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Forgive Me, Father...

Chapter Text

 

It was still in the house. The child with black hair and green eyes should have been in bed. Inside of him, a rebellious streak was beginning to take hold and he did not want to listen to anyone who was older than his mere 11 years old.

Ulquiorra Cifer knew where each and every creaky floorboard was in that house. It was how he moved about undetected. He should have known. He knew every inch of this house perfectly. His bedroom was in the left wing with the rest of his siblings. His door was emblazoned with the number 4 and was right beside his biological half-brother and his adopted sisters.

Maybe, had he stepped on one of those noisy spots, he wouldn’t have the knowledge that he had. He would have been scolded and sent back to his room.

The door to his father’s office was open. There was absolutely no way he was going to be able to make it past the door without being seen. The boy would really be in trouble then. It was different when a nanny or their mother caught him. His father was much crueler than his mother.

Retsu Unohana was sweet at first glance, but if one got on her wrong side she was known to be ruthless - a formidable woman Sousuke Aizen married years ago. She refused to take his last name, instead sticking with her own.

Ulquiorra had witnessed people about shit themselves when they found out who she was married to. There was something about the satisfaction of watching the fear that would glaze over their faces like on a freshly fried doughnut. Whoever displeased Retsu would start apologizing profusely.

“I’m sorry ma’am. Please let me make this right.”

“There’s really no need for that--Is that a sword?”

Their strangled cries were cut off with their heads. Ulquiorra along with his siblings had all witnessed death in some form and capacity. An execution in a dark alley while they sat in the car. Tier and Ulquiorra with blank, uncaring stares. Grimmjow looking bored. Nel would cower beside her sister. Nnoitra would be watching with rapt attention.

The kids were a mismatched lot of hooligans. Five kids plucked from an orphanage in New York. The two girls; blonde half-sisters. Then Ulquiorra and Nnoitra; half-brothers with one thing in common… their biological mother. The two boys were complete opposites. Then there was the black sheep of the family, Grimmjow. He had somehow gone to school one day with blonde hair and came back with bright blue hair. That went down really well. Aizen had stared at all five of them with disapproving looks.

Collective punishment was the name of the game around the mansion or the townhouse, depending on where they were staying. If one of them got into trouble, all of them got into trouble. When Grimmjow dyed his hair, they all had to stand on their tiptoes holding canned goods for 2 hours. If one of them fell, another fifteen minutes was added.

Snapping out of his thoughts, Ulquiorra turned his head to see the rest of his siblings standing in the shadows. It was Tier who put her finger to her lips.

Why had these assholes come down? They were going to get caught! Ulquiorra shook his head and scowled at the four of them. His attention was quickly diverted because he could hear Aizen’s voice as he stood next to the open door.

“Are things going well?”

It was that slimy snake asshole who worked for the local government, Gin Ichimaru. Ulquiorra never trusted him because of the fake smile that was plastered on his face and the squinty eyes.

“I’m afraid not,” his father replied. There was a clink of glass upon glass. Ulquiorra could imagine his father pouring himself a drink from the crystal decanters. Dark liquid would swirl in the antique container. “Barragan Luisenbarn refuses to back off and I’m not willing to allow him to take a cut of my business. He says that we would be letting the people chose which service is better.”

“Whore houses are whore houses,” Gin offered. “If you’ve visited one, you’ve visited them all.”

There was a tsk. “Now, Gin, you sound jaded with the world overall.”

“I’m stating a fact. Women are women, except for my Rangiku.”

“Oh, I suppose I’m chopped liver?”

That was his mother! What could she be doing at a meeting between Aizen and his associates? Ulquiorra glanced behind him to see the boys and girls inching closer to his position.

“Retsu, you do look lovely tonight. I particularly love that white flowy gown you have on.”

“It’s called a robe, Ichimaru. Would you care to explain why you came to our home in the middle of the night?” the woman said, voice sounding flat.

There was a sigh. “Barragan has submitted documents for opening a new business a block from your establishment. Also, Bishop Tosen will be arriving soon. He’s big into justice; you know, making a nice little world for the children.”

There was some laughter, but it was cut short.

“Barragan has a family, doesn’t he?”

“Mmhmm,” his mother said. “He has a wife, a stepson and the cutest stepdaughter. I believe she’s in Nelliel’s class, though I could be wrong. Lovely red hair. It’s a shame.”

There was shuffling and the creak of an expensive leather chair whose springs needed oiling. His father had sat down at that massive oak desk with the scrolls and leaves carved into the surface. “A shame, my wife?”

“A shame that we will simply have to eliminate them. You cannot take out one and not expect backlash,” Retsu stated. “They’ll all have to be killed.”

“Well, that’s why I mentioned Bishop Tosen. Let him fight Barragan first. Let him carry out his march for justice and keeping this community a wholesome place.” Ulquiorra could imagine the grin spreading across that sneaky face, ear to ear.

Aizen snorted. “A wholesome place. There’s nothing wholesome about this city or the suburbs,” he commented. His tone was flippant. “Fine, I’ll give Barragan time to retreat back to his side of the city. Or he can take his ass back down to Providence. Boston is mine.”

 

***


Orihime Inoue was born Japanese. She didn’t look Japanese. Her mother had a thing for foreign men, and not many transferable job skills. She was good at drinking and having sex. She could speak just enough English to butter up American sailors and bed them. One such sailor was a tall man with sandy blond hair and a West Virginian accent. Nine months later, Ai Inoue gave birth to a beautiful brown-haired baby boy, whom she named Sora.

After Sora was born, Ai decided she needed more stable employment and got a job at a cabaret club, pouring men drinks, lighting their smokes, and providing complimentary conversation. That many were willing to pay to extend the evening’s festivities at nearby accommodations for a pretty price was just a bonus.

A customer came in with fair skin and bright red hair two or so years into the cabaret job. That customer decided Ai Inoue was worth the rest of the cash in his wallet, and another nine months later, Orihime Inoue was born looking decidedly foreign, although she had dark, nearly black eyes and a soft, heart-shaped face like her mother. She shared most of her mystery father’s features, including his nose and coloring.

When Orihime was three years old, her mother was working and met a man named Barragan Luisenbarn. He was significantly older than Ai, but robust and commanding, and Ai quickly found herself drawn to his air of authority, not to mention his financial stability. Rumors about Barragan swirled the club where she worked, and during his stay in Tokyo the older man visited the club every night. Luisenbarn’s business dealings were mainly in human trafficking and prostitution, but he had been considering expanding into cabaret clubs and strip joints; above-the-board establishments that would give him more legitimacy. He recognized that Ai Inoue would be an asset in setting up this venture with her good looks and long cabaret career.

By the time his stay in Japan was coming to a close, he had decided to take Ai and her children with him back to Rhode Island and marry her. He did not bother adopting her children, who retained the last name, Inoue. This did not bother Ai; she would rather protect her children from her new husband’s line of business. Surprisingly, Luisenbarn was rather religious and insisted his new family convert to Catholicism as soon as possible.

A couple of years after moving to America, Barragan decided to try to extend his empire up the coast of New England and moved his family to a suburb of Boston. He bode his time, leaving his legitimate business ventures in Providence and sticking mainly to smuggling in Boston as he set up his residence and nurtured his network of business associates through various channels, but none so accessible as those provided through the Church.

His children were enrolled in Sacred Heart Catholic School, which was attached to the parish they had joined on arrival. Sora and Orihime were well-behaved kids. Sora was into sports and made friends easily, despite being unmoved by the religion being forced upon him. Orihime, on the other hand, developed a strong faith very quickly, and despite being initially shy and soft-spoken, made a couple of little friends and was loved by her teachers.

There were some kids at the school who were not as good as the Inoue children. A boy in Sora’s class, Grimmjow, bullied Sora relentlessly. One day, in late October of their first year at Sacred Heart, Grimmjow and his older brother, Ulquiorra, shook Sora down for lunch money in the hall between classes. Little Orihime, the tiny little soft-spoken kindergartner that she was, happened to be in the same hallway at the time and witnessed her brother being pushed around and held against a wall by the older brother, while his classmate searched his pockets.

Orihime was furious. How dare these kids do this to her brother!

She thought nothing of her own safety as she went up behind the older boy, pulling on his trousers and biting the back of his knees. When the boy whipped around, Orihime fell on her butt. Instead of being hurt or afraid, however, she glared up at the boy, who must have been 10 or 11, and shouted, “You leave my brother alone! You can’t do things like that!”

An unimpressed look came over the dark-haired kid’s face, and he hit Grimmjow’s arm. “C’mon, it’s not worth it,” he said to his sibling.

Grimmjow made a face and then made like he was going to lunge at the girl. He laughed as the older boy flinched. “Stupid girls, always ruining things,” the blue-haired kid spat, walking after his brother.

Ulquiorra took note of the redhead and her brother. He didn’t like them at all. They had weirdly shaped eyes and the older one talked with a funny accent. His father said they were culturally different, Japanese. Whatever. Their goody-two-shoes behavior shined a bad light on him and showcased how he appeared to be a decent kid on the surface but underneath, he was a rotten apple, mirroring Grimmjow and Nnoitra’s attitude.

It only became worse over the years.

Since his father was lord, master, and god over the other mafia syndicates in Boston, it was natural that all of Aizen’s children were expected to be entitled brats, but they weren’t. If they wanted something they had to work for it; working for their father meant running an errand, picking up money, placing a odd shaped package on the underside of a car or watching someone only to return and tell their father what they saw or what a person did.

The first time he spied on the Inoues, he was scolded for taking matters into his own hands. It wasn’t his business. Of course, this happened after he had eavesdropped. That night the kids retreated back to their rooms, pondering over what they had heard.

“I don’t like them!” Ulquiorra stated.

“They are not your concern,” Aizen replied.

The green-eyed kid was smart, perhaps too smart. He’d gotten one of his father’s lackey’s to take him to a bank so that he could open a savings account. All he had needed was an adult signature. Any money he got his hands on went into that account. Ulquiorra had plans. He would not be under his so-called father’s thumb for long.

At first, it was selling candy bars and gum in school. It was stealing lunch money, and gold crosses to sell at various pawn shops. He’d hang around with the older boys and men that hung around Aizen’s pub which was a headquarters of sorts.

The first time he was dropped into hot water was when Ulquiorra had slipped into the church’s offices and began to pick the lock on a safe. It was one where he just needed a key. He didn’t have one, but he’d found a lockpick set that some shady underling had made.

That was the first run-in with Bishop Tosen and being delivered to his father by his ear. That was the first warning.

As he grew older, small-time stuff seemed paltry compared to what his father made on deals. They had a chemist named Szayel who Ulquiorra gravitated to only because Nnoitra liked to harass the man with pink hair. They were always in his lab as he mixed up ingredients, pressing them into pills.

“What’s this?” Ulquiorra asked, looking at the pile of pills.

“MDMA, also known as ecstasy. Don’t ingest it. The last thing I need is for your father to lop my head off because his kids are high,” Szayel bitched.

Ulquiorra looked at the rainbow mountain of pills. “Why?”

“Why?”

“Why did you make them? What is their purpose.”

“Duh,” came the scathing reply from his brother. “The old man plans on selling them and making cash. God, sometimes you’re an idiot, Ulquiorra.”

After Nnoitra distracted Szayel, Ulquiorra swiped twenty pills from the pile. He knew where he could go to make some cash.

It seemed like every year he made more money that he stashed away in his bank account. He became smarter, avoiding detection from Aizen’s prying eyes. He would show up at parties and do his deals, leaving without doing any actual partying. He didn’t really like being around people; being an introvert and preferring silence over the hustle and bustle. He would steal down to the wine cellar and drink or he would sneak into his father’s den and raid the bar.

No one ever said anything to him.

On one of his midnight forays into the mansion changed his life.

“Barragan is encroaching closer and closer to Boston. Someone is taking over my drug dealings in the suburbs and all fingers point to him.” Aizen’s voice. The coldness made Ulquiorra stop in his tracks. “He has to be the one. He’s the only one I don’t have control over, Tosen.”

That calm, smooth deep voice of the black man spoke. “My years of trying to exact justice on him have not worked. He managed to build that whore house but disguised it under the ruse of a gentlemen's club.”

“I want him gone. I want him and his whole family gone. I want to see them washed in blood.”

That sentence sent shivers down his spine. He knew Aizen went go to Barragan’s to talk to him often. If he wanted his family gone, did he mean the little girl too? She had done nothing. His father often spoke of the child in a fond manner. There was nothing he could do or say.

“How do you want it done?” The oily voice came from one of the lower crime bosses, Kugo Ginjo. “Got all them church celebrations going on, need to know when.”

There was a heavy thunk, and Ulquiorra imagined his father placing both hands on top of his desk heavily. “Do what you do best, Ginjo.”

“‘Kay but when?”

“Easter seems like a good time to get him out of my hair,” Tosen said.

“Easter morning, before Mass.”

 

***

 

Orihime was upstairs in her bedroom getting dressed. Her mother had bought her a new white dress for Easter. She had been shorter than most of her class for most of her life until she shot up over the fall and winter after turning eleven, so her mother had constantly been replacing her clothes.

“Hayaku!” her mother had called up to her to hurry in Japanese from the bottom of the stairs. They were going to be late for church.

Orihime didn’t really speak much Japanese. She had been too young when they moved to the States. She understood her mother though. “I’ll be right there!” she answered, feeling annoyed at being hassled. She had been trying to braid her own hair. She looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. She needed more practice. Her mother was patient and kind about teaching her, but they had such different hair types. Orihime loved her mother’s straight, black, silky hair. Her red hair was wavy and a bit coarser. She had just finished loosening the braids and fluffing her hair out when she heard a sound that changed her world.

Bang bang bang bang bang. Bang bang bang. Bang bang bang bang bang bang. The squeal of tires on wet pavement.

What a curious sound.

When it was over, she came downstairs. The first thing she noticed was the breeze. The curtains on either side of the large picture window fluttered, and it was cold.

The glass was broken.

Her eyes traveled to the floor, and that’s when she saw it. The blood of her mother, brother, and stepfather seeping into the floorboards and pooling together on the Persian rug.

“Okaa-san? Sora? Barragan?” Her voice was so small.

Why were they laying down in blood? Didn’t it feel uncomfortable?

She knelt next to her brother’s form. It laid in an unnatural position, face-down. She pushed his face to the side.

Half of his skull was gone.

She had no reaction initially. Maybe if she asked her mother, she would explain what had happened.

She walked over to her mother, who laid partially on her side and partially on her belly. Her pretty brown eyes were open and glassy.

“Okaa-san?”

She always smiled when Orihime called her that. Orihime almost saw it this time too.

It was an illusion.

Orihime stood and looked down expressionlessly at the three figures littering the living room floor. Then she saw the state of her new shoes. Her new, white patent leather shoes, soaked in blood. Her white tights, the skirt of her pure snow-colored dress, now stained red.

She screamed.

Sousuke Aizen was getting out of the limo when he heard the scream. There wasn’t supposed to be any screaming. He raised an eyebrow and looked at Tosen, who shrugged. The click-taps of their smart leather loafers on the cement pavement sounded too loud in his ears. Had someone already gone into the house?

When he climbed the few steps and stood in the open door he understood. Ginjo had fucked up. There were to be no survivors. Before him stood that little wretch of a girl. He smoothed out his features, quickly formulating a plan. “Orihime?” he called out, sounding shocked. “What happened? What happened to your Easter dress?”

Orihime looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes. Her mouth opened to speak but only squeaks and whimpers came out. She walked toward the tall, familiar man with her arms outstretched. Her mouth formed the words she could not voice, “Mr. Aizen… They’re dead.”

“I can see that, dear. You didn’t do this, did you? Did you see who did it?” Aizen asked, playing the act of a concerned adult well. He knew he could fool anyone, a child would not be a problem. “Tosen, can you phone the police.”

Aizen’s calm demeanor helped Orihime come to her senses, such as they were for a traumatized eleven-year-old. She took his hand with her small bloody one. “Please. Please, Mr. Aizen, believe me. I didn’t do this. I would never hurt my mother and brother. I wouldn’t even hurt Barragan… This is his fault. He is a bad man. Barragan is a bad man!” she shouted the last part, looking into Aizen’s eyes with utter earnesty, pleading for salvation from her predicament. “Please, Mr. Aizen, please.”

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew she was asking for the impossible. She was asking for the lives of her family members, minus Barragan, to be restored. She knew even someone as magnanimous as Aizen would be unable to grant such a request. She asked anyway.

“Shhhh, dear. It’s alright. Here sit down on the step. Stay there.” Aizen made sure she sat down as Tosen came back.

“I’ve contacted the police. They’re on their way,” Tosen said. “I am expected to be at mass. Would you like me to take the car and your family? You’ll be busy for hours.”

Aizen nodded, his lips forming a thin line. “I suppose that’s for the best. Have Retsu call a car for me and bring a nanny. Have the woman bring a change of clothes for--” he waved a hand at the girl. “This snag is unfortunate.”

“It is, but perhaps it is the will of God. She can be useful.”

The brown-haired man looked back at the girl and observed her. How could a girl be useful? Had he not given Ginjo explicit instructions that he was to leave no one in the house alive?

“Mr. Aizen?” the girl asked, her dark eyes full of desperate intensity.

“Yes, Orihime?” he turned his entire body towards her and moved her way.

“Thank you. I’ll never be able to repay you, but thank you,” Orihime looked down as tears finally began to roll down her soft, pale cheeks, the reality of her situation finally dawning on her.

He crouched down and quickly wiped her face. He looked worried as a fatherly figure should. “We’re going to be here for several hours. I have a woman coming to clean you up and help, uh, just to help out. The police should be here soon.”

Aizen hoped Tosen wasn’t an idiot and called the actual police. He had several detectives on the police force who were in his pocket. “Oh, Kaname? Tell Ulquiorra to get out of the car,” he said to the retreating black man.

The man nodded and within moments a black-haired, green-eyed boy was standing on the sidewalk glaring. “What the fu--”

“Language, Mr. Cifer. Your father wants you.” With that Tosen got in and the limo pulled away from the curb.

“Ulquiorra, come here. Until the nanny arrives, you are in charge of this girl.”

Orihime vaguely recognized her classmate’s older brother. He had changed a lot over the years since their initial encounter. He was at least sixteen now, nearly an adult in her eyes. He went to the high school, so she hadn’t seen him at all in about three years. Her eyes didn’t linger on him long.

The teen gave her a dead stare and then turned that same stare on his father. “I wanted to go to Mass,” he complained.

“I’m sure you did. Orihime wanted to go to Mass too. So did her family,” Aizen said. He handed the girl his suit jacket to wrap up in and walked towards his son, head tilted up. “We will talk about this later,” the man said quietly so that only Ulquiorra could hear. “Go sit with her. Now.”

It was an order.

With a sigh, Ulquiorra shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers and walked towards the redhead. There was no way that his father knew. There was no possible way that his father knew he’d told Ginjo to keep the girl alive; that he had paid the man money to keep her alive. She had done nothing to deserve death and really neither did her brother. He was a consequence of unfortunate timing.

To be honest, he didn’t know why he did it. He didn’t even remember her all that well. She was just some snot-nosed kindergartener in his mind. He scowled at her and stood at the bottom of the steps.

She peeked up at him when his shoes came into view. “I’m sorry, Ulquiorra,” she said. His name was familiar to her, often being dropped from the lips of her classmate; his sister.

“The only thing you are is sorry looking,” he replied, crossing his arms over his chest. “This is an inconvenience.”

Orihime’s head dropped to her chest. She looked aside toward Aizen, an adoring look on her face as she clutched the coat he had given to her around her shoulders.

When the police came, Aizen spoke for some minutes to one of the men dressed in a suit and tie. The man nodded several times. They asked Orihime some questions then talked to Aizen again. The brown-haired man was escorting Orihime to the car and he helped her inside. “Orihime, I’m going to help you. I’m going to take care of you. Please call me Uncle Sousuke.”

Orihime hugged her body to his arm and choked on a sob as she nodded. Uncle Sousuke was her only family in the world now.

 

***

 

A week later, the combined funeral of Barragan and Ai Luisenbarn and Sora Inoue was held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The funeral mass was moving and well attended. Little Orihime Inoue was a pitiful sight; beautiful and precious in her knee-length black dress and tights. She cried quietly and kissed the coffins of her mother and brother, allowing an audible sob only when the coffins were carried out of the church to the hymn “Be Not Afraid”.

Orihime followed the pallbearers out of the church all alone, passing rows of pews filled with mostly unfamiliar faces. Uncle Sousuke offered her a warm, paternal smile. In the pew behind him were his children. Her classmate, Nel, offered her a kind of half-hearted sympathetic face. The rest of them looked bored and/or resentful at having to be there. Ulquiorra was at the end of the pew toward the aisle.

Every Mass was the same. Up, down; sit, stand, kneel. He hated it but they had appearances to uphold. Not that it mattered, even if they weren’t the perfect blended family, no one would say anything to Aizen. They wouldn’t dare.

He was just glad this entire thing was over. He hated hearing the girl sob. There had been some nights he wished he never called or paid Ginjo. He sighed and managed to turn his head enough that he caught the girl’s eye. Instead of resentment, his face was blank but his eyes held some pity in them. He should have left sleeping dogs lie.

Orihime got into a limousine by herself. She wept unrestrainedly until the door opened several minutes later, and Father Kaname entered along with Aizen.

“Uncle Sousuke!” she wailed. He held his arms open to her, and she didn’t hesitate to find a seat on his lap and hold onto his scarf as she cried herself to sleep on the way to the cemetery.

The funeral procession was long. By the time the car’s door opened, thirty-five minutes had passed. Aizen gently woke Orihime and the three exited the limousine. Aizen led her by the hand to the burial site. He had hired a chamber choir to sing “Lay a Garland” as the coffins were lowered into the ground after Tosen said a small prayer. Orihime sniffled and held tight to Aizen’s hand until it was time for her to take a flower from one of the funeral arrangements and throw it down onto the coffins. She did and turned around, looking for the brown-haired man. He had walked away and stood in a group of serious, intimidating-looking men. She knew better than to interrupt their conversation.

“Don’t you wish you could throw yourself in there with them?” Ulquiorra asked quietly. His mood had turned foul in the ride over. Why did they have to come? No one cared about some old mob boss and his whore of a wife. Sitting beside his brother had made it worse. Nnoitra had a penchant for death and would often talk about dying. The teenager was stupid.

Seeing those men show up was bad. He knew who they were and he had fidgeted and fiddled with his suit until his father walked away. Those men had shown up time and time again as he made his deals. Those men knew his face. “You should do that you know, just jump in.”

Ulquiorra could not show his true thoughts. He could not show any emotion.

Orihime looked at him. Her face was not what he expected. She was, of course, hurt by his words, but she Regarded him curiously. Her little nostrils flared and her lip curled in distaste at his words as she held his gaze, her watery eyes searching his for something unspoken. She stared him down for the better part of a minute, then turned back to the limo.

Ulquiorra paid her no mind. He was too focused on his father and the way the man’s eyes widened and then turned to him. Saying Aizen was disappointed would have been a complete understatement. This was not going to be a collective punishment. There was no way the rest of his siblings would stand for it.

Over the course of the week leading up to the funeral, it had been decided that Orihime would be sent out of state to live with foster parents. Aizen knew he would not be able to maintain the appearance of a benevolent, innocent uncle if she remained under his roof. Arrangements had been made and she would be leaving that evening. He would pay a foster family to raise her and he would fund her private, all-girls Catholic education. He had big plans for Orihime. He had taken steps to ensure that she would remain dedicated to her faith and that her loyalty to him would be cultivated. The limousine had all of her worldly belongings packed in the back, and instead of returning her to Uncle Sousuke’s mansion, it took her to the airport, where Father Kaname checked her into a flight bound for Milwaukee.

When they arrived back at the mansion, everyone was sent to their room except for Ulquiorra. He was ordered to his father’s office. The anticipation was causing his body to vibrate. It seemed like forever had passed until his father walked through the doors, followed by his mother.

“Ulquiorra,” Aizen said with a smile. “You know why you’re here, don’t you?”

It was hours later when he stumbled back to his room, smearing blood on the wooden surface of the door. In addition to getting the shit beaten out of him, he had been enrolled in a private Catholic boarding school in Idaho. He’d gotten too full of himself. Ulquiorra was too unruly to be allowed to influence the other children. He’d caused trouble when there wasn’t any need for it.

“Ginjo told me what you did. He told me how much you paid him,” Aizen said as fists rained down upon the boy. The man who posed as his father didn’t lift a finger. It was some goon that got to kick his ass. “Szayel told me that you would steal the pills or give him a cut of your profits. Not to mention my men followed you.”

Punch. Thud. Kick. Crack.

It wasn’t just him who was getting sent away. Nnoitra and Grimmjow were being sent to some military school. They would become killing machines for Aizen when they emerged. Tier and Nel were being enrolled to some school out in California.

Ulquiorra had to do the walk of shame the next morning, drifting past his siblings and the hired help of the house, dragging a suitcase down the stairs and out the foyer. A simple sedan waited for him to drive him to the airport. He could feel his brothers and sisters hostile glares directed at his back. He could hear the littlest one start sobbing. He could sense his mother’s indifference to the situation.

She wasn’t happy with him either. Retsu couldn’t save him. Ulquiorra had caused the death of Orihime’s family because he had decided to take a slice of his father’s income, all because he didn’t want to be under the mafia boss’ thumb. The green-eyed teen didn’t even look back as he got into the car.

He wouldn’t allow himself to be blamed for Aizen’s decisions either. His father had made that choice on his own. He would not ask for forgiveness, especially from these people.

Chapter Text

The plane ride back to Boston was uneventful. Rome had been a wonderful experience, but Ulquiorra was ready to go back home. Not that the city had ever been home to him. He hadn’t stepped foot in the city in six years.

He’d been gone for a total of twelve years.

Once he landed in potato land, Ulquiorra proceeded to make his way to the top of the school food chain, lording over a court of elite students. He did well in school, putting on that perfect face; that mask that showed everyone he was a good boy. He was overly polite to his peers and teachers. He was a model student. He was involved in activities and retreats. The teachers called him a natural leader. That was what he presented during school hours.

There was another side of him.

A dark and ugly side.

Once he moved to Idaho, the side of him that did terrible things did not go away. It got worse. There was no one to tether him. There was no Aizen to watch over him. There was no authority that could hurt him. He partied. He smoked. He drank. Ulquiorra coerced a couple of local girls into having sex with him. He got a tattoo, and his ear pierced.

Once he touched the soil in this backwater place, Ulquiorra had no choice but to think about Orihime Inoue and what he had done to her and her family. As much as he told himself that it wasn’t his fault and pointed fingers at others, he blamed himself. There would be long stretches of night where he would stare up at the dark ceiling above his bed and think about her red hair. He would dream of her dark eyes and how with a look she could peer into someone’s soul. He would ponder about that week that she lived with Aizen and his family that Ulquiorra would watch her from the shadows, gauging her; taking note of what made her tick.

It wasn’t productive. It wasn’t a problem. Orihime was living a nice cushy life in the midwest somewhere. That’s all his mother would tell him.

“So how’s Orihime doing?” he asked.

“Her new parents tell us she’s doing well. She’s recovering from your--”

Not this again. He would sigh and cut Retsu off. “Gotta go, phone time is over.”

Eventually, he stopped calling, not wanting to interact with his family. He had other things to think about. College applications to fill out. Homework. Of course, there were school activities and Mass to attend. The private school’s guidance counselor raised her eyebrows at what Ulquiorra wanted to study.

“Art History? Any reason why? You can’t do much in the real world with a degree in--”

“That is none of your concern. What happens to me in the real world, as you put it, doesn’t affect you.”

“I’m just saying a degree in technology or business would be better.”

“I plan on becoming a priest.” All those restless nights had come down to this. This was his atonement for what he had done. He’d give up his life and snub Aizen. He couldn’t be a goon for the mafia if he were a priest.

College dragged on for four fucking years. He had sex with another handful of women. He got a couple more tattoos. He got a second hole in his ear and his eyebrow pierced. His hair was longish, it hung to his shoulders and often hid the jewelry. Not that it mattered. He had applied to regular universities instead of those with religious ties. He had gotten accepted to several Ivy League schools but passed them up for the art history curriculum at the University of Illinois.

Ulquiorra’s last year in college was when Aizen came to visit. He’d told his roommate to get the hell out for a couple of hours and Yammy refused until he saw Aizen’s face

“My money paid for you to look at useless art all day?”

The green-eyed man sighed. “I will do just as well to get into a seminary with something dealing with humanities rather than a business degree. I will have an associates degree in accounting though.”

“Seminary? What is the meaning of this?” Aizen asked.

He squared his shoulders back and looked at his father. They had never been eye to eye, and even now, Ulquiorra had to look up to him. “You don’t want me being a threat. You don’t want me taking things into my own hands. If I follow the word of God and the teachings of the Bible, I can’t surpass you.”

“You believe in that bullshit?” Aizen appeared as he could barely believe what he was being told. His tone was incredulous.

It was at that moment that Ulquiorra decided yes, he did believe. He believed in it because of people like his father saying they worshipped God and had faith but never acted like it. His father was a prime example. The killings, the treachery, and the other activities were sins. Aizen went to confession every week only to turn around and do the same things. The man wasn’t remorseful in the slightest about what he did or whose life he ruined.

He nodded, but he decided to play his cards and present the idea of him becoming a priest as appealing to his father. “I think it could be useful,” Ulquiorra said. All he needed was for the man to agree to it so that he could finish school and go on to a seminary. After that, he didn’t need Aizen.

The brown-haired man was obviously thinking because he put his hand under his chin and stared out the window. “You owe me, Ulquiorra. You realize how bad you fucked me over years ago? If Ginjo had just killed that girl, I wouldn’t have to shell out any money for her.”

“I know, sir. I think about Orihime occasionally. I can’t replace what I did to her life, but I can set myself on a path of least temptation so that no one else’s life becomes shattered,” he replied. “Think about the people who took her in though. She probably brought joy to them.”

There was a scoff. “Are you soft for her? If she knew what you did, she would hate your guts, son. Tell me what else can this art history degree do?”

Six months later, Ulquiorra found himself closer to Orihime than ever. He just didn’t know it. He’d applied to The Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Wisconsin. He liked the school, and it wasn’t anywhere around the cesspool of Chicago.

He had to make changes in his life. Ulquiorra got rid of the eyebrow piercing, the only proof that it had ever been there were two little circular scars. He had two crosses in his ears, but no one saw them because he still kept his hair shaggy. He never allowed anyone to see him without a long-sleeved t-shirt on. He’d been stupid as a kid. The black four on his chest, the roses clustered on his bicep, the huge cross on his back that spanned from shoulder to shoulder and to the nape of his neck to the base of his spine; he would carry those reminders of his sins from the past.

