Author's Note: Wow, I actually finished!

Again, thank you, my loyal and wonderful readers for staying with this story. I worked hard on this story... and in the process neglected all my original stories and some of my other fandoms (whoops!). XD

I know I've been fickle about some details of the story, but hey, it's a WIP, so it's not going to be perfect~

Anyway, please enjoy.

PS - Check out my other UlquiHime stories! I have a one-shot collection filled with various genres of... one-shots called "Undisclosed Desires," my Tanabata contest entry, "For Five Years...," and my Pronzfest entry, "Movieplay" (a lemon!).

. .

Playlist: "Fly Me to the Moon" by Olivia Ong (cover)

[15] – In Other Words, I Love You

"Ulquiorra-kun, do you know anything about this?" Orihime whispered to her boyfriend.

"No," he told her flatly.

She frowned. "Really?"

"Yes. And in any case, I do not trust him alone with you when it comes to his 'secrets.'"

"But it's Urahara-san!"

"Exactly," he muttered with a pointed look. "If you live here long enough, you will understand how conniving this man is."

She didn't have a response. Ulquiorra was stubborn, but she didn't feel like arguing. She was too anxious about why Kisuke had told her, in such a mysterious tone, that he needed her to come with him. She was also puzzled about where exactly in the training grounds they were going. They were already at the opposite end of where the entrance was.

"I can hear everything you're saying, Ulqui-kun," Kisuke spoke up. "That's so mean, you know..."

"Then tell us the point before you drag us into your idiocy," Ulquiorra said impatiently.

Kisuke waved his hand up and down a few times to calm him down. "All right, all right. We only have a little more to go."

A few minutes later, they came upon a cluster of boulders. Nothing exciting, not at first. But after stopping behind the rocks, in the shadows of far corner of the training grounds, Kisuke used his cane to tap heavily against the ground. The gesture was purposeful, in a pattern akin to Morse code.

He stepped backward in time for Orihime and Ulquiorra to see a bright spark cut across the ground, forming a perfect circle with a diamater of about two feet. Like magic, the ground quaked slightly, and something cylindrical rose above ground, small clouds of dust forming as the ground broke. Ulquiorra hastily pulled her back with him to give them breathing room.

As soon as the dust cleared, Orihime realized what the point of this visit was.

In a glass case, floating in mid-air, was a piece of stone familiar to her—the Hougyoku.

She immediately put a hand to her chest, quizzical fingers grasping desperately at her heart.

Next to her, Ulquiorra furrowed a brow. He understood from the get-go, but... "This Hougyoku..." he began in a quiet voice. "How? And when?"

"I'm sure she remembers her first encounter with that Hollow," Kisuke replied, with a meaningful glance toward Orihime.

It was hard for her to forget being impaled by the enemy. Even to this day, her own boyfriend didn't know what exactly happened to her. She knew he wouldn't take it well; he didn't like seeing or hearing about her being gravely injured.

Ulquiorra gave her a somewhat suspicious side glance. "If it had been embedded inside her body," he reasoned, "then it must have been a bad enough injury for it to come out without either of us noticing."

I helped my nakama... without any of this stone's power, she realized, her gray orbs widening.

No, that wasn't it.

They helped me, she corrected herself. This was my fight.

And all along, all I needed was my heart to guide me. What Urahara-san is showing me is that I'm just as strong; that I'm a warrior in my own right.

... I'm no longer someone 'who will only be in the way.'

She looked toward Kisuke, tears in welling her eyes. "Urahara-san..."

He chuckled. "This wasn't any of my doing. All I did was rescue it and seal it from outside danger."

She wiped her eyes. "Still... " She glanced at the Hougyoku inside the capsule. "This validates so much... and you showing it to me means that you do, too."

Kisuke's head rose slightly. Under the raccon-like shadows on his face, she could make out a somewhat wide-eyed expression. "Is that so...?" He mumbled, more to himself than to either her or Ulquiorra. Surely, he must be thinking the same thing she was—what he had said to her before she left for Hueco Mundo; his doubts of her fighting resolve, the doubts of the others.

