Alrighty! Well, as some of you might know, I can be a total slag... and this would be one of those instances. This is the prize fic for EspadaDina, who has been waiting for it since February. Which is horrible and I'd probably have to make a multi-chapter fic to justify such a long delay, but I hope that she (and whoever else decides to read it) will enjoy it nonetheless! : )

She was looking at the baby clothes again.

Ulquiorra paused and observed her. The basket holding their groceries had been set on the floor next to her, freeing both her hands to mess with the lacy edge of the dress. For a moment she toyed with the lace, and then the small bow on the back, and then the price tag. He watched the soft smile pull at her lips, her eyes shining happily, before some emotion he could not quite grasp clouded them.

That was the moment he took to step forward, catching Orihime's attention. Her smile widened again as he came closer, driving away the wistfulness that had colored it a moment earlier. "I see your mission for more laundry detergent was successful," she said as he reached around her and retrieved the basket, nestling the refill detergent between the bread and box of tissues. "I'd be in this store forever if you didn't help me get the things we actually need."

For an instant his eyes flickered to the dress before he turned toward the escalator. "You do seem to get… preoccupied."

She did not answer as she came up to his side and slid her hand within his. They did not speak as they went to check out, or when they boarded the train, or when they started the walk back to their apartment from the station. The silence, Ulquiorra decided, was not uncomfortable. He had spent more than a decade – close to fifteen years, he realized – in the world of the living with this woman. So after all that experience with her moods and behaviors, he could easily say that the silence that hung between them was caused by nothing more than Orihime's thoughtfulness.

Like the draw to the children's attire, these sorts of instances were becoming more frequent with her. At times Ulquiorra had been tempted to question her about what she was thinking, but he could tell that it was not some urgent discomfort and thus did not press her. If it was important, she would tell him, but until she was ready he would allow her to sort through her thoughts.

The rest of the evening was uneventful and relaxed. Ulquiorra had made dinner – Orihime had been banned from making their shared means years ago, although on the more recent occasions when she had been given the chance to do so, she had shown some improvement – and then he had gone over some of the papers for work while Orihime watched the evening variety shows. She had enthusiastically distracted him until he had finally given up and taken his usual spot next to her. After the third time she had fallen asleep leaning against his shoulder, he had finally convinced her to get ready for bed.

He had washed up after her and then went to their room. Orihime was sitting cross-legged on the bed, miscellaneous magazines draped across her lap in what looked like the most unorganized manner, but she somehow managed to shove them all into a tidy pile on the corner of the nightstand before he turned off the light.

When Ulquiorra got into bed, she curled up against his side. Almost reflexively, he wound his arm around her, pulling her closer, and she sighed contentedly. "I have told you how happy I am with you, haven't I?" she asked.

"Frequently," he answered, enjoying her soft giggle. "But I have found that it is not an unpleasant sort of repetition."

She laughed outright then, turning her head up toward his. "Well, it's good that it doesn't annoy you, because I'm sure that it will happen quite a few more times in the future."

"I still have not been able to deduce what would lead you to feel that way."

For a moment she pursed her lips in mock contemplation. "It must be because of the security. I mean, you did manage to get that spider that had been eluding me for the last week. You're much more adept at detecting monsters than I am."

"It seems ironic that you accept the aid of one monster to get rid of the others."

Orihime's eyes narrowed instantly; he knew she hated when he spoke of himself in such a manner, but whether she liked it or not did not change the truth of his words. After all that time, he was still just some strangely altered hollow contained within a gigai.

"What were you looking at in the magazines?" he asked, wishing to divert any discussion about the nature of humanity and how she thought he fit within it.

By the long pause that followed where she continued to look unhappily at him, she was well aware of what he was doing. Nonetheless, after a dissatisfied huff, she laid her head back down. "I got a message from Ishida-kun. He was wondering if I wouldn't mind helping with a baby shower. Apparently Linda has been feeling a little homesick lately and he thinks it would cheer her up."

"At least he attempts to understand the feelings of his partner," Ulquiorra started dryly. "I find it remarkable that a woman of some intelligence like Kuchiki Rukia would remain with that idiot Kurosaki. He's almost more oblivious to matters of emotional importance than I ever was."