Four years later, he went off to study in Rome. He was ordained in the city by another Bishop who knew his father rather well. The two of them grew up together, and Dordoni Alessandro Del Socaccio never could forget Sousuke Aizen. He spent two years in Rome.

He would have never left that city with its great history and beautiful buildings if his father hadn’t demanded him to return.

Ulquiorra wasn’t surprised as he walked out of the airport to see a plain black car waiting for him. He wasn’t surprised to find himself dropped off at a townhouse in Boston. His father must have been on business if he wasn’t at that big house in the suburbs.

“Welcome back, Ulquiorra.”

 

***

 

On that day twelve years ago when Father Tosen dropped her off at the airport, and she set foot in cheese land, Orihime had never before dreamed about the life she ended up having. Her foster parents, Jack and Margaret Roherty, were great folks.  Proud Irish-Americans. They picked her up in Milwaukee and drove her to their home in a rural town called, appropriately, Erin. They were very religious and often attended mass at the nearby Holy Hill Basilica, despite being members of St. Kilian’s parish in the neighboring town, where she finished out elementary school.

Aizen had enrolled Orihime in the all-girls Catholic Notre Dame Middle School for the following year, making sure she was well provided for, not that the Rohertys were short on funds.  Mr. Roherty was a retired estate planning attorney, and Mrs. Roherty was a retired school teacher. They had two grown children, one living out in Colorado and one in Ireland.

They were a bit obsessed with Ireland, Orihime quickly learned.  The Rohertys were enamored with the prospect that this girl with the Japanese name and the red hair might share some of their heritage, and they decided to do one of those mail-order genetic tests.  Orihime had to fill a vial with spit, which she thought was gross, and they mailed it away to some company who analyzed it. Several weeks later, a packet was delivered with the results. They Rohertys were overjoyed and self-satisfied to learn that Orihime’s ancestors were, in fact, 50% from East Asia, specifically Japanese, and 50% from the British Isles, specifically Ireland.

The Rohertys were very much into promoting Orihime’s ancestral heritage.  They enrolled her in Japanese school on Saturdays for language and cultural activities until she aged out of it after eighth grade and entered Divine Saviors Holy Angels all-girls high school.  They also had her join an Irish dance troupe and travel around to Irish heritage festivals and perform. She learned some of the language and a lot of the songs. Because she lived in Wisconsin, it was not a big deal for her to join the Rohetys in their evening nightcaps once she got into high school, and she developed an appreciation for whisky early.  She didn’t over-indulge until college though. She spent her weekends going to fish frys on Friday nights with the Rohertys, going to libraries, farmers markets, or playing golf on Saturdays, and in Church on Sundays.

She spoke with “Uncle Sousuke” often.  Usually at least once every two months.  She still saw him as a father figure and heaped gratitude on him every time they spoke.  He would come to town and take her out to lunch or dinner whenever he would come to Milwaukee or Chicago on business.  He seemed truly fond of her in return and often spoke to her of an inevitable return to Boston.

She was surprised that he seemed pleased when she told him she had decided to go to a private Catholic women’s university in Milwaukee for religious studies.  He had told her it was right up her alley and that he was proud of her devotion to her faith, and that when she graduated, he would personally guarantee that she would be welcomed onto the staff at Sacred Heart if she decided to return to Boston.  

Orihime was religious.  She wasn’t interested in boys or popular culture like other girls her age, and even at her all-girls high school, the other girls obsessed about boys and found ways to meet them.  The other girls her age didn’t have recurring nightmares about the murder of their entire family though. Orihime turned to the church to provide her with the spiritual strength she needed to get through each day.  She was a true believer.

Because of the strength she found in God, she was able to grow into a relatively well-adjusted young woman.  She liked winter and fall. She liked leather boots and big chunky sweaters. She had a thing for owls, and she held onto the books about winged ponies she had read in her younger years.  Despite having it shoved down her throat, she really truly loved Irish folk music and to a lesser extent, Japanese folk music. She never really did become proficient at speaking Japanese, but she could still watch Japanese dramas, a guilty pleasure of hers, without subtitles.  She loved her life.

When she went off to college, she joined the choir and the Asian students' group.  It was there in her third year, during an Asian American Society mixer that she met a boy she grew fond of.  He, like her, was half Japanese and had red hair. They would always end up pairing off during group activities to talk and joke around.  Ichigo Kurosaki quickly fell head over heels in love with Orihime. She sadly and gently broke his heart when she declined his offer to enter a romantic relationship with him.  She explained that she was not interested in dating and was happy being single and devoting her time to self-improvement and prayer.

She spent one last summer after graduation with the Rohertys.  She worked at the cafe at Holy Hill. It was absolutely a breathtaking location, and she loved being there.  Orihime was biding her time in the cafe until a more suitable position there opened up, maybe in the youth ministry or something.  But then, that September, the call from Aizen came.

“Uncle Sousuke!  How are you? I’ve missed you!”

“My dear, sweet, Orihime, I am quite well; never better.  How are you?”

“I am alright.  How is everything back home?”

It pleased Sousuke to no end that after all these years, she still referred to Boston as home.  It meant his efforts and investment in her were proving worthy.

“Everything is great.  In fact, the purpose of my call is that I’ve found a wonderful opportunity for you…”

 

***

 

After Orihime found the luggage with all her worldly possessions that hadn’t been previously shipped on the baggage carousel at Logan International, she was surprised to see a tall, well-built, blue-haired man waiting in the baggage claim area with a board with her name written on it and a bouquet of mixed flowers.

She approached the vaguely familiar man and tilted her body to the side a bit and said, “I’m Orihime Inoue.  You look familiar.”

Grimmjow was bored as hell, picking his fingernails or at least trying to with his hands full when he looked up to see some tiny ass woman with huge tits standing near him. “Holy shit, you grew up,” he said, looking her up and down.

Orihime took a half step back, scrunching her nose and looking uncomfortable.  “Yes, I did. Did Uncle Sousuke send you?”

He nodded, his blue head of hair bobbing with the movement. Grimmjow wanted to snort. That man was her uncle as much as he was Grimmjow’s dad. “Yeah, the old man sent me. Got your shit? Ready to go? Oh, these are for you,” he said shoving the flowers towards her.

She took them and found his icy blue eyes with a look of amusement dancing in hers.  “Are these from you, Mr….?” She trailed off, hoping he’d fill in his name.

“Grimmjow and no, do I look like the type to give bitches flowers?” he asked. Raising a hand, he motioned for her to follow him, ditching the sign with her name in the nearby trash can. “You gonna be working for Aizen?”

Orihime gasped at Grimmjow's language.  “I am not a b—a b-word! And no, I’m not going to work for Uncle Sousuke.  Are the flowers from him?”

He rolled his eyes. Ugh, this woman. Daddy Dearest had told him to be accommodating towards the redhead, so Grimmjow didn’t elaborate on why she was a bitch. “Yeah, they’re from him. A welcome home gift. It’s a shame you won’t be working for him. I’d spend every last penny I had for a night with you,” he leered at her and then winked at Orihime.

She made a disgusted face,  “No thank you.” She followed him outside and to a black sedan when the memory hit her.  “You! You’re the one who bullied my brother back at Sacred Heart! Looks like you turned things around now, though, haven’t you!”  She smiled, pleased with his apparent rehabilitation. “Working with your father must be nice. He is such a kind and generous man,”  there was an honest to goodness starry-eyed look on her face when she spoke of Aizen. “You know, he set me up with my new job. Everything circles back to Sacred Heart,” she laughed.

Turned things around? Ha! How as working for a Mafia Don turning things around? When Aizen said jump the only thing Grimmjow could do was ask how high. He shrugged instead of giving her a verbal reply. His head came up as he heard where she was working. “Sucks to be you,” Grimmjow stated.

“Why would you say that, Grimmjow?  I’m excited to return. The last time I was there was for my mother and brother’s funeral.  It feels like I’m going home.”

“Home, eh? Well, I can just say that the new priest that arrived a couple of days ago does not share that sentiment,” Grimmjow said pulling out into traffic. “You’ll meet him soon enough though.”

“Oh, did Bishop Tosen finally find someone to lead the parish?  I’m glad to hear it. When I left, he was doing mass there himself.  It’s not appropriate for a bishop to do that kind of thing,” she rambled as if Grimmjow cared.

He yawned as if trying to get the point across. “Don’t know and don’t really care. I don’t have any dealings with the whole thing. I mean it’s cool if you’re into it, just don’t shove it in my face, ya’ know?”

“Alright, but if you ever want to talk about it the door is always open,” she replied sweetly, smiling out the window.

He snorted with amusement. Grimmjow would only discuss it if it led to sex and since it probably wouldn’t, he didn’t even entertain an idea. Besides, fucking churchy girls was a boring activity. They wanted to talk about love and marriage and babies. “We’ll be there soon, so relax and be quiet… or some shit.”

She chuckled and then stayed quiet for the remainder of the ride.  When they arrived at the rectory twenty-five minutes later, she didn’t wait for Grimmjow to open the door for her, bounding out of the car and jumping to her feet before leaning back in a deep backbend.  “Ugh… I have been sitting for too long,” she complained, before standing up straight and walking over to the trunk of the car. “Mind popping the trunk for me, Grimm? I can take it from here.”

Doing as she asked, Grimmjow popped the trunk. He was silently laughing at himself because he knew who was inside that house thing attached to the church. He rolled down the window and stuck his head out of it. “You sure, Princess? I could give you a hand.”

“Well,” she said in a strained voice as she hefted the heavy bag out of the trunk.  “If you don’t mind grabbing the flowers and getting the door for me, I’d appreciate it.”

A grin came over his face as he turned the car off and pocketed the keys. He grabbed the flowers from the backseat and then helped her lift the bag out of the trunk. Grimmjow didn’t grab it though. He set it down on the pavement. He walked ahead of her and knocked on the door of the rectory. “Hey Father,” he shouted.

Orihime pulled her luggage to the door with a grin on her face.  She heard a voice from inside shout, “It’s open!” Her grin didn’t fade much at the irritated tone of said voice.  Grimmjow pushed the door open for her and let her enter first.

He handed her the bouquet again and gave a wave. As much as he wanted to witness the explosion about to happen, Grimmjow felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. “Good luck,” he said as a goodbye.

“Thank you, Grimmjow!” she called after him.  “And if you see Uncle Sousuke first tell him I said thank you for the flowers and for everything else!”

She closed the door and set the flowers on top of her luggage as she went to look around and try to find someone to show her around her new home.  She had entered into a foyer with a door to her immediate left with a sign that said “OFFICE” and a set of old oak stairs just past that. There was a hallway leading back to a kitchen straight ahead.  There appeared to be a powder room to the left before the kitchen under the stairs. To her right was a living room. She decided to go there first. It was empty, and she walked through it to a dining room.  From there was another entrance to the kitchen.

“Hello?  Father?” she said softly as she entered the kitchen.  She heard a grunt from underneath the sink. She stepped forward to see a young-looking man there, his head and chest wedged into the cabinet.  The man wore jeans and was shirtless. She took a long moment to appreciate the state of his straining abs and the muscles attached to his elbows as he worked a wrench.  He must be a plumber or some kind of handyman, she thought. After she realized she had been staring, she cleared her throat. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but is anyone else here?  I’m supposed to meet the pastor; I’m moving into the rectory today.”

Apparently, when it came down to being a priest, it meant a lot of fixing stuff yourself. Tosen told him the only reason he allowed Ulquiorra to return to Sacred Heart was that the church needed money to repair the building and the school. Aizen was willing to make donations if they could help him out. That meant allowing his son to become a part of the Sacred Heart’s operations.

This made the dark-haired priest scowl. If figured his father would somehow twist things to his whims.

Then he met Zommari, the priest under Tosen. That guy had a stick so far up his backside; he made Ulquiorra seem tame. The man was a fanatic when it came to religion, continually praying and correcting him; citing scripture and preparing for sermons.

He'd outlined exactly how Ulquiorra's day was going to go. He even handed him a print out of a schedule.

  

 

 

Day Off - Tuesday

 

5:30 am     Wake up, morning routine, breakfast

6:30 am     Holy Hour - Office of Readings and Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours

8:00 am     Office work - catch up on e-mails and phone calls

                  Repairs that need to be done

10:30 am   Hospital and nursing home visits

12:00 pm   Lunch, Midday Prayer

1:00 pm     Visit school classrooms, help with school dismissal

3:00 pm     Office work - prepare for faith formation session, homily, meetings, Confession (SATURDAY)

4:00 pm     Afternoon break - go back to rectory, have a cup of coffee, exercise

5:00 pm     Evening Prayer

5:30 pm     Dinner

7:00 pm     Financal Council (3rd MONDAY of month), Pastoral Council (TUESDAY), Sacramental Preparation (WEDNESDAY), Bible Study (THURSDAY), Repairs needed to Rectory (FRIDAY)

10:00 pm   Night Prayer and Retire for the night

 

He always exercised late at night or early in the morning. How could he exercise in the middle of the afternoon? Not to mention Zommari told him he would be in charge with cleaning up after Eucharist. Ulquiorra would also be dealing with confession. The black priest almost looked smug at that.

And he was the damn handyman to boot. It didn’t matter to Zommari that he had studied and had been ordained in Rome or went to one of the best seminaries in the country. He was the lowest ranking member of staff and therefore had to make the necessary sacrifices to make sure everything ran properly.

So that’s what he was doing now except his stupid brother had called out and Ulquiorra’s head nearly hit the pipe that was leaking. He invited the man in by telling him it was open and he fully expected to hear his brother’s voice except he didn’t hear it. He heard a woman’s voice. Ulquiorra nearly dropped the wrench on his face.

He wiggled his way out of the small space and sat up, looking at the person who disturbed him. “Uh, Father Zommari is out. I’m the only one here,” he replied, setting the wrench down and wiping his hands on a rag.

“Oh, I’m sorry. This is bad timing. Um, do you work here often?  Do you know if there is a better time for me to come back?” she asked tentatively, her face twisted into an apologetic expression.

Did he work here often? What kind of question was that? Ulquiorra hauled himself off the floor and turned around, his back now facing the woman. He grabbed his t-shirt that was laying on the counter and put it on again. He did not want to get it dirty with the leaking sink. Not that it mattered. His back had gotten filthy laying on the surface of the cabinet. No one had cleaned under there for a while, just chucked a new bucket underneath the leaking pipe. “Uh, I started here a couple of days ago,” he said, facing her again, checking the clock on the wall. “I’m the new priest. Um, it’s after ten? Zom--sorry, Father Zommari is probably at the hospital and won’t be back until noon.”

Orihime’s eyes widened momentarily, and she mentally crossed herself.  She had been lusting over the body of a priest?! Impossible! This man could not be a priest, could he?  He had huge black tattoos everywhere! He was too young! He was way, way too hot. Oh God, she was doing it again!  Oh, God! She mentally took the Lord's name in vain! She was going to hell for sure.

She shook her head. She had to get it together.  She cleared her throat and smiled sweetly. “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.  Maybe you can tell me what to do with my things. I’m Orihime Inoue, and I’m moving into the rectory today.  I’ve been hired as a housekeeper and basic parish helper-outer. It’s nice to meet you, Father….” she paused for him to fill in the blank.  There was something vaguely familiar about this young priest, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

His face had been rather impassive as she studied him. He was used to the quizzical looks and the appreciative stares, but he was oblivious, rather he ignored them and didn’t care what people thought about him. Then she said her name and his eyes widened. What? How? He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again?” Ulquiorra asked.

Her smile brightened.  “Orihime Inoue. And you are?”

“I’m--I’m--” he couldn’t get his name out. The two occasions he had spoken to her, he had been harsh, and it stuck with him. Every time he thought about her it drove him to this purpose in life. That being said, he’d thrown a fit when his father told him of his new job opportunity. Had his father known about this? Was this part of his and Tosen’s deal? “I’m Father Ulquiorra Cifer,” he said finally.

She gasped, her face falling and a hand coming to her mouth.  Her eyes searched his face and her nostrils flared as she tried to reconcile the face of the man she saw before her with her memory of the teenaged boy at her family’s funeral.  How could this be the same person? This man had a much different demeanor. The boy, Ulquiorra Cifer, would never have heard the Lord’s call, would he? Would he? ...Maybe he would.  The Lord worked in mysterious ways. His eyes were the same as her memories. That rare shade of shamrock green. One that would have made the Rohertys jealous. She grinned at that thought, and then mentally turned that grin on Ulquiorra.  She stepped toward him and held out her hand. “Well, Father Cifer, I’m glad to be working with you. Where can I put my bags?”

He glanced at her hand and then at her face. Perhaps she had forgotten the incidents or was leaving the past behind her. Ulquiorra didn’t know, so he held his hand out and grasped hers briefly. “Let me call Father Zommari, and I’ll show you around. Have a seat at the table, and I’ll be right back.” He didn’t give her a chance to protest, because Ulquiorra practically ran out of the room and down to the office, slamming the door shut.

Pulling the cell phone out of his pocket, he did not dial Zommari like he had told the woman. He dialed Aizen’s number first. He had some words for his father, and they would be removed from his sins when he confessed, but right now they were boiling in his throat. Of course, his father did not answer. He almost snarled in rage but quickly calmed himself down. No one had told him about this. No one had warned him. He was probably the only priest in this damn building who--Why was he thinking about a woman that way?

Ulquiorra shook his head. This wasn’t right. She was no one to him. Nothing. She was probably a person who needed guidance as they worked beside each other. After he cleared his head and prayed, the green-eyed man called the senior priest and told him of the situation.

"Her room is next to yours,” Zommari said. “You’re intruding on these people’s time. I have a schedule to adhere to, Father Cifer.”

Saying he was upset was quite an understatement. It took Ulquiorra five more minutes to calm down. He walked back into the kitchen and looked at the woman who sat at the table. “Miss Inoue, if you would please follow me. Leave your stuff where it is, and I’ll show you around the rectory.”

She bounced to her feet with another face-splitting grin and nodded.  “Thank you! You know I spent so much time at the church and school as a child, but I’ve never been in the rectory before.  This is exciting!”

He nodded his head. Until a couple of days ago he had been in that boat, so he knew the feeling but instead of being excited, he had felt nothing but dread as he stepped foot inside with his bags. He pointed out the mudroom just off the kitchen and the door to the garden. “There’s a patio and a grill out there,” he commented.

“Awesome!  I love grilling! Maybe I’ll make brats tonight.  Do you like bratwurst, Father Cifer?” She asked. She said certain words in a funny way.  Ulquiorra would be able to place it if he concentrated. He had gone to seminary in Wisconsin.  He was familiar with the accent and the cultural differences.

He didn’t reply, instead focusing on the task at hand. This was a test. That’s all this was, simply a test of his faith and his dedication to his position. It was funny how he never questioned himself before, and now he was all over the place with his emotions. The two went through the bottom floor of the house with the tour ending at the staircase.

“I’ll show you to your room, and then I’ll retrieve your bag,” Ulquiorra said.

“Oh!  No, thank you, it’s not necessary.  I can handle it! It’s heavy, but I’m stronger than I look,” she said, smiling up at him in a determined fashion.  “Are all Uncle Sousuke’s boys so well-mannered?” she asked, grabbing the handle of her bag when they reached the bottom of the stairs.

Ulquiorra shrugged. “That depends, have you met Nnoitra yet?”

“Is that your older brother?  I saw him at the funeral, but I never saw him at school; he was a lot older than me.  I just turned twenty-three,” she said with a slightly tight voice, hefting the bag up the steps one stair at a time.  “What’s he like?”

“He’s been to prison twice,” the priest stated, not bothering to look back at the redhead as they climbed the stairs. “He was expelled from military school. He’s surprisingly three years older than me.”

“Wow… wow.”  She blinked away that unpleasant thought.  “So, I guess he hasn’t seen the light as you have, has he, Father?”

Ulquiorra stopped on the landing and turned to peer at her. “No one in that family has seen the light,” he stated with finality as if the subject of his siblings and family was a closed subject. He turned to the right and led her down the hall Zommari, and Tosen’s rooms were at the other end of the house. It wouldn’t be that way for long because Tosen was moving to Boston’s city limits to lord over matters there.

He pointed to the door at the end of the hallway. “That’s the bathroom. There’s only one full bath but two half-baths. I’ve already shown you one; the other one is at the other end of the hallway.” Ulquiorra gestured to the two doors they stood in front of. “This is your room,” he said.

Orihime opened the door to a small room with a twin-size bed pushed into the corner and a window facing a large maple tree,  there was a dresser, bookcase, closet, and side table but nothing else besides the boxes she had shipped ahead of her. “This is perfect, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. Ulquiorra turned and started toward the kitchen again. “I’m going back to my tasks. Please make yourself at home. I’m sure Father Zommari will be along shortly to help you out.”

Orihime called out to him as he started down the steps, “Hey, I was serious,  Do you like brats?” She meant bratwurst.

“They’re okay with peppers and onions,” he said before disappearing down the stairs.

She shook her head and muttered to herself as she began unpacking, “What kind of heathen has brats with anything besides sauerkraut and horseradish?”  She was truly disturbed.

Chapter Text

Orihime spent the remainder of the morning unpacking her suitcase and one of her several boxes.  She dressed the bare bed with her favorite purpley-pink sheets and dove gray comforter. She had brought her pillow from home as well, which pleased her, because the one provided by the rectory was quite unsatisfactory, having been filled with aged fiberfill and covered with drool and sweat stains.  She didn’t even ask - it went straight to the garbage.

She couldn’t believe that Ulquiorra Cifer was a priest.  A priest at Sacred Heart, no less. Priests were supposed to be kind and pastoral.  Those descriptions did not fit the Ulquiorra Cifer she knew. Priests were also supposed to be old and unattractive.  It was very unfortunate that neither of these descriptions fit him either. It was going to be a challenge not to imagine him with his shirt off every time she looked at him.  Hopefully it would wear off. She had thought that Ichigo guy was cute but nothing ever came of it, because she didn’t want anything to happen. Of course she didn’t want anything to happen now, either.  It would be wrong. She only had to exercise her self-control and trust in God, and all would be well, she was sure.

She was setting up books and a picture of her with the Rohertys and a ceramic owl on the bookcase when there was a knock at her door.

“Hello, it’s open!” she answered cheerfully as she turned around, wiping her dusty hands on the legs of her jeans.

A bald black man with light colored eyes opened the door and looked at his new charge. This must be Aizen’s niece. Everyone who lived around Sacred Heart had heard the story of what happened to Barragan and his family, gunned down leaving a little girl in the aftermath. He raised an eyebrow at the decorations she had already adorned the room with.

That was right, this woman was not affiliated with the church in any official capacity. She was Catholic but beyond that she wasn’t a nun. He hoped she would be able to stick to the rules. “You are Miss Orihime Inoue? I am Father Zommari Rereaux.”

Orihime smiled at him and held out her hand to shake his.  “That’s right, it’s nice to meet you, Father Rereaux. I’m so happy to be back here at Sacred Heart.  I understand that you are the head priest here now?” She looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to begin explaining his expectations or whatever he had in mind.

Zommari studied the woman for a moment. “I am,” he replied.

Okay, so not exactly a forthcoming fellow.  Orihime swallowed. “Well, I understand that my main responsibility will be housekeeping here at the rectory, but that I’m also to assist the other ministries, specifically decorating, music, and youth ministries.  Also I’m to assist at the school on an as-needed basis. Is this correct?”

He nodded once. “I expect you know how to carry yourself and how to act. You work for Sacred Heart thus you represent it. You’ll be assigned a uniform. You’ll have Tuesdays off.”

Orihime’s face lit up when he had said she was a representative of Sacred Heart.  What an honor, she thought. As quickly as her heart rose, it fell at one word: Uniform.  Nuh uh. She spent twelve years in a uniform. She wasn’t a member of the sisterhood. No way, Padre. “Excuse me, Father Rereaux, did you say uniform? Isn’t that rather unorthodox? I don’t want to confuse anyone into thinking I’ve taken the habit.  It wouldn’t do to deceive any of the congregation.”

“It’s just a normal grey and white dress to signal that you--” Zommari sighed. The look on the woman’s eyes said she was going to fight him on this. “Fine, no uniform. As long as your clothing is appropriate, it doesn’t matter. Here is your schedule. I’ve printed it out for you.”

She beamed at him.  “Thank you so much, that is very helpful!  And don’t worry about my wardrobe; I’ve always been teased for dressing like a little old lady,” she giggled.  “Is there any kind of food that you can’t tolerate? Dietary restrictions? I understand I’m to prepare breakfast and dinner each day but that you’ll each be on your own for lunch, although I should be sure to keep the rectory stocked with items for you to prepare simple lunches on your own or for you to request that I prepare them for you.  Uncle Aizen sent me a very specific handbook. I don’t know that it was written by Sacred Heart though…” she trailed off. The way that the document Aizen had given her was written, it seemed like he had created this position for her and wrote out the job requirements himself. A lot of it was not very… holy.

“I have no dietary restrictions and I do not believe that Father Cifer does either, though you will have to check with him,” he said. Zommari paused for a moment. “If need be, I will leave a list of what you can grab at the grocery store each week or whenever you choose to go. I’m rather fond of steaks if it’s in the budget.”

“Great!  I’m going to get some bratwurst to grill for tonight, it’s my treat as a “thank you for having me” gift.  I’ll pick you up a steak for you, too. New York strip? T-Bone? What do you like? Also, is there a parish car I can use or should I look into getting my own?  I’m sure Uncle Aizen knows someone who has a beat-up Honda I could buy for cheap,” she rambled as she looked over her schedule, which read:

 

Day Off - Tuesday

 

5:00 am     Wake up, morning routine, prepare breakfast

6:30 am     Prayer

7:00 am     Housekeeping

12:00 pm   Lunch, Midday Prayer.  Help with school lunch monitoring if needed.

1:00 pm     Errands.

2:00 pm     Help with school dismissal if needed.  Office/Ministry work. Prepare dinner.

5:00 pm     Evening Prayer

5:30 pm     Dinner

6:30 pm     Dinner clean up and then off-duty or elective ministry work.

10:00 pm   Night Prayer and Retire for the night

 

It all looked fine to her, if a little demanding.  But this is what she had been craving. Structure. Dedication to the church.  Her soul buzzed with excitement.

“You can use one of the two cars in the garage,” Zommari said. “Also it doesn’t matter. The New York strip is fine. Any other questions? You’ll begin working tomorrow.”

“Oh, okay.” She had been under the impression that she started immediately but this was fine.  It meant she could take her time and explore the rectory and reorient herself with town. “That sounds great. Father Cifer has shown me around the first two floors except the office.  Is there anything in the basement? I mean, I will clean there regardless but if it’s living space I’d do it more often. Also is the attic just storage or…?”

Zommari should have never offered but she had know where things were. “Laundry facilities are in the basement and there’s a recreation area with a ping pong table. They’re seperate rooms, so both will need attended to. The only thing in the attic is storage.”

“Perfect.  So, Father, do you play?  Are you accepting challengers?” Orihime asked with a spark in her voice.

He gave her a rather disturbed look and shook his head. “I will occasionally play but that table has been down there for years. The former priest before I took over liked playing. He and Father Tosen often would use it in their free time.”

She nodded, squinting her eyes and smiling.  “Alright, well let me know if occasion ever strikes.  I suppose I ought to go to the supermarket and get ready for dinner.  Is Father Tosen going to be joining us?”

“No, Father Tosen is finalizing his move to Boston and will be dealing with those matters,” Zommari stated. “If there is nothing else I have things that need done.”

“No, that’s all.  Thank you. Oh! I’ll put my phone number on the kitchen table in case you think of something you need for me to pick up, so feel free to call me.”

Zommari nodded and retreated from the room. He stopped by the office where Ulquiorra sat behind the desk typing something up. “Did the sink get fixed?” he asked.

Ulquiorra nodded. “Yeah, I’m going to recheck it. The directions on the internet didn’t specify everything but I found another site that gives me a step by step thing to--” He noticed Zommari had spaced out or wasn’t paying attention.

“You have a list of other repairs that need done in your mailbox,” the priest said and then left the office through another door.

The green-eyed priest scowled.

 

***

 

Orihime had looked for Father Cifer to ask whether he needed anything from the store but was unsuccessful in finding him.  She looked through the fridge and the pantry to get a head start on the following day, making a list of what was necessary.  She figured she could just front the money and submit an expense report later, except that what she bought for tonight’s cook-out was on her.  She walked to the garage entrance, which took some exploring to find. There was a key-holder on the interior side of the door and she grabbed one and opened the door to the dark garage, hitting the garage door opener as she stepped into the darkness.  As the door opened to the outside, she saw two cars, one an ugly tan full-sized van, and the other an old Ford Taurus station wagon. A grocery-getter. Perfect. She hoped she had grabbed the right keys.

She got in and turned the key.  Nothing. She got out and tried the other set of keys.  Nothing.

Oh poopfeathers.

She got out and walked back inside and made her way to the office.  It was the only place she hadn’t looked. She knocked.

Ulquiorra looked up at the door. That wasn’t Zommari, he was in his office, probably getting ready for his sermons and other church duties. “Yeah?” he asked tentatively. After he left Orihime in front of her door, he’d sat at the desk inside of the office and gave himself a stern lecture about why he was there. It helped.

“Hello?  Can anyone help me?  I can’t get the car started,” she said through the closed door.

“Uh, come in.” Ulquiorra hadn’t had a chance to drive either car. He’d been too busy with Zommari’s daily tasks for him to even explore the rectory or the church. The other priest just expected him to know where things were and how to do stuff, so there were times he got slightly impatient and explained things hastily. Things were done differently in Rome.

The door opened and a red head popped in.  “I don’t know what the matter is, I tried both sets of keys,” she said, and seeing him sit unmoving, stepped into the room.

“Ah, um, Father Zommari I think drove the van to the hospital. Which car are you taking and where are you going?” Ulquiorra asked.

“The station wagon - I’m going to the grocery store.  Do you need anything? Or… do you want to come with?”

He knew he had time to complete the head priest’s tasks for the day. Plus he had missed a crucial step in fixing the sink. Ulquiorra had planned on telling Zommari he needed a tool and asking if the priest could go get it. He rifled through a desk drawer and brought up a lock box which he fished a credit card out of. “Sure, I can tag along,” he said giving her a hint of a smile. “The only thing I really require is coffee and heavy cream. Uh, while we’re out do you mind swinging by the hardware store?”

She beamed at him.  “That would be fine!  Oh, I’m glad you said yes, I am not sure whether I remember my way around town,” she said.

“Uh, I hate to break it to you but I’ve only been in town since September twenty-fifth and I’ve not been back here in almost seven years,” Ulquiorra said. He stood up and shoved the credit card into his pocket and then his phone. “Let me tell Zommari, I’m going with you and I’ll join you in the garage.”

