t help but feel like he’s not telling the whole truth. The scent of you goes ever-so-slightly sharp, a tinge of human fear corrupting the edges of it. A pleasant spark against his senses, compared to the rest of the world. 

You shiver. Ulquiorra can guess that his gaze is frightening you. He’s gathered that his eyes, empty and soulless as they are, tend to do that to those weaker than him. A part of him thinks that you should be afraid. 

“Okay... I’ll keep that in mind.” You don’t sound convinced. For your own sake, you’d be best to figure out that you should take him seriously.

. . . 

You don’t obey him. Ulquiorra smells Grimmjow on you not days later. How annoying. He went out of his way to advise you on what would be the wisest choice, and you didn’t listen. Some part of Ulquiorra prickles at the disobedience. It’s irritation, he tells himself. You’re being a stupid, stupid human. Of course, he’s frustrated by the behavior. It only makes sense.

Such a stupid human. Surely, your behavior is being dictated by nothing but your feelings, as humans are apt to do. That’s all humans ever do; feel things and follow those emotions to their graves. He’ll just have to force you to be logical. It won’t do any good to try to explain things to someone who can’t follow basic advice. You didn’t listen, so you’ll just have to be made to step away from the biggest irritation of all. 

Ulquiorra tracks you down. Without a word, without an explanation, he grabs you by the arm and starts walking, pulling you in the direction of his territory. It’ll be better for you to be around him, not the reckless idiot that is Grimmjow. It will be better for both of you to cut things off now. 

“Ulquiorra–? Wha–” You make a weirdly appealing squeaking noise when he drags you, stumbling along after him in a delayed reaction. “What are you doing? Did I do something wrong...? Um...”

“I told you not to associate with Grimmjow any longer. You disobeyed. I can smell it on you. Thus, I’m removing you from the situation by force. Since you won’t listen to reason, I have to use more extreme measures.” Ulquiorra explains it with his usual monotone, but somehow, his words feel off to his own ears. As if there’s more going on than what he’s saying. 

Why?” you demand, as if there’s anything more he needs to explain. You’re just plain not listening. That must be the answer here. You’re just being a stupid, stupid human and not paying proper attention. “I like him! He’s nice to me, so why am I not allowed to even talk to him?”

Somehow, those words bristle a part of Ulquiorra that he’s never felt before. A sharp, hot feeling rises in his chest, scratching at his insides. 

It occurs, suddenly, that this must be what jealousy feels like. 

Ulquiorra’s grip tightens on your wrist, squeezing hard enough that you yelp. He’s still pulling you farther and farther away from anywhere Grimmjow might be. He’ll keep you away from Grimmjow for good. 

“Ulquiorra, that hurts! L-Let go...!” Your voice goes high and desperate, your other hand goes to try to pry Ulquiorra’s fingers off of your wrist, and your expression twists into something pained. Ulquiorra thinks for a second that he could keep squeezing until he shattered every bone. He wonders what kind of faces you’d make if he were to do it. 

“I’ll let go. But you will follow me.”

. . . 

Ulquiorra thinks about a lot of things. He keeps you in his palace for a while, making sure that you don’t leave to visit Grimmjow again. The feeling now known as jealousy simmers in Ulquiorra’s chest. For the first time in his existence, he thinks that this emotion might be a tolerable one. 

Eventually, he comes to a particular conclusion. You want Grimmjow for a lover. The human concept of a partner, someone that you will never leave. When he thinks about it, that concept sounds like one that Ulquiorra would like to possess for himself. It sounds like feelings that, from you, he’d like to own every one. You’re a person who cares deeply, who smiles when you’re told to. Ulquiorra knows already that you’d be a human that he’d like to keep around. So it simply makes sense that he can’t let you get away. 

Of course, he’ll have to compete with Grimmjow. Your foolish, human feelings have already developed for him, so it will be necessary to turn them away. The conclusion that Ulquiorra comes to is that the best way to go about this is to mirror the actions of a human lover. You’ll like that. You’ll surely prefer a mimic of your own species to the actions of a monster.

Ulquiorra approaches you when you’re sitting in a corner, curled up tight like you’re so, so afraid of what he could do to you. He’s thought about things very carefully. He’s decided on the best plan to prove himself as an appropriate lover. All he has to do now is enact it. 

He crouches next to you, the motion far less dignified than what he’d normally allow himself. You flinch back, and Ulquiorra leans in, pressing his lips to yours before you have time to panic and push him away. 

At the sudden contact, you try to squirm backward. It doesn’t work. There are two walls behind you and Ulquiorra in front, leaving no room for you to get away. Your lips taste sweet, the blood rushing just below the surface almost palpable. It’s a pleasant feeling for one such as him. 