"Ulquiorra!" Orihime jabbed him in the ribs. "You know that their situation has been difficult lately with the way things are going in Soul Society." She paused briefly, and then he felt her grin against his shoulder. "You're not still jealous of him because I liked him first, are you?"

"I have nothing to be jealous of. You are here with me now. The past is inconsequential."

She seemed satisfied with this answer and did not pursue the topic any further. As the silence continued, and with her warmth pressed against his side, Ulquiorra closed his eyes as he felt sleep creep along the edges of his consciousness. It was in that moment that he felt Orihime's fingers fist into his shirt.

"What you said about attempting to understand the feelings of one's partner…" she began in a whisper that fanned across the skin of his neck. He hummed softly for her to continue. "You… would do that for me, wouldn't you?"

"What a foolish question. I have at the very least attempted to understand you since the first time I saw you. That has not changed."

"I just don't think you will like what I have to say," she admitted quietly. "But, it's something that I've been thinking of for a while. Like a little bit over the last few years, but more frequently now. I see all my friends, and their lives, and… I mean, I'm not unhappy with things the way they are!" She quickly pulled back and braced herself against her elbows, and Ulquiorra slowly opened his eyes to stare up at her. "This life with you, I never would have imagined! Well, I mean, I might have imagined something like it, but I never could have imagined that it would be this wonderful!"

"You're rambling."

"Oh! I guess I'm just… nervous." Her eyes slid to the side, the anxiety clear on her face. "It's just something I've always wanted. For a while I thought that it might not be that important, but I'm starting to think that maybe it is."

Ulquiorra felt a flicker of exasperation at her behavior. Usually she was more forthcoming with him when she actually brought things up. "You still haven't told me what exactly it is that you want."

"I want a family," she blurted out.

There was a pause, and Ulquiorra could sense that there was some miscommunication between them. "I thought that you said that our relationship now makes us family. That it is the closest type of bond between people."

She blinked at him, and then laughed softly. "No, you're right." Her merriment subsided, but the touch of a smile still lingered upon her lips. "I guess what I meant is that I want to make a family. I want a baby."


The lock on the front door clicked, and Ulquiorra put down the papers he was reviewing as Orihime entered their apartment. He stood quickly when he noticed her awkwardly trying to maneuver through the door with the dozen of bags and boxes balanced in her arms.

Taking as many items from her as he could, he then made room for her to come in. Orihime smiled gratefully as she walked to the sofa and unceremoniously flopped down on it, scattering gifts around her. "I am so tired!" she complained, leaning her head against the back of the sofa. "How did I ever have that much energy?"

Dropping off his armful of packages on the low table, he sat on floor next to it. He stared up at Orihime, eyes following a path that wandered across her features and inevitably drifted to her swollen stomach. One of her hands rested across it, her fingers unconsciously drawing circles on the loose fabric, and not for the first time Ulquiorra found himself warily fascinated by this change.

To say that Orihime's desire for a child had been a surprise would have vastly understated Ulquiorra's reaction. At first, he had gone over the sentence a dozen times, trying to ensure to himself that there really was no other possible way to interpret her words. Then he had bluntly refused, which had only earned him an admonition for having not even considered it.

But the fact of the matter was that he had never considered it. Perhaps these sorts of things were easy for humans to think of, with their short life spans and the relative safety of their mundane routines. To be raised with those ideas in mind probably changed one's expectations for what life would hold. His existence, or at least the only one he could remember, had been filled with uncertainties and danger and violence. The only thing that had been important there was to continue to exist. Compared to the time that he had managed to live in that world, the dozen he had spent in the world of the living was barely a blink.

He had been silent as Orihime had hurriedly spoken: she was thirty now and the window where a child would even be possible was starting to close; between the money they had both saved and the inheritance she had received when her grandmother had died they certainly had enough for finances to not be an issue; while she had thought that she was completely satisfied with it just being the two of them, after seeing so many of her friends start families she had begun to second guess herself.

So that had been the explanation for the thoughtfulness she had been displaying, the sudden interest in things related to infants. It really should have been obvious, thinking back, but when it was a topic that had never before been broached before, Ulquiorra had not had a reason to suspect it.

It had been difficult enough to learn how to interact appropriately with Orihime; there had been numerous missteps in his path to her. And now she could think to ask him to assist in raising a child? He was aware of his complete lack of knowledge in this area, and she must have been able to predict this issue as well.