He cast her a tender look. "Well, that must be true then." Unlike what Ulquiorra warned her about, the shop owner looked sincere and grateful. "Thank you, Orihime-chan." After a pause, he added, "And I should apologize on behalf of the Gotei 13 for seeing you so poorly... even up to now."

She looked away, unsure of how she felt about Yamamoto Genryuusai's actions toward her and the entire situation. She wasn't up to putting that aside yet. Her heart still soured when he and Kurotsuchi Mayuri crossed her mind, as well as Rangiku to a much smaller extent. But it wasn't as though she could control their plans and intentions.

"Oh..." she murmured contemplatively. For someone so chipper and deceptively naïve, she looked mature beyond her teenage years. "They must have mistaken me for someone who couldn't get a grip on her strength—both inside and out."

Next to her, Ulquiorra nodded once, silently approving. It was wonderful to have someone who believed in her from the beginning... but even more so to have just as much confidence on her own.

Kisuke, meanwhile, laughed. "That is true, Orihime-chan. Very true."

. .

After burying the Hougyoku capsule again, Kisuke left the two of them alone.

Orihime stared at the patch of ground where it was kept, and then gripped the lapel of her uniform jacket, where her pins were situated now.

Something else bothered her a bit. Before, she didn't want to say anything to Ulquiorra or any of her friends just yet because she wanted time to think things through first, but after seeing the Hougyoku in its display case, she felt more sure.

"Urukkun, I've been thinking about that night," she finally spoke up. "With the Hollow."

"I told you to leave the past behind you," he reminded her with disapproval. "You are thinking too much."

"I know, I know," she said, "but... that void... I don't think I got out of it with my powers alone."

He glared at her. "Don't tell me these things and expect me to believe you."

She frowned at his reaction.

"I know you give me the benefit of the doubt, Onna," he went on without waiting for her response, "but it feels as though you mock me when you say I have any control over anything given to you—"

"Urukkun, I'm serious!" she insisted, grabbing his hand. "I swear I'm not just trying to make you feel better!"

He shut up. His expression was still rather stern, but he allowed Orihime to explain herself.

She held his hand up and kissed it. "I was empowered by something, but it felt foreign—like it didn't come from inside me." She stared down at his knuckles, her lips still resting against the back of his fingers in thought. "It... it felt like you. That's the honest truth. I really believe you helped me burn a hole through the void."

Ulquiorra's face finally softened. She wouldn't lie to him, and he realized this. "The Hougyoku gave me something I wished for as well, then," he murmured.


"I wanted to fight." His eyes fell to the ground. "I remember wishing that I could have protected you... and I suppose that it was a pure gesture." He slowly put a hand to his own chest. His brows were furrowed with thought. "It was the first time I yearned for something so ardently."

Orihime couldn't imagine how broken-hearted Ulquiorra had been when she burned away into the void—she was his heart.

"I should thank it for more than that," Orihime confessed. With a blush, she turned back to Ulquiorra. "... It gave me you."

He quirked a brow. "Even back then, my existence was something you desired?"

"You never had the chance to really live," she responded. "The way you died was so sad—I couldn't help but mourn for you." At the memory, she sighed. It was such a depressing thing to reflect on. "I thought I'd never see the day you'd come back for that chance."

"I see," he replied, setting a hand against her head. "... I cannot thank you enough."

Her hand rose to the collar of her jacket. With a careful motion, she slid one of the two pins from her lapel and attached it affectionately to his.

Ulquiorra looked down at her with a furrowed brow.

A pause hung thoughtfully in the air, Orihime allowing him a moment to think through the gesture. She knew she wouldn't have to say anything else; he always understood her.

Wordlessly, she turned, prepared to return to the center of the training grounds. And then she heard him speak up.


She offered a sideways glance. "Hm?"

From out of nowhere, something long and thin swung at her. With reflex, her shield popped up to deflect it.

Ulquiorra, who was suddenly armed with a wooden sword without her knowledge, skidded back from her defense's recoil.

Orihime blinked in confusion, a bit rattled from the sudden attack. "U-U-Ulquiorra-kun?"

Where did he even keep that bokken this entire time?

