A/N: Feliz Navidad! This is the last chapter. We've made it to 100, and I think I've covered just about everything in this universe. So let's not delay!
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any other copyrighted material.
By: Princess Kitty1
Love Story VIII
Tatsuki Arisawa's hydrangeas were the biggest in the neighborhood. Her husband took immense pride in them, and while she mostly kept her involvement to compliments and admiration, she sometimes ventured out and tended them when her husband was at work. She stood in her yard, trying to decide how best to keep the bushes uniform when she heard a cacophony of voices in the distance. The chatter grew louder with each passing second, distinguishing itself into two bickering voices. Tatsuki removed her husband's too-large gardening gloves and approached the front gate.
She opened it before the buzzer could sound, startling the three children on the other side: a teenage girl with wild black hair, a younger girl with long, straight black hair, and a brunette boy not much younger than the middle girl. Tatsuki put a hand on her hip. "Do your parents know you're here?"
"Hi Aunt Tatsuki!" the eldest said by way of reply. She lifted up a box of donuts. "Umm, we brought snacks?"
Tatsuki sighed. "Come in." It wasn't the first time she'd been unexpectedly visited by Satsuki, Shiori, and Kazuma Cifer, and it wouldn't be the last.
As they entered the yard, she noted the differences in their stride. Satsuki marched ahead, Shiori crept past Tatsuki with a shy nod, and Kazuma sauntered in with his hands in his pockets. Tatsuki ushered them to the front door, smiling as she remembered a time when all hope of even one of them existing had been lost. "If you're just here to play video games, I'm calling your mother," she said.
"Nah, Shiori wants to ask you something." Satsuki whacked her little sister on the back, startling her.
Tatsuki, well aware of the bullying Shiori endured from her more outgoing siblings, directed her smile at the blushing girl. "Is that true, Shiori-chan?"
"Yes." Unlike Satsuki and Kazuma, Shiori had a hard time speaking louder than a whisper. No one knew where all her shyness came from. But while it seemed a detriment in the eyes of many, it did have the advantage of making Shiori her father's favorite daughter, if only because she got into the least amount of trouble.
Tatsuki directed them to sit in the living room and brought out drinks to accompany the donuts. Once everyone was situated Shiori was prompted to ask her question, and with the spotlight on her, she blushed and stammered terribly. It took a nudge from Kazuma to choke out her request: "How did Mama and Papa meet?"
Tatsuki blinked. "Shouldn't you ask them yourself?"
"We've tried," Kazuma said. "But every time we bring it up, Mama says…"
"Ah! You don't want to hear about that! What matters is that we did meet, isn't that right, Papa?" Satsuki cried in a perfect imitation of Orihime.
"And Papa says…" Shiori began.
"Ask your mother," Kazuma quoted, his face as stoic as Ulquiorra's.
"And then they get all lovey-dovey," Satsuki finished.
"I see." Tatsuki took a sip of her drink. Somehow that did sound exactly like Orihime and Ulquiorra, although she imagined that lovey-dovey for Ulquiorra meant just a hint of a smile. She put her cup down. "Well, it's kind of a weird story," she said. "And I may not remember much of it because I almost died that day."
Shiori paled. Satsuki and Kazuma leaned a little closer.
"Basically your dad showed up in town with another arrancar that had no trouble sucking the souls out of everyone nearby, myself included." Tatsuki shrugged like this was nothing. "I survived because I had stronger spiritual abilities. Then just as the big guy was about to kill me, your mother showed up with Chad and they defended me."
"Way to go, Mom!" Satsuki cried.
"What did Papa do?" Shiori asked.
Tatsuki opened her mouth, then closed it. She rubbed the bridge of her nose. "To be honest, I passed out after Orihime dragged me out of the danger zone. But you could ask Chad, or even Urahara and Yoruichi-san. I was told they showed up later."
"Hmm." Urahara posted a sign on the shop door announcing it temporarily closed. "Yes, I remember that day clearly." He turned back to the counter. The Cifer siblings were crowded around the register, arguing.
"How can you want more snacks when you had three donuts at Aunt Tatsuki's?" Kazuma demanded.