“What are you doing?” you squeak when he pulls back. “You’re scaring me. Ulquiorra, please. Don’t do that again. I– I don’t want to kiss you.” Silly lies. He’s the perfect image of a human lover. You’ll just have to accept him. 

Ulquiorra brings his fingers to your hair, combing through the soft texture, trying to mimic the gentle caresses that he knows humans enjoy. The sensation of each individual hair sliding over his fingertips is like electricity against his skin. You shiver. He can see prickles rising on your skin in little bumps. This will be perfect. You’re already reacting to his touch. 

He goes for your clothes next. You try to protest again, so Ulquiorra kisses you once more. Why you’re denying your feelings, Ulquiorra will never know. He’s doing exactly what a lover should. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy it. He’s being so unnaturally gentle for a Hollow. 

Every bit of your skin that’s bared sends a certain warmth through Ulquiorra’s chest. You’re lovely. Your body, the physical, living self, is so soft and warm and real. It’s nothing like being near another Hollow. The difference between you is as clear as that between the endless cold and dark of his world and the brilliant warmth of yours. It’s never been more apparent to him what it means for humans to be alive.

Ulquiorra traces two fingers down your stomach, reaching down toward the goal. Ulquiorra only has a vague knowledge of what he’s supposed to do here, but causing pleasure is sure to be similar to causing pain. It’s all a matter of judging your reactions and learning what feels best to a human’s nerves. His fingertips reach the bare part of you between your legs. You’re not protesting anymore, just keeping your eyes squeezed shut and mouth set in a solid line. You must finally be realizing what he’s doing.

His fingers slide against hot, soft skin. You make a high whimpering noise. Something in Ulquiorra’s chest tightens like it’s being pulled. You’re so warm against him. You’re so alive. Your muffled, desperate noises spike with the slow movements of Ulquiorra’s fingers, and he knows that Grimmjow never could have been the one to give you this.

Even though the motion is unfamiliar, Ulquiorra can assume that he’s doing things correctly. You’re getting wetter. Your body is starting to squirm. Your breath is coming sharper and sharper through your chest. 

Staring at where your ribcage frantically expands and contracts, Ulquiorra has a sudden, visceral need to feel the part of you he lacks. 

Pressing his free hand against your chest, Ulquiorra finally, finally feels it. This is the first time he’s been close enough to you to feel the steady thrum of your heartbeat, pounding rapidly under his fingertips. This is what Hollows are missing. This is what makes you fit to be his. 

“Smile again,” Ulquiorra tells you, curling his fingers over your skin.

Your hips jerk. Your body shudders. Ulquiorra presses down harder against your chest. Obeying him at last, an unsteady smile stretches across your face. He could keep you forever, Ulquiorra thinks. If things could be like this for as long as you live, he’d be satisfied to have you. 

. . . 

After that, Ulquiorra keeps you close to him. Humans stay near those that they love, so it’s only natural that he doesn’t let you go. The hot, strange feelings in Ulquiorra’s chest only grow with every passing day. You don’t leave his palace anymore. You haven’t seen Grimmjow since the day Ulquiorra touched you. You smell like him and him alone, and that’s the way that Ulquiorra knows it’s supposed to be. The way he knows is right 

You don’t speak much anymore, either. You stay very quiet and very still, sitting curled up in a little ball in whatever corner you can find. It’s very Hollow-like behavior, and Ulquiorra quickly comes to the conclusion that you must be trying to imitate his species’ mannerisms as well. 

Ulquiorra becomes more lenient with physical contact. What he knows to be unnatural to Hollows must feel good to you. He brushes against your hands, strokes your hair, kisses you at least a few times every day. 

You haven’t told him ‘no’ since the first day.

Whatever Ulquiorra is feeling, he suspects it might be something close to happiness. Of course, you’d be the one to give feelings to what should be empty. You belong with him now. With the creature that you drew in all on your own. For all he knows he’s not human, Ulquiorra thinks that he does a decent job of pretending. It makes you happy, after all. 

When he started caring quite so much, Ulquiorra will never know. He wanted to understand the source of the jealousy, to know why a human of all creatures could stir up emotions that he’d never had before. 

Now, he thinks you might be precious to him. 

He kisses you again, tipping your head back and pressing his cold lips to yours. You’re always warm. So, so warm. During the times he’s wrapped in that warmth, Ulquiorra feels almost like he could be alive. You do things to the heartless space in his chest that shouldn’t be possible

“Why are you doing this...?” you whisper not long after, curling yourself in a bit tighter. Your eyes are wet around the edges. 

“Because I love you,” Ulquiorra replies. The words feel strange in his mouth, like he’s saying something he’s not supposed to be. Since when were Hollows able to feel love? Jealousy, that’s one thing. But love ? “I love you,” he says again, as if speaking the words can make them real. 

. . . 