"When you fought," he explained, "I saw that you stood on your own two feet without me. Rather than me protecting you, it was the other way around." His gaze dipped to the ground. "I was defenseless; always dependent on you. In battle, you work hard for my sake, and I have given you little in return."

She frowned. "It's not like that—"

"I have not trained vigorously enough," he went on, raising his eyes back to her. He seemed more determined. "And if there is any spark of power within me, as you said, I request that you help me hone my skills and discover what is my own."

Moved, she lifted a hand to her heart. "... You really think I can...?" she breathed, her voice trailing off with wonder.

"Orihime," he said, a ghost of a smile appearing on his face. "I want to stand on equal footing with you."

She stared at him with a stunned expression. ... Me?

Not Grimmjow, not Ichigo, not any of the shinigami from Soul Society, but her. Ulquiorra, who was once the intense, powerful, frigid Fourth Espada, the most loyal of Aizen Sousuke's army, wanted to stand on equal footing with her.

"Wouldn't you want someone more heroic?" she dared to ask him.

Momentarily letting down his guard, he walked to her and reached for her face with his hand, cupping her cheek. "To me, there is no one more heroic than the human woman who escaped a Vasto Lorde's abysmal void and saved my life," he answered. With that, he leaned in to kiss her.

Her eyes widened as he slowly broke away.

"Urukkun..." she breathed. "I..."

He looked at her questioningly. "Yes, Orihime?"

All of a sudden, a burst of yellow jutted in-between her and Ulquiorra, making him stumble back a few steps.

"Onna," he reprimanded, more out of surprise than dismay.


She giggled, sheepishly scratching the back of her head. "I guess you shouldn't have let your guard down."

His lips slowly stretched to an understanding smirk. "Indeed."

Wooden sword gripped securely in his hand, he shot forward, beginning the spar.

- { - } -


Orihime squeezed her eyes shut.. and then opened them. Not satisfied, she did it again. She realized then that it made no difference. The darkness was endless. She felt like she was floating in space, a weak gravitational force pulling her along the slow current of nothing.


Where was she?

She suddenly heard something faint in the distance. She was unsure if she physically heard it, but it no less affected her heart. It, in fact, sharply pierced her chest.


"Urukkun!" she shouted in vain. Her words were swallowed by the dense emptiness, unheard.


In the pitch black of her prison cell, she reached out but felt nothing in her grasp.

She bit her lip with disappointment. She thought that by some miracle, she could touch him again; that she could penetrate these dark walls with her abilities and return to her beloved.


She almost didn't recognize Ulquiorra's voice. It was unusually frantic and hoarse; devastated.

"I'm right here!" she screamed, tears quickly forming in her eyes.

It was no use. As long as she was here, he couldn't hear her. Around her was just desolation, made only marginally better by hearing Ulquiorra's voice even with its distress. It was her only indication that he was alive.

There was no escape, otherwise. Of this, she was certain. She was lost in another dimension, faded into oblivion, out of Ulquiorra's arms.

At least... she could be thankful that the searing pain she had experienced just before was gone—

"No..." she breathed with horror, realizing what it could mean.

She was dead, wasn't she?

"Sorry," she whispered into the thick air, lifting a hand to her breaking heart. She never meant to leave Ulquiorra alone in the world.

A sob burst out of her. And once one spilled, she couldn't stop. All she wanted was to go home; to her friends and to him. "I'm sorry, Ulquiorra-kun. I'm so—"


She clutched the fabric of her shirt against her sternum with renewed hope.

If she was dead, then she should have had a chain screwed into her chest. It was the way of the world and its afterlife; it was the purpose of shinigami in the first place. Moreover, she would've been chained to the place she died in, not here in this empty space.

"And that fade is how you trick a little girl into thinking she can destroy a Vasto Lorde."

A fade.

She had faded away, but...

... I'm not dead.

She had a chance. And as long as she was alive, she was going to take it. She was going to save her friends, and she was going to prove how strong she was.

Hougyoku-dono? Orihime thought briefly, as if she could speak to the mysterious stone itself. Please grant me this wish. Please let me be with Ulquiorra-kun again. With everyone.

