a bleach fanfic and my first attempt at angst. Please don't read it if you haven't read chapter 353 yet...

I reach out my hand

to sunny hair, cloudy eyes

I reach for the sun.
She was supposed to be just another mission.

Just another human. A pitifully weak, worthless human, something to be captured and used for Aizen-sama, and then to be disposed of once it had fulfilled its purposes. Trash.

When Aizen-sama assigned me the mission of capturing her I gave it little thought. Go to the human world, locate her while the others were kept busy, order her to come. Make sure she was kept alive for as long as the plan needed her.

She irritated me, though I never allow myself to show it. The way she refused to give up. The way she would never show fear in my presence. And the very sight of her sunny brown locks, her shining gray eyes too often filled with hope, those glinting hairpins, the strange floral scent that lingered with me even after I checked upon her, they seemed so out of place in this near-lifeless wilderness. It sickened me.

And yet it draws me at the same time.

Something about her movements, something about the way she held herself with a quiet reserve even as a prisoner. Proud....yet meek. It reminds me....of something, or someone. Snatches of memories not entirely mine flash and flit across my mind when I see her. I leave her quarters with a throbbing pain in my temples, wanting something, craving something, something I am not sure how to name.

Then one night, I realized.

It was after she had slapped me. It hadn't hurt. With my Hierro I felt nothing, but I could see the pain, the anger, the...brokenness, written clearly on her face. That got me thinking even more than usual. Why? Why did she insist on giving herself so much grief? Surely she was able to comprehend the fact that her friends simply couldn't win? It wasn't possible. So why break yourself even more with useless hopes and dreams?

That night was the first time I slept in a long time. I had settled back into my own quarters and drifted off into an uneasy sort of half-sleep on a pale green couch...and dreamed.

Hollows...do not dream. We are dead and lifeless, we are without hope and dreams, but are filled with regret. Regret that we are and will never be able to remember.

But somehow I did. I dreamed of...a woman, much like this one, with sunset hair and gray eyes. A bright smile, an infectious laugh...and then pain was all I could remember. Unimaginable pain, and warm droplets of water hitting my face, then nothingness.

I willed myself to forget. I forced those alien memories down into the farthest corner of my mind. My priority is to serve Aizen-sama, I told myself. Having such a thing with me would only distract me, and in no way could ever help.

They were pushed down...but not gone. They arose once again when the woman spoke of the foolish, useless thing humans would call a heart. A heart? I know what a physical heart is, and I know about the physical importance of it in the human body, but this woman had spoken of it as if it were something more than just that. What is this other heart she spoke of? What did it look like? She spoke of it as if it were so real, as if she could hold it in her hands and protect it and bind it with other hearts. What had she meant by that?

What is a heart?

Again, I dismissed it as more foolish and naive human thinking. I pushed it aside, for the Shinigami Kurosaki Ichigo had arrived. We fought, and surprisingly the brat forced me above the dome in order to release Murcielago.

Kurosaki Ichigo. Another thoroughly frustrating being, with the same arrogant foolish attitude as that of Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez. Always making promises he could never possibly fulill, always trying to save people when it was obvious it was too late, always fighting when it was impossible for him to win.

"...and do you think...I should give up...just because...just because you're stronger than me?"

Yes! Of course! Why give yourself the humiliating, even more painful death? What is the point of "fighting to the end", especially when defeating the enemy is hopeless? This boy, this arrogant human, who did he think he was? What position was he in to make such a decision?

Despair. Despair was the only thing I had. There was no way this brat could ever understand. He had never felt the hopelessness, the deadness, the sheer pain, that I have felt. He had people to comfort him, despite the fact they would all be dead soon. He had companions...while I....

And so I released Segunda Etapa. It was completely unnecessary, for I could have finished him off easily in my first form. Why did I do it? The few seconds before I did it...was that...indignation? Surely not. My emotions should have...

And now here I stand. The Shinigami had nearly blasted me away with Cero in that strange...form. It was not Shinigami, Arrancar, or as far as I knew, Vizard. Rather it seemed a combination of them all. It was all of them and none of them at the same time, and Kurosaki Ichigo was clearly not in control. He had so quickly, so easily subdued me, ripped off my arm, and, stepping on my head, fired a cero.

I regenerated. But...in the instant that I had been blasted, before my body started the regeneration, I had thought, Maybe death isn't a bad thing. Maybe been blasted away to nonexistance would be the best way. Maybe...the way I've been living was wrong. Maybe the way we've all been living was wrong. Maybe this...could set things right...even if by just a little...

I felt almost disappointed when my body immediately began to knit itself together, reforming itself. But then again, Aizen-sama definitely would want me to keep defending Las Noches. I had my orders. I noticed that, while I was out, Kurosaki Ichigo himself had impaled a comrade, a Quincy, Ishida Uryuu. For sure, he had lost his mind. I quickly fired my own Cero at him, thinking that perhaps I could put an end to this nonsense.

