I need you

Ulquiorra was always there for Orihime when she needed him. That was the best part of it. It made up for all her failures, her lack of power, and her simple yet appalling inability to be other than human. His judgment on her was something that she deserved and was grateful for. His harshness was his kindness, because it showed her what she should do and how she should change herself.

When the other Arrancar tormented her, he was there. She could tell from his coldness how much he disapproved of her weakness, and in time she learned to be stronger. The first time she used Tsubaki to piece one of her torturers through, she could read the satisfaction in the set of his shoulders, the glint in the depths of his eyes.

It was sanity to hold onto those signs of approval. It would have been insanity to refuse them.

She still feared Aizen-sama and his plans, and she was grateful to be spared his presence. She feared the others still more: Ichimaru with his casual sadism, Tousen with his blank indifference. But Ulquiorra watched over her.

He brought her food. He brought her clothing. He escorted her to and from the baths. He checked that she was caring for herself. At first she hated him for it, but as the endless days in the white corridors and white rooms went by, she recognised it for what it was. He cared about her well-being. He cared about her. He wanted her to do her best. That was all. He just wanted her to be all that she could be in Aizen-sama's service.

If she did what he wanted, what Aizen-sama wanted, then nobody else would have to die.

She asked to be allowed to practice. It was permitted. He watched over her and guarded the door. She wasn't going to try to escape. Where would she run to? Outside was only the endless wastelands, and if she went back to Earth, they'd just kill more people till she returned, and it would be all her fault.

The silence of the room and the hum of Hueco Mundo's reiatsu drowned out the babble of her fairies with a greater harmony. It was the music of obedience and resignation to fate. She had never before understood the glory that came with acceptance, the truth behind sacrifice, the nobility of service. She had been a petty thing before, a girl who struggled for her own little personal reasons. Now she was part of a cause that would shake the heavens, that would replace God.

She grew stronger. The smaller Arrancar cowered when she went past. But she knew it wasn't enough. She couldn't serve properly, not yet. She was still too weak. She could feel the disapproval in his silence. Even Aizen-sama no longer wished to inspect her. It wasn't enough. She had to do something.

"Please." She knelt before Ulquiorra that night when he brought her food. It was Ulquiorra, not Ulquiorrra-sama; he had beaten her that time when she'd tried to call him Ulquiorra-sama, saying that he wasn't worthy of the address, only Aizen-sama was, and of course he was right, but she'd only been trying to please him.

"What is it?"

"Please, Ulquiorra. I want to do more. I need to be stronger, to help Aizen-sama, but I can't make myself go any further. I need you to push me further. I need you to guide me. I can't --"

He took her by the shoulders and raised her to her feet. "It is enough. You did well to ask."

She smiled through her tears, glad that she had for once said the right thing.

The next day he came earlier than usual. "I have found a way to help you," he said. "To make you stronger."

She would have burst out in thanks, but she had learned how much he disliked those shows of affection, so she nodded, and knelt before him again to show her obedience.

"Will this make it better?" he asked, and showed her the whip.

She kissed the handle gratefully.