Orihime extended her hands. She hoped that her will and her heart could surpass this boundary and reach back into the living world.

She let out a long breath, gathering herself, and shut her eyes.


Her heart beat louder than ever, as if it too was gathering energy. It was different from—

Different from? She questioned to herself suddenly interrupting what was going to lead her back to..

... those memories. The whiteness, the dome, her looking up at it... the discovery of not knowing how to control the chaos around and within her. It was all she remembered, which should have been enough to haunt her.

This is how it's different, she thought. I have control.

Orihime... called a voice in her head.

Suddenly, the blackness that felt as synthetic as the guises the Hollow wore crumbled away, burning out of her sight like charring paper. Behind a small window of space revealed the park. The others didn't seem to spot her yet, but she, on the other hand, saw something that made her freeze in horror—her beloved in the hateful grip of the Hollow.

The gesture was familiar.

Ulquiorra's scream in her apartment as he lost his arm echoed through her head.

The Hollow's going to kill him!

She couldn't lose Ulquiorra.

Don't touch him... she silently muttered, her eyes boring into the Hollow's back. Don't touch him!

The vehemence in her being seemed to ignite new energy within. Almost in reaction to her inner cries, she observed as something flew out of Ulquiorra's hand and swerved behind the enemy. With a speed and determination she had never seen Tsubaki fly in, he sliced heavily through the Hollow's shoulder, dismembering the arm that dared to try and kill Ulquiorra.

The action was full of malice—something Orihime had once wavered in. It wasn't that she was pacifist; it was because she didn't have the confidence to fight as brutally as the rest of her nakama did. She was always pushed back. Always overshadowed; overwhelmed.

Not anymore.

Orihime stepped forward, out of the weakening, corroding void the Hollow tried to trap her in. It dissolved behind her, disallowing her enemy anywhere to retreat to. It will no longer be able to escape. It will have no choice but to fight her.

This time, she will take charge and fight as hard as her comrades always do.

Because no one touched her love, this manifestation of her heart; no one.

. .


The girl felt an involuntary groan burst through her lips as she turned over in the futon, away from the source of the deep, smooth voice. She squeezed her teddy bear, Murci-kun, tighter against her, like it could help her cling to slumber.

"... Sometimes I find it unnerving that you hold that thing more than me at night," the voice retorted in a dry tone. She felt a warm hand run down her arm. "Onna. Wake up."

"Mm-mm," she sleepily disagreed.

"You are the one who scheduled that appointment with the realtor today."

She made another groggy hum, but forced herself to lie onto her back and flutter her eyes open.

Ulquiorra leaned over her, frowning. "I could not get you up the first time, so you overslept. I had to call that person and tell her to reschedule your appointment two hours later than planned."

Suddenly alert, Orihime quickly sat up. With deftness, he clamped his hands on either side of her face to keep her head from colliding with his. Who knew how dangerous that could have been...

"You did that all by yourself?" she asked him in a bewildered voice.

He furrowed a brow. "Of course I did. It was not difficult."

She laughed softly and leaned against him. "Mm, that's good..."

From out of nowhere...


She blinked, startled. "Huh?"

"You fell asleep again. For a few seconds." He ran a hand through her hair, untangling the knots formed from her deep slumber. "You're still smiling," he added with a small one of his own. "You must have rested well."

Orihime clearly understood his subtext.

No more nightmares.

Well, she did dream something last night, but it wasn't anything that warranted panic in the middle of the night. And it looked like she was catching up on all the sleep she missed since the nightmares and stress first appeared.

"I guess I better get ready, then." Not awake enough to actually walk to her suitcase, Orihime literally rolled her way out of the futon.

"... Onna, don't be lazy."

"But I'm still sleepy...!"

Unaffected by his chiding, Orihime popped the suitcase open with a bit of a sullen sigh.

Another realtor appointment, huh?

As she stared at her folded clothing, motionless, she sensed Ulquiorra, with nothing else to do, coming up to her. He noticed her frown.

"Is something the matter?" he asked her, sitting down next to her. His expression turned stern. "... Orihime."