“Thank you.  This will be nice to have company.  Do you want to drive or should I?”

Shaking his head, Ulquiorra replied, “I haven’t driven in several years, so why don’t you? I’ll be just a moment.”

He turned on his heel and walked over to the other door that Zommari disappeared through earlier and knocked once before opening it and walking through. He shut the door behind him.

The black priest eyed him momentarily before returning to the bible in front of him. “Yes?”

“I have to go to the hardware store. Orihime is going to the grocery… Knocking out two birds with one stone thing,” Ulquiorra said.

“Is it a necessary item?”

“Does it really matter or did you want to replace the entire kitchen when the leak turns into a bigger problem? Is it in your budget to replace the whole kitchen?” Ulquiorra stated.

Zommari shook his head.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay the bill when the time comes,” the dark-haired priest said. “After all that’s what I’m here for, isn’t it? Just a paycheck to the church?”

“Make sure you keep the receipt.”

Ulquiorra nodded and left the room, returning to the front office. Orihime was still standing there. “Uh, Zom--Father Zommari will probably explain the office stuff to you tomorrow.”

“Okay.  I figured you were going to need to get into the driver’s seat to figure out what’s wrong with the car, so I waited.  Shall we?” she gave him a pleasant face, holding the door open for him.

He glanced at her before he moved past Orihime. Ulquiorra led the way through the rectory to the garage and glanced at the key holder. She had the right set. Giving the station wagon a stern glance, he sighed before going around to the driver’s side and opening the door. It wasn’t like the cars he had driven in college, the seminary, or even while in Rome. This was like the beater car Yammy had bought his junior year in college. “You still have the keys?”

“Here you are,” she answered, holding the set out to him.  She stood near the hood of the station wagon to avoid getting in his way.

Putting the keys in the ignition, he went to turn it only to find that he couldn’t. He couldn’t even turn the steering wheel. Ulquiorra wanted to laugh. “Orihime, the steering wheel is locked,” he said, turning the wheel to the right. When he hit the correct spot, the key turned in the ignition. The car was surprisingly quiet when it started.

“Are you sure you’re not a magician?” Orihime asked with a teasing inflection as she walked toward the driver’s side door.

His cheeks colored slightly at the ribbing. Ulquiorra slid over the seat until he was on the passenger seat. “No, not that I’m aware of,” he stated.

She grinned at him and sat down in the seat and clicked her seatbelt in place.  She didn’t hear a click from his side. She put her arm around his seatback and raised her butt off the seat so she could look behind her as she backed up, whilst reminding him, “Seatbelt, please.  Click it or ticket.”

Doing as she asked, Ulquiorra had to refrain from teasing her about seeing over the dashboard. She was short. “Can you reach the gas pedal?” He asked.

“Hur dur, yes I can.  You may want to get some phone books for me to sit on though so I can see over the dash," she said in a dopey voice, mimicking those who had mocked her in the past.  "I’m not that short! I’m 5’2! That is solidly adult-sized.” She was clearly used to be teased for her height.

“Fun-sized,” he joked. Ulquiorra looked at her and then out the window. “So why are you back here?”

“I had been working at Holy Hill Basilica in Wisconsin, but they didn’t have any ministry positions open, so I was just serving soup and sandwiches in the cafe there.  Then Uncle Sousuke called and told me about the position at Sacred Heart. My major was religious studies, so I really wanted to work for the Church,” she answered as she backed up.  “And really? Fun-sized? You think I haven’t heard that before?  If it wasn’t rude I’d tell you to eat me.  So I won’t. But whatever,” she laughed, making it clear she was really only joking.  She knew she was walking kind of a fine line, but she didn’t have any friends and wanted to be on friendly terms with Father Cifer.  She thought since they were around the same age, some ice-breaking conversation would help.

The mental images her words conjured did not help. He sat there with a stone-like expression, staring straight ahead, unblinking. Ulquiorra had difficulty swallowing for a moment, feeling his heart race. Reaching into the pocket of his jeans, he found the rosary bracelet that he kept on him at all times. He held it for a moment trying to think of anything but what she said and her.

Ulquiorra was definitely going to see his father on Tuesday. Since meeting Orihime again some hours ago he’d questioned his faith and his sanity many times over. He clenched the fist that was resting on his thigh. This hadn’t been an issue while he was making his way through the seminary nor was it an issue in Rome. He sighed. “Do you think you’ll like working at Sacred Heart?”

“It’s my home.  It’s where I said goodbye to my mother and brother.  I love my foster family, don’t get me wrong. But it was not the same.  I feel my real family’s presence here. Plus being closer to Uncle Sousuke is nice,” she said, pulling out into the street.  “So, why did you want to become a priest?”

Silence. There was no way he was going to be able to answer that truthfully. It was better to stay silent than lie, wasn’t it? “Why didn’t you become a nun?”

“I was never called to be a nun.  I don’t think it’s God’s plan for me.  And honestly I’d like to keep my options open for a family of my own in the future.  I mean, don’t worry, I’m totally devoted to my work at Sacred Heart now, but you never know who you’re going to meet." She realized that maybe this was insensitive to talk about with him.  "Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to say your choice was the wrong one. I mean, I’m sure it was right for you. It’s just not right for me.”  She blushed as she drove, embarrassed at herself for potentially putting her foot in her mouth.

“I, uh,” he fumbled over the words. “It’s complicated why I became a priest.”

She exhaled, glad that he didn’t seem outright offended at her faux pas.  “I believe it. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision. Are you happy though?”

Years ago when he made this decision he thought he would be happy. This was what he wanted. Why did he feel the complete opposite of that now? Ulquiorra cleared his throat and gave her a fake smile. “Sure,” he replied.

She smiled back.  “So, which way to the hardware store?”

 

***

 

He’d gotten the chance to pick out his own coffee but decided on half and half for his coffee instead of the heavy cream. The way he made his coffee was probably wrong in many ways to those who were coffee snobs but Ulquiorra didn’t care. He got what he wanted without anyone telling me that it was over budget or not needed.

 

“Half and half?  Nice! Oooh, do we have a percolator?  That’s the best way to make coffee.”

 

“Nope, it’s a regular old coffee pot I think. It hasn’t been used in a while. Tosen said he didn’t like coffee and Zommari doesn’t like stimulants.”

 

“Hmmm… I’ll put it on my list.  What if parishioners stop by? We should have a pot brewing,” she winked at him.  This was obviously just an excuse to buy the small appliance.

 

Ulquiorra gave her a brief grin before he shook his head at her. “Good luck getting Zommari to get off the money for one. There could be one in storage or in the basement. I don’t think either priest entertained parishioners much. It’s all business with them.”

 

“Not even for sacrament counseling?” She clicked her tongue in disapproval.  “It’s only hospitable to offer a drink. When we get back I’ll look for it and if there isn’t one I’m buying it on my own.  Drip coffee is great, but perc’d coffee is divine.”

 

His shoulders raised in a shrug. “I’m used to Italian coffee. Small cups and in small cafes with people clustered around tiny tables,” Ulquiorra said. “Coffee pretty much got me through university and while I was at seminary.”

 

“Oh yeah?  Where did you go to school?” she asked, her eyes flicking from a row of jars of sauerkraut to his.

 

“I went to the University of Illinois for Art History,” he explained. Ulquiorra was raising his eyebrow at her studying the labels of the jars. Was she looking for something?

 

She hummed under her breath as she reached for a jar.  “I hope they have some Düsseldorf mustard… U of I? So you were a FIB?” she laughed.

 

Ulquiorra rolled his eyes. “After I got my bachelor’s degree I went to The Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology; it’s in southwest Milwaukee or somewhere around there. I didn’t pay attention much. I could have went to the seminary in Boston but--” He stopped and cleared his throat. “You don’t want to hear about me.”

 

She turned her head to face him again with wide eyes and her mouth hanging open.  “No way!” She said slowly, then grinned, raising her hand up for a high five. “Wisco represent!  Your FIB sins have been redeemed.”

 

“Oh yeah?” he asked, smirking. “I wanted somewhere different after Idaho.”

 

“Never been, so I reserve judgement.  Don’t leave me hanging,” she said, waving her hand slightly.

 

He glanced at the hand and then at her face. He could tell her that he didn’t like touching people or that whole priest thing and he took his vows seriously but instead his forehead furrowed. Ulquiorra’s brain was working overtime. He didn’t want it to. His father was right. If she knew what he did then she would hate him. Frankly, he was surprised she was even being civil to him. He brought his hand up and gave her palm a light tap.

 

“There ya go!”  she cheered. “I went to college in Milwaukee too.  Alverno.”

 

How old was she? There was no way they were in the same city at the same time. Ulquiorra slid his hands into the pockets of the jeans he wore. Zommari had told him he’d start work on Sunday and to use his first week fixing stuff, so he hadn’t bothered unpacking his cassock. “I had a lot of universities to choose from. High grades and my father was willing to pay for my schooling since Grimmjow and Nnoitra didn’t make much of their lives. My sisters went off to college. Tier’s a lawyer, Nel’s still in school, I think. I’ve not talked to either of them in a long time.”

 

“Nel… She was in my class at Sacred Heart,” she shook her head.  She didn’t want to remember that. It led to other unpleasant memories.  “Anyway, not exactly humble, are you, Padre?” She laughed and pushed the shopping cart into the back aisle to look at meat.

 

“My apologies. I am still struggling with that,” he said quietly.

 

“Hey, nobody’s perfect,” she said, holding her palms out to the sides of her shoulders, then looked at a meat cooler.  “Huh, not a lot of choice out here. Guess we’re stuck with Johnsonville. Don’t even get me started on the abysmal cheese selection.  Hey, did you ever go to Mars Cheese Castle?”

 

“The what?”

 

“Come on, you must have noticed it on the drive up from Illinois.  How could you have missed the huge castle on the border dedicated to cheese?  It’s a national treasure,” she argued as she picked out a steak for Zommari. “Are you a big eater? I’m making steak, too, so I can grab one for you if you want.”

 

Ulquiorra wanted to argue that he had flown into Milwaukee after having one last hurrah in Vegas with two of his college friends so there was no way he would have seen it. His fingers pressed against that portable rosary in his pocket. “Probably wasn’t paying attention,” he offered. “And I’ll eat whatever, except liver.”

 

“Eww, same.  Shoot. I forgot about the stupid puritanical laws in this state. We’re gonna have to stop at a liquor store,” she stated in a matter-of-fact manner.

 

“A liquor store? For what? Do you think that Zommari is going to--You know what, it’s not my business.”

 

“It’s for the sauce, calm down.  He seems like the kind of guy who doesn’t drink, though.  Super uptight. How about you? You went to seminary in the Badger State; surely you have a beer now and then?”

 

His head shook back and forth. “I didn’t go out when I was studying to become ordained. I was tempted but that wouldn’t set me on the path that I needed to be on. Besides,” he said. “I had enough of that stuff in high school and college.”

 

“Too bad,” was her noncommittal response before she turned the cart toward the registers.  

 

He wanted to know what she meant by that but didn’t want to ask. Why was it too bad? If she knew what he did before he gave up all vices and sin she’d be absolutely shocked. “I mean that might change in the future. My father runs a pub and a chain of clubs, I’m probably going to have to have a drink with him soon.”

 

She nodded. “I’m not judging.  I like to have a nightcap now and then, that’s all.  I never partied much, and… I don’t know why I’m telling you this, it’s not confession time!” she laughed.  “I was surprised when you told me that you were a priest but I’m starting to see how it works for you know, I think,” she said with a smirk. “You are like, sneaky.  You act all cool and unconcerned but really you’re just waiting for my defenses to fall and BAM! I start confessing my sins like I’m on my deathbed.” She laughed at herself, shaking her head.

 

“I would listen to your sins at any time.” Once those words were spoken Ulquiorra’s eyes widened. He couldn’t take it back. The least he could hope for was that the meaning flew over her head and she didn’t get it.

 

She took his words at face value.  “Aw, thank you, that’s very kind. I don’t know if I should though, you don’t want to have to know all the bad things I’ve done,” she said in a foreboding tone.

 

He could have wept in relief. Instead Ulquiorra ran a hand through his shaggy hair then blew out a sigh. He would punish himself by studying his bible instead of working out. Maybe he needed extra instruction. Deciding on that gave him some peace. He gave her a somewhat toothy smile. “My door is always open and I don’t think you have a bad bone in your body. You seem too sweet,” he said.

 

She gave him a bit of a withering look as she paid for her portion of the groceries and then started scanning the the rest of them.  “Yeah, I wish. Anyway, I guess we all have our crosses to bear, right?”

 

“Some are heavier than others,” he murmured. When she was done scanning the items he handed her the credit card. “Make sure you keep the receipt, okay?” Ulquiorra said.

 

“Sure.  I guess you’re too new to know the protocol yet?  I assume we just submit typical expense reports.”

 

“It’s what Zom told me to do. Keep receipts is all he told me.” Ulquiorra shrugged. “I’m an art history major with an accounting minor… so...”

 

“Good to know,” she said, grabbing the receipt and pocketing it.  “Shall we? We need to get to the liquor store and then head home quick; I have a lot to do.  I may have been a bit too ambitious.”

 

“Ladies first,” Ulquiorra said.

 

“Why thank you kind sir,” Orihime said, heading out to the car with the cart, her hair swishing behind her as she walked. She had somewhat of a peppy gait, bouncing on the balls of her feet much of the time.  Not always, but whenever she was happy, or pretending to be happy.

 

The priest pulled on his ear for a moment before he followed after her. Ulquiorra helped her load the car up and then got in, making sure to fasten his seatbelt when she was watching. “What else do you have to do? I could help.”

 

“Can you get the grill started for me?  After than you could help with the salad?”  she was making suggestions instead of giving him assignments.  She wouldn’t overstep her boundaries, especially on her first day.

 

He nodded. “I can try to start the grill. I’m sure there’s directions on it somewhere that will tell me how to do it,” Ulquiorra said.

She smiled and widened her eyes.  “Maybe I better do it. Do you know whether it’s gas or not?”

 

“Dunno. Zommari has kept me busy so I’ve not really looked around.”

 

“Okay.  Well, it won’t hurt for you to check it out anyway,” she said as she pulled into the liquor store parking lot.  “Do you want to come in or wait in the car? This shouldn’t take long.”

 

He gave her a look like she was crazy. He was a priest if he was caught inside of a liquor store, he probably wouldn’t hear the end of it. “I’ll stay out here,” he replied.

 

She was glad to hear it.  She didn’t want him judging her selections.  She went inside and bought a bottle of Knappogue 12-Year, a bottle of Jameson, and a bottle of Italian table red wine.  She would have bought more but she thought she could possibly justify three bottles for cooking. She threw the receipt away though.  She didn’t need anyone asking any questions. Besides, the Knappogue was going up to her room.

 

Ulquiorra sighed. What was taking her so long? It’d been a while since he bought alcohol though so she probably had weird tastes or something. She was probably looking for cheese flavored vodka. He didn’t know. Just as he was about to get out of the car and go into the store, Orihime came out. The paper bag she carried was large. He raised one eyebrow but smoothed his features out before she got into the vehicle.

 

“Oh, don’t give me that look.  This is for cooking. I’ll hide it above in the cabinet above the fridge.”

 

“Cooking? Is that like one shot for the pan, two shots for the cook, kind of cooking? I’m not judging.” He wasn’t either. With what she went through, he wouldn’t be surprised if she was an alcoholic.

 

“Maybe more of a 1:1 ratio,” she said with a nervous chuckle.

 

Ulquiorra sighed. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was for what she went through. He’d never known his biological parents. Having Aizen beat him down before being kicked out of the state felt like betrayal but he could still see the man if he chose to do so. “You have no obligations to the church, so you’re free to do as you please,” he said in a flat tone.

 

She nodded silently, pressing her lips together.  She didn’t want him knowing how much of a mess she truly was.  It wasn’t his fault. She had known her stepfather was a criminal; that he had enslaved people and made them do horrible things for his own pocket, and that she had been the beneficiary of his crimes.  Yes, she had been a child, but their suffering dirtied her hands. It had been Barragan’s fault that her mother and brother had died. Someone must have finally had enough of his wickedness and needed justice.  She understood that. She wanted it for herself. It was her one constant sin: the desire for vengeance.

 

“Like I said, my door is always open,” he said as she pulled into the garage. “I mean that. I’ll listen at any time.”

 

“Thanks.  I’ll be in the kitchen.”  Her voice was a bit darker, as though a cloud had blotted out the sun that usually shone through it.

 

***

 

Dinner surprisingly had been delicious and delightful. Somehow whatever had turned the woman’s mood dark had vanished and she smiled and joked around. Ulquiorra found his eyes wandering to her face far too often. He added on another hour of bible study for him. There was no excuse for his thoughts or his feelings. It was just--What was it? He couldn’t even explain how he felt. He was lost deep in thought that he didn’t even hear Zommari.

 

“Father Cifer?”

 

“Huh? Sorry. Was just reflecting on--”

 

“Tomorrow is your last free day. I wish to see most of the tasks I’ve assigned you completed. Thank you for your hard work today. Thank you Miss Inoue for the meal.” Zommari pushed his chair back and then grabbed his plate, taking it over to the sink. He left it in there and then walked out of the kitchen.

 

“I wish he would call me Orihime.  I know it’s kind of an unusual name but it makes me feel like I’ve been naughty and am being punished to hear my surname,” Orihime said as she stood, taking her plate and holding her hand out to Ulquiorra for his plate.

 

He stood and grabbed the plate. “I can do it. I’ve been cooking and washing the dishes since I got here. That was only a couple of days ago but I can do it,” Ulquiorra said. “And don’t feel bad. Zom is particular about how things are done. I found this out when I got here.”

 

She nodded.  “How about you wash and I dry then?  I don’t want to get it wrong.”

 

There was something in the woman’s eyes that made it seem like she was defeated or deflated. He wasn’t quite sure and couldn’t put his finger on it. “Are you sure? I can do it on my own. It’s not like you made Christmas dinner. It’s only a few dishes.”

 

“You are a sweetheart.  But, I said this was my gift to you as thanks for welcoming me to the rectory.  I have a better job for you if you want to help, though. You can sit there and keep me company, how about that?  Tell me all about… Grimmjow. What is his deal? He was kind of weird at the airport.”

 

Ulquiorra chuckled. He had never been called a sweetheart before. It was strange hearing it roll off of the woman’s tongue and directed towards him. Instead, he walked over to where the coffee pot sat on the counter and decided to make a pot of coffee. He rummaged through the cupboard and sighed. “You didn’t happen to pick up any coffee filters, did you?” He asked.

 

“I did.  My sunny attitude may suggest otherwise, but I am not a morning person.  I don’t take chances when it comes to coffee. I may have put them in the wrong spot, here—“  she walked towards him, intent to pass him on her left. They both dodged the same direction and she ended up walking right into him and bouncing off.  “Whoops! That was embarrassing. Use your turn signals next time!” she said loudly, trying to make the awkward contact seem like a joke.

 

She was glad her cheeks didn’t flare until she was past him.  She was flustered and confused suddenly. That accidental contact made her entire body feel out of whack; unbalanced and fuzzy.

 

If just her presence made him feel lustful thoughts and the little hand contact that had made him feel warm, fuzzy, and slightly irrational, Ulquiorra was not ready for the full body contact. His brain seemed to short circuit, awakening whatever he had suppressed years ago. He had to stop this. “Excuse me, I have something to do,” he said in a monotone and emotionless voice.

 

It was Friday which meant it was pretty much a free period until it was lights out. There were repairs that needed done to the rectory but Ulquiorra had decided his penance for these thoughts about that woman was extra study time. He decided he needed something harsher than that.

 

He knocked on Zommari’s office door and opened it when he heard the man speak. He wasn’t surprised to see the man’s surprised expression. Ulquiorra probably looked like a wild man. “I’m going to the sanctuary.”

 

Orihime cleaned up the last of the mess in the kitchen in silence, reshelving the coffee Ulquiorra had removed from the cabinet, and wiping down the table and counters, all while feeling confused and worried.  She hoped that whatever adverse reaction Ulquiorra had to her would just wear off. Clearly he was furious with her for acting so casually.  Yes, they were similar in age and had, surprisingly, quite a bit in common, but still.  He was a priest. He had… what was it? Appearances to maintain. Boundaries to keep. She was only a member of the parish who happened to also be his housekeeper.  She ought to know her place.

 

It was after sunset, but there was still light on the horizon, when she decided to just go up to bed.  She didn’t want to tempt fate. Her job could be on the line. And if it was between herself and Father Cifer, she would be out the door so fast that the door would fall off of its hinges.  He was Aizen’s son, and a priest, which were in high demand these days. Orihime was completely replaceable.


She gathered her things for the bathroom and got cleaned up, taking a quick shower and changing into very modest pajamas and a bathrobe, her hair up in a towel turban, as she padded back to her bedroom, closed the door, and took out her bottle of whisky.

Chapter Text

He had stayed in the sanctuary until light started filtering through the stained glass. He knelt at the altar praying, saying Hail Mary with that small rosary clutched in his fist. There were times he would sit on the wooden pew, rocking back and forth while thinking. This couldn’t be happening to him. He’d spent twelve years trying to fix everything by atoning for the mess he created.

He’d made sure Ginjo hadn’t harmed the girl.

His father decided this was all his fault. No matter how many times Ulquiorra told himself that he wasn’t taking the blame for this, it smacked him in the face and reality made him humble. Had he never said anything to the goon, he’d be living the playboy life with some business degree and a miserable fiancee who wanted nothing more than to be a trophy wife. Maybe his future would have had a more bleak outlook. He could have gone to prison like his brothers.

He could have ended up dead in a hit. Ulquiorra wouldn’t put it past Aizen to pay for someone to eliminate him. There was no emotional bond to the couple that called themselves his parents. They had left him to rot in some backwater school, probably letting out the leash enough to hang himself with. That never happened and he had shown Aizen how intelligent he was and how cunning he could be.

His parents were not the problem. As long as he steered clear of them he would be okay. He didn’t have to bend to their whims.

The problem was a redheaded woman who had come back into his life. She had been a child when he told her to basically jump into the grave with her dead family. What kind of person was he that he could say something that cruel to a child who just lost everything?

This all night prayer session he held for himself gave him a lot to think about. It gave him a lot to mull over and he did as it stewed in his brain. All those times he asked about Orihime over the phone flashed through his brain like a knife slicing through skin.

Jab. Jab. Jab.

That conversation between him and Aizen his final year in college which lead him to paying for Yammy and that lazy bum Starrk to come with him to Vegas so he could have the time of his life before giving it all up. It just added to the wounds.

Jab. Jab. Jab.

He’d fallen for the idea of Orihime that he had in his head. He’d fallen in love with this mental image he had of her. This wasn’t how this was supposed to be. This wasn’t something that could be swept under the rug or dusted from his hands. He and Orihime had nothing except for some scathing remarks and resentment from one to the other. It lay on the surface for him but she must have buried it deep to forget the words he had said to her.

One mess up. One slippery slope. One fuck up. It could all come crashing down on his head.

They weren’t taught it at the seminary but everyone knew the story of Father Wenderler and how he had fallen in love and said fuck priesthood, I want sex. He didn’t say it like that but some of those who had entered the seminary weren’t as devoted to their profession and still used obscene language and drank excessively, portrayed his words that way.

Ulquiorra and Orihime could only be friends; even then there would be those who would whisper behind their backs. They’d be scrutinized and questioned about minor details. They would never be left alone. If something did blossom between them, it would have to be kept secret and hidden.

Celibacy was an ironclad law within priesthood, although not deemed a commandment from God or the Bible. Someone being exposed for breaking that vow was stripped of their position, suspended, and could be excommunicated. It didn’t matter what happened before they took that vow. All that mattered was what happened after.

He didn’t deserve to be here. He didn’t deserve to be called Father Ulquiorra or Father Cifer, not with thoughts like he had in the past twenty-four hours.

It was in those wee hours of the morning, Ulquiorra decided he was going to clean up his mess. He was going to fix this problem. It was a total dick move on his part but he had spent too much of his life to get to this point to throw it away on the idea of someone.

He was going to ignore the woman; treat her like background noise or an object.

He silently recited one last Hail Mary before he stood. His knees hurt. They should hurt. He hobbled through the church and into the rectory, making his way to the kitchen. He’d make some coffee and then, later, sometime during daylight hours, he’d go to the corner store to get one of those energy drinks.

Praying all night and no sleep were his punishments for his thoughts. It wouldn’t be the first time he went without sleep and it wouldn’t be the last.   

Orihime had woken up before her alarm, in spite of the stiff drink she had poured herself before bed.  It was necessary though; she had wanted to fall asleep as soon as possible and it had been rather early when she retired.  So early, in fact, that when she had woken up it was still quite dark. She picked up her phone to check the time: just after four in the morning.

She rubbed her bleary eyes and got dressed, tying her hair back into a braid and putting on what Mrs. Roherty had called her “bag apron”.  It was rather frumpy. It was a Japanese housewife style-apron that just hung shapelessly down past her knees and criss-crossed over her shoulder blades, with two pockets in the front.  It was perfect. She would not be a distraction in it.

It took her all of seven minutes to get ready for the day.  She said a prayer while looking out the window, holding onto the Celtic cross necklace the Rohertys gave her for her confirmation as she did, and went downstairs.  She decided there was no way a rectory could have possibly gone all this time without a percolator coffee maker, so she made the choice to hunt one down. She looked in the cabinets in the kitchen without luck.  She went into the dining room on a whim and noticed some built-in sliding-door cabinets beside the china cabinet and hutch. She looked in the first two without success, but in the third, behind a dusty punch bowl set, she found it.  A stainless steel urn with a cord wrapped around it. She almost cheered for herself, but managed to hold it in.

She brought the urn into the kitchen and cleaned it up and set it up to percolate.  Soon the rich smell filled the room. It was a very nostalgic smell for Orihime, and she sighed a staggered breath as she recalled bittersweet memories of her and her mother and brother in the church basement during church events, the smell of this coffee and overly sweet cupcake frosting filling the air.  She closed her eyes and shook away the memory, and got to work on cooking breakfast.

She made something that could sit out on the stove and could be self-served.  She was not ready to share a meal with Father Cifer again. Not so soon, anyway.  She was sure the feeling she had experienced the night before was not mutual, but she knew that Father Cifer was not at all pleased with the interaction.  Avoidance was her plan for the next few days at least, hoping it would all blow over.

She ate her own breakfast as she cooked, then set the table for the priests and wrote a note that explained the meal and bade them to help themselves.  She even brought some of the flowers that Aizen had given her and arranged them on the table to brighten up the space. After that was done, she went down to the basement with a bucket of cleaning supplies.  She figured it was probably the best place to start to avoid contact.

 

***

 

Okay, he was going to make coffee but someone had already made coffee in one of those massive family-style things. He didn’t know what it was called.. Was this the thing that--Oh...

Zommari didn’t drink it. Tosen was gone. That only left one person.

Oh no, she was awake. She had to be awake. Ulquiorra closed his eyes and counted to ten, calming his thoughts. He had just spent hours praying over this problem and trying to find a solution to it. Miss Inoue was just background noise. She was nothing. They were not friends. They were coworkers. As long as he remembered that, there was no trouble.

He sighed and got down a mug from the cupboard, filling the cup with dark liquid. He added the half and half before sitting at the table. Sending up another silent prayer, Ulquiorra took a sip from his cup. The taste of the coffee was divine. Orihime--Miss Inoue had been right. Drip coffee was okay but this… This was close to paradise and it took him back to the first time he had tasted actual Italian coffee.

He couldn’t be at war with himself over his thoughts. He couldn’t do it. He needed to become that empty shell of a human who smiled at parishioners and followed the teachings that he knew by the book. Ulquiorra knew how to follow rules.

Following rules didn’t prove faith though.

He heard a bump from the basement when he was halfway done with the coffee. Maybe that was her? Maybe Zommari was up and he was taking a shower and that sound was from the old pipes in the basement?

Ulquiorra sighed. He decided to go down the basement stairs as quietly as he possibly could and see if something or someone was down there.

Orihime had been using a broom to dust cobwebs off the ceiling of the basement rec room when she turned around, unexpectedly knocking over an old gallon-sized ice cream bucket full of ping pong balls and paddles.  “Ah shit,” she muttered, bending over to pick up her mess. When she retrieved everything she stood up and set the bucket back on the ping pong table. She eyes scanned the room and saw a pair of shoes on the stairs.  There were not supposed to be shoes there. There were not supposed to be legs above those shoes. Her sleep deprivation and the stress she felt caused a delayed reaction in her brain. Her mouth opened in a silent scream before her eyes rose to Father Cifer’s face, and only then did a strangled, muted, distorted vocalization escape her throat.

Did he look that bad that she needed to yelp and make noise? He made a small noise of disapproval and stared at her. “Did you make that noise earlier, just a few minutes ago?”

She gasped and blinked away her mind’s confusion.  She exhaled hard and then took a steadying breath and answered, “Yes, I’m sorry for the disturbance, Father Cifer.  I will try to be less distracting. Good morning, by the way,” she added with a little head nod and a mirthless smile.

“Hmmm,” he said. He didn’t blink as he studied her for a moment. “Wake up isn’t until five-thirty. Any reason you’re up at the crack of dawn?”

“I apologize.  I couldn’t sleep, so I thought it would be a better use of my time to get to work.”  She bit the inside of her lip and looked aside, unable to hide the fact that she felt like she was at a disadvantage.

There was an urge to tell her how he felt and what he had been thinking but there was no point in it. It would be one of those selfish things that humans did. No one would benefit from it. He pressed his mouth into a thin line and turned to retreat to the kitchen. “Thank you for making coffee. It’s--it’s good,” he said.

She watched his retreating figure with a growing smile on her face.  Maybe things were not as bad as she had supposed. She turned around and got back to work, humming this time.  

Zommari was in the kitchen and helping himself to whatever food was on the stove. He threw a glance at the pale man who glanced back at him. “Was that a rat making noise downstairs?” he asked.

“No, just Miss Inoue.”

“She made breakfast.”

“She made coffee too,” Ulquiorra stated, sitting heavily down one of the kitchen chairs. He pulled his coffee cup towards him taking a long sip.

“I do not drink that stuff and you know it,” the black priest said, setting the plate down on the table across from Ulquiorra. “You’re still in your work clothes. You were in there all night?”

Ulquiorra’s head moved marginally in an affirmative manner.

“Did you find any answers?”

Another small nod.

It was apparent that Father Cifer was not going to be a chatterbox today. Zommari said a silent prayer and then crossed himself before stabbing a bite of food. “Go get cleaned up and eat. You look like you’ve not slept in weeks. Your tasks for today are in your mailbox. If you see Miss Inoue, can you show her around the office?”

“I’d rather not, Zommari.” Ulquiorra said looking into his coffee cup. It was almost empty.

 "Any reason why?”