Now, the woman runs to his fallen form, with his shattered mask and somehow-tattooed body.

"Kurosaki!"

She drops to her knees, eyes tearing up in concern, still calling his name. Her orange-brown hair flows around her as she falls. I look at her, and a strange feeling washes over me. The memories not mine return, stronger than ever, but I ignore them, instead turning my attention to myself.

The limbs he blew away are regenerating, but I know that I cannot replace any destroyed organs or innards. My wing and arm are gone. I shift my left leg which is twig-thin from the lost muscles, almost wincing at the effort. If I hadn't attacked him, then I would be the one lying there dead.

There is a sudden rush of air behind me. Turning around, I see a strange shape forming above the prostrate Ichigo, a cone of sorts, pointing at the hole in his chest. It slams down, and when it clears...the Shinigami has returned to his normal body. No hole, no tattoos.

"The hole...it closed up?" The Quincy gasps out in disbelief with some difficulty.

"High speed regeneration...!" It takes me a while before I realize I said it out loud. The woman, with tears in her eyes, gingerly, tentatively, reaches out a hand.

"K—Kuro...saki...?"

The orange haired boy sits up quickly, startling her. Still facedown, his hand flies up to his bare chest.

"I...wasn't there...a hole in my chest!?" he pants, eyes wide in shock.

My attention drifts as the confusion between the three is cleared up, my ears not catching their idle conversation.

"You sure are a stubborn one..." I murmur.

"Ulquiorra!" he quickly turns to me. I hold his gaze for a few seconds, then Sonido to the Quincy and snatch out Zangetsu, ignoring the gasp of pain. I toss the blade to him.

"Take it. Let us finish this." I want this...to end...

"Did I...attack Ishida?"

As if I care. Instead I reply, "Don't ask me."

"Am I the one...who cut off your arm and leg?"

It wasn't you. There is no way a kind-....hearted....person like you would ever be strong enough to do this to me.

We lock gazes once more. He stands.

"Then cut off my arm and leg, too!" he declares, head thrown high.

Foolishness. If all humans are like this it is no surprise that they are so weak.

"That wasn't me fighting you," he continues. "That was my hollow form. I had no control over it." Beads of sweat from the effort of standing after the battle rolled down his face. "If you want to settle this, it won't be fair unless we're in the same condition!"

"Kurosaki! Do you realize what you're saying!?" the Quincy calls to him. "Kurosaki!" But Ichigo's face remains resolute. Is this really what he wants? This was the same sense of honor Grimmjow had. Those two are more alike than I thought. I keep my gaze on him, then sigh quietly.

"All right. If that's what you want."

But before either of us can make a move, something happens. My remaining wing begins to...dissolve? I see. This fight with that hollow-thing was too much for me. I am...fading...fading away.

"Hmph..." I mutter softly. "I guess that's it for me..." I want this to end...

I turn my head back to Ichigo. "Kill me," I order. His eyes widen in confusion. "Hurry up," I continue.

If I disappear from existance, maybe...

"I don't even have the strength left to walk."

I don't want him to know my intentions, I'll make up an excuse...but I could at least give him a clue...?

"If you don't kill me now it will never be over..."

Hurry hurry hurry...

"I won't do it." he mutters.

"...what?"

"I said no! This..." he grits his teeth. "This isn't the way I wanted to win!" he shouts.

I had been carefully watching his face. Now, as he looks up, his eyes seem terribly...sad? Confused? Frustrated?

Why won't he end it? He won...so why not...? Why does he never....why does he always...

"Hmph. Even in the end you never do what I want..." My wing continues to disintegrate. I can feel myself...losing myself, disappearing. Where will I go? If he doesn't kill me, would I still disappear from existance? Will I return to the human world? Will I go to Soul Society? Will I stay here in Hueco Mundo?

Half of my wing is gone now. I turn my head to look at the woman. She stands with a hand in front of her chest. Her expression...loss? Sadness? But why? Her enemy is dying, her rescuer has won and survived, her companions all still alive...why does she look as if she is losing something?

Losing...me? No. Impossible. Or could it be possible...because of this heart of hers? Can hearts....really do that?

"I'm finally starting to find you guys a little interesting."

Have I? Or have I always been from the very beginning? Or was it when she came? I reach my arm toward her and she starts at the sudden movement.

"Are you scared of me? Woman."

She looks at my outstretched hand, then at my face. I see her eyes, her cloud eyes that match with her sun hair, looking me in my own emerald ones. Her eyes reflect many things. Sadness and loss. Anguish...and hope. Hope that I never had...until now.

"I'm not scared."

"....I see...."

I keep my hand reaching for her, and she in turn reaches her soft one for my Hierro-covered one. We never manage to hold each other though. Before I know it, I'm gone, my spirit flying away and moving not of its own accord across the suddenly beautiful desert.

I see now.

You are not scared, woman, and neither am I.

Because...now I know what a heart is.