She turned to him. "Oh, it's nothing about that!" she reassured him, laying her fingers affectionately against his face. She blushed, then hung her head in embarrassment. "It's just that I liked living with you."

It has been a month since she moved into Urahara Kisuke's already overcrowded shop and household, but already, she has grown attached to the place and to the residents in it. Moreover, she had gotten drastically closer to Ulquiorra. Although their relationship was technically only a few months old, she felt that as a couple, they've matured a lot together.

She, however, didn't want to continue imposing on them, especially with so little room for guests in the first place. So, she slowly searched for apartments in the meantime, simultaneously prolonging her stay.

Tia had come along with her a few times to see the prospects, but either one, the other, or both of them would find something unsatisfactory. But with Ulquiorra's observational skills starting to rub off on Orihime, she has begun suspecting something off about the blonde's constant rejections of apartments...

"It's not like you won't see me every day, Orihime," he reminded her.

"Yeah, but..." She didn't finish. Instead, the color on her face deepened to a rose red. "Forget it. I'm just being weird." She laughed awkwardly. It hurt her a little that living and not living with her didn't make much of a difference to Ulquiorra, but she guessed she would have to blame that on his not understanding what it implied.

He paused, surveying her expression with intensity. It made her self-conscious. "Staying together," he finally rationalized, "brings you a much higher level of intimacy with me, doesn't it?"

"It doesn't for you?" she couldn't help but ask, and immediately pursed her lips together. She had meant to keep that to herself.

"Of course it does," he answered, resolute. "But you are the one insistent about getting another apartment for yourself and Tia."

"Right..." she sighed.

He kissed her cheek and moved to her ear. "But if you want me to live with you, I will," he added softly. "Without question."

She felt her face heat up. "L-Live...?" She failed to finish, becoming both confused and extremely flustered. She thought he didn't understand what living together as a couple meant, but now, it was clear that he felt the same way. And since the suggestion hung in the air, Ulquiorra, in his own quiet way, seemed enthusiastic about it.

"Are you serious?" Orihime's voice came out much more stunned than she thought.

Living with a boy? At her age? It hasn't even been a year since they first started dating, much less since they reunited! Even with how close they were before then, were they already at this level? Was she mature enough?

"Call Tia and request for my accommodations," he told her.

... Well, she had been looking for two-bedroom apartments, anyway, with a new setting further away from her estranged family's home and her old complex. So it wasn't like the blonde wouldn't have privacy and a shut door while...

Orihime blushed yet again, this time at the imminent thought.

Ulquiorra just gave her a suspicious stare.

The relative supporting much of her finances had been surprisingly lenient about her old apartment. There was some initial wariness about the sudden damage charges, but Orihime was a responsible person—she was overall trusted.

"You don't like it here?" she asked Ulquiorra meekly.

"I am thankful for the roof over my head," he explained, "as well as everyone's hospitality." He cast a bitter eye toward the rest of his room. "However, this living space is too cramped and too communal for my liking."

Orihime nodded with understanding.

Ulquiorra leaned her head against his shoulder, his lips and breath warm against her head as he continued in a low tone, "And of course... I, too, enjoy staying with you."

She hid her blush by burying her face against him. His words dispelled all of her doubts.

Orihime recalled how he had called her perfect, despite her flaws. He has seen her at both her silliest and darkest and has always been accepting of her as she was. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever said to her, and merely thinking about it now sent her almost swooning in his arms. How could she find another man like him?

More than ever, she was going to hold on tight to Ulquiorra and never, ever, ever let go. "I guess it's decided, then," she replied with a soft laugh.

"Good." Ulquiorra pushed some hair off her shoulder and kissed an area on her neck. "And I apologize," he added from out of nowhere.

She looked at him cluelessly. "Why?"

His thumb circled where his lips had been. Orihime felt a weak throb of pain from his touch and realized that a hickey had formed.

"I used certain means to wake you up earlier."

He switched sides, to another patch of skin on her neck, another forming love-bite which he kissed as well. "Evidently, affection did not work."

She turned red, wondering why the heck she didn't wake up from it. "Oh."

She wished it did.

