A/N: I'm new to this site, so please be gentle! Spoilers for pretty much everything post-Hueco Mundo arc in the anime/manga, so beware. This is Ulquihime if you squint; it's tame, but it catches the feel of their sort of burgeoning...relationshippy thing (as I see it, or wish it). New manga chapter coming out this week, and we've shifted out of FKT, so everything I wrote here might be instantly made laughable by the swoop of Kubo's mighty pen. Still, in brief - this is what I would like to see happen post-big-event-on-the-Dome.

Disclaimer: Kubo Tite owns Bleach and all its characters, I just like to borrow them for writing funtimes.


No.

She isn't supposed to care. She's never supposed to care. But as far back as their first entry into Soul Society, when she watched Mayuri calmly deploy members of his own squad as human bombs, she cared. And she cares now.

No.

She's a healer, it's the only thing in the world she's good at, she can't fight well enough to make a difference, so shouldn't she be healing someone now? Ishida-kun… He needs her, she knows. Needs healing. And perhaps not just for his brutal wound but for the desperate shock painted across his face. And Kurosaki-kun is going to need healing of an entirely different kind. She can sense the gashes in his spirit as though they were made manifest before her, dark and jagged and bleeding. The self-loathing. The disbelief.

But Orihime ignores the inner monologue inside her head, and the rest of everything around her, as she watches the fourth Espada fade. She knows instinctively that this is different from saying goodbye to her brother, though he was a Hollow too; when her brother left, with the tears came…well, if not a happiness, an understanding and a peace. But there is no peace in this. She knows without interrogating herself too deeply that she will never have peace with this.

She can see Ulquiorra there, through her outstretched hand and the tears that she tries to blink away, can see that he is watching her, and that he is even now transforming: not just into ashes but something else, something she discerns in the uncharacteristic softness of his eyes, the features that have lost their harshness. He's reaching out, heart and hand, and so is she, and he's fading and it isn't right it isn't right it isn't right and it hurts.

No.

She knows what she should do. She should turn away, and blink the tears back, and heal the others. But Ulquiorra has never inspired her to do anything she should do. Beside him she's done everything she never thought she'd do: walked away from everyone and everything, said hard goodbyes, learned to stand on her own, to cling to what she believed in the loss of everything, to strike out at someone—to strike out at him. And so she forgets "should," even as in the back of her mind she calculates if Ishida and Kurosaki-kun can wait for help, even as she can hear Tsubaki screaming and cursing just above her ear. And when she walks forward and invokes her power, she's thinking just two things: that Ishida can't stop her and Ichigo won't, and that Ulquiorra has changed forever her understanding of Hollows.

This is different from any healing she's ever done. Orihime's not consciously aware of the shift, but rather than focus on her power, she focuses on him, with a loving attention to detail, all her memories from her captivity put to proper use. She remembers his measured tone and the pale (cold) white skin, the look of indifference, sometimes sadness, the softness there right at the end. Onyx hair and green, green, emerald eyes – the only color in a colorless world. But she does not remember the Hollow hole, she does not think of it, because he does not need it. You have a heart now, she thinks, and beneath her hands ash stirs and shifts and changes and molds together into something resembling a form. Insubstantial, but there. She clothes him with all her memories from captivity, everything she's learned, all her hope invested in the way he reached for her. Because he is an Espada, a Hollow, but he isn't a monster. Not any more than Kurosaki-kun. Or, maybe Kurosaki-kun is a monster, and Ulquiorra too, and she just doesn't care any more, because the world is more complicated than "monster" and "not monster" and "good" and "evil."

She can feel Ichigo's gratitude from somewhere behind her – he does not want this blood on his hands, even if it wasn't really his hands that did the shedding – and she lets him think that she is doing this out of compassion, out of understanding that it wasn't supposed to happen this way. But this….this, Orihime does for herself, and not for anyone else.

She couldn't explain why if anyone asked her. Green eyes, she would say, and think of that hand reaching for her, and the ache that made her heart throb when she realized he was lost. She knows this is intrinsically selfish, to want this, to want him, for herself. To want to give that heart a chance to beat. To help it grow. And she's given so much to everyone, for everyone, that she doesn't feel guilty or ashamed of taking this little bit as her very own.

Green eyes meet hers, levelly. His form whole beneath her hands. She looks, checks. No Hollow hole remains. No number, either. She isn't sure what that means, what she's done, or what he's become. She crouches over him, just looking into those endless eyes, and reaches out her hand. His gaze never wavers, but she senses the movement he makes, and in a moment his hand meets hers: warmer than she imagined it to be, slender as it laces with her own. "Woman," he says simply, and though his expression doesn't change, she hears the wonder in his tone.

Orihime smiles.

Long days of frustration at her own impotence in battle, sorrow over her failures, her thwarted determination to make a real difference for them (for him, Kurosaki-kun): it all fades. And Ulquiorra's declaration that she belongs to them, with them, that she's one of them: that fades, too. For now Orihime lingers somewhere between light and darkness in a world illuminated only by the golden glow of her power and the frightening beauty of his green, green eyes.

She isn't sorry.