 "We clash.” The other priest drank the rest of the liquid in the cup and set it down before standing. He made his way upstairs, leaving the head priest to ponder his words.

Orihime came upstairs a little after eleven, having finished cleaning the rec room and doing all the laundry she found in the basement.  She had a folded basket in hand and brought it up to the second floor with a note that simply read, “clean” on it.

She came back down the steps and set about cleaning up the leftover breakfast mess.  She had avoided it until now in order to evade Father Cifer. She felt better after the coffee compliment but she still stood on shaky ground.

Ulquiorra had seen his scheduled task for today and he had only five more things to do. Unfortunately, the one he was on now was a big job. Zommari wanted him to weed the garden. There was a nice flower bed on one side of the yard and a small vegetable garden on the other side. He didn’t know much about gardens or plants. He had been one of those bookish people who killed plants, even ones that people said were unkillable.

Someone gave him an aloe plant. He killed it. Someone gave him a cactus… It was dead in three months. He had a literal black thumb.

But the physical work felt good and he was sweating under the late September sun. Of course he had his shirt off again and was on his hands and knees while gathering the abundance of zucchini that were growing still. Maybe Zommari could hand these out to people he visited. He sat back on his heels and looked at the basket of vegetables he had accumulated. He used the back of his hand and wiped his forehead

Orihime had a perfect view of the vegetable garden from her spot at the sink as she did the dishes.  She decided that God was punishing her for something. Why was Father Cifer out there now , shirtless again, sweating and presenting her with a front row view of what was probably the most picture perfect male physique she had ever seen?  It was… It was obscene. She needed to stop looking. She focused on scrubbing out the pan she had used that morning; the two priests had let the leftovers bake hard into the surface, and she was currently mixing baking soda into a paste in an attempt to remove to baked-on crud, but her hands slowed every few minutes as her eyes again drifted out the window.

Winter could not come soon enough.

When she was done with the dishes she fixed herself a sandwich and looked at her schedule.  She had nothing to do for an hour. Seeing as though Ulquiorra was presently occupied, she sat down at the kitchen table and ate.

He came back inside with the basket of veggies about ten minutes later. There was dirt all over the knees of his jeans and on his torso. Ulquiorra had slung the black t-shirt over his shoulder. He wasn’t expecting anyone to be in the rectory.

Ulquiorra stomped into the kitchen in that state as Orihime bit into the second half of her sandwich and nearly choked to death on it.  She coughed and sputtered, then wiped her mouth with a napkin and pointedly averted her eyes. “Is it a nice day outside, Father?”

“Oh, I thought… Sorry... I--It’s kind of hot outside and working with the shirt on--” He sighed.

Orihime rolled her eyes, not that he could see.  “Yep, I imagine it is,” she said, looking at the refrigerator like it was super interesting.  “Do you want me to fix you a sandwich before I go upstairs? There’s leftover brats from last night, if you’d prefer.”

He shook his head. “I can get myself something. I was going to get a shower and change into some clean clothes. I’ve got a couple more jobs to do around here. Don’t let me bother you,” Ulquiorra said. “We shouldn’t get into each other’s way. It’s not productive.”

She sighed softly.  “You’re right, I’m sure.  Well, don’t let me keep you then.  If you wouldn’t mind putting any lunch dishes in the sink I’ll get to them after I’m done running errands.  Um… if you need anything ever just jot me a note but for today if you think of anything you need picked up you can text me.  My number is on the fridge.”

“Miss Inoue,” he said but didn’t say anything else. He just looked at her for a moment then scowled briefly.

“Yes?” She finally asked when he didn’t finish, finally bringing her eyes to his face, not lingering at all on his body, for which she would later congratulate herself.

He couldn’t say it. Instead he put the basket on the table and left the kitchen and ran up the stairs.

She was confused.  "Thanks for the zucchini?”  she called after him, shaking her head. There was a lot of it there.   Maybe she could make zucchini bread or something and share it with parishioners, maybe at her first ministry meeting.

Lunch was over.  She waited until she could hear the shower running before she went upstairs.  She set an alarm for one o’clock and laid down on her bed, closing her eyes. She was tired.

He took a quick shower and ran across the hall, slamming his door shut. He was so used to doing that because there were never females around where he lived. He would have to get a robe or something. Ulquiorra dried off and quickly put on a new pair of boxers and jeans. He could have put the cassock on since there was a pastoral staff meeting later.

It still needed to be unpacked. He found his garment bag that was hanging in the closet. He took the suit out of it and hung up on the back of the door. His eyes roamed over the black fabric and gently smoothed out the wrinkles. He wouldn’t put it on today. Tomorrow when he actually started doing priestly things. The jeans would work for now. He put on a clean t-shirt and socks before exiting his room.

He walked down the stairs and slipped his shoes on before slipping into the office and sitting down at the computer. He crossed out the garden chore on his paper list and looked at the next job. Update the calendar. Great, he thought sarcastically.

Ulquiorra did not like doing office work. He had to do it. Everyone had to chip in and do their part. Green eyes looked over the list and the last item that was printed there.

Train Orihime.

He’d much rather weed the garden and do all the office work for the next six months than be close to her.

Orihime fell asleep to the sound of the shower running.  At first her sleep was peaceful, but as it became deeper, familiar imagery flashed behind her closed eyes.  Red-stained shoes. Uncle Sousuke’s burly brown scarf pressed into her face in the back of a limo. Flowers falling onto black caskets.  Bang bang bang bang bang. She fell out of bed and gasped, her alarm clock blaring. It was three minutes after one o’clock. She had overslept.

She staggered to her feet and looked at herself in the mirror.  She looked more tired now than she had when she laid down, but her braid had kept her hair from getting too crazy. She put her apron back on and went downstairs.  It was time for errands, but she wasn’t sure if any were necessary. The food situation was sorted. She just needed to check if there was any mail to go out or bank deposits to be made.  She knocked on the office door.

Ulquiorra was dozing at the desk and when he heard the knock he jerked awake. “Uh, come in!” he shouted, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He was dragging. Maybe he needed more coffee.

Orihime’ cracked the door open slowly at first, then opened it enough to stop slightly into the room.  “It’s time to run errands, if there are any. Is there any mail? Deposits? ...Dry cleaning?” She looked up at the ceiling, trying to imagine what other things needed doing.

“Can you get me an energy drink from the store? A couple of them?” Ulquiorra asked, dragging his hand down his face. “Um, there’s a pastoral meeting in a couple of minutes and I don’t even know why we’re having one because it’s just me and Zommari and--” He realized he was babbling. “Just the energy drinks. I could ask Father Zommari if there’s anything that needs to go out.”

“Okay, great.  Any flavor preference?”

“No? Just pick a couple so I can try them,” he said.

“Got it.  I’ll double check the fridge and be back in a sec if you wanna check with the big boss, boss,”  she said, turning and leaving the door to the office ajar as she returned to the kitchen.

He stood up and walked over to Zommari’s office door, opening it. “Any errands need to be done? Do we really need to have this meeting?”

“No errands need doing but tell Orihime I’d like a salad tonight with or for dinner,” the priest said.

“Okay, anything else?”

Zommari shook his head. “Close the door and don’t forget you’ve got confessions at three.”

Ulquiorra shut the door and then walked down to the kitchen. He poured himself another cup of coffee and waited for Orihime to finish her rummaging around the refrigerator. “Zom wants a salad tonight.”

She chuckled.  “Zom. What an innocuous nickname for such a scary looking guy,” she muttered, then turned and saw Ulquiorra waiting behind her with the cup of coffee.  She smiled and passed him the half and half. “I would have brought you a cup, you know. I was planning to.”

“It’s really okay. I was falling asleep at the desk, so getting up and walking around helps, gets the blood moving.” Ulquiorra ended the sentence with a yawn.

“Maybe you should decrease your caffeine consumption if it is disrupting your sleep schedule.  I had to do that in college. I imagine that if I furthered my education as far as you have I probably would have picked up all kinds of bad habits.”

Ulquiorra shrugged. “I was a partier in college,” he offered.

She smirked.  “Who’d have thunk it, one of Aizen’s kids, partying?  Inconceivable!” She laughed. “I’m sure you can imagine I was not much of a partier.  I went to a few Asian-American Society mixers and that was about it,” she said, this time laughing at herself.

He scoffed. It figures she would mock him. He wanted to show her just a slice of what he could be like but he knew that it would be thin ice he would be treading upon. He lifted his chin and tilted his head. “You asked me why I didn’t see that cheese castle thing. I didn’t drive to Milwaukee. I flew in… From Vegas.”

Orihime tucked her chin in confusion for a second and then looked up at him, innocently asking, “What for?  Did you have a conference or a seminar or something?”

Ulquiorra smiled and turned his head away from her. She was as naive as they came. If he wasn’t a priest and didn’t think about things like that he’d be in a predatory mode right now. He wasn’t like that though. He wasn’t like his brothers. “No, I went to strip clubs and bars. I got drunk and had a good time.”

Orihime shaped her mouth into an upside-down U, raised her eyebrows, and nodded approvingly.  “Well played, sir,” she commented, raising a half-empty olive jar and clinking it to his coffee mug.  “Sláinte.”

“Anyway,” Ulquiorra said. He didn’t know what that word was and he wouldn’t ask what she said. “When you get back, Zommari wants you to get acquainted with the office.”

“Okay, sounds like a plan. Wanna pass me the half and half back?” she asked, quickly returning to the relaxed version of herself she had been before their too-close encounter the night before.

Ulquiorra handed it to her and then left the kitchen returning to the front office. He sat back down at the desk and then pulled his wallet out of his pocket. He pulled several bills from the numerous slips there and called out, “Orihime, I’ve got money for you.”

“Coming,” she sang as she walked down the hall from the kitchen.  She entered the office a moment later, taking the bills from his hand.  “Thanks. I’ll be back in a little bit. So just energy drinks and salad stuff, right?”

As much as he wanted to tell her no that wasn’t it, Ulquiorra nodded his head. If this kept up, he’d have another sleepless night in front of him.

 

***

 

Confessions were done and over. Zommari was getting ready for Mass. Ulquiorra was currently under the sink once more, this time with his shirt on. He didn’t want to offend Miss Inoue again. She had left his requests on the kitchen table and was diligently working in the office when he returned from hearing the sins of the parishioners. There didn’t seem to be that many though. When he was a child confession was all the rage. Aizen made them all go every week to tell the priest of their wrong-doings.

The thing was, Ulquiorra never thought anything he did was wrong when he was young. He had been trying to emulate his father. How could that be wrong? He sighed and glanced at the instructions he had printed out. He’d gone through all the steps so the sink would stop leaking. He sat up and hit his head on the cupboard.

“Mother--Son of a--Frell!” He shouted, holding his palm to his forehead. It throbbed but he didn’t see any blood when he pulled his hand away.

Orihime had been on her way to the kitchen to start making dinner when she heard the commotion.  She rushed to the sink but stopped short a few steps away and bent over as she asked, somewhat frantically, “What happened!  Are you alright?”

He squinted at her and rubbed his forehead. “I’m fine. Work hazard, I guess. Hit my head on the cabinet when getting up.”

“Oooh, ouch.  Let me get you a bag of frozen peas.  You don’t want the parishioners to think Father Zommari has been beating you,” she said with a breathy laugh as she trotted over to the freezer.

A bitter snort left Ulquiorra; whacking his head on the cupboard was nothing compared to what he had suffered. He stood up and braced his hands on the counter. “Really I’m fine. You should get back to your work.”

“No, seriously, take this,” she said, looking up at his forehead and wincing.  “That is definitely going to swell if you don’t ice it. I’m going to get to work here but promise me you’ll leave it on for 10 minutes?   Wrap it in a towel,” she instructed as she left the frozen vegetables and tea towel on the counter next to him and turned to the recipe book she had left on the table.

He rolled his eyes and took the frozen peas and the towel. He stomped over to the table and sat down. Gingerly touching the makeshift cold pack to his head, Ulquiorra grimaced with a scowl settling across his face. “You’d think they would hire an actual plumber.”

She replied with a muted giggle.  “You’d think. Clearly you aren’t very good at it.”  She covered her mouth and laughed silently, trying to play it off as a cough.

“I’m a priest, not a handyman.” Ulquiorra gave her a flat look. “I’m not good at either of them.”

She looked up at him with a concerned expression.  “Now why would you say that? I mean, handyman skills aside, I’m sure you are an excellent priest.” She looked back down to the cookbook.  “Sacred Heart would not accept anything less.”

He stayed silent, fiddling with the opened energy drink in front of him. He took a long drink from it and Ulquiorra still didn’t say anything as he finished it. He stared at everything but her.

She got to work chopping vegetables, sniffling when she got to the onions.  She turned around to wash her hands and grab a paper towel to wipe her teary eyes, then threw everything into a pan, putting her weight all on one foot as she stirred it and started humming a cheery kind of tune.  She turned around after a minute and was reminded he was still sitting there. “Uh, sorry, does the song bother you?” she said as she noticed his expression.

Ulquiorra glanced at her. “No,” he stated. “Has it been ten minutes? I have to finish Zom’s list.”

“It has not.  This sauce is almost done though.  If you will be my guinea pig, I will sign your release papers early, okay?” She said, holding out a wooden spoon across the table to him.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Pasta sauce.”

Raising an eyebrow, Ulquiorra leaned across the table and tasted the sauce. It was surprisingly good. “It tastes fine,” he said.

She had a satisfied smile at that.  “Thank you Father, you are free to go.”

He put the towel and frozen peas on the table and stood up, grabbing his drink and walking down to the office, closing the door. Ulquiorra looked at the clock. He had a few more minutes of free time. Whenever he had problems or was conflicted with something he talked to one person but since becoming a priest he hadn’t talked to Tier.

Out of all his siblings, she was closest to him age and demeanor. They seemed to have an understanding. He left the office and walked out of the rectory by the front door and dialed his sister’s number.

“Hey Tier.”

“Ulquiorra.”

 

***

 

She woke up late on the second day off she had had at the rectory.  She had stayed up late the night before reading and sipping on a glass of the nicer whisky.  She stood and stretched and decided coffee was in order.

Orihime sighed, not wanting to have to change her clothes.  She briefly considered throwing on a bathrobe and going downstairs as-is but knew she would, at the very least, be subjected to one of Zommari’s disapproving glares.  She grabbed a pair of heather gray Alverno sweats and a light green hoodie, pulled her wild hair back into a ponytail, and made her way down to the kitchen.

Ulquiorra was standing in the kitchen leaning against the counter, sipping a cup of coffee. He hadn’t been able to figure out the thing that Miss Inoue used to make coffee so he had to make do with the simple drip coffee pot. He wore a pair of black dress slacks, a white oxford shirt with a black tie and a black blazer. He was meeting Tier for lunch and he knew what that meant. A nice, classy place that wasn’t too far from their childhood home.  She had hinted that she knew of things afoot and wanted to clue him into them. What could he do though? He was a man of God not involved with Aizen’s organization. He glanced at the person who entered the kitchen and then did a double take. “Morning,” he said, voice tight. Orihime was dressed down but that didn’t diminish the beauty she held.

“Good morning, you’re all dressed up.  Got an appointment with corporate?” She joked, smiling at him sleepily.  “We meet again, Mr. Coffee,” she said to the drip coffee maker, shaking her head in disappointment.

Giving a small chuckle, Ulquiorra shook his head. “Uh, meeting with my siblings,” he replied, staring into his cup. “Had someone not thumped around all night you’d be able to get up and make that wonderful coffee that you make.”

“What was that?”

“My room is next to yours. I can hear you bumping around at night and talking.”

“Oh, sorry.  I didn’t realize the walls were so thin,” she blushed and brought her mug up to her nose, taking in the steam.  It was too hot to sip yet. “I, uh, tend to pace when I’m on the phone.”

“You’re on the phone at three in the morning?” Ulquiorra took a drink of his coffee and stared at her as he swallowed.

“A, um, friend of mine from school was, um, pulling an all-nighter.  Wanted a chat,” she said, looking aside and blowing across the surface of the black liquid as she leaned with her back against the counter.

He didn’t want to call her out. The noises that came from her room were noises one only heard from those who experienced nightmares. He had been hearing it almost every night since she moved into the rectory. Ulquiorra could imagine her lashing out with a foot, kicking the wall or her fist banging against the surface. He heard the whimpers and the shouts. The thing that made him lay there night after night was the sound of her sobbing. “Anything to help those in need, right?” he commented.

She looked up at him under a guarded brow and nodded with a thin-lipped smile, then answered, “Yep.  People are troubled; everybody needs a friend sometimes.”

Her words were hollow.  She didn’t have any friends.

Ulquiorra gave her a side-eyed glance before finishing his coffee. There was something going on with her. It wasn’t his business. He walked to the sink placing the cup on the counter. “I’m off,” he said. “Did you need the car? I think Zommari has the van keys. I can walk to meet my sister.”

“I don’t need it— wait, actually I do, but depending on when you get back I can just use it later.  Although isn’t your family kinda fancy to go meet in ol’ Bessie?”

She had a point. Ulquiorra sighed. “I’m nothing but a humble priest, Miss Inoue. Who cares what I roll up in?” He gave her a smile but walked out of the kitchen toward the front door. It wouldn’t take him long to walk to the restaurant.

Orihime watched him leave.  She had the rectory to herself for an undetermined number of hours.  She wasn’t going to hang around though; she had personal business to attend to.

She finished her cup of coffee and rinsed out hers and Ulquiorra’s, setting them out to dry.  She went upstairs and took an extra-long shower, not bothering to bring her bathrobe. No one would be there to find her in a state of undress.  She dressed and dried her hair and galloped down the stairs, grabbing a coat and the station wagon keys.

Her first stop was the florist, then the cemetery.  It took her a bit of time to find the plots with her mother and brother.  She had brought some of the gardening tools from the rectory and she was glad she did. Although someone had been taking care of the grossly oversized headstone for Barragan, Ai Luisenbarn and Sora Inoue’s modest memorial stones were overgrown with weeds and litter.  She spent a half hour cleaning them up before laying flowers on them and then kneeling between them to pray.

When she was done she got up and went back into town.  She did a little window shopping and stopped in at a scented soap shop, spending a long while sniffing at all the offerings and settling on a body soap that smelled like freesia.  She walked around the town center a bit longer but was disappointed to find the bookstore she remembered being there gone, so she got back in the car and drove to the mall bookstore.  She picked up a few novels and then stopped at the liquor store on the way home. No one was back yet when she returned, so she squirreled her whiskey away in her room, and after having a bit, she took a book down to the living room and curled into an armchair there and began to read.

Ulquiorra spotted Tier from the lobby of the restaurant. He nodded at her before bypassing the host and walking towards the table. She regarded him raising an eyebrow. He did the same mimicking her action. “Tier,” he said.

“Sit down, brother.”

He did as she said to do. It wasn’t moments later that a waiter came over to take their order. Tier was much like Aizen in that she had luxurious tastes and it showed as she ordered wine with her meal. Ulquiorra ordered sparkling water.

“You don’t drink?” she asked.

“It’s unsure if drinking alcohol is a sin,” he answered.

“Wow, Father said you had gone off the deep end with this whole becoming a priest but we didn’t think you actually believed in it. Honestly, Nel and I thought you were putting on an act,” Tier offered, sipping on the glass of red wine. “Did he force you into it?”

“No.”

The blonde with the slicked back hair looked somewhat surprised. “No? You chose to become one on your own? Why?”

Ulquiorra looked at the table and then up at his sister with anguished eyes. Could he trust Tier with this information? He knew if he went to Zommari with his dilemma that he’d be suspended.

“Oh,” she breathed.

“What?” he asked.

A small smile spread over Tier’s face. “Something is bothering you. I know that look. You had the same look in your eyes the night Aizen ordered the hit on Barragan.”

He tried not to flinch. “You were always good at reading me.”

“I’m a lawyer, I have to be good at reading people.” Tier shifted in her seat and took another sip from her glass. “Aizen told me he installed you at Sacred Heart to help him. Have you spoken to him about it?”

His head shook back and forth. “Are you working for him?”

The woman scoffed. “Of course I am,” she replied. “I have a boyfriend down in New York. He’s a corporate lawyer for some place called Quincy Inc. Father doesn’t approve of him so he brought me back up here.”

If the guy was a lawyer he couldn’t be all that bad. Ulquiorra raised his eyebrow. “Are you going to elaborate?”

“Son of a mafia boss.”

That explained why Aizen brought his daughter back to Boston. Their conversation was halted as Tier’s Tabouli salad was set in front of her and then Ulquiorra’s Greek chicken and potatoes were placed in front of him. They ate in silence for a moment, before he put his fork down.

“Orihime Inoue works and lives at Sacred Heart.”

“And?”

“And I’ve fallen in love with her. All those years ago...” Ulquiorra trailed off. “Okay, maybe I’m not in love with her but I find myself constantly thinking about her.”

Tier just looked at him blankly. She was silently calling him out on his bullshit.

“I’m lusting after her.”

“Is that all?” Tier sounded bored.

He sighed. Did his sister not understand his position? “For fucks sakes, Tier,” Ulquiorra muttered.

“Why did you take those vows? Do you regret it?” his sister asked, a smirk on her face.

“I took them to prevent myself from screwing up anyone else’s life. I took them to show Aizen I wouldn’t be a threat. I took them so that I wouldn’t alter anyone else’s life. Orihime’s a fucking mess. She tries to hide it but--”

“That doesn’t explain why nor does it tell me that you regret it.”

Ulquiorra took a deep breath to keep from snapping at her. “I took them to atone for ruining her life. One phone call was all it took to leave her alone in this world. I should have let Ginjo carry out his orders.”

Tier sighed. “Do you regret it?”

“Regret what? Not letting her die? No.”

His sister blinked slowly. “No, do you regret becoming a priest? I can tell you as of right now, Aizen doesn’t see you as a threat. He doesn’t see you as anything that could bring him down. You’re his prized son, Father Cifer of Sacred Heart. I mean you can always give up your life as a priest but you know the moment that happens you become a slave to Father.”

Ulquiorra cut a piece of chicken and brought it to his mouth. He chewed slowly as he thought about her words. He took a sip of his water before he spoke. “You are asking me which is more important. Is this woman more important than being free of Aizen? You’re asking me if I place love and emotions above my life?”

Tier said nothing. The two finished their meal and lingered over cups of coffee. “Which do you value more?”

“My job.” 

“Is that all it is? Is being a priest just a job? It must be a struggle to deal with your feelings while remaining pure,” Tier commented. “There’s nothing pure about you, Ulquiorra Cifer.”

He thanked her for the meal and stood up, walking out of the building, unable to hear any more of Tier’s words. His steps were slow as he made his way back to the rectory. When he saw the church and the house, his heart felt heavy. His feet trudged along as he opened the door. The rectory was silent as he closed the door.

No, it wasn’t quiet. He could hear someone crying. A sigh left him. Unless Orihime let a parishioner inside the rectory, she was the one crying. He bypassed the office and walked into the kitchen fully expecting her to be there. She wasn’t. He searched the entire first floor, finding her in what Zommari called the parlor.

It was a living room.

She was curled up in a chair and holding a book. Ulquiorra furrowed his brow at the sight. His heartstrings were being pulled by the sound of her tears. “Are you okay?” he asked.

She startled at the sound of his voice and her head snapped up.  “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize anyone was home,” she said in a tearful voice, putting her forefinger into her book to hold her place and using the sleeve attached to her other hand to dry her face.  “I’m alright, this point in the story is just really heart wrenching,” she said with an apologetic smile, waving the novel back and forth. “I can take it upstairs. You don’t need some “emotional woman” sullying the vibe around this place, do you?” she asked with a watery chuckle, using air quotes with her free hand when she referred to herself.

“I just got home,” Ulquiorra replied. He cleared his throat and looked away from her. “You live here as much as I do. You don’t have to move just because of me.”

Her shoulders sagged.  “You are a sweetheart. But I just wouldn’t feel right making this place all gloomy.  I’ll be upstairs if you need me,” she said, offering him a gentle smile and getting up exit the living room toward the steps, passing him on the way.

It was an impulse, but his pale hand shot out as soon as she passed by him. The touch was an electric shock to his nerves. Talking about the problem with Tier had only brought the issue to the front of his mind and seeing her only made it worse. His breath was shaky as he looked at Orihime. He heard a door open and he quickly released her hand.

Her eyes slowly raised from his hand on her hers up to his face.  Confusion painted her face and besides her heavier breaths, she made no other visible response.  Why had he done that? She didn’t have a chance to form the words to ask before he let go. Someone was coming in.

“Excuse me,” she said with a single self-deprecating laugh, then put her head down and went upstairs.  She would not have an opportunity to figure out his motivation with an audience. No, wait, that thought was silly.  Surely he must have felt pity for her and sought to provide her pastoral guidance. The jolt of… awareness? Attraction?  Desire? She wasn’t sure what it was that she had felt, but as she reached her bedroom, she told herself that it had to be one-sided.  Father Cifer was a priest. He had taken vows. She was misinterpreting his gesture.

If Zommari had done the same thing, how would she have felt?  Maybe like she was in trouble. Maybe like she was about to get a stern talking-to.  Maybe like he was just a weirdo with bad social skills, because that was the truth.

The only reason it felt different to her when Father Cifer did it was because she was attracted to him.  Everything she thought she was feeling from him? It was all a product of her overactive imagination. Wishful thinking.  What did that say about her?

She was a bad person.

She already knew that, though.  She threw herself down on her bed and held up the hand he had just held, examining it as if it might have changed, somehow.  Of course it had not. She clenched and flexed her fist. She brought the back of that hand to her lips, pressing their softness into the warm flesh.

She was a sinner.  She would need confession.  She would need repentance. She would need a stiff drink and to escape back into her book, which is what she did.

Chapter Text

Halloween came and Ulquiorra smiled as he made his rounds at the school seeing the children in their costumes. He liked children. They were easy to mold and fill with beliefs.

 

Be good to others. Treat people with respect. Don’t sin.

 

They all believed that up until a certain point.

 

Ulquiorra had to keep himself busy. His mind was constantly going over that touch. It was enough to drive him to the altar and kneel for hours. Even now his eyes sought out Orihime. Every Sunday as he sat facing the parishioners while Zommari preached about how to beg for forgiveness, he looked at her; for her in the crowd.

He would dream about her. It was wrong.

 

He went back to treating her like she was nothing to him. And really that’s all she was. She was an annoyance. Maybe he should just tell Zommari what was going on so that he could be stripped of his collar and go on to lead a life of crime.

 

It was a week later, during the first week of November that he got a call from Aizen. He was supposed to go to the pub on his next day off. He didn’t want to go and for his free hour the Monday before his day off he sat on his bed with the door to his room open. His elbows were digging into his thighs, causing him discomfort as he mulled things over.

 

Orihime passed by his door as she left her room.  She paused after she passed. She didn’t go back but asked from the top of the stairs, “Everything alright, Father Cifer?  You seem troubled. If you need to talk, I can listen.”

 

Should he? No. His problem wasn’t her burden. It was his. “Uh, thank you Miss Inoue but I’m fine. Just asking God for direction.”

 

She sighed. “Alright.  My door is always open,” she said gently and went down the stairs.

 

It had been weeks since their encounter. Instead of fading, however, her feelings for the priest had only grown more wild and turbulent.  Why did she offer her ear? Only to torture herself? Maybe. She deserved the punishment.

 

He hung his head and huffed. Ulquiorra would have to face this one way or another. It felt like Zommari was constantly watching over him though. He didn’t know why. For the first time, the rectory had what it needed courtesy of Aizen. The church had gotten enough money scraped together to repair the roof. Every week, Ulquiorra made sure that the financial information was up to date.

He was sure the other priest had it out for him. Perhaps the man was waiting for him to slip up. Ulquiorra would never slip up. He made sure the only time he committed a sin was when no one would be around. That meant he would bite his lip in the shower and afterward pray and say Hail Mary until he was blue in the face.

Ulquiorra was remorseful for what he did but he kept doing it over and over. He was just like those people who came to confession week in and week out saying the same thing. They came to give him their sins, lamenting their bad choices, only to leave the safety of his church to do them all over again. He would impart his own wisdom, pray with them, only to think of them as fools.

 

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”

 

All the confessions he heard started off the same. There would be those who would come in and think they were being cute as they said an alternative to that phrase.

 

“Sorry, Daddy. I’ve been bad.”

 

Father Cifer would say nothing but clear his throat in a scolding way as if disappointed in the person on the other side of the booth. He could never tell who was on the other side unless he angled himself a certain way. He could see between the slats of the screen when he stood up. Not that he did that often. He wasn’t interested in the members of his parish.

 

That was a lie.

 

He was solely focused on her .

 

Glancing at the watch on his wrist, Ulquiorra stood up and made his way downstairs. There was office work to be done. There were repairs that needed to be done.

 

For some reason his cassock seemed especially tight. It felt like it was trying to strangle him. It was his own fault he was in the mess he was in. Being a priest was a lot better than his alternatives though. The son of a mafia boss didn’t have a lot of options and even fewer choices.

 

Asking for a transfer was a last resort option but one he wanted badly. If he left Sacred Heart, he’d be hurting Zommari and putting most of the church workload onto him. He’d wound the parishioners that came to bible study. He was certain he’d hurt Orihime.

 

Orihime was in the kitchen, putting together a list for the grocery store.  There wasn’t that much they needed, but she was almost out of laundry soap, so a trip was in order.  It was just as well. She had to stop at the liquor store for personal reasons anyway. And it was Thanksgiving the following week.  Sacred Heart put on an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the needy that the parish staff were expected to help cook and serve, but she thought it would be nice to make some of the traditional favorites so that the rectory staff could have some “Thanksgiving leftovers”.  She could roast a turkey breast, make some stuffing and mashed potatoes, although she’d probably eschew the traditional lumpy potatoes and just make colcannon. She’d buy some canned cranberry sauce and then they could have turkey sandwiches for days. Her mouth watered just thinking about it.

 

Maybe that was the solution to her problems.  Eat. Get incredibly fat. She might enjoy eating her way to freedom from the idea that Father Cifer might think about her the way she thought about him.  She laughed at herself. What was it about that man that had all her thoughts leading to him? Wasn’t he the same person who-- No. It wasn’t fair nor very Christian of her to hold onto past slights.  She had already forgiven him for his cruel childhood ways. Maybe that was it. He had come so far, turned his life around, for the highest of callings. Maybe she just intensely admired him. Maybe.

 

Probably not, though.  She was just a hopeless, moral-less woman like those girls she used to pray for in school when it came to him.

 

There was really nothing for him to do in the office and he needed a cup of coffee but he stopped short when he saw her in the kitchen. He sighed loudly and then tugged at his ear for a moment. He had to keep it in his head that she was nothing. He couldn’t make an honest woman out of her. That thought slapped him back to reality. “Is there coffee?” He asked as he entered the kitchen.