- { - } -

"Ah, Inoue-san?" spoke up a middle-aged woman with blonde hair done in a simple bun. She bowed. "I'm Yoshida Hana, your realtor." She straightened and glanced at Ulquiorra curiously. "I... believe this young man is the one I spoke to earlier?"

"Yes," Orihime answered, bowing a little with apology. "I'm sorry about rescheduling at the last minute—"

"Oh, it's no problem!" Hana said dismissively. She looked down at her clipboard. "But I see that you're searching for a two-bedroom..." She raised an eyebrow at Ulquiorra.

"Ah, my roommate couldn't make it," Orihime affirmed timidly.

As if on cue, her phone rang. Judging from the personalized ringtone, she knew it was the blonde herself. She glanced awkwardly at the realtor. "S-Sorry, I need to take this," she explained. "It's her."

Hana shook her head. "Not a problem."

Orihime nodded politely in thanks and took a few steps away from her and Ulquiorra to answer it. "Tia-san?"

"I received your voicemail," she replied. "This urgent message of yours."

She could hear the smile in the blonde's voice. "It wasn't urgent at all..." Orihime whined.

"Anyway," Tia went on. "I'm fine with Ulquiorra living with you. I decided that I would just take his old room. He can be your roommate instead. Would that not be more convenient?"

"R-Really!" The redhead's bewildered reply was shrill enough to catch both Ulquiorra's and Hana's attention. Orihime smiled at them apologetically and turned her attention back to the call. "Tia-san... I'm looking at a two-bedroom right now—"

"So?" she replied smoothly. "Can you not tell the realtor that you prefer a one-bedroom for you and your lover and that I found my own place?"

"That would be weird," she insisted.

"Why does it matter if she asks questions? After you find a place, she will probably not be confrontational enough to ask about me."


"I can tell that you really want to live with him," Tia teased. "I don't understand why it is such a dilemma for you."

"It's just that—forget it." Orihime almost forgot that her now former roommate was once like Ulquiorra and clueless about the social implications.

"So everything is settled, then."

"But Tia-san, are you sure?" the healer asked. "Urukkun's old room is so... small."

"I have slept next to a girl who used to constantly wake up in the middle of the night," Tia countered bluntly. "I believe with my own door, I can manage living at Urahara Shouten. I am not claustrophobic."

Even if Tia couldn't see her, Orihime's face still flushed with embarrassment.

"... Grimmjow is yelling for me," the blonde went on, sounding rather hurried. "Remember what I said." Without a goodbye, she hung up.

Orihime stared down at her phone. "Grimmjow-san...?" she mumbled in a puzzled done. For a moment, she wondered... since when did Tia sound so eager and respond so quickly to—


She blinked at the sound of Ulquiorra's voice, remembering where she was. "Ah... um..." she spoke up, closing her phone shut. She smiled awkwardly at Hana. "Is it okay if we look at one-bedroom apartments instead...?"

Ulquiorra shot her a rather open, surprised look.

"Sure, but only one?" the realtor questioned with a blink.

Orihime scratched the back of her neck self-consciously. "It turns out my roommate found a place she's satisfied with already."

She snuck a smile at Ulquiorra.

With a bit of discreet wonder, he managed form a faint one right back at her as they followed Hana out of her office.

- { - } -

Lucky. That was how Ulquiorra described his and Orihime's relationship. Not only with seeing each other again after the Winter War, their brushes with death, or finding a cozy, quiet, already-furnished apartment, but with just the simple fact that they had each other.

The kidnapping and the events thereafter had been blessings in disguise. If not for those, they would have never met. He would have remained in a life of darkness, seeing only what his eyes saw, unfeeling of anything else but the thirst to eliminate those he deemed trash.

Such a sorrowful life...

Ulquiorra fished his keys out of his pocket and inserted one into the lock, inwardly eager to see Orihime. She should be home by now.

He had finally joined a school organization upon Orihime's insistence and was just coming home from a rough session of kendo. Now, he just wanted to have his woman in his arms and sit back and relax from the rigorous training.

"Thank you so much," Ulquiorra suddenly heard from the other side of the door.