When he had brought this to her attention, she had caved slightly, but only just. It seemed that she had been at least somewhat prepared for his resistance. "I thought you might say something like that," she had said, and even though she had quite blatantly admitted anticipating such a scenario, she had nonetheless seemed a little crestfallen. "I wouldn't make you be any more involved than you wanted to be. This is something that is important to me, but I realize that you might not feel the same… so, if you would at least allow me the opportunity to have a child, I would not force you into more than that."

Ulquiorra had not been able to deny her. Against his better judgment, he could not deprive her of this, not when she had sacrificed so much to be with him. He had noted that look in her eyes as she had spoken, the longing that had been so painfully obvious, and it had lingered with him until a few weeks later when he had finally agreed.

So now, a year and a half later, she sat on the couch looking like that. It was the start of her ninth month, and the bump that had been so unperceivable to begin with was now large enough that, on more than one occasion, he had watched her balance her meals on it.

She had gone to all the appointments, and had bought all the books, and had listened to all the advice from her friends. For as much of a klutz as she could occasionally be, she had been extremely careful about every activity; he had seen the way she protectively raised her arm across her stomach when they were on the train, even early in the pregnancy. While he had seen pregnant woman before, he had never fully understood just how fragile a growing child could be that it needed such protection, even before it was born.

Perhaps he would understand more of the process if he rummaged through that stack of books and magazines that were now on her nightstand, but Ulquiorra had never felt a strong enough compulsion to do so. For him to have knowledge of this matter would be superfluous; Orihime was the caretaker of this child and thus the only one for whom understanding would be imperative.

Of course, they had had a long discussion about this subject once he had agreed to the general idea, and he knew there were some things that would be different regardless of his amount of direct involvement. The first thing had come within two weeks, when they had gone in and filled out the paperwork for a marriage license and started a new koseki. Ulquiorra had thought the whole thing was ridiculous, to have to conform to these flimsy standards, but Orihime had explained the possible repercussions if it was not done. In the scheme of things, it was a small concession when he could see the very clear concern Orihime felt about the issue, that she did not want her child to face the bullying she had been exposed to.

Since then, other things had also slowly changed. Budgeting had been tightened to try to save as much as they could while they both were still working. Over the course of two weekends, the room that had functioned as an office or a place for guests, depending on the need, had been painted and furnished as the baby's room. Orihime had already talked about the possibility of moving to another apartment in a year or two, somewhere closer to better schools and with a little more room for a child to play. She had further supported that suggestion by saying that more room would make it easier to keep a kid out of his way, and he had made the noncommittal reply that they could reassess the subject at another time.

To be honest, Ulquiorra had the feeling that the amount of room at their disposal would make little difference. He had seen plenty of children playing at the park and felt fairly certain that, regardless of how Orihime might try to keep a child from pestering him, it would probably happen. He had been aware of this practically since the beginning, and even with all the months that had passed since then, he was still uncertain about his reaction.

Perhaps that was because it would be pointless to be concerned about such a thing at this stage. Simply looking at Orihime made that abundantly clear.

Her eyes suddenly shot open and she leaned forward. Ulquiorra felt a prickle of concern at the way her brows drew together for a moment, but instantly relaxed when she began to laugh. "The baby is kicking," she said when she looked up at him and must have read something in his expression that he was unaware of betraying.

Ulquiorra knew that the baby moved, and got hiccups, and had kicked before, but he had never seen Orihime make such a severe expression in response. "I do not see what is funny about it causing you pain," he replied.

"Oh, it is just reminding me that it's there. I suppose it's getting a little cramped by now. Limited space and all."

He watched her as she rubbed against her side, and then her eyes lit up. She scrambled to the edge of the sofa and then lowered herself to the floor next to him as carefully as she could. Without further preamble, she grabbed his hand and pressed it against her stomach, along the side she had been rubbing. He opened his mouth to comment on this rather spontaneous action when he felt the pressure against his hand.

For a moment Ulquiorra was too stunned to completely register what he had felt, but when it happened again the pause was shattered. Something twisted within his stomach and he pulled his hand away, at a complete loss to grasp the emotions that surged through him. He struggled to his feet and left the room, hoping that he could leave behind the strange thoughts and feelings that had arisen as well.