"I'm still hungry!" Satsuki snapped.
"You're a pig! How are you ever going to get married and leave the house if you don't at least try to be sexy?"
"What do you know about sex appeal, you brat?"
"Enough to know that you don't have any!"
"And why are you so worried about my sex appeal anyway? You got some kind of sister complex?"
"What did you say?"
"I bet at school you can't shut up about me. 'My nee-chan is the greatest! Satsuki-nee is so smart and pretty and athletic!'"
"Who wants to be have a complex about a hideous hag like you?"
"What a lively atmosphere," Urahara said over the two yelling children. It was no wonder Ulquiorra never complained about coming to work. "But I'll need Satsuki-chan and Kazuma-kun to tone it down if you all want to hear the story."
Kazuma made a zipping motion across his mouth. Satsuki rolled her eyes and gazed longingly at the display of snack foods, her arms folded over her chest. Shiori looked relieved that the other two had stopped fighting. "Yoruichi-san and I arrived at the battlefield shortly after Chad and your mother were injured."
"Papa hurt Mama?" Shiori asked, her sorrowful expression changing to alarm.
"No, of course not. The only person your father injured that day was his own teammate. He spent most of his time observing." Urahara pat her on the head. "As far as I know, Cifer-san never once laid a violent hand on Orihime." All three of the children relaxed. "Anyway, he and his partner Yammy left after that. I think the sight of Yoruichi-san's gorgeous body was too much for them to handle."
"They left?" Kazuma said. "That's the whole story?"
"That's the first time your parents saw each other, yes." Urahara grinned. "The story gets more exciting after that, but there are some holes that even I can't fill in. Why not visit the Kurosaki Clinic? Grimmjow might be able to help you."
"Why do I have to tell these brats anything?" Grimmjow scowled at the Cifer siblings, causing Shiori to duck behind Satsuki. "And how is it that they have hollow powers even though they aren't hollows? Is someone giving them away?"
"You have to tell the story because I wasn't there," Karin Kurosaki said, leveling her own scowl at him. Grimmjow's lip curled, but he sat down across from the children without further comment. He scratched his head.
"Let's see. Aizen ordered Ulquiorra to kidnap your mom because she had interesting powers or something, so that's what he did. I got to distract Kurosaki and the shinigami while all that went down. Can't help ya there." He squinted up at the ceiling as if trying to recall tedious and boring details. "Little while after that, Ulquiorra shows up at Las Noches with the princess. He was ordered to keep an eye on her and make sure none of us did anything bad to her."
"Wait," Kazuma said, "so he kidnapped her, then he protected her?"
"Is that weird?" Grimmjow asked.
"It's a little weird," Satsuki said.
Grimmjow grunted and shrugged. "Whatever. That's how it was until Kurosaki and the other humans came to Hueco Mundo to rescue her. Loly and Menoly fucked her up pretty good."
"Language!" Karin snapped.
"Sorry, they beat the crap out of her. Then I killed them and kidnapped your mom so she could heal Kurosaki after Ulquiorra left him for dead, and then Ulquiorra tried to take her back from me so I locked his ass in a caja negacion." Grimmjow burst into wicked laughter. "Take that, you superior piece of shit!"
Karin rubbed her temples. "Anyway, after that he got his butt kicked by my brother, so he can't tell you anything else. But you're welcome to call Ichi-nii in Soul Society and ask him about the rest."
"Yeah, I beat Grimmjow up. Is he still mad about that?" A communication module had been set up in the Kurosaki household so that father and siblings could keep in touch with Ichigo. He was on screen now with Rukia Kuchiki in the background. She waved at the Cifer siblings enthusiastically, then disappeared. "After that Inoue was taken back by an arrancar named Starrk, and I went up to the towers of Las Noches to rescue her. She was alone with Ulquiorra when I found her."
"Eww," Kazuma muttered.
Ichigo blinked. "What, you think they were doing something?" His own expression turned thoughtful. "Huh. No, that's not… hmm."
Rukia reappeared in the background with her brother Byakuya, and pointed the children out to him. While they weren't sure what his reaction was, years of experience with their own father put their guess at 'too proud to admit he was interested.'