He tensed with suspicion. Who was in there with her?

He unlocked the door and opened it hastily, finding that...

... she was alone.

But he did catch six bright flares disappearing into her hairpins.

"Oh, welcome back, Urukkun," she greeted him merrily.

"I could hear you through the door," he said.

She seemed nonplussed by the wary tone. "I was talking to my fairies." She smiled and stood up. "I'll tell you about it after I make us something to drink."

"Green tea," he said. It was the only thing she made properly.

She had no problem with it. In fact, she probably thought his suggestion was incidental. "Green tea, it is!"

. .

Ulquiorra learned that she had requested for the former blockage her fairies had used earlier in the year, to permanently disallow her from using the corrosion shield—for as long as she had these powers. It had been something she took a while to think about, apparently.

"I don't think I ever want to use that ability again, anyway," Orihime was explaining to him in a soft voice. She took a sip, gazing out in thought. "I have more control now. My Shun Shun Rikka and I forgave each other, so now we just have to rebuild the trust we lost."

"You make them sound like they are your friends," he commented.

She nudged him with her elbow, chuckling. "Well, I guess they are!" she exclaimed. "I fret about them as much as I fret about Kurosaki-kun, Tatsuki-chan, and the others!"

He glared at her. "And me."

"Most of all, you," she reassured him. "But you're more than just my friend, Urukkun."

"Did they say anything else?"

For a second, she hesitated. "Just other stuff from... that night."

His scowl deepened. "It seems like a subject that does not die down when it should," he told her.

It was Orihime's turn to frown. "I can handle the subject just fine," she responded. "There were other things I wanted to think through, so don't go being a dry blanket."

He sipped his tea. "I believe the expression is wet blanket."

"Well, either way, you don't have to get so angry when it comes up," she said, suddenly miffed by his attitude. "I'm not going to freak out about Vasto Lordes or—"

"You do not understand," he interrupted her, his tone softening to a sullen murmur. He stared at the rim of his cup. "... Orihime, I thought I lost you."

Her expression eased up dramatically.

"So, it is not for your sake I dislike that memory... it is because I do not want to recall what it was like to have you vanish from my arms."

It was a hard thing to admit, especially with as much pride as he had, and to someone he wanted to be strong for. Ulquiorra was not invincible—not only because of the limits of his human gigai and abilities, but because he learned to feel emotion. The feeling called grief he faced back then was not something he ever wanted to experience again.

The atmosphere grew somber. Ulquiorra didn't care if that was his fault; it was the truth and not something he needed to keep from her.

He watched her as she set her tea cup down to wipe a few tears that had fallen from her eyes.

"Why are you crying?" he asked her with deadpan, lightly teasing her despite his expressionless face.

"I just..." She smiled tearfully. "I just realized how much how much you love me."

"Just realized? That is good to hear," he answered dryly.

She grabbed his arm. "No! I mean..." She paused. "I remembered your voice in the void. I heard your pain. I felt it."

He flickered his gaze downward, uncomfortable.


He shut his eyes briefly, to reel himself back into reality. It was no use allowing himself into the past. Everything had turned out for the better. He was here with his woman again, and they have become better people. If he and Orihime had to constantly remind themselves of that, so be it. Their respective demons were strong, but their human hearts and minds were stronger.

The sunlight from the window caught a brief sparkle of the pin resting at his collar.

Yes—this power... this inner strength we share...

This is happiness.

Meanwhile, she sighed, lost in her reflections again.

"What?" he prompted her.

She shrugged but turned her eyes away, doubting herself.

"What?" he asserted in a more authoritative tone, closing his face in to catch her gaze. "You are clearly thinking something you are not supposed to, Onna. So don't have second thoughts about telling me."

A long paused followed. He waited.

And at last, in a tiny voice, "You knew about me, didn't you?"

He furrowed a brow in confusion.

"That secret everyone was hiding," she elaborated with hesitation. "What exactly happened—"

"Why are you thinking of that?" he asked her in a frustrated tone. What was the human expression for something like this? Beating a dead horse?