But they had clung to him as closely as a shadow, and for many days afterward, they had buzzed in his ears every time Orihime's eyes had found his.


It was the first night Ulquiorra could remember sleeping in that bed without Orihime by his side.

He stared up at the ceiling, watched the slight changes in the light that filtered into the room over the top of the curtain whenever a car passed. He listened to the cicadas drone outside, the occasional siren cutting over their steady hum.

He had placed his cell phone where her pillow would have been if she had not taken it with her to the birthing clinic. Arisawa had called him about two hours ago to give him an update on Orihime's condition. By her tone, there was no missing her irritation, but at that point Ulquiorra could hardly be bothered by something as trivial as her acceptance of the present arrangement. Hearing the pertinent information was all he cared about, and with the knowledge that Orihime was still in labor he had been quite willing to close the conversation until the next update.

But as it was, that update should have been an hour ago. Even though Arisawa was clearly unhappy, she had been dutiful in fulfilling her promise to Orihime that she would call every hour.

Ulquiorra's fingers twitched against the cool sheets, the desire to call growing stronger with every moment he continued to lay there. Why hadn't Arisawa called? What could have happened that she was so late? What was going on?

Over the years, Orihime had tried to teach him to have an imagination. She had tried to inspire creativity within him that had never had any practical purpose in his previous existence. By and large, she had only made very modest progress. Now, Ulquiorra wished that he had thoroughly ignored her attempts. His thoughts circled every horrible scenario he could imagine, and regardless of how desperately he had tried to keep it at bay, he now felt the cold slide of concern, unease, fear, pool in his stomach. Why had he not gone with her?

And then the phone rang.

Coordination seemed to have been completely abandoned; he fumbled with picking the phone up from the bed before pressing it to his ear. He could not even speak the common human greeting that this situation required, instead listening in silence to the indiscernible babble on the other side of the line.


In an instant, everything uncoiled, unwound. "Orihime." Her voice, tired and weary, but her voice.

"This update is a little late, huh?" He could hear the smile in her words, could practically envision the expression on her face. "I was a little busy during that last hour, and then a little distracted… I know Tatsuki-chan was supposed to call, but I hope you might overlook the slip on this one instance?"

He didn't care. He didn't care at all. "You are okay."

"Yes, I'm fine." There was a beat of silence, and then she continued, her voice quieter, more tentative. "And so is the baby. It's a girl."

It was like when Orihime had placed his hand upon her stomach to feel the kick. He felt the emotions that had barely managed to settle in the last month stir, but there were already too many thoughts crowded his mind for him to give them much notice.

While he was silent, Orihime had continued to speak. "She has black hair, you know. Well, I guess you don't know, but you know now. I suppose it makes sense with genetics, doesn't it? Oh, wait, Tatsuki-chan is confiscating the phone. She says the doctor is coming back to take the baby – ugh, I still haven't been able to pick which name I want…! – and make sure I go to sleep, so I guess I have to go. But… you know I love you, right?"

"Yes, I know," he said quietly, and then found himself continuing. "And you know my feelings for you."

"Yes, I do." Her voice was almost as soft as his, but in the next moment she was shouting. "Tatsuki-chan, that wasn't fair! He doesn't say stuff like that very often! Waitwaitwait, don't shut it! Ah, sleep well Ulquiorra!" The phone had clearly been removed forcibly. "Oh, you should take a picture and send it to him!" was the last bit of Orihime's voice that he could catch before the other woman spoke.

"I don't think you deserve any of this, by the way."

"Goodnight, Arisawa."

There was a hmph, and then the line went dead. Ulquiorra let his arm drop to the bed, the cell phone clutched loosely in his hand. He felt it buzz a minute later, but it took him at least another five before he felt in control enough to hold the phone in front of him again.

He clicked through the menus mechanically and waited the brief moment it took for the attachment to load. The photo was small and grainy from the poor lighting, but it showed the important things. Orihime looked as exhausted as she had sounded, her hair mussed around her and clinging to the sides of her face, yet even with the tiredness that lingered in the expression she was smiling with a new sort of brightness. One of her hands was raised in the gesture so many people seemed to make during photos, some electronic device attached to the pointer finger, while the other arm was wound in front of her. And in the nook of that arm was the child, wrapped in a blanket and covered with a hat so that, in such a small picture, it was impossible to make out any details other than the fact that it was there.