"Right. Well, I told him to back off, and he said he was about to, and then we started fighting. He got mad when I said he was acting a lot more human." Ichigo paused. "Say, you don't suppose that had something to do with Inoue, do you?"
Several more shinigami appeared in the background, peering at the trio of children.
"Then these other two arrancar girls showed up and threatened Inoue. Then Yammy showed up and threatened everyone. Then Ishida came and got the situation mostly under control. So me and Ulquiorra took our fight somewhere else because it was getting crowded in there, and I didn't want to hurt Inoue and Ishida. After that…"
Ichigo paused and turned around. The room had somehow filled with shinigami, all craning their necks to get a look at the 'arrancar children' and murmuring to each other excitedly. "Would you get out of here?" he shouted. But the shinigami disregarded him and pressed forward, their murmurs becoming exclamations. Ichigo fought for control of the communication module. "Ask Ishida about the rest!" he yelled before the feed cut off.
"Can I take some of these tongue depressors home?"
Uryuu had been in the same room with the Cifer children for less than ten minutes and he was already exhausted. "Sure thing, Kazuma-kun."
"Hey, then can I have some gloves?" Satsuki asked.
"Are you going to use them to whip your brother and sister?"
"No," she said. "I'm going to fill them with pickle juice and throw them at Papa from the roof."
"In that case, please use store bought balloons. I don't need Ulquiorra mad at me." Uryuu pushed his glasses up and turned to Shiori, who was the only one seated in a chair, minding her own business. Uryuu didn't fail to notice that she looked like she wanted to play with the blood pressure cuff, however. "Your father was a very powerful arrancar," he said. "Completely overwhelmed both me and Kurosaki in battle. But even in his segunda etapa, after all was said and done, he didn't hurt Inoue. He only tried to get in her way."
"But Papa isn't an arrancar anymore, he's human," Shiori said.
"That's right. In the end, he lost the fight with Kurosaki and his body dissolved in the wind. We all thought he was dead. Kurosaki was upset, but I think Inoue took it a lot harder. She tried to reach for Ulquiorra as he was fading away and his hand broke apart under her touch."
Shiori looked like she was about to cry. Kazuma held the bottle of tongue depressors to his stomach, and Satsuki's eyes were wide with concern.
Uryuu smiled at them. "Don't worry," he said. "That touch was all your father needed to put himself back together. He was reborn with a human heart, and months later he showed up here in Karakura Town, searching for Inoue. She brought him to her house, fought Soul Society to let him stay, and taught him all about what it meant to be human. Everyone called it a miracle." He took the blood pressure cuff and wrapped it around Shiori's small wrist. "You three are here today because a miracle happened. Hold that against your chest, Shiori-chan."
Satsuki hastily wiped her eye, then stepped forward and scrubbed Kazuma's hair. "Come on. We've bothered enough people today. Shiori, are you satisfied now?"
Shiori nodded. The blood pressure cuff beeped, announcing it was done with its reading, and Uryuu took it off her tiny wrist. "Perfect health," he said. "You three be careful on the train, alright?"
Satsuki held her brother and sister's hands on the ride back.
When they came in through the front door of the house in the country, Orihime was waiting for them, her hands on her hips. "Do you know where I found Jackie-san and Riruka-san this afternoon?" she asked.
"If they were still where we left them, the cellar," Kazuma replied.
Orihime shook her head. "Honestly." She pointed them into the living room and the three went with heads bowed, though Satsuki tried hard not to grin. Her humor evaporated the moment she saw her father.
Ulquiorra leveled a threateningly blank stare at his children. They'd lost count of how many times they'd been in this position, with the hard parent in front of them and the easy parent blocking their retreat. He motioned for them to sit and they sat, doing their best to look ashamed. "It is my understanding that you two—" he looked at Satsuki and Kazuma, "—tied up your teachers and locked them in the cellar, then took Shiori to Karakura Town with no permission and no supervision. Is that correct?"
"Shiori had a question! We were just trying to—"
"That's not what I asked."
Kazuma scowled at the floor. "Yes."