Although incredibly annoyed, a part of him remained worried; even if he did admit that Urahara Kisuke had told him about it, he wouldn't know how to defend himself, for once. Would she buy his reasons? His desires to protect her? He didn't want her to think he had betrayed her—everything he had done for her was done with the absolute best intentions.

"I won't get upset," she replied softly, contrary to his assumptions.

Ulquiorra looked at her with doubt, at first, and then sighed quietly, turning away to stare at the floor. "I did know," he confessed tonelessly.

Orihime lowered her eyes to her lap. "How long?"

"I found out during the summer."

Ulquiorra watched as she drew out a long, contemplative breath.

"Does it upset you?" he asked her.

She gave it a bit of thought. He remained skeptical, but it didn't take her long to respond.

"... No, I understand," she said, her lips pulling into a small smile. "You only wanted to know because you thought it could help you protect me, right?"

He regarded her with an open surprise. He had been expecting her to be sad or angry, but she was taking it rather lightly.

She leveled his puzzled gaze with a steady one of her own. "I guess it's all right that you never said anything until now," she continued. "... I don't think I would have been mature enough to handle it back then."

Orihime was right. If he had spilled the information over the summer, she might have been upset enough to let her powers in chaos, unrestrained. If he had gone to Urahara Kisuke even earlier, when she had no idea how to control the corrosive shield, the result might have been much worse.

In the midst of his musings, Ulquiorra felt soft hands cup either of his cheeks. He switched his attention back to her.

"Thank you," she told him with such frankness that his heart was moved—her gray eyes bright and loving, her smile tranquil, and her aura a warm, beaming sun. "... thank you, Ulquiorra-kun, for being here."

Ulquiorra leaned in, his lips brushing against her cheek. "I would do anything for you, Orihime," he replied, his voice husky.

"I-I see..." she stammered, flustered.

"Almost anything," he amended. "Within logical reason, of course."

"... Oh, of course," she repeated, sounding a bit let down as she pulled back. Perhaps she had expected a more romantic outcome. "My Urukkun's always so realistic..."

The subject changed, and Orihime went back to her usual rambles of school and the better parts of life. Ulquiorra never minded when she talked—he liked hearing her so optimistic.

"—right, Urukkun?"

Well... this time, it seemed that he hadn't been—

"—even listening!" she cried indignantly with a frown, finishing the thought for him.

Her annoyance didn't affect him; in fact, he smirked. Everything about her just gave him a light, floating feeling, even after the heaviest of conversations.


From out of nowhere, Ulquiorra reached out and roughly cupped her face with one hand. His fingers dug gently into her skin, smushing her cheeks. He remained expressionless, however, with the exception of the intensity of his eyes.

"Urrkkn?" she spoke up questioningly.

Without a word, he leaned over to kiss his woman, fishlipped face and all.

Everything she did, no matter what, was adorable.

She curled her fingers around his wrists. "Strrp!" she managed in a muffled voice, her face red.

He responded by possessively wrapping his arms around her, burying her confused cries into his chest.

Again, there was a sudden instance of morbid "what-if"; the scary possibility of losing her in either of her fights with that Hollow. The thoughts did not come around often like they did during this conversation, but when they did, he became more needful of her than ever.

This need—something exclusive to humans, those people with the ability to feel freely—how did he come to want it so badly? Because here he was, embracing her as if she could leave him at any time.

"This heart," he found himself whispering—on accident, verbalizing a sentimental thought in passing.

He did not know what she would surmise out of the phrase. All he felt were her lips moving in question.

But in the end, she said nothing. Orihime had understood him; the gravity of the utterance, the density of the present moment.

Nothing will part him from this woman. Nothing. No more ashes. No more fading away into silent nothings. It will be the two of them, always; connected at the heart, linked by a thread of power he was convinced they shared.

Otherwise, how could either of them live, love, or hope if all they thought about were past demons and what-could-have-beens?

That's the end. It took me foreverrrrrrr because I really didn't know how else to finish the story.

Thank you to everyone who read and enjoyed this story! I don't really have anything else to say other than to look forward to future UlquiHime stories from me!

And holy crap, it's been two years since I first published this story! :O