He stared at the picture for a moment longer before shutting the phone and turning onto his side. He stared at the empty half of the bed, and thought of the picture, and realized that, despite how much he had believed he grasped the ways this change would affect him, he probably had understood nothing at all.


Every day when he came home, he got up and waited by the door as the train crossed the bridge. By the time the chime sounded as the doors were shut again, he would be down at least half of the escalator.

On this evening, Ulquiorra actually had to run to get out before the doors closed. He had been riding the train to work since obtaining his present employment, and, regardless of how it seemed that the majority of the people around him regularly fell asleep within a few minutes of boarding, he could not remember having done so more than a handful of times. Yet for the past month and a half, it seemed to be something that he did nearly every day. Today he had been sleeping so deeply that he had almost missed his station.

It seemed strange, or perhaps ironic, that he could sleep better on the train than in his own home. But every routine that he had previously had was disrupted when Orihime had brought the baby back from the clinic.

Now the apartment seemed to be filled with sound at every hour, be it one of the child's various noises, or some visiting individual dispensing advice or compliments, or any number of tasks Orihime had to do. He had not realized how much his patterns had been governed by Orihime's behavior; everything felt off-balance and strange now that her routine had changed so drastically.

As he walked from the station, passing the crowded pachinko parlor and the Family Mart before turning onto the side street leading to the apartment, he could tell that his steps were slower. It was not that he did not want to return home. He still enjoyed returning every evening and finding Orihime waiting for him, ready with the same smile and enthusiasm she had always shown. It was just… different now.

It was impossible for him to even accurately pinpoint what the real difference was. He did not regret his decision to agree; Orihime approached even the most mundane tasks concerning the child with eagerness, and her joy was readily apparent. She was always smiling, in every situation; even when she had to get up in the middle of the night, she always returned to bed with some sort of a grin on her face. With her happiness so easy to see, he had never doubted that this must have been the correct choice.

But it did not change the fact that he felt what must have been a sort of unease. Where before, when it had been the two of them together, there had been a balance, now there was a different tilt. There was another individual who received Orihime's attention, and while he did not feel jealousy over this fact – and he had considered that possibility extensively – he knew that he felt something.

When he finally made it up the steps to their door, it swung open almost immediately. For a moment he stared down into the unexpected face of Arisawa before managing to pull his thoughts together.

"Good evening."

Arisawa scowled lightly before making room for him to come into the apartment. "Did you get the message?"

"What message?" Ulquiorra asked as he removed his shoes.

"Jeez, are you attempting to win some sort of award for uselessness?" she grumbled. "I texted you about picking up a few things from the store for Orihime."

"I fell asleep. I did not hear the phone." He set his bag on the couch and looked around. "Where is she?"

Arisawa gave him a look, apparently trying to decide if he was lying about the message; she must have concluded that he was telling the truth when she sighed a moment later. "She's sick. That's why I came over."

For a moment, Ulquiorra considered this, going back over the last few days and trying to think of anything he might have missed. She had seemed fine that morning when he had left for work.

"She thinks it's just some sort of twenty-four hour bug. She's been feeling better this evening, but she's just really tired." Gathering up her things from the counter in the kitchen, she then disappeared back into the bedroom. Ulquiorra could hear her talk softly with Orihime for a brief moment before returning. "I'll be heading home now that you're here. Let me know if anything weird happens."

Ulquiorra nodded and saw her to the door, locking it behind her before immediately making his way to the bedroom. The light was off and the curtains were drawn, making the spill of light that came in from the hall seem almost too vivid. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the change, but once they did he realized that Orihime was already sleeping again. Curled on her side, he could see the slight shift of the sheets as she breathed, the movement even and slow.

He watched her for a moment before deciding to let her sleep. If she was ill, it was best to allow her as much time to rest as possible. Leaving the room, he pulled the door behind him and made his way to the kitchen to find something for dinner.

Ulquiorra had just removed some things from the fridge when he heard the cry. Pausing, he set the package in his hand down and listened. While the baby was not crying in the incessant way that she sometimes did – which, according to what many of the people who had been over had said, she did much less frequently than expected – the sound was still very clear. If it continued, Orihime would undoubtedly awaken.