She turned and looked at him with a dreamy sort of expression, still caught up in thoughts of food, planned obesity, and kissing him.  She snapped out of it a second or two later. “Wha--? Oh, yeah. I always keep it going, you know,” she said with a cheesy grin. “I’m going to the shops.  Need anything?”

 

The look on her face surprised him. What was she possibly thinking about that could put that sort of enamored look in her eyes? Was she thinking about him? No. Orihime probably knew that there was no sort of future with him. The most they could be was friends. “Of course,” he said. He walked over to the coffee urn and refilled his cup. He didn’t bother with adding creamer. He didn’t deserve that indulgence. “Uh,” Ulquiorra tried to wrack his brain thinking of stuff he needed but the only thing that came to mind was one word. He didn’t dare say it. “Uh, shampoo and conditioner. More creamer or maybe one of those flavored syrups for coffee? Hot chocolate.”

 

She clapped her hands, and that dreamy expression returned to her face.  “Oh you are so smart. Hot chocolate… Mmm…” she looked to the side and said under her breath, “Peppermint schnapps?  Kahlua? Both?” she reached for her list and added those items he asked for as well as her secret additives.

 

“Get some Baileys too,” Ulquiorra said. He’d watched her mouth move, transfixed by her little hum of agreement with the hot chocolate. He’d liked the stuff. It was asking for trouble but the holidays were coming up and he’d abstained from consuming alcohol for the past six years. He deserved it.

 

Her eyes slowly raised to his, as a conspiratorial smirk on her face gave way to a toothy grin.  “I like the way you think, Cifer.”

 

She didn’t even catch that she hadn’t addressed him with his title.  At that moment, they were just two people thinking the same naughty little thoughts.  She was delighted.

 

“Where are we going to hide it? Did you ever check the cupboard above the refrigerator?”

 

“Actually, no.  I’m too short to reach it,” she laughed.  “Even if I stand on a chair. Could you look for me?”

 

Ulquiorra gave a short laugh before he dragged a chair over to the side of the appliance. He climbed onto it and then quickly opened the cupboard. “Holy--I mean wow. Wow is the word I’m looking for.”

 

“What?!  What’s up there?”  she asked, scared and excited in equal measure.

 

From what he could see it was cobwebs and half-full bottles of liquor. “I think I found someone’s stash before Tosen came along. And spiders.” Ulquiorra reached into the cupboard and pulled out a bottle, handing it to Orihime. He tried not to flinch as their fingers touched.

 

“I guess I can scratch this off the list then,” she giggled as she wiped the dust of the bottle of peppermint schnapps.  “Any Kahlua up there?”

 

Shaking his head, the priest grabbed several more bottles and passed them to her. “There’s an open bottle of wine up here. Ugh.”

 

“It’s gotta be vinegar by now.  Gross. Ugh. I’m going to be the one to take care of that, too.  Maybe I’ll wait until winter and drain it into a snowbank. It’ll stink less,” she said, scrunching her nose up in disgust.

 

When it was all said and done, there were seven bottles on the table plus the bottle of vinegared wine. Most were only a quarter or half full. Ulquiorra looked them over. “Well, did we hit the jackpot or strike out? And since you can’t reach up there, I’m sure there’s a cabinet in the basement you could stash stuff. It’s probably a lot cooler down there.”

 

She grinned at him with squinty eyes and then looked at the bottles.  Her lips closed and she inhaled slowly, raising her eyebrows. “Whoever collected this treasure trove was into the cheap stuff, mostly.  We could just invite a bunch of undergrads over and fill the bathtub with this and some purple kool-aid and let them have at it. Or we could consolidate it into some wicked Long Island Iced Tea mix.  However…” she trailed off as she grabbed a bottle of gin. “This is not too shabby. I enjoy a nice G&T once in awhile. Beefeaters is nice. And this…” she picked up a bottle of brandy. “This is a rare treat.  I mean, it’s Corbel, so nothing spectacular, but I can whip us up some Wisco-style old fashioneds with this. Just need to add bitters, oranges, and maraschino cherries to the list -- Or I can save it for the holidays and make Tom and Jerry’s.  The possibilities are endless,” she smiled. She didn’t really expect him to join her for cocktail hour. She was just making conversation.

 

His eyebrows raised in amazement as he listened to her rattle off different drinks. Ulquiorra remembered what he liked to drink during his college days. “Gin and tonics are nice. There’s always the option of getting some Limoncello and making Limoncello Gin Cocktails...” He trailed off and looked at her. “Sorry. I shouldn’t be encouraging this but--I’m--It’s not important.”

 

She smiled at him.  “No, this is great! I should consolidate these ideas into a parish cocktail booklet.  I have never had a Limoncello Gin Cocktail, it sounds delightful. And summery. An idea for our next barbecue in several months time, perhaps?” she laughed.

 

Ulquiorra gave her a half-smile. “Um, as far as the shampoo and conditioner, just get me something that you think would smell good.”

 

Her eyes smiled back at him but his request made her think for a minute.  “As you wish,” she said. “I must warn you, I may not return for some time.  I will get lost smelling bottles. Thank goodness I’m not going anywhere near that Bath and Body Works place.  It’s like a black hole for me. I swear after like twenty minutes I can’t tell the difference in what I’m smelling anymore anyway but I just keep trying,” she stopped rambling there, slightly embarrassed by herself and her subconscious admissions.

 

His breathing sped up slightly. What did she imagined he smelled like? What did she even smell like? “You know there’s this place called Lush and it’s like that body works place but better. BBW went to crap when they got rid of their Bay Rum line of products.”

 

She looked at him with surprised amusement.  “I didn’t peg you as a scenty product aficionado.  Tell me then, what kind of scent profile do you usually go for?  Not just for soaps and stuff, but like air fresheners and stuff like that?”   She couldn’t help digging deeper. She was interested in him.

 

“Uh, woodsy stuff? There’s this scent called Camelot and it smells really nice. I have smell good stuff in my room but never wear it. It doesn’t seem humble to wear it.”

 

“I can see you in woodsy scents.  I understand what you mean about the humility thing.  I don’t wear any perfumes or anything in the rectory. I use a scented soap; it’s freesia but the fragrance doesn’t last very long.”

 

“Father Cifer--Oh, hello, Miss Inoue. Ulquiorra, I need you to get something for me. We’re out of wine for Eucharist.” Zommari looked uncomfortable as he walked into the kitchen. “Can you go get a bottle or two of something dark. I forgot to order it and didn’t mention anything because I thought we had more. Come to think of it we need--”

 

“Uh, Orihime was going to the store but I can go with her.” Ulquiorra glanced at the woman, grateful that his boss had interrupted them for the time being.

 

“Yeah, that’s fine.  Um, the liquor store is on the way to the grocery store,” she said, slightly disappointed that this meant she probably wouldn’t get to pick out shampoo by herself.

 

Ulquiorra shrugged. “I mean she could probably do the task by herself--” The green-eyed priest stopped talking as he saw Zommari’s face. Oh, he was trying to get Ulquiorra out of the rectory probably because there was some meeting. He turned to Orihime. “Uh, you can head out to the garage if you have your list. I’ll be out there in a moment.”

 

“Okay,” she said, her eyes suspicious.  She got up and left the men in the room.

 

“Whose coming?” Ulquiorra asked as soon as he heard the door shut.

 

“Tosen, Aizen, Ichimaru, and Archbishop Sasakibe. Business dealings.” Zommari’s tone said there was no room for argument. “Your father doesn’t want you here when it takes place so take your time and we will have a late supper. Tell Miss Inoue this.”

 

As Zommari walked away, Ulquiorra’s mood dropped. Did the people involved with this church have no morals or were they more focused on the bottom line? He went into the office to grab the church credit card before he decided to change out of his cassock and into regular clothing as quickly as he could before he went to the garage. Zommari was just like those who came to confession.

 

He slammed the passenger side door and shoved the buckle of the seatbelt into the mechanism. “Zom said to take our time,” Ulquiorra stated.

 

Orihime looked at him with a worried expression.  He was intensely displeased. It was a shame, they had been having such a nice time before Zommari had interrupted.  She decided to try to take his mind off whatever had set him off. “So, I suppose we should go to the liquor store first; I know it’s colder now but it gets warm enough in the car to make milk taste funny. Do you want to come in this time, now that you’ll be there on official church business ?” she smiled as she said it.

 

Ulquiorra gave her a side-eyed glance. He wanted to tell her that he didn’t care but he couldn’t. No matter how mad he was at people he didn’t want to drag her into this. “I guess I can, although I could just buy a shitty bottle from the store,” he muttered.

 

“Such language!” she teased, swatting at his arm.  “But honestly, you can buy much larger bottles of shitty wine at the liquor store for cheaper than you can at the grocery store.”

 

His hand grabbed hers, their fingers entwining. He didn’t want her to hit him, even playfully. Ulquiorra felt that same jolt go through his arm and he looked at Orihime.

 

She didn’t pull her hand away.  Not at first. She allowed him to move her hand as he pleased, her face feeling hot and her breath immediately becoming shallow.  She said nothing. Then she needed that hand to drive the car around a corner. “Uh, sorry,” she said, pulling it free reluctantly.

 

He was connected to her for several minutes. His face felt warm. He couldn’t possibly...No… Ulquiorra wasn’t going to do this. It would throw him into a pit of wolves. He’d be no better than anyone who sinned everyday. “No worries,” he said quietly. “That was on me. My apologies.”

 

“What’s to be sorry for?  It was, um, a nice gesture,” she said, making light of it.  She did not want him feeling uncomfortable around her, and coupled with her inexperience with men, she felt it was reasonable to reassure him that everything was fine.

 

“Hmmm,” he said, not really committing a reply to her. “He said we should pick up something for a late supper. Pizza sounds good to me. What do you think?”

 

“You just said the magic word, mister,” she said in a low voice, smiling.  “Pizza is my spirit animal.”

 

Ulquiorra chuckled. “I ate a lot of pizza in college. Didn’t eat a lot of it in Rome though.”

 

“I heard Naples is more the place for pizza in Italy, isn’t it?”

 

Giving her a nod, Ulquiorra agreed with her. “Went to Naples once. I’m not a get out and see the world kind of person,” he said.

 

“Really?  You have kind of a worldly air about you.  I wouldn’t really know. I mean, I can speak a few languages - not well - but I’ve never been abroad.”

 

“Just because I’ve seen the world doesn’t mean I’ve explored it,” Ulquiorra responded. “You’ve never been back to Japan?” He silently added that she should have gone there and stayed. It would have made his life easier.

 

She laughed.  “I often forget that I was born there.  I guess I have been abroad, technically.  No, I’ve never been back. Barragan didn’t want us clinging to our heritage.  I didn’t know what my other half was until the Rohertys took me in, so I was just supposed to be generic ‘American’ under Barragan’s roof.”  The way she said his name spoke volumes for how she felt about the man.

 

Ulquiorra peered at her then tilted his head to the side. If they could, what would a child of theirs look like? He wanted to smack himself. How dare he think like that! “Your other half? Oh you mean your ancestry?”

 

“Yes.  The Rohertys were obsessed with ancestry.  I’m basically half Japanese, half Irish. Needless to say, they were pleased,” she said with a modest laugh.

 

“I know nothing about my heritage or my background,” he murmured. It didn’t bother him though.

 

“Hmmm, if I had to guess, I’d say you were pretty broadly mixed European.  Genetics are a mixed bag though. My brother and I didn’t look much alike. We had different fathers but they were both white, so who knows,”  she was just talking for the sake of talking now, trying to get him back into a more carefree mood.

 

He looked out the window and didn’t say anything until they pulled up to the liquor store. “I’m stressed out,” Ulquiorra commented as if he was saying something about the weather. “I need one day to unwind. I hope you will not judge me for it.”

 

She raised her eyebrows at him and shook her head.  “Not at all. You work a lot. Your life is dictated to you by that weird old Zom—“  she stopped and clapped her hands over her mouth, grimacing and looking over at him with a mortified expression.  She spoke, muffled through her hands as she added, “I did not mean to say that out loud...Sorry!”

 

“Ha! No, it’s okay. Sadly, I agree with you. Zom is stuck in the old ways and has his own ideas about how things should be run. I mean I bet that man kills a tree a week with his printouts to me when he could text them or email it,” Ulquiorra said. “Zom’s a stick in the mud.”

 

Orihime slowly lowered her hands, revealing a childish smile, the kind a kid wears when she’s gotten away with something naughty.  “Glad it’s not just me then,” she said. “Are you coming in? I could just pick something out if you want to just stay in here and enjoy some solitude.”

 

He declined the invitation to stay in the car. “No, I want to go in. It’s been ages since I’ve been in a store like this. I want to get some things for myself too.”

 

Orihime nodded and got out of the car, walking through the automatic doors and waiting inside.  She didn’t want Ulquiorra to hear the warm welcome she usually received from the familiar staff.  She was in the store at least once a week.

 

Entering after her long moments later, Ulquiorra almost bumped into Orihime. He had to be more careful. The incident in the car was inexcusable. He shouldn’t have touched her like that. He’d held her hand out of pleasure, not out of duty. Just walking behind her made him clench his jaw tightly. Not many priests knew what sex was but there were some that had a life dedicated to debauchery before entering the life of a priest.

 

His throat grew tight just watching her body. The already thin ice he was stranded on was growing thinner by the day. There would be a time when Ulquiorra was probably going to cross a line. “So what are you getting?”

 

“Um,” she giggled nervously, “some Kahlua, like I said, and some whisky.”

 

A shopkeeper overheard them from behind the adjacent aisle.  “What’ll it be this week, Hime? The Connemara? Tullamore Dew?  Jameson?”

 

She laughed it off awkwardly.  “Uh, I don’t know, what do you recommend?”

 

The overweight, balding man with a thick gray and brown mustache popped his head around the aisle.  “What, are you trying to act modest for this guy? What gives, Hime? Be yourself or you’ll regret it,” the shopkeeper muttered in a thick Boston accent as he walked past, looking down at a clipboard.

 

Ulquiorra looked at the man and then back at Orihime. “Some people. I know it’s not applicable because this isn’t a case of adultery or anything like that but, this guy could take a lesson about casting stones at people,” he said to the redhead.

 

She sighed, feeling relief at his reaction.  “Spoken like a true man of the cloth. Thank you,” she said, glancing at him for just a second and then back to the wall of whisky, taking what she wanted and putting it in the cart.  “What did you want to get?”

 

He shifted uncomfortably. There was nothing in the bible that actually forbade anyone from partaking in alcohol. Sacramental wine had alcohol in it. Even Jesus had given man a pint to drink--Okay, it was wine but still. He shifted again. “Some good beer, no IPAs. A bottle of vodka. Some good bourbon, uh,” he glanced down at the woman. “What? We need to grab that wine also.”

 

“Are you embarrassed?  Don’t be. It’s not like you’re going to drink it all in one day.  We need tonic and bitters too. Don’t let me forget, okay?” She asked with a sweet, squinty smile that made her look all of twelve years old for a moment. That illusion shattered when she added, “Good choice with the no IPAs though.  Not my cup of tea.”

 

Ulquiorra shook his head. “Not embarrassed. It’s been a while since I drank. We could do with some hard cider too or would that be too much? I’m overwhelmed; so many choices.”

 

She threw her head back, releasing a throaty laugh, letting her long wavy hair cascade off the back of her head, bouncing with each giggle.  Then she opened her eyes at him and brought her chin down to a more normal level and said, “I think if you like cider you should get it but we can always come back for it if you’re not sure.  I know what you mean about the selection though; this is like a candy store for grown ups.”

 

He didn’t know about that but he could see the appeal. Ulquiorra gestured for her to lead the way. “How about you pick me out something?”

 

“Okay, spirits or beer?”  She was intrigued by this challenge.

 

“I said for you to pick.”

 

“Hmm, okay.” She gave him a sidelong glance.  “I wish I knew more about you,” she said, kind of chewing on her words as she approached the shelves of vodka.  She took a step back and gave him a long look, focusing on his face, but also looking him up and down, not trying to hide it at all.  Then she turned back to the shelf and grabbed a bottle of unflavored Cîroc. “Here ya go,” she said casually, passing it to him with an almost bored expression.  It was for effect, of course. She hoped he would ask why.

 

Ulquiorra looked down at the bottle and then at the woman. “Why this? Why did you look at me like that?”

 

“I had to get a lay of the land; size you up.  Check out your aesthetic. I realize you are discouraged from putting too much effort into your appearance but that means the choices you do make are all the more important?  Maybe? I’m really just pretending to act like one of those “Let Me Guess Your Weight” guys at the fair,” she laughed. “I picked the Cîroc because it’s smooth enough to drink on the rocks without embellishments, although it’s nice with an olive.  It also has some surprising sweetness; it’s distilled from grapes,” she blushed in spite of herself, but didn’t look away. “Plus the shape of the bottle kind of reminds me of you in a cassock,” she added with a chuckle.

 

He regarded her for a moment before stepping behind her. Ulquiorra replaced the bottle she had given him and pressed himself against her back, placing a hand against the shelf but he made sure not to put too much pressure on her. He moved his head down so that his mouth was close to her ear as his heart beat wildly in his chest. “Orihime, you have no idea how I want you to size me up,” he breathed. He licked his lips and then sighed. “I like french vanilla better.”

With that he stepped away from her and grabbed the another bottle of Ciroc but a vanilla flavored one.

 

Orihime stood in place, her insides humming and her brain stalled.  What the fuck just happened? She had to have imagined it. There is no way he would do that.  No way. None. Zero. Priests don’t do that. They don’t. They don’t, and she was blowing what she imagined had happened out of proportion anyway.  She had simply been standing in his way and didn’t move. That would not be the first time something like that happened between them. The first time had been an accident too.  She finally breathed. She should be more upset that he picked a flavored vodka over a pure, unadulterated spirit. What did he think he was some kind of mixologist? She shook her head.  This whole thing was silly. She must be drinking too much again lately. Her brain function was suffering. She blew out her breath and turned to see if he was still anywhere around,

 

Ulquiorra was turned to the side, clearly arguing with himself and glaring down at the floor. Or that’s what it looked like. In reality, he was arguing with his body. He shouldn’t have done that. He had invaded her space and willfully did that for his own selfish whims. He had a hand above proverbial flames and he was heading towards a third-degree burn if he wasn’t careful. Glancing over at Orihime, Ulquiorra didn’t know what to say to her. He didn’t know how to apologise for that.

“We need tonic and bitters and wine,” he said in a monotone voice.

 

She scoffed.  “Apparently we need some froufrou mixers to go with that vanilla stuff, too,” she said, shaking her head with a small, unsteady smile, turning the cart toward the cocktail mixers area of the store, and sparing him a small bit of unguarded eye contact.  As far as she was concerned, he didn’t deserve to be shamed for her overactive imagination. She could only be fair if she pretended everything was normal. Because it was. Nothing abnormal had happened, that was just her brain giving her some naughty, phantom wish fulfillment.

 

Ulquiorra grabbed her wrist, stopping her from moving. “I could lick it off of you,” he said in utter honesty. He was on the verge of driving himself insane with his thoughts about her. There was no way she could take that statement any way than how he presented it.

 

Her face fell.  What had she done?  How could she? Her eyes closed. She was evil.  She had corrupted him. She had been too open. Too accommodating.  Too friendly. Her dirty thoughts about him probably bled through every interaction she had with him.   She had tempted him. She was Eve. She didn’t know what to say or do. She didn’t dare think of her own desires.  God was watching. She knew that this was a test of her faith and virtue.

 

Maybe.

 

Maybe Father Cifer knew.  Maybe he was testing her.  Maybe this whole shopping trip was a test that he and Zommari had concocted because they knew what a sinner she was and they wanted to catch her out.  Of course .  She was an idiot.  Of course that is what this was.  She straightened up and took a deep breath, then looked at Ulquiorra with a smile.  “You can stop now, Father Cifer. I understand what you and Father Zommari are trying to do. I’m sorry I’ve been weak.  You’re testing my faith, right? I’ve not done well so far. I’ll pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness and guidance. Just please don’t send me away from Sacred Heart,” she begged.

 

There were two things being tested and they were his patience and his sanity. He looked at Orihime in confusion and shook his head. He just told her that he’d be willing to break his vows for her and she comes back with that? Oh. What if this was a trick? What if Zommari didn’t trust him and he put this woman up to this? What if what she was saying was an act? Taking a deep breath, Ulquiorra handed Orihime the church credit card. “Get the wine,” he said, backing away from her. “I’m going to get some air. Too much--”

 

He turned and practically ran out of the store. He didn’t stop at the car. He kept walking. Ulquiorra had been too lax on himself. He was slipping. He was allowing a dark force control his thoughts. He was a priest and here he was acting like a heathen. As he walked, he let his feet carry him but he made sure not to go back to the rectory.

 

Orihime paid for the items in the cart and added two boxes of Franzia table red.  In her flustered state, she almost forgot to separate her personal items from the church ones.  At the last second, she put her whisky and Ulquiorra’s vanilla vodka on her debit card.  She took the cart out to the car and loaded it up.

 

Ulquiorra was nowhere to be seen.

 

She really didn’t want to call him, but she couldn’t strand him either.

 

She dialed his number.

 

He heard the device in his pocket and he ignored it. He didn’t want to talk to anyone. When it was done chiming, Ulquiorra reached into his pocket and turned the thing off. There was another cathedral close by wasn’t there? All he had to do was look for spires in the sky. It was dark out though.

 

Orihime left a voicemail to call her with his location if he needed a ride.  She didn’t go to the grocery store right away. She drove to the cemetery. She poured out some of her whisky for her mother and brother and cried her eyes out, confessing to them about what a wicked woman she had become and how she had either corrupted an innocent man or had drawn enough suspicion that two priests were compelled to design a sting operation on her. Eventuality a groundskeeper came and kicked her out of the cemetery.  She stopped at a store and got the minimal items on her grocery list and went back to the rectory. She could hear the voices of multiple men coming from the conference room adjacent to the office. She ignored them and put the groceries away and wrote a note for the two priests that there were leftovers in the fridge and that she had gone to bed early.

 

She went upstairs and saw that Ulquiorra’s door was open and his room was empty.  She decided to put his vodka on the dresser in his room and shut the door so the older priest wouldn’t see.  Then she went to her room and prayed some more. When that activity failed to provide her with any peace, she drank until she passed out.  It didn’t take long on an empty stomach.

 

***

 

It was Tosen who saw the note first. His eyes automatically went to Aizen’s face then Zommari’s.  “You told them to stay gone, didn’t you?”

 

“I did,” Zommari replied.

“If she becomes a liability,” Gin said, his face saying that he was amused but the tone of his voice conveyed something completely different. “She’ll have to be disposed of.”

 

Aizen shook his head. “She’s not the one we have to worry about. You’ve been keeping Ulquiorra busy, haven’t you Father Zommari?”

 

The bald priest nodded. “He’s going to become busier as the weeks go on. I have a conference in January to attend to in Dallas. It’s just a week to see if he can handle the duties to take over. I’m expected in Rome next year.”

 

Both Bishop Tosen and Archbishop Sasakibe nodded. They knew what the scheduling was like.

 

The men shook hands and left. Zommari sat in the kitchen drinking a glass of red wine when Ulquiorra walked in.

“You weren’t here?” Zommari asked, staring at the man. “Orihime has been back.”

 

“Are you testing me? Are you testing my faith?” the green eyed priest asked. He sounded slightly panicked.

 

The black priest’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. What could this young man be talking about? “You should go to bed, Father Cifer. Sleep in. You seem to need the rest,” Zommari said standing and taking the wine glass into his office.

Chapter Text

“You’re telling me that your goons are going to be--”

“Ulquiorra, you can always be moved to some parish in Alabama, maybe Mississippi?” Aizen gave him a brief smile.

That shut his mouth.

“Now, my men will be coming to confession. They will be giving you information and payments.”

The priest sat there and listened to his father ramble about what Ulquiorra was going to do. Aizen was using the church as a means to launder money and his son was the one handling it. That was the only reason he was called away from Rome. It was the reason why Aizen had donated money to the church.

He was a slave to his father still. Ulquiorra thought he was truly free from Aizen’s grip by becoming a man of God. That was not the case.

After all that went down, Ulquiorra steered clear of Orihime. He would stare through her and would ignore her when she spoke. It was just his way of coping with things. He helped her with Thanksgiving dinner for the parishioners and the needy. The only indication that he had heard her was the fact that he followed directions.

His birthday came and went without fanfare. Nel had called him to wish him a happy birthday and jokingly asked what he wanted as a present. Ulquiorra told her that he wanted a huge television and a comfortable couch to put in the basement rec room. He was surprised to see Nel standing at the rectory door several days later.

“ULQUIIIIII! I got you a TV and a couch! The couch is from IKEA soooo, not the most comfortable thing and you’re going to have to put it together. Just tell these guys where it should go.” Nel was so happy she was bouncing around.

Zommari had a fit about the things but Nel appealed to him with a smile saying that the priest didn’t have a lot of vices and watching wholesome movies could be beneficial. “I even bought you some movies. Of course they’re my favorites but you’ll like them.”

He was surprised to see most of the DVDs were kids movies. “Up? Frozen? All Dogs Go To Heaven?”

“What? It’s cute!” Nel beamed at him. “Let it goo---”

“Okay, follow me,” Ulquiorra said pulling his sister further into the rectory. The two of them managed to move the ping pong table and made a nice cozy space for the occupants of the rectory to enjoy a movie or two.

“You just need a shelf for the movies and an actual thing to play them on,” Nel said. “Happy Birthday Ulq. What are you? Thirty now?”

“Tch, I am twenty-eight.”

“You’re old.”

“Whatever, what are you? Twelve?”

“You know what? You can put that sofa together on your own.” The teal-haired woman turned and flounced up the stairs and Ulquiorra followed her. Before his sister left, she gave him a hug. “Good luck with Dad,” Nel mumbled before she was out the door.

Ulquiorra watched her from the steps of the rectory as she drove away and stayed there until a cold wind blew, then he hustled inside.

 

***

 

Orihime had been right.  It had been a test. She must have just barely passed, because although she still had her job, Father Cifer treated her like a ghost.  Father Zommari was the same old weirdo as ever, and she assumed he had just always had a poor opinion of her anyway. Her only joys were when she was able to help out at school, parish ministries, and her time off which she spent increasingly in her room with a book and a bottle.

She tried going out a couple times. She was invited by some parishioners to a potluck here and there.  Those were fine, but it involved a lot of acting fake and being led around by the elbow and introduced to people who would forget her name the next second.  She found it exhausting.

She was invited to a monthly Catholic mixer, which turned out to be a thinly-veiled matchmaking party.  She declined her second invitation. It had been a horrifying experience. The people at the party were desperate and, frankly, oddballs.  

She would come back to the rectory after these events feeling more lonely than she did before she went.  She stopped trying to smile at her housemates and just stuck to her list of duties. As time went on, she became more efficient at the housekeeping and shopping duties and found herself with more time to kill on other tasks.  She spent more time in the office. She started a parish blog. She started a Facebook buy/sell/trade group. She tried taking up knitting. It went okay . She made a bunch of scarves.   Scarves were easy. Everybody liked them.  She figured it would be nice to have a stash of them as last-minute Christmas gifts.  She had already sent two to the Rohertys. Also, yarn, depending on the quality, was relatively cheap.  That was a good thing, too, because she spent the majority of her disposable income on liquor.

Ulquiorra bought a dvd/bluray player thing. He wasn’t sure what it was but the guy at the store assured him that he needed it if he wanted to watch anything on disc. He also bought a small rack for the movies and a television stand. The day he decided to put the entire thing together he had said frell so many times, it just seemed like he used it like a comma.

Nel hadn’t just bought a couch, his sister had bought him a couch, two tables, an ottoman and a lamp. Did she think he was a bachelor and needed this stuff? At least the ottoman had storage underneath the cushion. When he put the tables and everything where he thought they should go and then stepped back, Ulquiorra was surprised how well everything went together.

He went upstairs to get a drink of water, deciding he’d spend the rest of his day off setting up the television and the other thing he bought.

Orihime was sitting in the kitchen, eating some cheese and crackers and drinking hot chocolate. Her tablet stood open on the table as she watched a Japanese drama about a high school boy and girl accidentally living together.  It was a silly show but it was sweet and full of yearning and silliness and it fulfilled her need for emotional connection for a short amount of time. It was also good Japanese listening practice. She knitted as she watched and absently munched on her slice of dill havarti.  She saw Ulquiorra out of the corner of her eye and nodded as she always did but otherwise did not acknowledge him.

“Hello Miss Inoue,” he said quietly before going to the cupboard and getting a glass down. He filled it with water and stood there drinking it. Ulquiorra didn’t know why he greeted her. Perhaps he felt bad about treating her poorly the past few weeks.

She was shocked to hear his voice directed toward her.  She had her mouth full but her eyes left her show for a moment and landed on his. She swallowed when she was able and answered in a timid voice, “Hi.”

He was going to speak to her again when Zommari came into the room. The green-eyed priest turned to face the other.

Zommari looked disturbed. “There’s supposed to be a blizzard coming in, are we stocked up on supplies? Should we open the school’s cafeteria to the homeless or maybe the basement of the church?”

Orihime’s head snapped up to Zommari’s. “What do you usually do?  I don’t think it’s wise opening up the school if we don’t have to for security reasons, but the church basement is a good alternative.”  She stood and paused her show, set down her knitting and brushed her hands off over her plate, throwing the few remaining crackers in the trash.  She walked to the pantry, which was only a few steps away, to listen to the older priest’s answer as she took stock.

“Um, this was always Bishop Tosen’s decision. The school was a bit worrying but the basement of the church does seem like a good choice. We can take turns, watching over those in need,” Zommari stated.

Orihime’s voice carried into the kitchen from the pantry, “Yeah, that’s if anyone shows up. City hall always has other places and there are actual shelters better set up for it.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it, I just don’t think we’ll have that many takers.”

Ulquiorra furrowed his brow. He thought Orihime was correct but there was no way he was going to speak up against Zommari. “It’s a good idea and we should offer it should anyone need it. Like tell them it’s open until a certain time, that way we’re not up all night ”

Zommari peered at him and then looked at the redhead in the pantry… at least what he could see of her. “Well, if we need anything, please let me know. If you’d like to go to the store Miss Inoue, that’s fine.”

Orihime was all business coming out of the pantry.  “Yeah. We’re going to need some bottled water and salt pellets and candles.  I can’t believe I’m saying that. This is a church. Are you hiding them somewhere?” she laughed.  “Just kidding, I think we’re better served getting an LED lamp or something. I have a backup battery for phones I will get going but I think we’re set for food…  Cheese and crackers require no cooking.”