It’s occurring to Ulqiorra that he won’t have you forever. Humans are small, weak, and fragile, and even though his body could keep on living indefinitely, yours will eventually rot and die. You’ll turn to dust like everything else, and Ulquiorra will be without you like you were never there.

The thought is disturbing. All the more so because Ulquiorra has never thought anything to be disturbing before now. Only losing you. 

He’d already decided on forever, keeping you with him for as long as possible, but human lifespans are short, and he’d be without you so quickly if something isn’t done. It’s not fair. The heartless creature finally finds something, someone that brings its feelings to life, only for the world to promise to take it away within a matter of a few short years. 

Ulquiorra feels himself becoming tense and on edge over the next couple of months. You haven’t left his palace yet. Ulquiorra gets you everything you need from the outside, spoils you to the best extent of his abilities. He doesn’t need to play the part of the ideal human lover right now; he wants to. Some satisfied feeling settles over his chest whenever you smile, even if those smiles don’t really reach your eyes anymore. You must be tired. Perhaps your body is starting to weaken already. 

Things are peaceful. Ulquiorra’s feelings keep developing, transforming into things closer and closer to what he imagines humans know. You’re safe and taken care of, and things are well. But then, an argument happens. 

“...let me go.”

Ulquiorra all but freezes. That’s not what you’re supposed to be saying. You’re not supposed to be frustrated with him. 

“No. You’re happier here. Don’t deny that you want to be with me.” It’s the simple truth. If you choose to be difficult and deny it, at least Ulquiorra will know better. You smile at him every day. You respond every time he touches you. You love it with him, and you both know it. 

“I’m not !” you all but shriek, standing up far too quickly. “I hate it here! You’re forcing me to be here! I can’t stay with you forever! You have to let me leave, Ulquiorra, you have to!”

Of all the things for you to say, these are some of the most unpleasant. Humans are fickle, emotional creatures, and while Ulquiorra knows that something like you will never be in control of its feelings, the horrible things coming out of your mouth still set him on edge. Does this mean you’re dying? Does this mean he’s done something wrong?

No. He’s overthinking it. You’re simply venting natural human frustrations. How... how unpleasant. Ulquiorra’s body moves on its own. He strides over to you, taking some small pleasure in how you flinch. You stumble when he gets too close, tripping backward over yourself and falling to the ground with a quick breath of terror. Ulquiorra kneels beside you, bringing himself down to your height. He has to show you that you can’t be so cruel to him. Those words hurt in a way he never knew they could.

On impulse, Ulquiorra’s hands go around your throat. He’ll scare you a little bit, that’s all. Just enough to show you that, in the end, he’s still the one who has the power. This is how Hollows behave, and if he’s played at being human for so long, it’s your turn to learn how to be a Hollow. 

He squeezes. He keeps squeezing. You struggle and claw at his hands, strength pathetic compared to his own. Ulquiorra watches the panic in your eyes and holds firm. This will teach you not to lie to him again. 

Ulquiorra holds on until your body goes limp. Until your eyes flutter closed, lashes casting shadows against your cheeks. Your chest stops trying to heave, and that’s enough. Ulquiorra doesn’t need to do anything more. He’s only trying to scare you, after all. He doesn’t want to hurt you too badly. All he needs is to teach you how to behave correctly. 

. . .

You don’t move for a while again after that. Ulquiorra tucks your sleeping form into bed, carrying you so carefully back to where you’ll be comfortable. Your eyes don’t open. You don’t so much as squirm in your sleep. You’re so, so still, so quiet and compliant and soft. 

You sleep for a few more days, almost to the point that Ulquiorra wonders if he hurt you. Every day, he visits you, pets your hair and talks to you. It won’t do to leave you alone, even if you’re pouting. Humans sleep for much longer than Hollows, Ulquiorra reminds himself and quashes any frustrations he might have felt. You’re fine the way you are. It’s not like you’ve said anything else that you shouldn’t have. 

But you start talking to him again very soon. When you wake up, you tell him that you’re just so, so tired. That you don’t want to move for a while, and that Ulquiorra can take care of you until you feel better. You smile again, happier than Ulquiorra’s ever seen it. You stroke his hand with yours. 

Ulquiorra barely notices that the touch isn’t warm. He doesn’t pay attention to just how light the brush of your fingers feels. 

And that’s how things stay. You don’t move much. You’re tired, you tell him. You like it better when he’s taking care of you. It makes you happy to see how much he loves you. Ulquiorra thinks quite a bit about what it means to truly love a human. Ulquiorra decides that whatever remains of his heart has decided that he’s going to love you. 

Your face looks beautiful when you’re sleeping. Ulquiorra holds your hand, thinking that he doesn’t have to pretend to be a human lover any longer. The motions come naturally to him, practice and care making sure that he slips naturally into what he needs to do to care for you. 

Your hand slips out of his. 

Abruptly, Ulquiorra realizes that you aren’t breathing anymore.