Slowly, he left the kitchen and walked toward the child's room. Clicking on the small lamp resting on the dresser, he shut the door behind him in hopes that it would block a little bit more sound, before approaching the crib. He had been in the room on a few occasions before, and of course Orihime had spent quite a bit of time in the living room with the baby. But this was the first time he had been near her by himself.

He stood by the crib, hands by his sides, and looked down at the child. Hikari. Orihime had said that it was between that and Sora, in honor of her brother, but she had ultimately decided that her child was a new life and deserved a new name. And in any case, she had explained, Hikari could still be connected with the idea of the sky and stars and everything.

So Hikari was… fussing, he supposed. In their one-sided discourses, Orihime had playfully teased her about that sort of behavior. While it was not as disruptive as some of her actions, it could not continue if Orihime was to get any more rest. Yet, even knowing this, Ulquiorra had no idea what could possibly be done to quiet the child.

He had seen enough of Orihime's interactions with Hikari. They were careful, and gentle, and loving. It seemed as though she always knew how to settle the infant. He raised his hand to the rail of the crib before stopping. All he could think of was Orihime with her hand protectively against her stomach, that obvious display of the fragility of this new life.

And he thought about the things that his hands had done. For decades, centuries maybe, it had been nothing more than slaughter. Perhaps his years with Orihime had taught him a measure of tenderness, but she had been patient and understanding during that slow process. He still knew that he must make mistakes in his actions toward her, but she knew his past and often overlooked these things. The infant would not. If he hurt her, he would not know, not until such knowledge would be pointless and the damage already done.

Ulquiorra fought with the uncertainty before finally reaching into the crib. He could be careful. For this one instance, he would take the risk. Orihime would be allowed to sleep, and then she would be well, and then she could resume caring for the baby.

He mimicked the actions he had seen Orihime perform so many times in lifting the child and situating her in his arms. She was so small, and yet he felt her weight rest more heavily upon him than any he could recall. "You must not continue making these sounds," he said quietly, distantly wondering why he was talking to somebody who had no comprehension of his words. "Your mother needs to sleep."

He supposed that it was the novelty, perhaps, that made Hikari pause and open her eyes. Orihime had been ridiculously enthusiastic about the child's responsiveness to any new item she was presented with, so it seemed that she was capable of some fascination with new things in her environment. Having tried, more or less, to stay on the periphery, Ulquiorra figured he could fall under such a category.

So now she was silent, staring up at him with a quiet intensity that he found surprisingly simple to reciprocate. The situation was strange, and he was still as alert to his actions toward her as he had been when entering the room, but it was not as uncomfortable to hold her as he had imagined. When she blinked, he vaguely wondered what color her eyes were; in the dim room, they were merely large and dark.

"She stares like you do, if you haven't noticed."

The moment seemed to hover in the air, the second stretching to an impossible length, before it finally slid by. Slowly, Ulquiorra turned toward the door. Orihime had pushed it open a little – how had he not heard her? – and was now leaning in the doorway watching them.

"When did you get up?" he asked.

"As soon as she started making noise." She now took a few steps into the room, hands linking in front of her.

Ulquiorra considered this, and then frowned. "Why did you not come in?"

"Because I saw you. And… I wanted to see what you would do."

"You should not have done that." While he tried to push the feeling aside, he could not deny the flicker of anger that was ignited. "Why would you leave something that is so important to you in the care of somebody who knows nothing about these things? Why would you take that risk?"

Orihime sighed before stepping closer and raising her hand to his cheek. "Ulquiorra, has anything bad happened? Or is she fine?"

"You had no reason to expect that."

"I want to tell you something that I do not think has occurred to you," she said, taking a deep breath and then meeting his eyes carefully. "This terrifies me just as much as it terrifies you."

Ulquiorra wanted to respond, wanted to deny what she had said. Why would he be terrified, when this was not his responsibility? But the words would not form.

"You are very logical; you have always been like that, and it is something that I know has helped us a lot. But sometimes you let it blind you. Do you think that just because I looked in all those books that I really know what I'm doing? That there is some manual to how this works?" She paused, raising a brow thoughtfully. "Besides, even legitimate manuals are kind of useless sometimes. I was completely hopeless at figuring out that one from IKEA!"