The black priest nodded. “Ulquiorra if you could include that information in this week’s email and bulletin, I’d appreciate it. The weather people said this weekend would be very nasty. If we are snowed in--”

“People are not going to come to Mass if there is six feet of snow on the ground.” Ulquiorra stared at the other priest.

“We will pray and then take shifts in the cathedral but other than that, you’re free to do office work or bible study. Something productive,” Zommari said before retreating back to the office.

Ulquiorra sighed. “While you’re at the store--Wait are you going to a supermarket? I’d like you to pick up a blanket or two. One for my room and the other for the television area downstairs. I also need shampoo and conditioner. I finally ran out. Can you pick that stuff up for me?”

“Sure. Got it.  Do you know if there are blankets and stuff in the church basement?  If not maybe we can ask parishioners for donations… would you mind sending an email?  Pretend to be charming and make them feel like they want to help and all that?” she asked distractedly as she gathered her list and double-checked the refrigerator.

Charming? Charming ? He was charming! In college he could charm any woman he wanted into his dorm room. While in Rome he could charm the parishioners any time he wanted! He scowled at her back. “As you wish,” he said.

Huh. That was a weird choice of words.  A phrase that she had in a frame in her bedroom.  A line from her favorite movie. Probably not a movie someone like him would have watched, though.  She dismissed it. “Thanks, Father,” she said and went to the garage. She grabbed the keys to the van this time.  As she had gone through the pantry she realized she would probably need more than she originally let on. She was going to need the parish credit card.  She turned and went back to the office and took it. She had been there long enough that she didn’t need to check with either of the priests to use it. Despite not having a warm and fuzzy relationship, they trusted her to be responsible.

“Orihime--I mean Miss Inoue? Can you pick me up something else?” Ulquiorra had his face turned towards the computer.

She sighed, only because she had been rushing and was slightly out of breath.  She pushed some hair out of her face and answered, “Sure, what is it?”

Ulquiorra turned and looked at her. “Can you pick me up some hard cider and a bottle of bourbon?” He asked quietly. He had tasted that vanilla vodka and didn’t like it. The memory of the trip surrounding it left a sourness in his mouth so he’d stashed the bottle in the cupboard above the refrigerator. Pulling out his wallet he handed her a fifty dollar bill. “If this doesn’t cover it, let me know and I’ll give you the difference.”

She looked at the bill and back at him as she took it, “This should be plenty unless you -- how much cider do you want?”

“I don’t need a--Don’t they come in six packs?”

“Yeah.  they run about $10.00 a pop.  Do you want a nicer bourbon or just run of the mill?”

The stuff he had at his father’s pub weeks ago had been nice. It was smooth and tasted slightly like caramel and cinnamon. The only thing he could remember was that it had roses on the bottle. Ulquiorra pulled another ten out of his wallet. “It has roses on the bottle.”

She raised an eyebrow.  “Nice choice,” she commented, pocketing the money.

He mimicked her action and shrugged. “It’s better than vanilla vodka, I’m sure,” he replied then turned back to the computer.

Ouch.  That sounded like an insult, Orihime thought.  Oh well. He was probably right either way.

 

***

 

Using the van was always a bit of an adventure.  It was creaky and bouncy and felt top-heavy. Finding a place to park it was not always easy.  Luckily, her first stop, the liquor store, had ample parking.

She went in and was greeted as usual by Bob and his minions.  She decided this time, she was going to get the rest of the items she had ignored from her list the time she and Father Cifer had been there.  She grabbed his six-pack of cider, the bottle of Four Roses, a couple bottles of Jameson, tonic, bitters, and maraschino cherries. She also grabbed some bloody mary mix and a small bottle of Smirnoff and a six-pack of High Life.  If there was going to be a lot of drinking, there may be a need for some hair of the dog. She considered the change from Father Cifer’s cash a tip for her discretion and pocketed the extra $3.42.

She realized she would give it back anyway.  It was fun to imagine for a couple seconds that she might not, though.

She drove over to the big box store after she left Bob and his minions with wishes to take care in the storm.  She got two carts right away. Her first stop was the hair care aisle. Much to her shame, she had already gone through all the shampoos and conditioners that they had there, and had narrowed her choice for Father Cifer down to two.  There was one that was kind of a warm-smelling one, billed as mahogany and sandalwood, and another one that was sage and juniper-scented one. She thought either would probably work for him, not that she cared. She ultimately decided the sandalwood one suited him better and picked that out.

She went next to the homegoods department and grabbed a couple blankets.  She didn’t want to seem like she cared about what she bought for him so she picked out a red and white wintery fleece blanket for the basement that was obviously something she would pick for herself, the kind that looked like a christmas sweater with white snowflakes and geometrical patterns on a red background.  For his room, she remembered his bed was super plain; white sheets and a dark gray woolen blanket. She picked out a warm, creamy beige thermal blanket.  While she was at it she picked out the exact same one for herself and one for Father Zommari. If the rectory lost heat; they’d need them.

She was on her way to the bottled water when she saw a promotional display for sidewalk salt pellets in an unusual location and decided to go ahead and try to load those up now.  She managed the first fifty-pound bag alright, but was struggling with the second, when she heard a familiar voice.

“Ah, if it isn’t the princess of Sacred Heart. How’s life been, Orihime?” Grimmjow said. He couldn’t believe his luck. He’d seen her--well, he thought he had seen her going through the store and had ditched the men he’d come with. Aizen wanted the mansion, the townhouse and his private apartment above the pub stocked with supplies in case the storm that blew in became unmanageable. So Aizen sent Grimmjow to oversee this task.

He had been itching to visit his brother but it was mostly a ploy to see the redhead with the huge tits. “How’s life in the convent?”

She scoffed, “I’m not a nun,” but she smiled anyway.  She was so happy to see a familiar, smiling face, that she went right up to him and gave him a hug. “It’s nice to see you again, Grimmjow. I was disappointed that I haven’t seen you in church,” she teased as she let go and retreated back to the cart, looking at him like a long-lost relative.

“You might as well be one with how much action you see,” Grimmjow said. He froze at the touch and scowled at her when she retreated. “Eh, ain’t much for church things. Besides, I usually sleep late on Sundays. If I had someone to wake me up in the morning, I think I’d be more productive.”

She rolled her eyes dramatically for his benefit.  “Maybe you should move back in with mommy, then. What are you up to today?”

Ouch. When she decided to hit hard, this woman did not hold back. Grimmjow smirked. “Just out and about. What about you? Looked like you were trying to sling that salt into the cart. I’m sure you can get it in but what about taking it out?”

“Funny you should ask,” she said.  “I was hoping I could rope you into helping me out?”  She squinted her eyes and clasped her hands in a pleading manner.

Huh. Asking him for help. That surprised him too. “Ain’t you with some fatherly type guy, looks like Dracula, about this tall and about as big around as a twig? Who am I kidding, he wouldn’t be able to throw a wet towel around.”

She snickered at that.  She knew better but it was satisfying to have someone say something less than flattering about the object of the majority of her idle thoughts. “No.  Can you believe it? They let me off leash.”

Grimmjow grinned imagining her with a collar around her throat. It made for a pretty picture in his mind… Perverted but pretty. “I guess I can help. How many bags do you want?”

“Probably eight or ten.  We need bottled water, too. Several cases.”

“You need help with that too? It might cost you.”

She raised a suspicious brow at him.  “I can put you on my prayer list…”

Prayer list? “Maybe or maybe another one of those hugs? I could take you out to dinner.” Grimmjow smiled at her. He did as she asked and stacked the empty cart with the salt bags and then stood there with his hands on his hips. “What the hell do you need all this for?”

“We have a lot of pavement to de-ice if it gets icy.  An entire block’s worth and a parking lot and the stairs to the church and the rectory driveway… I’m tired just thinking about it.”

Damn. He was tired thinking about it. Grimmjow shook his head. “I’ll push this cart and you get the other one. I’ll grab the water for you since you don’t even look like you could lift a gallon of milk.”

“Hey, I’m stronger than I look!”  She sighed. “But you’re right, I am drained already.  I haven’t been getting very good sleep lately,” TMI, Hime she thought to herself.  “There has been a lot of street noise lately,”  she said to cover her ass.

“You’d think living next to a church, it would be dead quiet,” Grimmjow said as he walked beside her. “You don’t make any noise of your own?” He gave her a leering smile.

She grimaced. “Uh, I wouldn’t know, being asleep and all,” she paused as they reached the water and he started filling up the cart.  He did it quietly and without complaint, and she couldn’t help feeling grateful for both his help and his company, perverted as it was.  She found herself being overwhelmed with a feeling of fondness, and it showed on her face.

“Why are you blushing?” Grimmjow said as he straightened. “Thinking about your boyfriend?”

His question startled her, and she shook her head back and forth comically fast.  “Uh, no. No boyfriend. Just warm in here, I guess.”

“Heh,” Grimmjow chuckled then gave a small nod. “So how you like working with Ulq? He still the dick he was as a kid?”

She flinched.  It was tiny, but she flinched.  “Father Cifer mostly keeps to himself.”

Grimmjow raised an eyebrow at that but didn’t say anything. “So does that mean I can take you out to dinner next week? I mean you don’t have a boyfriend and Ulq’s being a hermit.”

She chuckled.  “I’ll think about it.  I only have one day a week off.  I have to use it wisely.”

“Well damn,” he joked. “I might have to come to church, after all, to see you more.”

This time she really blushed.  She even looked down at her feet.  She had been feeling so down on herself that this positive attention was really having a gratifying effect.  She was tongue-tied. She finally looked up at him, pink-cheeked and tight-lip smiling and nodded. “You should come,” she finally said.  “It would be good for your soul?” That last part was a suggestion.

If this woman was gonna be clued into anything about Grimmjow it was that he sold his soul a long time ago. He didn’t reveal this though but simply shrugged. “Ya done shopping? Your keepers are probably wondering what happened to you.”

“Yep, That should be it,” she answered, pushing her cart toward the checkout.

Grimmjow was certainly getting a workout lifting, bending and pushing this shit around. At least he was multitasking. While Orihime was checking out, he texted one of his father’s men and told him where he was going. Shawlong would get pissy if he had to track Grimmjow down. “You gonna be okay getting this stuff out of the van at the church or you want me to ride along?” He asked after she paid for everything.

“Are you serious?  You would do that? I would really appreciate it.  I mean, Father Zommari is kind of old to lift, I think, anyway.  I can’t really tell how old he is,” she laughed. “And Father Cifer probably won’t notice when I get back, so I’d be on my own, probably…”

“Sucks to be him. I don’t know how he could miss you,” Grimmjow stated. He was laying on the charm real thick. He didn’t plan on making good on his promise to see her more. It was just the idea of her becoming flustered.

“Somehow he manages,” she muttered, getting into the driver’s seat and waiting for him to get in the other side.

Grimmjow got in and sat slouched in the passenger side seat. He glanced at her. She was kind of cute if someone liked redheads. The blue-haired man didn’t have a preference in women. The only requirement he had was that they have a vagina and weren’t old or young as fuck. As long as he was fucking someone who was legal but wasn’t as old as Retsu he couldn’t care less what they looked like. “Means the playing field is open for anyone, eh?”

She threw him a disapproving look.  “One, Father Cifer is a priest and is therefore not anywhere near anyone’s field.  Two, I have standards.”

“Don’t mean he won’t,” Grimmjow muttered. He’d heard stories from Tier about the green-eyed man. “Oh, standards? Like what? Do I fit any of them?” He gave her a smile.

She scoffed, but a small smirk appeared on her face as she said, “That remains to be seen.”

When they arrived at the rectory, Orihime parked the van outside of the garage near the exterior entrance to the kitchen and the side door to the church, so that the supplies could be unloaded to both locations more easily.  She decided to take the easy stuff into the rectory first after she set Grimmjow to task unloading water into the church basement.

She went inside with the bags full of blankets, shampoo, conditioner, and booze.  She quickly set the booze into the pantry out of sight to be dealt with later. She took the bag with the blankets and hair products with her to the rectory office to return the credit card and receipts before she got any farther.

She didn’t know why she was surprised to see Ulquiorra still sitting where she had left him hours ago now.  “Oh, um. Hi. I got you your stuff,” she said, removing two of the blankets from the bag and setting the rest down on the floor next to his desk.  She turned to leave the office and stopped. “Oh, yeah, here,” she said, digging into her pocket and pulling out his change, holding it out to him.

“Keep it or put it in the offering dish. I don’t need it. I sent the email out,” he said. Ulquiorra looked up at her to see her cheeks were pink. It must have been cold outside. “Do you need help with carrying the other stuff in?”

“Um, yeah, we could probably use another set of hands,” she said, feeling like a loser.  When he said he didn’t need his change back, she distinctly felt that he was saying she wasn’t needed either.

Ulquiorra’s eyes went wide. We? What did she mean by we? “Um? We? Is Zommari helping you?”

“Uh, no.  I ran into someone we know at the store, why don’t you come see for yourself?” she said, forcing a small smile.

He stood and followed her out to the garage where he saw just a glimpse of blue hair. His eyes narrowed as Grimmjow came from behind one of the van doors. “Grimmjow? What are you doing here?”

 "Ulq, nice to see you too asshole. Nice setup you got downstairs, bet with some surround sound you could have this entire place vibrating,” Grimmjow said with a smirk. For effect, he cocked his eyebrow up and then gave Orihime a once over glance when her head was turned.

“What setup?”  She had no idea what they were talking about.  The last time she had been in the basement was to do laundry the previous Friday.

Grimmjow looked over at Ulquiorra and gasped as if he was scandalized. “Father Cifer has a nice little mancave set up down there complete with a ping pong table!”

“Mancave?” she shook her head. “I know about the ping pong table, it seems to have been there since time immemorial but the rest of that room is really rather sad.”

“You call an entire living room sad? That television is huge!” Grimmjow crowed.

Ulquiorra groaned. “Are you done helping Grimmjow? I’m sure I can get the rest of this by myself.”

Orihime turned on Ulquiorra with an admonishing look.  “A little gratitude is in order, don’t you think, Father?  I bought ten bags of salt and twelve cases of water, and he helped me load it from the store to the cart to the van and now moving it…” she sighed and dropped her shoulders.  “But you’re right. I’m sure you have better things to do, don’t you Grimmjow?”

She wanted him to show his delinquent brother gratitude ? The man was a murderer and a thief. He sold drugs for a living and beat up people. “As you wish, Miss Inoue,” he said through gritted teeth. “Thank you for helping Grimmjow but I’m sure you’re a busy man. I can retrieve the rest.”

Grimmjow’s mouth split into a wide grin. Ah, so that’s what his brother’s game was. Jealousy was never a good look for anyone. He shrugged. “I do gotta get back but I think Orihime owes me something,” he said, looking at Ulquiorra.

His nostrils flared in anger at Grimmjow’s words. What the hell could Orihime owe him?

“Princess, let me take you to lunch at least.”

She wanted to cry.  She was being rocked from one emotional extreme to another so fast that her head was starting to spin.  “I told you I’d think about it,” she said, climbing into the back of the van and dragging out a case of water to bring into the rectory.  She didn’t want to deal with this in front of Ulquiorra.

The blue-haired man’s smirk widened. “I could give you my number if you do ever decide,” he said. Grimmjow knew he was putting on a show for Ulquiorra. He could see his brother’s eyes getting angrier with every word he spoke.

“Grimmjow, a word, please? Orihime, please go inside and finish the bulletin I started,” Ulquiorra said. “I’ll get the rest of the water and the salt.” His pale hand shot out and Ulquiorra dragged Grimmjow out of the garage and out of sight to the front of the rectory. “Stop,” he hissed at the other man.

“Ooooh, something wrong?”

His mouth opened and then closed. The last person he wanted to know about his situation was Grimmjow. “You’re just toying with her as a cat would with a mouse,” he finally stated. Ulquiorra gave his brother a scowl before marching back to the open garage door and closed the thing once inside by pressing the button that would raise or lower it.

Orihime came out of the pantry as Ulquiorra stepped into the kitchen.  “I’m sorry about that, he doesn’t seem to know how to take a hint. Regardless, it was nice to have the help…”

Ulquiorra gave a nod. “I’ll talk to Father Zommari about hiring someone to help around the rectory and the church. We should have a groundskeeper anyway.” He walked towards the direction of the offices but stopped short. “Orihime, you have nothing to apologize for, I hope you know that.”

“Yeah, but…” she sighed.  It didn’t matter. “Anyway, I’ll put the cider in the fridge to stay cold and I guess the rest goes in the “Man Cave”?” she said, confused, using air quotes.

“It’s not a man cave. My sister bought some things because I jokingly said I wanted them for my birthday. She went overboard and now there is a proper entertainment area down in the basement free for anyone in this rectory to use,” Ulquiorra said.

She looked at him, shocked.  “It was your birthday?”

A nod. “December first.”

She blew out a breath and looked to the side, slightly dejected.  “Well, happy belated birthday. I have to take some stuff up to my room.  I’ll see you later,” she said and walked away.

Ulquiorra felt like a piece of trash as he watched her disappear down the hall. He sighed and sat down heavily on one of the kitchen chairs. To be fair, he didn’t want anything or really celebrate his birthday. The last time he celebrated it he had awoken in a hotel room with three women laying around him and bottles of booze everywhere. He didn’t recall that night. He decided that was the last time he’d celebrate his birth.

Orihime put her bottles of Jameson away in her closet and looked at the stack of scarves she had accumulated.  She had knit them to be used as last-minute gifts. This was definitely last minute. She curled a lip at them… most of them were kind of girly or bright.  There was one dark gray one. She was actually thinking of keeping it for herself, because the yarn was nice and she liked the color. But, she thought, it was probably the only color he would maybe use.  And it’s not like the yarn was that nice. She took it out of the closet, folded it up and pulled a piece of paper off her grocery list pad, writing, “Happy belated birthday, Father.  This is not a TV or whatever, in fact it’s not much of anything, really, but all the same. From Orihime.”

It wasn’t overly personal.  His bedroom door was open so she went in and put the scarf on his bed with the note sitting on top and went back downstairs to deal with getting stuff set up for the blizzard.

Chapter Text

Father Cifer had made no acknowledgment of her lame belated birthday gift, so Orihime had interpreted his silence as disapproval.  She didn’t bring it up and was relieved that he didn’t lecture her about it.

The day after she had given it to him, she had to do laundry.  She was shocked by the state the rec room. After she turned the washer on, she went into the rec room to examine its new set up.  She tested out the couch— there was the red and white fleece blanket she bought folded on one side. It looked nice, she thought. Festive.

She looked at the small collection of DVDs and chuckled.  That was one cutesy and kidsy collection in her opinion.  She had a stack of DVDs in her closet that she decided to bring down later; there was nowhere to watch them anywhere else in the rectory anyway, and she had never unpacked her laptop.

She stayed downstairs for the duration of the wash cycle, checking out the “man cave”, and then switched the load and went back upstairs.  No one was on the first floor. She went upstairs and got her own laundry, the remaining laundry of the priests’, threw her stack of DVDs on top of the basket, and went back downstairs.  It would be about forty more minutes before it would be time to switch loads, but she figured she had earned some time to dick around and do nothing; she had ended up working most of her day off getting emergency supplies with Grimmjow after all.

She thought about him several times over the past few days. Father Cifer and his brother were really like night and day.  Grimmjow was rude and perverse, but also kind of made her feel good about herself, and at least smiled and spoke to her. Really, the thing she liked best about him was that he treated her like a living, breathing person.  When she thought about that, she sighed. Her standards were slipping if that’s the only thing that was important about a person. He could be a psychotic serial killer and she would be cool if he acknowledged her existence?   Not a very good set of criteria.

It didn’t matter; he never called her or stopped by, and she didn’t expect he would.  She wasn’t even attracted to him. Sure, he was attractive by general standards, but he wasn’t her type.  Too aggressive looking, too wild. His grin was too wide, his eyes too searching. His hair was blue, for goodness’ sake.   He presented an unpredictable, unreliable image. That was not something that she was interested in.

She sighed, realizing that the only reason that she cared was that he appealed to her vanity, which was a sin.  She was a sinner though, this she knew. And worse, she could not confess. Not at Sacred Heart, anyway. She had considered going over to St. Joe’s or  St. Mary’s and confessing there, but it felt weird the one time she tried. She decided to just bottle it up for the time being.

She arranged her DVDs onto the rack, although not all of them fit, so she put the rest of them into the drawer of the TV stand, then went and started the next load of laundry.  By the time that was done, it was time for lunch, so she went upstairs again.

 

***

 

They were all on the lookout for this blizzard. That Saturday Ulquiorra was getting things ready in the supply room of the church, doing inventory. He wasn’t supposed to but Zommari had asked him to take the clipboard and pen to make notes.

The church had plenty of candles. It had plenty of things in the basement to help others. The parishioners had donated blankets for those who needed shelter. A lot of them came up to Father Zommari praising his head for opening the doors for those who needed it.

Bishop Tosen had never been that kind. He had handed out information about area homeless shelters like it was candy. Father Zommari had also stated that if anyone was in need of private counseling that Father Cifer would be available to receive those in need at the rectory several days a week.

Changes were afoot.

The priests of Sacred Heart were becoming less reclusive and more open; more modern. They had to play catch up. Most of the Catholic churches were modern with their ideas about how to rope in more worshipers. Tosen had led them through a twelve-year downturn brought on by his own selfish designs of not wanting to mingle with people outside of his profession.

Of course, it also helped that word had gotten around about the handsome young priest who would one day be taking over for old Zommari.

But on this particular Saturday, as he stood in the supply room, Ulquiorra heard two deep voices. He poked his head out of the room and saw Father Zommari walking with another man. A big, broad-shouldered man with floppy brown hair.

“Father Cifer, this is our new groundskeeper, Chad.”

The man held his hand out and Ulquiorra gripped it, giving him a slight shake. “Hello. Welcome to Sacred Heart.”

“Thanks, glad to be here,” this Chad said.

“Will he be living at the rectory?” Ulquiorra asked Zommari.

“Oh no, I’m living with my Abuelo. My Abuela passed and he needed help so...” Chad gave a shrug. “I’ve been living with him for about eighteen months now.”

“Mr. Sado is a parishioner. He’s been coming here ever since I began working at Sacred Heart some fifteen years ago,” Zommari stated.

Ulquiorra nodded. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m going to finish my inventory. Have a nice day.”

As soon as the two men passed, Ulquiorra watched them leave, something bubbling in his chest. He couldn’t define it. With a shake of his head, he went back to his duties.

The blizzard never came that weekend and Ulquiorra had to sit through Mass, listening to Zommari’s droning voice as he plowed through the Gospel.

“Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,” Ulquiorra said softly before they all sat for the sermon that Zommari was to deliver. Ulquiorra’s eyes drifted out over the crowd, locking onto a certain redhead sitting there. Her attention was solely on Father Zommari, obviously captivated by the priest’s words.

He studied how her face would react to the different things the man was saying. Ulquiorra should have been paying attention also but he couldn’t turn his eyes away from the woman. He had seen her movies on the DVD rack. He had seen her escape to the basement when there was absolutely nothing to be done. It wasn’t her fault he was lusting after her. It wasn’t her fault he felt resentment towards Grimmjow and his empty words towards Orihime.

The congregation was standing again, and Ulquiorra got to his feet, reciting the words that had been hammered into him since joining Aizen’s family. Mass seemed to drag on. Finally, Zommari was giving out announcements.

“Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord..”

Ulquiorra mouthed the words along with everyone else. “Thanks be to God.”

As people began filing out of the sanctuary, Ulquiorra knew what his duties were after Mass. He was to stand outside in the cold air, bidding those who came to worship farewell and telling them that they would be delighted to see them next week. He grabbed his coat, wrapping the gray scarf around his neck, and put on gloves before heading outside.

He had been surprised at Orihime’s gift and also offended at her note. Did she think that he cared about Nel’s gift? He had taken a vow of poverty. Ulquiorra was far from poor but he wasn’t as well off as Tier or his father. He fingered the scarf with a smile. It was a thoughtful gift and one he enjoyed.

The weatherman had apologized for causing panic, saying that the storm they anticipated hitting them had gone further north and was currently hitting Canada, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Most people were commenting on the weather to Ulquiorra as they filedmout of church. He would just nod and smile. When there was only one or two stragglers, Father Cifer made his way back inside the church to clean up.

Zommari had already taken off with the communion wine, leaving the rest for him to put away or sweep into the trash. An hour later, he was done and walking through the vestibule that connected the church to the rectory, hands in his pockets. Ulquiorra had the rest of the day off and he decided he was going to spend it in his room.

It was a little after noon at that time.  Orihime had tidied up the pews with the parish decoration ministry and made sure the advent decorations were in order and that the candles had been blown out.  She finished before Ulquiorra, and went to her room to reflect on the mass and just relax.

Her reflection took all of twenty minutes, and she had no urgent responsibilities until dinner.  She decided to make a cup of hot chocolate and bring it up to her room and listen to music. She had a nice little Bluetooth speaker and put on some instrumental carols to get her into the holiday spirit as she wrote a letter to the Rohertys, and when that was done she just let the streaming service play her recommendations based on her listening history.  

She began knitting as she listened, quieting her mind and soothing her tired spirit.  She had moved on from scarves to hats at this point. They were finished more quickly and she honestly didn’t know enough people to give any more scarves to.

It was unintentional as Ulquiorra slammed the door to his room. He removed his cassock and the rest of his clothing minus his boxers before settling on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. He had hidden the bourbon and a glass in his top dresser drawer which he pulled out of the hiding place and poured himself a generous serving. He drained the glass in one go, not bothering to savor the taste of it. He was pouring himself another when he heard music. It was coming from next door.

Green eyes slid in the direction of the woman’s room. He should go over there and thank her for the scarf. It would be the nice thing to do. Ulquiorra didn’t trust himself though.

Those moments in the shower happened more frequently. There would be times that his sinful encounters with himself happened in his bed. Although plain, Ulquiorra was grateful his sheets were light colored. Stains didn’t show up very well with white sheets. He sighed and took his glass over to his bed setting it down on the bedside table. He flopped on the soft but firm surface of the mattress, listening to the music.

It didn’t take long for the alcohol to go to his brain. His head felt buzzy and filled with cotton wool. He picked up his phone and thought about texting his neighbor but what would he say to her? Even if she accepted his apology, he still had to refrain from spilling his heart out to her.

A song came on that Orihime especially liked; one she knew the words to, and she sang along.  It started out softly, but as the music continued her voice grew to a more moderate volume.  The lyrics spoke of a kind of love that was foreign to her but was something she had been fantasizing about more and more since moving to Sacred Heart.  She reclined and closed her eyes, and when she got to the chorus, she let the feeling flow through her, singing along with the lyrics, “ if I lie here, if I just lie here, will you lie with me and just forget the world…

She continued to sing along, her voice dying out a bit as the song returned to the verse, picking up again when the chorus returned, and then replaced by a sigh.  This was torture. How much was she expected to endure? When would her little crush fade away like all the websites she went to for advice said it would?

He had heard her singing with a lovely voice. He missed music sometimes. Missed driving on the backroads between Illinois and Wisconsin with the top down and his hair blowing behind him. He missed how freeing that felt.

When it came down to it, Ulquiorra missed his freedom. He missed that chance to say yes and no. Not that Orihime would ever say yes to him. After all he’d been cruel to her in the past. She had shot him down after he hinted that he would throw this all away for her.

He pushed his torso off the bed and dragged his hips forward, gasping at how that felt. Damn it. Was he really contemplating rutting against his mattress like a school boy? He needed more alcohol. Sitting up against the wall, he brought the glass to his lips and took a sip, letting the flavor of the Four Roses bourbon drift over his tastebuds.

When the liquid was gone he stood and walked over to the dresser and set the glass down. He caught reflection of himself in the mirror that hung on the wardrobe door. The black hair. The vibrant green eyes. The too pale skin. The body he worked so hard for. He knew what he was going to do on his day off.

He pulled his shirt up to look at his abdomen. Maybe it was the booze talking but he looked damn good. Maybe he could give her a little taste of what she had passed up.

This was no good.  Laying in bed, staring at the ceiling brooding about forbidden love - none of it was helping.  She needed to get up. She stretched, growling and whining, twisting and popping her spine. “Yoshi!” she said to herself, one of the few Japanese words she still peppered her speech with, as she hoisted herself upright.  She had to pee, she realized, as her feet hit the floor. She got up and shuffled out of her room. She went to the restroom and when she was done and had her hands washed, she looked at herself in the mirror.

She thought she was nice looking.  Not like, a model or anything, but her looks were unusual and interesting and generally pleasant.  She was young and that in an of itself did her a lot of favors. Maybe she should put a little more effort into her appearance though.  She was not living in the middle of nowhere anymore. She was a grown woman. She looked down at the frumpy blouse and cardigan she had worn to church.  She had already switched out her skirt for a pair of boyfriend jeans. It was sloppy looking. She didn’t even bother with makeup anymore.

She opened the medicine cabinet.  She had a few items in a small bag in there.  She put on some mascara and lip gloss and looked at herself again.  Hmm. Okay, she looked slightly more polished, but nothing like some of the middle-aged women who came to church looking so effortlessly put together, and a far cry from their glamorous young adult daughters who occasionally joined them.  She had definitely transformed into a relative country mouse during her time away. It was silly. She wasn’t going to be seen by anyone who would notice for the rest of the day. She decided to get started on dinner early as she opened the door back to the hall.

He wouldn’t send her a selfie of his entire body. Without thinking any further on the subject, Ulquiorra grabbed his phone from where it sat on top of his dresser. The camera was facing the mirror and Ulquiorra made sure he had his shirt pulled up enough to show off his stomach and give her a glimpse of the waistband of his boxers and the sweats. He looked at it and let out a chuckle as he sent it to her.

After it went to her, he poured himself more bourbon, swirling the liquid in his glass.

She heard her phone chime through the Bluetooth speakers as she went through the hallway.  Huh. Weird. The only people who ever texted her anymore were… Nobody. Even the Rohertys stopped contacting her except an occasional phone call that she initiated.  She wondered what it could be. Had Grimmjow gotten her number somehow? Was it an old school friend? Wrong number? She put her thumb on the reader and tapped the message app.  She was surprised. Father Cifer? Was he still at church? Maybe he needed something. She tapped on the message

Oh.

Ohhhh.  Oh dear.  Oh my, oh my word.   What? Was this a wrong…  Did he mean to send this to someone else?  She didn’t know what to think. Her first instinct was to just ask.  But what if it was meant for someone else? Wouldn’t he be embarrassed?   But what if he kept sending her pictures thinking they were going to someone else?  Dear God, he looked good. His abs were unreal… She hadn’t seen them since September.  They were a bit more tan then. They looked good like this too, she thought, her head falling to the side.  “Hmmm,” she thought aloud. She heard herself. No. No. This was no good. This had to be resolved. She marched over to his door and knocked.