"Furthermore, you turned up uninvited at the residences of several of our acquaintances, interrupting their afternoons to entertain your curiosity. Is that correct?"
"It was my fault, Papa," Shiori said. "If I hadn't brought it up…"
"Enough," Ulquiorra interrupted her. "They aren't wild animals. They should know better. Especially you, Satsuki. You are fourteen years old. When will you start setting a good example for your brother and sister?"
Satsuki's chin wobbled, but she refused to let any tears spill over. Kazuma kept scowling. Shiori hid behind her hair, too guilty to let either sibling see her.
Orihime gave Ulquiorra an anxious look. He sighed. "There is a reason your mother and I have kept that story to ourselves," he said, "and it is because, even though we have all managed to wind up here together, the beginning was not as nice as the end. Your mother and I did not meet under happy circumstances. I committed many acts of violence and allowed others to happen simply because I was following orders. I took Orihime away from her home and her friends and imprisoned her in a place where she was alone, afraid, and uncertain. She got hurt because of me. There is no excuse for that.
"Neither of us had any intention of lying to you. We only wanted to wait until you were older, and mature enough to understand that, although this is normal for us and the world we live in, it is not normal by any human standards." Ulquiorra turned his head away from them. "Now go to your rooms. We'll discuss punishment later."
Satsuki stood and ran from the living room. Kazuma shoved his hands into his pocket and skulked past Orihime, still scowling. Shiori stood, but she hesitated a moment, looking up at Ulquiorra with pleading eyes. "I'm sorry, Papa."
He acknowledged her with a glance, but he didn't move any closer to her. She scurried out of the room.
Orihime waited until she'd heard all three bedroom doors shut upstairs before walking over to sit beside Ulquiorra. She put her hand on his. It was shaking. "Don't be afraid," she said, "they aren't going to hate you. They don't have a reason to."
"One can never be sure."
Orihime reached out and turned his head back towards her. "If anything, they'll hate you for being so hard on them, which they'll get over when they grow up into responsible adults." She smiled. "And they will be responsible adults. They have an excellent father."
Ulquiorra leaned over and kissed her forehead. "If you aren't careful, they'll have a new sibling, too."
Orihime squealed with delight and embarrassment. "I think we're fine with three. Dyeing all this gray hair they've given me is starting to get expensive." She stroked Ulquiorra's cheek with the back of her hand. "So how long are they grounded for? A month? The duration of summer vacation? Forever?"
"Indefinitely always drives them crazy," Ulquiorra said.
Orihime kissed him. "Indefinitely it is."
A/N: For real this time. EVERYBODY GO HOME. Just kidding! Merry Christmas to all, Happy New Year, happy holidays, and I hope you've enjoyed these bonus chapters! It was certainly nice to get a mental break from school for some recreational writing. My hands don't agree, but my brain is thanking me for it. And speaking of school, I aced my first semester of grad school! 4.0 GPA!
Satsuki Cifer, age 14: Satsuki is boisterous and bossy, a natural athlete. Her body overflows with confidence, but she's an emotional girl who takes insults very hard. As a teenager her relationship with her parents is strained by their rules and limitations. She likes to blow off Fullbring training to play with her friends and siblings instead.
Shiori Cifer, age 10: When Satsuki was almost four years old, she decided to prank her daddy by dumping a gallon of pickle juice on his head. Somehow this ended in Ulquiorra deciding he wanted another child. So Shiori was conceived! She is the quietest of the children, a voracious reader with natural curiosity despite her timidity. Her siblings are always getting her involved in their mischief. Also, when she was born, Satsuki hated her because she got all the attention.
Kazuma Cifer, age 9: Ulquiorra was so excited to have Orihime to himself again that he accidentally got her pregnant just two months after Shiori was born. Their third born is a troublemaker, good-looking and very aware of it. He's been romancing girls since preschool, much to the horror and embarrassment of his father. Kazuma and Satsuki are partners in crime.
If you're ever curious about what I'm up to, stalk me on Tumblr or just shoot me a PM here. Hoping to have some more writing (and maybe a published novel? Please?) for y'all in the future!