"I remember. You destroyed that bookcase."

"I did not!" she pouted, and then shook her head. "But do you see my point? Nobody has the same set of circumstances, so no set of instructions would work for everybody. This is something that is hands-on. You can get advice, and have an idea of how things go, but in the end all you can do is your best."

Hikari's warmth had long ago seeped into his chest, the heat making him overly sensitive to the way she fit into his arm. "You do not realize the advantage you have. You grew up in this world, around families. You have an example to base your behavior on."

Orihime's hand slid from his cheek, and she folded her arms around herself. "The only example that I had is one that I would never follow." Ulquiorra watched her carefully, waiting for her to continue. "I know I told you that my brother was the one who really raised me, and that he took me away from my home, but maybe I didn't tell you why."

The pain on her face was obvious. "You do not need to say it."

"Yes, I do." A slight hesitation, but then she straightened. "My parents abused me and Sora. Apparently it wasn't so bad before I was born, but they didn't have much money and they didn't want another kid, so when I came around… there was a lot of anger and stress. Sora usually wasn't at the house during the day, so he couldn't protect me… I mean, I don't remember much of it. I was very little. But there are pieces."

No, she had never revealed this before. He wondered why he had never asked, but their discussions about her past had been before he had a firm understanding of the norms regarding such things. The fact that she had been raised by her brother had never struck him as odd at the time, although it was clear to him now that it was.

"So, not everybody has had parents to show them how to raise a child. And even though I did not have that, I still feel that I can be a good mother. I would like to think that I can, anyway."

"You are," he said quietly.

She smiled at him, and her eyes glimmered with unshed tears. Reaching out, she brushed a finger over Hikari's cheek. "And you could be a good father, if you wanted to be."

This woman had a way at making it impossible to find the words he wanted to say, but that probably had a lot to do with the fact that she put him in positions that he would never have imagined. For the first time, he truly took the time to realize what had happened. It had touched his thoughts when she had him feel the kick against her stomach, but he had recoiled before it had time to sink in and take root. But nonetheless the fact remained that, by agreeing to her desire to be a mother, he had become a father. Even with everything that he had done in Hueco Mundo, even with all the lives he had taken, in this instance he had helped to create one.

He looked down at Hikari, at the hand that could likely hold little more than his finger, at the vulnerability that was evident in every aspect of her being. It was never his intention to speak the words, but they slipped past his lips before he took notice. "What if I hurt her?"

And then Orihime had wound her arms around his waist. "You won't," she said, and her voice was happy, even though he could feel her tears through his shirt.

"How do you know?"

"Because you are afraid that you will." She looked up at him, her eyes shining brightly. "I know I said that I would not ask this… but please help me raise her. We can figure out how together."

"You seem very convinced," he said, even as he felt his resistance start to crumble. Orihime was like that; she always managed to find a way around the walls he had erected.

"I haven't been wrong about you before."

Sighing, Ulquiorra leaned down and kissed her forehead; it was as close to a concession as he would get, and by the giggle that followed, Orihime knew that. Her arms tightened around him momentarily before she stepped back. "I'm definitely feeling too good to go back to bed now, so we should go have dinner. Maybe I'll even try to make it for you this time!"

"Must you?" he murmured dryly, already anticipating the look she shot him.

"Well, if you want to do it, you better put her in the crib first. She's sleeping."

Ulquiorra looked down at Hikari, whose eyes were now closed, before glancing up at Orihime again.

"See? You've always been a fast learner," she grinned, before slipping out of the room.

So, I hope that was satisfactory! I've read quite a few little things dealing with the idea of the Ulquihime!family, but I guess I've never been entirely satisfied with what is out there. Ulquiorra always seemed a little too OOC... so I wanted to try my hand at this theme and address it in a completely different way. Also, I figure I might have been a little overeager to try to incorporate details into the story based on what I learned/observed while in Japan; even though I purposefully tried to tone some things down and make them more Western-friendly, it's possible that something slipped through, so if anybody has a o_O moment, feel free to cyber-smack me. It's something I'm going to have to figure out how to get a balance for, so any input about that aspect would be appreciated.

Thanks for reading!