“Father Cifer?  I think you sent me something that was meant for someone else.  Double check the contact next time, okay?”

She had tried to sound as neutral about it as possible.  A large part of her was disappointed in him. This was not the kind of behavior she expected from a man in his position.  On the other hand, it was not for her to judge. Father Zommari’s sermon carried that very message that morning. She sighed softly and backed away from the door.  The rest was up to him.

He glanced at the door and then down at his phone. Ulquiorra sighed loudly. “Uh, I meant to send it to you,” he called out.

“What?  Why?” She asked, incredulous.  The questions left her lips before she had a chance to think about them.

Ulquiorra sighed again as he walked over to the door. He opened it and looked at the redhead. “Sorry, I thought you’d like it,” he said. His normally conservative filter had been misplaced by the alcohol. “Or at least you would know what you passed up on.”

“I don’t understand, Father Cifer.  What I passed up on? I’m sorry, I didn’t… I mean, of course it looks nice  I mean… Do you mean in general? I mean, you’re a… Wait, are you offended because I refused your brother?  Because I can assure you I didn’t lead him on or anything, and I mean clearly he isn’t very interested. He hasn’t contacted me or anything and I just didn’t think it was right to agree to a date with someone I don’t really know that well and wasn’t exactly attracted to… I’m sorry, did I hurt his feelings or something?”  She looked up at his face apologetically and then she saw it. The glassy eyes. Pink cheeks and nose. The smell. He’d been drinking. She relaxed slightly. This was definitely some kind of misunderstanding.  She waited for his explanation.

“I’m glad you’re not interested in Grimmjow. I couldn’t care less if he was offended or had his feelings hurt,” he stated, opening the door some more and entering the hallway. Ulquiorra would probably regret this conversation in the morning but at the moment his bourbon soaked brain was telling him it was a-ok. “No, Orihime, I’m talking about--It doesn’t matter. You’re not interested in me either.”

“What?  I know you aren’t interested in me.  You’re a priest. That’s why I…” She sighed.  It wouldn’t do to tell him that she had been trying to suppress her feelings.  It would only shift her burden to him. That wouldn’t be fair. She sighed. “You know, if you’re going to get drunk on a Sunday you should let me know.  I keep the good stuff in my room,” she teased with a wry smile, trying to lighten the mood. Obviously he didn’t know how to handle his liquor. “You are kind of a lightweight, aren’t you?”

Ulquiorra looked at her, with desire in his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something really suggestive but then closed it. He took a step back. “Uh, I’ve not drank in six years. I guess it kind of hit me hard,” he answered.

She smiled at him kindly.  She was used to being the girl at the party taking care of the inexperienced drinkers.  “I’ll bet you haven’t eaten anything today yet either.” She crossed her arms over her chest.  “I didn’t see you at breakfast. Why don’t you come down and get a snack? You can tell me about your holiday plans while I get dinner started.  Deal?”

Oh so his absence had been noted. Damn it. Ulquiorra nodded. “I’m sorry about the photo. Feel free to delete it,” he said following her.

At first, the only response she gave him to his apology was a goofy chuckle.  She was half tempted to tell him she would keep it as blackmail. That gave her an idea.  “Uh, I think I’ll hold onto it. Maybe I can put it in the silent auction at the church festival,” she giggled wickedly.  “I’m sure the quilting circle would start a bidding war,” she said, tee-heeing like it was the funniest idea she ever had until she landed on the first floor, when she turned slightly to face him.  “What do you think, Padre? Would you be too weirded out hanging on Myrtle Johnson’s parlor wall?”

“No, that picture could be anyone. Had I shown my face it would have been a different story.” He gave her a serious look as he pulled his shirt up and flashed his abs at her. “Just in case you were wondering,” Ulquiorra said as he joined her in the hall.

She bit her lower lip and blushed but rolled her eyes.  “Uh, yeah, I remember the handyman-under-the-sink. Come on, you’re not getting any more sober giving me a peep show.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to offer her more than a peep show but Zommari could be anywhere and overhear them. “You know Zommari drinks red wine? He’s been taking the communion wine,” the green-eyed priest said as they walked toward the kitchen.

She scoffed and laughed in low tones, “This does not come as a great surprise to me.  Our first foray into the liquor store was not the last time I was sent there with the parish credit card.  I don’t know why he drinks that stuff. There is actually good wine in the world, he could spring for some of it,” she said, shaking her head as they arrived in the kitchen.  Her first order of business was getting him a very tall glass of water, then pulled out a bag of pretzels and some peanuts. “Start here. Do you want a sandwich or something?” She asked as she started pulling out ingredients for the roast she was planning for that evening.

“I think he drinks it because it’s as dry and lifeless as him,” Ulquiorra snickered before it turned into a full out laugh. He sat down to look at what she offered him. “Get me the peanut butter and honey. I can make myself a sandwich.”

“As you wish,” she said, standing on her tiptoes to reach the overhead cabinet that held the two requested items.  She sat them on the table in front of him and grabbed him the loaf of bread, a plate and a knife. Then she went the pantry and pulled her “sack apron” over her head, put her hair back in a scrunchie and rolled up her sleeves as she set to work washing veggies.

It wasn’t every day that he heard his own statements thrown back at him but he’d seen that particular quote in her room. It was an alternative to yes. He watched her work as he made his sandwich. She looked amazing as she walked and moved around the kitchen. It wasn’t anything magical but Orihime made it that way for him. She deserved to be happy with someone. She deserved someone who could make her a wife and a bride. He was a horrible person for even trying to seduce her.

He traced the rim of the glass of water and pouted for a minute. “Zommari hired a groundskeeper. I dunno if you’ve met him or not,” Ulquiorra said. He knew he was screwing up his own chances but in reality, he was a man of God. There was no fucking chance in the world for him.

“No, I have not.  Maybe tomorrow. Is he going to be here full-time?”

“Not sure. Maybe when he’s needed? I mean having a groundskeeper in the spring and summer would make sense but not in the fall or winter. I would only use him on a as needed basis,” Ulquiorra replied.

“Hmm, I see.  He must have a unique situation to make that work schedule possible. But yeah I agree it doesn’t make sense otherwise.  Anyway,” she started to change the subject, clearly not remotely interested in the groundskeeper at the moment, “I wanted you to tell me about your holiday plans.  Are you going to be having dinner with your family or something like that? What do you usually do?”

He hadn’t spent the past twelve Christmases with his family, he wasn’t going to start now. “I’ll be staying here,” he said in a flat voice. Ulquiorra didn’t want to talk about his so-called family. “Zommari’s heading down to Hartford to see his parents and brother.”

“Oh, that’s nice for him, but too bad for you.  I’m surprised Uncle…” she paused and turned to look at Ulquiorra for the question that just occurred to her.  “I don’t suppose your father has said much to you about me, has he? I mean, he used to call me and take me to lunch and stuff and I thought for sure when I moved back here I’d see him more frequently but he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.  Is he upset with me about something?”

“Orihime, I don’t think--” Ulquiorra sighed. “He’s a busy man. I imagine he thought you were going to visit your people in Wisconsin for the holidays. They probably miss you.”

Orihime sighed and turned back to the sink, pulling the washed vegetables out and setting them out to be cut.  “I think now that I’ve been gone so far away, they are kind of enjoying being empty-nesters. Plus their real kids are starting to have kids of their own.  They were kind to me but they, the Roherty’s real kids, I mean, don’t really see me as part of the family because they were all out of the house by the time I came along.  I imagine it’s kind of awkward for them to have me there, and Jack and Maggie wouldn’t want to alienate their actual kids. It’s only natural I suppose,” she said, dropping the cut vegetables into a slow cooker and setting the roast on top, then pouring the stock and seasonings in and closing the lid.  “There we go. You boys are going to eat well tonight,” she said with a small grin and she turned around again.

Ulquiorra sighed before he picked up his empty plate and glass. He stood and walked over to the sink, placing the dishes in it. He had half a mind to recreate that incident in the liquor store but decided against it. He didn’t want her to make a fuss. “If you’d like I’ll take you to Aizen’s on Christmas Day,” he said after a moment of just standing there and looking out the window at the sad state of the yard.

“Wha-?  Are you serious?!”  She spun around and grabbed his forearm, trying to force him to look at her.  She did not want to be mistaken about this. Then she saw the faraway look in his eyes and her excitement faded.  She let go of him. “No, I’d rather stay here, I think,” she said then, biting the inside of her cheek and going to the pantry to put her apron away.  She came back out with some instant hot chocolate and a half-eaten bag of marshmallows. “Want some?”

He shook his head and gave her a toothy smile after he turned to look at Orihime. “Sure but there better be hot chocolate still in the pantry if we get another threat of blizzard coming this way.”

“Oh don’t you worry your pretty little head about that.  I’ve got enough Swiss Miss to last us from now until Judgment Day,” she smiled back, filling a kettle. And setting it on the stove.  “I have to say I am slightly, slightly, disappointed that we didn’t get all that snow.”

“Yeah? Why is that?” Ulquiorra asked. “I was looking forward to it to get out of my duties for a few days.”

She chuckled.  “Yeah, I don’t think mine would have let up, but there is something to be said about hunkering down inside where it’s warm while watching the snow fall and thinking to yourself, “I’m glad I’m not out there.”  No one will bother you, no one will ask for your time or attention. There’s a rare kind of privacy. I don’t know, maybe it’s an illusion but what can I say, I’m a romantic. There is something about it that appeals to me.”  The kettle was starting to bubble, and she decided to take it off before it started to whistle and prepared the hot chocolate.

“Ulquiorra!” Zommari said coming into the kitchen. He stared at the green-eyed priest. “You’re going to be holding confession two times a week from now on. Saturdays are inconvenient for some of the people who attend. Wednesdays and Saturdays,” the black priest stated.

“Oh, okay. Is everything okay?”

“There’s a conference I will be attending in Dallas during the second week of January. I’ll be going to the Vatican this year for a month in April. You’ll be in charge during my absences,” Zommari replied. “I’m trying to get things in order for the holidays and realized I hadn’t told you any of this.”

Ulquiorra bit his lip. An entire week with Orihime… Alone? Maybe he should request another priest to come to stay or even a nun. All he did was nod. “I’ll do my best,” he said.

Orihime discreetly took notes of these dates and events being rattled off by the older priest.  She didn’t trust Ulquiorra’s sobriety level to remember it all. She figured she’d slip it under his door later. “You hadn’t told me either, Father Zommari.  Please let me know as well in the future so I can plan accordingly with the shopping and menu planning, also I can tell parishioners what to expect and where you are going in the blog and bulletin,” she requested respectfully.  

The bald priest nodded. “My apologies. Please, I didn’t mean to leave either of you out of this. It’s been busy scheduling the repairs needed to the church and on top of everything else. I can’t learn this pad thing that Ulquiorra gave me. It makes my eyes hurt. I’ve got to go back to planning Christmas Eve’s Mass.”

Ulquiorra watched as his boss walked away and sighed. “Never a dull moment with him around right?”

She raised an evil brow at Ulquiorra.  “We should throw a raging kegger while he’s gone,” she said quietly, then threw her head back and laughed.  

Seeing her laugh like that made him walk closer to her. He leaned down to murmur in her ear where only she could hear. “You’d never be able to handle a normal party, Orihime, but we can certainly have fun while he’s gone,” Ulquiorra said. He straightened his spine and took one of the mugs of hot chocolate she had made with a smirk on his face. “I’ll be in the office if you need me .”

She didn’t catch the innuendo.  “I’m going to hold you to that, you know!” she shouted after him, still laughing.

 

***

 

Trouble started on Wednesday. It was raining but the temperature was falling steadily and soon the drizzle turned into snowflakes. Ulquiorra stood outside of the church after confession in coat and scarf, pockets full of envelopes to deliver to Aizen the following Tuesday. He also had recorded the words of anyone who had slipped him an envelope through the small door that he opened. So many familiar faces either worked for Aizen or owed the man money. It was ridiculous how many of the parishioners his father had under his thumb. The sky was black as he went back into the church and locked the door. Going back to the rectory, Ulquiorra took off his coat and hung it up along with the scarf, He never did thank her for it.

He ran his fingers over the yarn and said a prayer of thanks that Orihime was kind enough to even think of him when he was being an asshole. He’d thank her soon enough.

When he woke up the next morning he was surprised to find there was close to three feet of snow outside. He found Zommari looking out the office window a few minutes later. “Are we going to be working today?”

The black man shook his head. “They’re calling for another two feet tonight. I hope that’s not the case because Chad is at his grandfather’s apartment. There’s no one here to clear the snow out.”

“There was some snow last night,” Ulquiorra said.

“Yeah, the weatherman didn’t say anything like this was going to happen. It was just going to be a couple of inches.”

“That’s what she said.”

“What?” Zommari looked at him with a displeased look.

Ulquiorra shook his head. “Nothing, never mind. Something I overheard the older kids say.”

“Oh.” Zommari stood there for a moment more. “I don’t think Miss Inoue is up yet. We could let her sleep in.”

“She won’t. She’s too industrious to stay in bed,” Ulquiorra replied. “I’m going to get dressed for the day. Nothing says snow day like a nice warm sweater and thick socks.”

That made Zommari laugh.

As Ulquiorra reached his and Orihime’s respective doors, he decided to knock on hers. Giving it several taps, he waited for a moment.

The door flew open and a small hand darted out, grabbing him by the wrist and pulling him inside.  “Look!” an overly enthusiastic voice demanded as its owner pointed out her window. “It snowed!” Orihime stood there in pink snowflake flannel pajamas and woolen socks, hopping from one foot to the other and nearly bursting with excitement.

He nearly flew into her but skidded to a stop by grabbing the footboard of her bed. “I know. You’re like a child on Christmas morning. It snowed, yes. I came up here to tell you that we have the day off and more snow is expected tonight from the weather reports. I think we should attempt to do some work though. At least send emails and things out to the parishioners.”

She groaned in disappointment.  “You are no fun.” She wanted to go build a snowman and drink spiked cocoa and watch a movie or something and he wanted her to work!?  It was an offense to snow! She slumped her shoulders and looked out the window and whined, “Mmmngh, fine.  I’ll do some stupid work,” she grumbled, sticking her toes in some slippers and putting on a robe before starting down the stairs.  He had seen her jammies already; no need to stand on ceremony, she thought. It was a snow day for cripes’ sake.

“Just give me an hour of your time after prayers,” Ulquiorra said, quickly following her out of the room. “If you give me an hour of your time, I’ll give you an hour of mine, deal?”

“Yeah right,” she said dubiously as they reached the bottom of the steps.  “You say that now.” She yawned as she reached the kitchen, her enthusiasm sapped as she took out the stuff to make coffee.  “Eggs and toast okay for you and Zommarino?”

Ulquiorra grabbed her wrist and turned her around to face him. “Orihime, I would never break a promise to you. I promise if we work for an hour, I will give you the rest of my day today.”

Chapter Text

Sixty minutes after morning prayer, Ulquiorra pushed himself away from the desk and looked at Orihime who was filing papers. “Are you done? Well even if you’re not done I promised. You gave me sixty minutes of your time and now you have mine.”

“I have your time, eh?  Then I have a question for you.  Have you watched the movies in your DVD collection?  Because one of them asks a very important question,” she inquired with a serious tone.

“Eh, my sister bought most of the movies. Never been one to watch them,” Ulquiorra said. He peered at her for a moment. “What’s this question?”

She scowled.  “You might miss the reference then, but, do you wanna build a snowman?” she asked with a sheepish chuckle.

He laughed. “You know when the kids are allowed to dress in their own clothes, I’ve seen shirts with that on it and the redhead girl and that talking snowman. So it’s not entirely lost. Is that what you want to do? Build a snowman?”

“For starters, anyway.  Meet you back down here in five minutes?  I gotta bundle up.”

Ulquiorra nodded. “I’m glad I bought those snow pants last week. They might come in handy but I have no boots. There might be a pair of rainboots in the garage though.”

“That works.  Woolly socks are the key, though,” she said as she left the office, muttering to herself as she went up the steps, “Snowpants, huh?  Wuss.” In truth, she was jealous that she hadn’t thought to get any herself.

He checked the garage for the boots and found them but they were a bit too big. It was no matter. Orihime had said woolly socks were key. Well, he had several pairs of thick woolen socks. He only wore them when it was really cold and he didn’t have to go anywhere because they didn’t allow his feet to fit into any of his shoes when he wore them. After grabbing the boots, he dashed upstairs to dig the snowpants out of the bag he’d thrown in the back of the closet.

It only was several minutes later that he was standing in the foyer, getting his coat on and wrapping the scarf around his neck and lower half of his face.

Orihime had a pair of fleece lined leggings that she layered under a pair of baggy jeans, then put on a thermal top and sweater, topping it off with a ski jacket and gloves she had brought with her from Wisconsin and one of the scarves she had knitted and it’s matching hat.  She decided to pocket the hat she had made with the leftover yarn from Ulquiorra’s scarf just in case he didn’t have one, then waddled down the steps.

“You ready?”  she called out when she got to the first floor hall.

He had just slipped his hands into his gloves when he turned around and nodded. “I am,” he replied, pulling the scarf down enough to answer. “Are you warm enough?”

She grinned.  It was her first time seeing him wear the scarf.  “Too warm, for now. And you aren’t ready,” she said, pulling the hat from her pocket, which was no easy task with her gloves on. She passed it to him and said, “Okay, now you’re ready.”

Raising an eyebrow, Ulquiorra looked at the hat in his hands and then at the redhead. Without a word he put it on. “Cmon, out in the yard,” he stated. “I’m sweating and will perish if I stay in here.”

She laughed and took off in an awkward jog toward the door.  “Last one out is a rotten egg!” She yelled without looking back.

He would be a rotten egg for her. If it made her smile and laugh like that he’d let her win. Ulquiorra took long strides after her. He didn’t realize that there was a thin layer of ice under the snow so when he stepped onto the small square of concrete in the yard, the priest slipped and fell onto his backside.

“Oi!  Watch your step,” she said as she trudged back toward him and held out her hand to help him up.  “Your boots aren’t really ideal. You okay?”

Ulquiorra eyed her hand and waved her off. “I’d pull you down with me. I’m fine,” he said as he got up. His foot slipped again and sent him almost toppling on his face.

“Come on, I won’t bite,” she said, shoving her hand toward him again.  “Besides, I have a low center of gravity.”

“Maybe I bite,” he said giving her a suggestive glance. He took her hand and let Orihime lead him off the slick concrete and into the snow.

“Huh, yeah, I bet you do.  I never asked a priest before, but don’t you find the whole Eucharist thing kind of macabre?  “Drink my blood, eat my flesh”. What are we supposed to be, the church of the living dead?”  She asked, giggling a bit nervously. She wasn’t sure if that would offend him or not.

He laughed, throwing his head back. “Vampires. There were children in Rome that would point to me and call me a vampire in Italian. Their mothers would shoo them away and scold them with a stern finger pointing in their faces.”

She regarded him for a moment.  “Yeah, I can see it. You have that whole pale but dark handsome thing going on.  A little scary to boot. You don’t sparkle though, do you, Cullen?” she asked, laughing as she looked away and picked up some snow and started packing it with her gloves.

He paused mid-laugh and studied this woman who drew his attention away from his faith. She thought he was handsome? If she did then why did she protest the picture he texted to her? Aside from the glaring obvious that it was inappropriate. “My name is not Cullen and I do not like glitter. I’m where near as rich as those fictional and badly written characters.”

“Oh so you know the story rather well, do you?” she turned around to face him, her cheeks just beginning to turn red from the cold.  She smirked at him. “And here I thought only virginal loser girls,” she pointed to herself, “read that kind of trash. Oh well, you never know, do you?”  She snickered as she plopped her snowball in the ground and started rolling it to accumulate bulk.

He gave her a disgruntled look. “I graduated when the books and the movies came out. I am only familiar with them because the school I went to was a co-ed private school. Do you know how many females I—“ Ulquiorra realized that they had very different backgrounds. She wouldn’t understand the fact that he had capitalized on his pale complexion to have sex with vampire obsessed chicks.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.  You probably loved them on the DL,” she teased.  “I can see how fangirls would have flocked to you; the last time I saw you before I was sent away I was too young to know what those movies were but I remember thinking you didn’t look completely human.”  She said too much, she thought. That was not kind.

“You were a bratty kid,” he said, scooping up snow and packing it into a ball. His eyes trailed over her body covered up by the various layers she had on. Ulquiorra could imagine what her body looked like. “You certainly grew up, didn’t you?”

“Time does that.  I’m doing the bottom, FYI,” she said, eyeing his snowball.  “And I was not a brat. I was a perfect sweetheart,” she said with her nose in the air.

He grinned, showing his teeth. “Brat,” he stated. Ulquiorra chuckled as he packed more snow onto the ball. “You’re still a sweetheart.”

“Oh I know it.  I could be feeding you and Zombie the stuff I used to cook for myself in college.  But no, I have learned how to cook properly, for your benefit,” she laughed.  She recalled the absolutely bizarre concoctions she would fix herself during marathon study sessions and shuddered.  Never again, she silently swore.

“Heh, you know I love your cooking. I always eat it. You’re making me fat with it,” Ulquiorra said. “I didn’t have a variety of food until I went to Italy.”

“Ooh, I’m jealous, I love Italian food.  And you are not fat.  I have proof on my phone.  Between the two of us I am the fat one.”

Ulquiorra wasn’t thinking when he spoke. “Personally, I think you might be perfect from what I’ve felt, but that’s my opinion.” He squatted down and set the snowball in the snow and began rolling it around the edge of the small yard.

Her face reddened, but this time it wasn’t from the cold.  “Oh? And what, praytell, have you “felt?” From what I recall we have had the occasional body slam. I don’t know how much you are able to identify a person’s body fat percentage based on those tests.  I’ll tell you though, it’s a lot easier to put on weight now that I’m not dancing anymore.”

He gave a snort. “You forget at the liquor store; you know when you and Zommari were testing me?”

She furrowed her brows and looked at him with confusion.  “What are you talking about? Testing what?”

“My faith? I know I failed miserably.” He sighed as he continued to roll the ball around to collect the snow. “I’m one of those priests that lived it up before I went into the seminary. It’s not important.” Ulquiorra waved a hand as if to dismiss the subject.  “We should decorate the rectory and the church this weekend. It’s getting close to Christmas. We should at least get a Christmas tree or see if there’s one in the attic.”

Orihime’s eyes widened; was Zommari testing both of them?  Wait, what did that say about Father Cifer? Was he more like his brother than she thought?  She didn’t have a chance to mull it over much more, because when Ulquiorra mentioned a Christmas tree, her brain went into overdrive.

“Yes!  Yes! Oh my goodness, yes!!!  We have to do that!”

Ulquiorra watched her for a moment, trying to figure out what she was thinking. He had heard stories that most of the priests that went into the seminary had sinned before abstaining from a life of wrongdoing. He didn’t know what was so wrong about loving someone but it was against everything they were taught. Then she changed the subject to decorating and Ulquiorra wasn’t going to bring up it. He wasn’t stupid. “You know if the roads weren’t so bad, we could go get cookie dough. I always liked the cookies Aizen’s chef made.”

“Pssht.  Get cookie dough?   Get cookie dough?  No my dear. In this house, we don’t “get” cookie dough,” she said, employing air quotes poorly with gloves on.  “We make cookies from scratch here in the house of Cifer, Inoue, and Rureaux.” She paused and took a breath. She hadn’t completely shaken what he had said about being tested.  He had said that both she and Zommari were testing her. “I wasn’t testing you, by the way.”

“You’re going to make cookies from scratch? Can I eat the dough?” Ulquiorra picked up his snowball and brought it over to her. It was slightly smaller than the one she made. “Hmmm,” was all he said to her last statement.

“Of course I make cookies from scratch.  And you can eat the dough. My mother always made fun of Americans and your food safety paranoias.  Wash the eggs before we crack them, hope for the best, say a prayer and live dangerously. Eat the raw cookie dough.  Even if you die you can say you have truly lived,” she laughed.

Ulquiorra smiled. “Well let’s finish our snowman so that we can finish the other tasks we have roped ourselves into.”

“Not so fast, soldier,” she said, ducking behind her larger ball of snow.  “Incoming!”

Splat.

A peal of giggles.

“You were supposed to dodge it!” Orihime said, trying not to cry with laughter at the sight of Ulquiorra’s snow-covered nose.

Okay, that’s how she wanted to play, he’d play her game. He scooped up more snow and packed it into a ball. He walked over to her, practically stalking every move she made.

She squealed as she tried to anticipate his movements and find an escape route.  Eventually she turned tail and ran the other direction, covering the back of her neck and making ridiculous “eeee” noises with every snow-laden step.  Her pace was not especially fast, especially in light of the fact that the snow went up to her thighs in some spots. “Mercy! Uncle! I surrender!” she said, holding her hands up and breathing heavily.

Ulquiorra shook his head. “I show no mercy to any of my prisoners,” he said playfully. He was taller than Orihime and it was nothing to pluck her hat from her head and place the snowball on her red hair. Then he smashed it down, pulling the hat back on her head and making sure it covered her eyes before he ran away. The only thing that stopped him was the fact that he found the short sidewalk that went through the yard and he found himself staring up at the light gray sky. He had slipped and fell… Again.

“Hmmm… looky what we have here…” Orihime said, standing at his feet.  “I believe it’s a traitor to the crown. Have at ye!” She yelled, scooping snow up with her gloves and showering Ulquiorra with it as fast as she could go.

A laugh left him and soon he was on his feet again. “Okay, okay. You win, Woman. The only reason you won today was because of these boots.”

“Yeah, yeah, sore lose—“  she had taken a step backwards onto the sidewalk.  Her foot came out from under her and she flew into a snowdrift on the opposite side.  She had sunk halfway into the snow and found it wasn’t an uncomfortable place to be. She was quiet for a minute, and then put a hand over her heart and started humming “Taps”.

He made his way over to the snowbank and looked down at her. “Comfy? Cozy? Do you need a hand out of there?” Ulquiorra asked, holding out both hands. “With the way you’re wedged in there I’m going to have to pick you up.”

“You may have to.  I’m dead. D-E-D. Dead,” she said dramatically, then stuck her tongue out to the side and closed her eyes with an unpleasant choking sound.

“Fuss. Fuss. Fuss.” He reached down and hooked his arms under hers and pulled up. She was surprisingly lightweight. Ulquiorra held her for a moment after he rescued her from the drift of snow. “Do you want to go back inside?”

She looked him in the eyes, somewhat dazed for a second, before she cleared her throat.  When she spoke, her voice was quieter and lower than usual, “Um, yeah. As soon as we get Bob assembled.  His minions will eat him if she shows any weaknesses,” she said, eyeing the two snowballs sitting in the yard.

Ten minutes and six thrown snowballs (Orihime had thrown four of them and Ulquiorra had only thrown two) later, “Bob” was done. Ulquiorra had found two rocks under the snow and the redhead had ran inside for a baby carrot as a nose. It was rather cute. While Bob came up to Orihime’s chest, the snowman wasn’t that tall, at least in his opinion. “I don’t think I can feel my toes,” he grumbled as they entered the mudroom of the rectory.

“I don’t think I can feel myself.  It feels like my lips don’t fit,” she said, exaggeratingly pulling them over her teeth and scrunching her nose.  “Time to change and have hot chocolate before anything else happens, I say.”

“I have to agree with you. I think there’s snow inside of these boots,” Ulquiorra said as he pried one off and then the other turning them over and watching drips of water pool onto the tile floor. He frowned then pulled his socks off too. It would make her life that much more difficult if he went around with wet socks on. “I should take this snow thing off and then just take it down to the basement to hang it up to dry.”

“That would be a great idea,” she said.  “Actually, why don’t we just make a pile of wet stuff here and then I can bring a basket down and we can do it in one go,” she said, stripping out of her jacket, hat, scarf, boots, socks, and then started taking off her jeans.

His green eyes went wide. “But--but--but-- I don’t think. I--inappropriate.” Ulquiorra couldn’t form a sentence as he watched her, not even bothering to turn away as layers peeled away. “Orihime,” he said quietly, the tone changed from frantic to something else.

She stood up straight after taking the jeans off, revealing the lined leggings she had worn underneath.  She looked at his face and raised a brow at him. “What? I’m not the one giving people peep shows in this house,”  she smirked and waited for him to move out of the way of the door.

Hmph. She wanted a peep show? Okay. Ulquiorra peeled off the soggy hat and scarf and added it to the pile along with his coat. He peeled the wet snow pants off slowly revealing the skin-tight workout pants on he had underneath. He pulled the warm sweatshirt off and threw it onto the pile, leaving him in a tight green t-shirt. “I’ll say this once, just tell me and I’ll give you a show any time,” he said quietly to her before he turned and walked into the kitchen.

She didn’t move for a long time.  She could barely breathe. Was he trying to be funny?  Did he know what he was doing to her? Her brows furrowed and her heart twisted.  Her insides squirmed with sensations she didn’t quite understand. She was angry. Maybe he thought it was funny to tease her, but…  but… It was not nice. She sighed heavily and ran up the stairs, hoping she wouldn’t see him.

When she got to her room she sat on her bed for a minute and brought her knees up to her chin, holding them in place with clasped hands, as she thought about what had just happened.  She pouted and almost teared up, but then she took a mental step back. There was no way he could know how she felt about him. Heck, she didn’t even really know how she felt about him.  She just knew that she thought about him all the time, and that her heart lit up every time she saw him and felt his loss every time he went away. That she wanted to always stand closer to him.  That she enjoyed his company more than any other’s. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. No. He didn’t know. He probably just thought he was being funny. A weird kind of joke, but maybe it ran in the family.  Grimmjow had been pervy from the starting gate. Now that she and Father Cifer were starting to become familiar, he was probably just acting more naturally and it only meant that he wasn’t as worried about her getting offended.  That was a good thing, right? It meant he trusted her to be himself. Right. Okay, first things first, change. Then smile. She wasn’t going to let her improper feelings ruin their snow day.

Ulquiorra didn’t think about the exchange because if he did then he would start beating himself up about it and pull away, becoming a hermit. He didn’t want that. He just wanted to enjoy himself. He didn’t know how she could be so oblivious or obtuse. He practically said he wanted her. How much more of an invitation did she need? Did she want him naked and wrapped up with a bow? He shook his head and changed his clothes into something proper. Sweatpants and a long sleeve t-shirt followed by another pair of thick socks. Grabbing the underthings, he almost vaulted himself over the railing. That’s what he felt like doing. That’s how happy he felt at the moment.

He walked through the kitchen, tossing the pants and t-shirt onto the pile. His good mood quickly diminished. Orihime wasn’t downstairs yet? He frowned. Maybe she was in the offices.

Nope wasn’t there either. He knocked on Zommari’s office door and heard the man say, “Come in.”

“Hey Zom, do you know if there’s christmas decorations in the attic? Maybe an old Christmas tree?” Ulquiorra asked. “We were thinking of decorating the outside of the church and the rectory for the holidays. Nothing fancy but--”

“I have to go to the hospital.”

“What? Now? Why?”

“There’s an old couple that got sick around the same time as each other. There’s also people who went out into the weather and there was a multi-car crash,” Zommari said. He sounded tired.

“Do you need me to go?”

“Have you ever given Last Rites, Ulquiorra?”

The dark-haired priest shook his head. “No, the bishop of the parish in our part of Rome said that our group of priests were not ready for things like that.”

Zommari sighed. “You’d be of no use to me. These people at the hospital know me. They’ll take comfort in me. You stay here and carry out church duties. I should be back later.” The black priest stood and started gathering things that he would need and put them into a briefcase.

“I’m sorry Zom--”

“Don’t be; after I get back from Rome in May, you’ll be more involved. I understand right now you’re busy dealing with your father’s wishes but you need to step up around here.”

Ulquiorra nodded. “Do you want us to decorate the rectory?”

“Sure, leave the outside of the church alone. Tosen never decorated and I never pushed the issue. Maybe next year we can decorate the outside.”

The younger priest saw the other off, sending a prayer that Zommari would have a safe journey the couple of blocks to the hospital. He also prayed to those who had seen misfortune that day. He walked back into the rectory and sighed. He needed coffee and he poured himself a cup, not bothering to put his usual half and half in it.

Orihime came up from the basement around the same time.  “Did Father Zommari go somewhere?” She asked, trying to sound neutrally curious.

Ulquiorra nodded his head. “He’s going to the hospital,” the man said, more to his cup than to her.

“Oh no, is he alright?”  she asked, sniffing at his cup as she approached.  That was coffee, not hot chocolate.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “No, some people need him. Don’t worry, it’s plain. I haven’t spiked it… yet.”

“Phew!” She said and smiled, then asked, “are the people…?”

“He’s giving Last Rites to people who need it.”

She sighed and crossed herself.  Then she looked up at him and said, “So… what’s next?”

Ulquiorra glanced at her and then back down at his cup. “Zom said we could go digging for the Christmas decorations to put up in the rectory. You said hot chocolate and cookies first though. It’s understandable if you don’t want too.”

“Nope, we need our strength and energy to deck the halls, right?”  She didn’t wait for an answer before setting the oven to preheat and turning the kettle on, then went over to the pantry for her apron.  “Will you be assisting or observing today?”

“I can assist. I’m not totally clueless in the kitchen. I got myself through college.” Ulquiorra stated.

She laughed, her previous tension starting to drift away.  “Alright, see if you can get this over your shoulders,” she said, somewhat skeptical, holding the baggier of her two sack aprons to him.  “In the event that fits, you will be able to participate without fear of becoming a powdered person. Otherwise, sucks to be your shirt.”

He wrinkled his nose for a minute and then tried the apron on. It was practically skin tight. “Don’t you have one of those cheesy aprons that say kiss the cook or something?” He asked, trying to shift the thing around on his body. Maybe if he took the t-shirt off it’d be more comfortable but then he’d be cold. Ulquiorra pulled the thing from over his head and handed it back to Orihime. “I’ll take my chances. As long as you don’t throw flour at me we will be fine.”

She snort-laughed when she saw him flounder with the apron, but managed not to draw his attention.  She took it from him and replied, “Mama didn’t raise no fool! Farmers and millers toiled to make that flour,  we are not going to waste it. Mottainai.

It seemed to her that when she did activities that reminded her of her mother, more and more Japanese would resurface and slip out of her mouth.  Standing in the kitchen, wearing her apron, and lecturing Ulquiorra using her mother’s exact words was one of those occasions. “Excuse my Japanese,” she said with a little grimace.

“Pffft,” Ulquiorra scoffed. He looked at her and put his hands on his hips. “Okay, chef, what kind of cookies are we going to make? Can we make chocolate chip? Oatmeal raisin? Sugar cookies?”

“Hmmm, if murder wasn’t a sin I would kill an entire village for some oatmeal raisin cookies,  but I don’t know that we have any raisins. Let’s see,” she said, pulling a chair over to the counter so she could stand on it and look into the overhead cabinet.

Ulquiorra chuckled to himself as he watched her short frame practically climb onto the counter to look in the cupboards. “I like oatmeal raisin. Oatmeal scotchies are my absolute favorite though. I do like chewy chocolate chip cookies.”

“I have no idea what scotchies are, but if you can find me a recipe and we have the stuff I’m sure we can manage,” she said, still standing on the chair.  Most of the baking ingredients in the kitchen were in that particular cupboard.

“You’ve never had an oatmeal and butterscotch chip cookie? What kind of people were you around?” Ulquiorra teased. He walked over to the counter and leaned against it. “Hey shorty, do you want help?”

“Um, no, I have not.  I was around raisin people, I guess.  Most of the people I knew were sixty-plus.  Hence my vast knowledge of supper club cocktails and dated hors d'oeuvres recipes.  I may need help, eventually. Let’s see… You. Are. In. Luck,” she said, passing him a bag of butterscotch chips.

He took the bag and set it on the counter. “For some reason, I liked baking cookies in college. I had a little toaster oven and everything. Haven’t baked in six years though. I made everything in that oven. Pizza, pop-tarts, cookies… I think I even made salmon in it once but then everyone on the dorm floor about killed me because of the fish smell.”

She laughed.  “Yeah, not enough space for that aroma to breathe,” she said, setting down the last of the ingredients and putting a hand on his shoulder so that she could step down.  She wouldn’t have done it except that he was kind of close and usually she would have held onto the counter, but felt weird bending over to do that with her butt so close to his face.  “Sorry,” she mumbled as she teetered a bit, using him for balance.

“It’s okay,” he said before offering his hand to her. He swallowed and shifted his stance. “I asked if you needed help.” Ulquiorra gave her a half-hearted smile.

She stood with her face at his level for just a moment too long to be considered accidental, then smiled and said, “Thanks,” in a little voice, and hopped off the chair.  She got to work measuring the dry ingredients out and let Ulquiorra do the wet ingredients and the mixing, since it turned out the rectory’s electric mixer was a fire hazard with a frayed cord.  They popped the cookies in the oven and sat around to wait. There was an awkward silence.

He looked at the mixer and then at Orihime. “Do you need a new mixer? I mean, do you use it a lot? Would you use it?” Ulquiorra had plans on getting her something small for Christmas but if the rectory could use a new appliance, he could gift one to Orihime.

“I mean, I haven’t used one up until now.  It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t though. You know what I’ve been cooking, and the men I’ve known weren’t big sweet eaters, unless it was ice cream or pie… I’m sorry if I’ve been kind of anti-dessert around here but I am afraid the only person who would eat it would be me and I’m hyper enough without the extra sugar and I don’t need the calories and I--” she would probably never stop if he didn’t interrupt her.

“You are fine. Your enthusiasm is a joy around here. I’m thankful that Aizen had you come here, Orihime,” Ulquiorra said quietly. He gazed at her for a moment before fiddling with the empty mug. “I’m sorry I’m a dick.”

“You’re not a dick .  I mean, sometimes you act like I’m a ghost but you’ve never been like, an active jerk.”

He blew out a breath, wondering if he should tell her or not. The worst that could happen is that she would laugh at him, right? “I’m just trying to cope with things,” he replied.

She nodded, not really understanding what he was referring to but understanding the general concept.  “You know you can always talk to me, right? I mean, I hope you don’t just think of me as the help. I hope you think of me as a friend, too.”

In an irritated manner he ran his hands through his hair. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. Ulquiorra stood up and began pacing. “I can’t talk to you, Orihime,” he said. “You’re not just the help. You’re not just some woman who cleans around here. To me you’re--” He stopped himself. “I’m going to go up to the attic and start looking for Christmas decorations. You’re more than welcome to join me when you’re done baking cookies.”

She didn’t know what he was getting at but she could tell that he didn’t feel comfortable talking to her about it.  That was okay. It was his problem to talk about or keep to himself. It was enough for her that he acknowledged that she was more important than just some cleaning lady or cook.  She nodded at him. “Okay. These will be ready in about twenty more minutes I think - I have one more batch to put in. Do you wanna wait for hot chocolate until we’re done pulling decorations?”

“Bring me up some when you come up?” Ulquiorra was already backing out of the kitchen to the stairs. He stopped at the foot of the steps and looked back at her. “Thank you, by the way. The scarf; it’s the best present I’ve ever received.”

She stopped what she was doing and looked down the hall at him with a questioning expression.  He must be exaggerating. His sister got him an entire home theater. She smiled anyway, “You’re welcome, I’m glad you like it; it’s just a thing I started doing and I thought it would be a nice color for you.”

“But you made it... It’s way better than what Nel bought me.” He started up the stairs, leaving her with that thought. He had to search for the entrance to the attic and found it inside a closet in the vacant bedroom. Weird place, he thought as he pulled down the wooden ladder.

All the boxes up here were covered in dust and Ulquiorra was positive some of this stuff hadn’t seen the light of day in years. There was a box marked Choir Robes. Another said old magazines. Another church bulletins. Every time he moved a box he kicked up dust motes which drifted across the beams of weak daylight coming in the small windows. The bare bulb he found did little to illuminate the expanse of the attic. There was old furniture and steamer trunks up here too, covered with graying, moth eaten sheets.

After thirty minutes, Ulquiorra sat at the top of the ladder with one box that had christmas ornaments in it.

Orihime came up the stairs to the second floor with two mugs of plain hot chocolate with some mini marshmallows floating on the surface.  She didn’t see him anywhere. “Father Cifer? Hello? Padre? Ulquiorra?” she stuck her head in all the doors and didn’t see him.

“I’m in the empty bedroom… In the closet,” he called out before letting out a sneeze. It was from the dust, not the cold.

Orihime’s shoulders shook a bit.  In the closet. That potentially explained everything.  She snickered to herself. It was immature but it relieved some of her tension.  “Bless you,” she called out, following his voice from the spare room. Maybe if he was gay her problems would disappear.  Maybe she should work on that assumption for a little while. She may see things in a new light.

“So, how are things in the closet?  Have you decided when you’re going to come out?” she asked, peering inside.

His eyebrows raised as he looked down at her. “Are you asking if I’m gay?” Ulquiorra asked, his tone was one of disbelief. “Okay, Orihime, I’m going to be as subtle as a brick through a window. I’ve had sex with women. I like women. You can’t get through seminary or be ordained if you’re actively gay. They have people in there who sniff that shit out.”

She pursed her lips.  Some of what he said didn’t sound right but then again, she never really thought he was gay.  In fact, she knew he had had several girlfriends. “I know you’ve had girlfriends. I was in Nel’s class.  She talked about you a lot. I think she kind of had a little hero-worshipping complex going on in second grade. It was cute.”

“Cute?” Ulquiorra scoffed. He remembered how she would follow him around like a puppy. Having a kid that was 5 years younger than you always hanging about was irritating. “She cried the hardest the day I was sent away. They weren’t girlfriends… Well maybe a couple of them were but all that stopped six years ago.”

“Wait a second, wait a second.  You were sent away?  Why?”

With a sigh, Ulquiorra scooted back from the attic opening and stood, disappearing from sight. He needed to look for more Christmas things and had been resting on his laurels enough. It wasn’t her business. A voice in the back of his mind told him it was her business. She was the reason why he was sent to BFE, Idaho.

She had clearly touched a nerve.  Well, he had promised her the whole day, so tough.  She walked up the ladder and set his drink down near the entrance.  “Do you want some help or would you rather I got lost?”

He made sure there was plenty of space between them as he faced her. Ulquiorra’s eyes locked on her face, searching for just a hint of disgust. He didn’t find any. All he saw was the pleading look in her eyes; it looked like she wanted something from him. Anything. He was facing two roads. One road was where he acted like a dick until eventually another priest came along or maybe the groundskeeper would sweep her off her feet. Maybe Ulquiorra would preside over their wedding. The other road was one where he’d tell her everything. He tugged at his ear. “You can sit down over there and keep me company. There’s a lot of dust up here though. I promised you my entire day if you worked. I’m not going to go back on my promise.”

There was something in the way he said it.  Something in the tone of his voice that was cold.  She knew she should shut her mouth. She stood there on the steps for a minute, then decided to swallow her pride and climbed up the rest of the way and sat down near the entrance, using the box of Christmas decorations he had set there as a table.

Watching her from the corner of his eye he sifted through more boxes until he could barely read the words on the side. Ulquiorra looked out the nearest window and realized there was dark gray clouds rolling in and it was starting to snow again. “It’s snowing,” he said. “We’re probably going to get a couple more inches.”

Orihime hummed her acknowledgment into her cup as she took a sip, then set it down.  “Do you know when it’s going to stop?”

He shook his head and dusted his hands off before sitting down across from her. He reached for his lukewarm cup of hot chocolate and took a long drink. “We could check the weather website but as far as I’m concerned the weather guy is just pulling stuff from his magical jar of weather predictions and calling it a day.”

She smiled down into her cup and then looked up at him. “You’re probably right. What difference does it make anyway, at this point, right?”

It made a difference to him. All the temptation in the world was laying at his feet and it was there because his boss wasn’t around. Ulquiorra mulled this over as he drained the last of the hot chocolate into his mouth. “Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news. Which do you want first?” he asked.

“Always bad news first,” she answered without a pause.

“There’s no christmas tree up here. There might be an extra one in the church storage but it’s probably small.”

“Okay, and the good news?”

Ulquiorra moved her stuff off the top of the box and flipped the top open. Inside were antique, gorgeous crystal Christmas ornaments. “We can use these or just go to some store and buy something else. Maybe get personalized ornaments for each other as a gift, or something.”

She gasped when she saw the contents of the box.  “These are absolutely beautiful! We have to use these.  Although I am so getting you two personalized ornaments now that you mention it.  This will be a treat.”

His mouth turned into a small smile of its own volition. “As you wish,” he said. Ulquiorra gave her his mug and then motioned for her to make her way down the ladder. “I’ll be right behind you and when I get these downstairs, I’m going to take a shower, change into pajamas and then maybe we can eat cookies or have some leftovers. Did you want to watch a movie tonight?”

She shook her head with a deadpan expression.  “You had me at pajamas,” she said, her face breaking into a grin.  “I want popcorn.”

“Food first, Orihime,” he said as his stomach growled.

“Yes, yes, yes, I know. I know.  I will hop to it. You go get that film of dust washed off and I’ll see you downstairs.”

Ulquiorra waited for her to go down the ladder first before he carefully brought the box down, making sure he was centered on the thing before he took each step down. It would be a tragedy if he dropped the box. Once his feet hit the closet floor, the priest pushed the ladder back into the attic and got the door shut with the cord hanging down. He made sure everything in the room was nice and neat. He took the box down to the living room and set it down, looking at Orihime. “Do you want me to check the church first for the tree or wait until tomorrow?”

 “I can check while you get cleaned up.  I’m on the decorating committee so I know where they would be kept,” she said as she pulled leftovers out of the fridge.

 “Okay, I’m going to get cleaned up. I’ll meet you back here in a bit,” Ulquiorra said before going back upstairs to the bathroom. It was one orgasm and thirty minutes later when he emerged in fresh pajamas and a hoodie pulled over his customary t-shirt. He threw the dirty clothes into the basket in his room and was about to close the door when he heard his phone ring. It was on his dresser.

“Zommari? Are you on your way back?” Ulquiorra asked as he answered the phone.

The voice on the other end of the line sounded static-like. “No, they’ve closed the roads. Another foot of snow has fallen. It’s been like this all afternoon. I’m not going to be back tonight and maybe not tomorrow. We will see. Are you and Orihime holding up? Is the heat on in the church? Is it on in the rectory?”

To Ulquiorra the head priest sounded panicked. He decided to try and ease the man’s anxiety. “Everything is fine. The attic is kind of drafty and needs to be cleaned out once spring gets here. The stuff that’s up there could be auctioned off if it’s valuable or just thrown out. We could buy some of those tote things and replace the cardboard boxes.”

Zommari sighed. “I’ve done five Last Rites. Mr. Johnston, who came to bible study last week--So many... ”

The green-eyed priest crossed himself and then said a silent prayer. “You’re helping people out though, Zommari. It’s in God’s hands.”

“Yeah you say that now but wait until you’re saying the Lord’s prayer over and over and over.”

Ulquiorra blew out a breath. “Anyone else we know?”

“No but your brother was in that wreck. Nnoitra? He’s in the ICU right now.”

Since Ulquiorra had been back from Idaho, Chicago, Wisconsin and Rome, he’d not once seen his half-sibling. Not once since he had been back had he see that bastard. His voice stuttered, “Is he? What’s wrong? Do you know? Is Aizen there?”

“No one’s here with him. I’ve called your mother and father. I called Grimmjow and Nel. Your sister is the only one who answered. His car, truck, SUV--It’s a Hummer. He was going way too fast on the interstate and hit a patch of ice. Flipped it. It was white out conditions when it happened and people just ran into him. Something like fifteen cars.”

Ulquiorra had heard the faint voice over the intercom. “Father Zommari, please come to the courtesy desk. Father Zommari, please come to the courtesy desk.”

“I’ve got to run, Ulquiorra. If I find out anything else, I will keep you posted.”

With that Zommari hung up. Ulquiorra shoved the phone into his pocket. He was glad that a couple of days ago he put his bourbon into the ottoman downstairs in the basement otherwise he would be guzzling it right now. With a heavy sigh, the priest trudged downstairs and looked at the redhead who was standing in the kitchen. Maybe he’d get that vanilla vodka down and pour it into some coffee. “You wouldn’t be offended if I doctored up my coffee or got one of those ciders out of the fridge would you?”

She had half a mind to cheer and join him in a toast but there was something off about his voice.  She looked into his face and saw that ‘offness’ magnified. “Not at all, be my guest. Is everything alright?” She asked the question as she turned back to the leftovers she was switching out of the microwave, not wanting to make him feel pressured.

There was plenty wrong but he didn’t want to burden her with it. “Zommari won’t be home tonight. The roads are closed and,” Ulquiorra went over to the sink and looked out the window. He could barely see their snowman. “Bob is drowning. He may not be home tomorrow either.”

“I see. I think Bob will be alright though.  I saw him on my way back from the church. Remind me never to go in there again by myself after dark…” she chuckled a bit at that, hoping for him to smile or something.  When he didn’t, she knew there was something serious afoot.

She dropped all pretenses.  “Ulquiorra, something has happened, hasn’t it?”

He had decided on one of the ciders in the fridge and used a bottle opener he found in the utensil drawer. He shrugged as he brought the bottle of alcohol to his lips. “My brother was in an accident. He’s in the ICU, I guess they don’t know if he’s gonna pull through. Zommari saw him as he was giving someone else their Last Rites. Don’t feel sorry for me. Nnoitra and I aren’t close but he is my blood.”

Orihime shook her head and approached him but stopped short.  She didn’t want to make him feel worse by being overly demonstrative. Still.  She knew. She knew what it felt like to lose a sibling. Her heart was breaking for him.  Her mouth drew into a little button on her face and her eyes took on a pained expression. She took his hand that was not wrapped around a bottle in both of hers and squeezed, saying, “I don’t know anything about your relationship with your brother, but I know how it feels to lose your family.  You’re not alone. Okay? You’re not alone.”

She didn’t look at him as she said these things.  She didn’t want to invade his private emotions. But she couldn’t stand there and let him think he had no one.  That wouldn’t be true.

Ulquiorra gave a quiet scoff before he lifted her hands up to his mouth and pressed his lips lightly against her knuckles. Then he quickly dropped them. “Thanks,” he mumbled before clearing his throat. “Did you find another Christmas tree?”

She tried to be discreet when she used the back of her hand to wipe at her eyes, disguising it as an itch.  “Yeah, um, I guess you haven’t seen the mudroom. When I saw that it was snowing so hard I didn’t want to take my chances so I drug it over here myself,” she said with a self-deprecating laugh.

“After we eat, we’ll put it up, if you want,” he said walking to the mudroom door and looking at the mess that was there.

“Maybe tomorrow would be better.  I am going to get changed, the bottoms of my pants are soaked.  Don’t wait for me to start eating!” she said with a smile, one that she realized she only gave to him.  She smirked, looking down at the counter, as she noticed it. “Be right back.”

“Don’t worry,” he said to himself as he watched her leave. “I think I will wait.”

Chapter Text

As Orihime peeled off the layers of clothing that she still wore from that morning’s foray into the snow, she realized she did not smell the freshest.  A windburned odor clung to her skin and hair. That wouldn’t do. She grabbed her bathrobe and ran to take a quick shower.

Five minutes later she emerged smelling like freesia and feeling refreshed.  She put on a cute lavender and pink striped set of thermal pajamas on and threw some gray fuzzy socks on and a pink college hoodie and came downstairs to eat, leaving her towel over her shoulders to collect any dripping water from her damp hair.

She had spent her time getting cleaned up thinking about Ulquiorra and how he must be feeling with his brother in the hospital.  It twisted her gut. She decided to be as kind as possible tonight and hopefully provide him with some of the comfort she had received from his father during her time of need.

He stood leaning against the counter still drinking the cider. His thoughts were racing in his head. Not just of Nnoitra and that predicament but also of his actions toward the woman. He kissed her hand like an idiot. He was absolutely stupid. Did he think that just because Zommari wasn’t there he could do what he wanted? No. That wasn’t it. It had been months, no years, since he had felt the touch of another person who cared about him. At least, he hoped Orihime cared about him.

The stress of the entire situation and everything else was pressing down onto his head with urgency. Had he made the wrong decision years ago? Why was his faith being tested now?

His eyes automatically were drawn to her as she entered the kitchen. The form-fitting girly pajama bottoms did nothing to hide her curves and that hoodie she had on, well, it only hid what he knew was there. He drained the bottle, slamming it against the surface and pushed off the counter, walking over to the fridge. Opening it, he grabbed another one and removed the cap. “ I know you said not to wait but I did.”

“Aw, thanks.  That was nice.  If I had known I would have skipped the shower, but I thought I had some of Bob’s friends in my hair yet,” she said and smiled at him before grabbing a couple plates and forks.  “How’s the cider treating you?”

“Surprisingly tasty and smooth,” he answered. Ulquiorra continued to look at her, growing increasingly frustrated. She was just being friendly. He was some pathetic, loser priest who wanted to take comfort in her body. He was some idiot who fell in love with a memory. “I wasn’t that hungry before. I am now.” He knew even as he said it, the innuendo would be lost on her.

“Okay, well, help yourself.  I am thinking of making myself a drink since we’re snowed in.  Any recommendations?” she asked.

Ulquiorra sat down after he put food on his plate. He picked at it and ate, mostly pushing whatever he had grabbed around on the plate. “Could have spiked hot chocolate. Didn’t you buy that peppermint schnapps stuff?”

She noted how he wasn’t really eating; how he was putting on a brave face.  “Nope, we found that in the spider cave, remember? I bought Kahlua, but I’m not in the mood for coffee flavored stuff right now.  I could honestly go for something sweeter. Oh yeah, I know,” she said, going to the fridge and grabbing the bottle of Baileys and just pouring it over some ice.  “Perfect. So, tell me about the kind of movies you like,” she said, starting on her drink.

“When I used to watch stuff like that, I was into horror and surreal stuff. Sometimes I’d pick up a comedy. Never was into action but sometimes it was okay.” Ulquiorra gave up and put his fork down, picking up the cider bottle. “Since I decided to become a priest, haven’t really watched any movies. Questionable content was all around and I didn’t want to waste money on things like that. ”

“I see.  You don’t have to force yourself, you know.  I know the leftovers aren’t that appealing. Also, I mean, cookies await.”  She sighed. She knew he probably wouldn’t touch those either. She took her plate and his and scraped what was left into the trash.  She turned and looked at him from behind. He looked so broken. “Father?”

Ulquiorra glanced at her. “You don’t have to call me that, Orihime.”

“Okay. Ulquiorra?”

“What?”

“Do you need a hug?”

His head snapped up and he turned around in his seat. “What? Why? You wouldn’t be offering that if you knew.” Ulquiorra scoffed and shook his head.

“I’ll tell you what I know.  I know that you are troubled.  I know that you are worried. I know that you feel powerless right now.  I know that I care about your feelings… Screw it.”

She walked up behind him and put her arms around his neck.  It was firm touch. There was no other body contact because of the chair back between them, but she rested her cheek on his head.  She recognized the shampoo she had bought for him and smiled. It smelled nice. She patted his shoulder and held him for about a minute before she stood up behind him, letting her hands remain resting on his shoulders, smoothing out the fabric of his hoodie for a moment more, then returning to her seat and taking a drink.

Her touch soothed him. It calmed him down. He had his eyes closed the entire time Orihime remained in contact with him. It was only when he heard the creak of her chair that he opened his eyes. There was a bit of clarity that came to him as he stared at her; a sinking bit of knowledge that didn’t necessarily make him feel better. Ulquiorra inhaled deeply then exhaled. He wanted to tell her. He wanted to tell her that he was going to break his vows for her; that he would do that for her. It wasn’t just the vow of celibacy but every other thing he had agreed to when becoming ordained. He wasn’t supposed to love in a romantic sense. He wasn’t supposed to want more for them. “Thank you,” he murmured after several minutes of silence had passed. “Should it be ladies’ choice for the movie?”

“If you like.  We could watch my favorite movie of all time.  It’s got everything in it. Pirates, princes, sorcerers, giants, sword fighting, torture, revenge… and it’s especially quotable,” she said, selling it hard.

“Sounds like a great time,” Ulquiorra said. “Sounds like a quick version of Harry Potter.”

“Mmm, maybe.  I’ll make some popcorn.  I’m switching to something less heavy to drink.  I’m thinking G&T. You going to stick with cider?”

Ulquiorra shrugged. “Could go for some bourbon. I stashed it in the ottoman downstairs. It’s a nice little hiding spot for things.”

"Oooh, you mind sharing?  I’ll let you in on my secret second-floor stash in return,” she said, waggling her brows, comically trying to tempt him.

Ulquiorra tilted his head and gave the redhead a look full of desire. He stretched his legs out and let them brush her legs. “If it is in my power, I shall do it,” he said.

His leg felt so warm.  So normal. She peered at him and for the first time really understood that underneath the collar and cassock, Ulquiorra was just a regular guy.  This contact felt nice. Familiar. Intimate.

A shy smile stretched her lips and she looked down at her lap.  She knew she had to get up, but she really didn’t want to. A sigh.  “Well, that popcorn isn’t going to make itself. How about I take care of refreshments and you set up the movie?” she asked, still not moving to get up or moving her leg away.  “The movie is in the drawer, it’s called The Princess Bride .”

The princess bride? Sounded cheesy. He dragged his foot back and made sure it kept in contact until his toes passed her. Ulquiorra stood and stretched giving her a glimpse of his stomach as the hoodie rose and inched up. He gave her a small smile before he swiped his cider bottle and grabbed a cookie off the plate before he swaggered into the mud room and down the basement stairs.

She watched him leave with intense interest, and once he was out of sight, she shivered, her heartbeat pounding in her ears.  She had to get control of herself. This was ridiculous. Yes, he was disgustingly sexy. There. She admitted it. It didn’t matter.  He was a priest. He was her priest.  Still, she thought, it didn’t hurt to play pretend, did it?  It was a snow day. It wouldn’t hurt anything to imagine that he was just another guy and they were going down to the basement to watch movies together.  They were just friends, after all. Nothing untoward would happen. She needed to relax. There was nothing wrong with liking another person. Wasn’t one of the most important teachings of the New Testament to love one another as God the father loved all mankind?  Yes, it was. This was just God’s love. Orihime’s love. Toward her fellow man.

She exhaled quickly and stood up to get the popcorn ready and put some cookies on a towel from the plate and called down the steps, “Neat or on the rocks?”

He loaded the dvd into the player and then walked over to the stairs and looked up at her. Ulquiorra was having impure thoughts. The mental images that flipped through his brain were causing blood to pool in his hips. He raised his eyes towards Orihime then bit his lip. “On the rocks.”

“Rocks it is,” she said leaving the doorway and getting a bucket of ice, 2 glasses, a bottle of water and putting them on a tray with the bowl of popcorn and towel sackful of cookies and coming down the steps.  “Here I come, ready or not,” she called.

Ulquiorra sat down as quickly as he could and grabbed one of the throw pillows, pulling it over his lap. The last thing he needed was for her to see he was semi hard. “Ready,” he said.

She came down and made to set the tray on the ottoman and then paused, asking, “Did you take it out yet?”

He shook his head. “Sorry totally forgot,” he said. Ulquiorra didn’t move though. He realized that she had her hands full. Damn it. He put the pillow to the side and leaned forward and removed the top of the ottoman and retrieved the bottle of bourbon from the storage space. After setting the bottle on the floor, Ulquiorra replaced the top.

She was too preoccupied with the task of not spilling the contents of her tray to notice Ulquiorra’s predicament.  After he sat again she set the tray down, scooting her rear toward the sofa and taking a seat on the other side of him, leaving a cushion of space between them.  “You’re still working on your cider, right? Do you mind if I…?” she gestured to the bottle by his feet.

“Please, go ahead.” He bent down and picked the bottle up, handing it to her.

She took it from him and filled her glass with ice, pouring three fingers’ worth of the amber liquid into her glass, then set the bottle down and brought the popcorn to the sofa, setting it between Ulquiorra and her knee; she had folded the leg on his side up underneath her.  She brought her glass up to her nose and took a smell, then a sip. “This is great,” she murmured, letting her onyx eyes slide over in his direction. “I’m ready, are you?”

“Do I have a choice? The cover looks like a cheesy cult classic,” Ulquiorra said. “Kinda like that Robin Hood: men in tights movie.”

She scoffed.  “This is nothing like that, albeit also good, movie.  Same actor, yes. What I wouldn’t have given to be his co-star back in the day.  Sah-woon,” she said, grinning and blushing. “Usually I’m not into blonds, but Cary Elwes…  Oh, forgive me Father,” she teased, looking at him and giggling. “Ahhh, well, anyway, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Although this movie is intensely earnest and silly, it’s not cheesy.  It’s not scathing. It’s sincere and it’s perfect.”

Ulquiorra rolled his eyes and reached into the popcorn bowl to grab a few of the popped kernels. When the menu came up he pressed play on the remote. “At least you don’t say what I hear at some confessions.”

“Such as?  In a general sense.  I know you’re not allowed to spill secrets.”

“Sorry, Daddy,” he said then paused to look over at her. “I’ve been bad.”

She groaned.  “Are you serious?  Who in their right minds thinks that is clever?”  She took a long sip of her bourbon.

“Women who think I can be swayed,” he stated. Ulquiorra looked back at the television and took a sip of the cider. “I gave my heart away to someone a long time ago.”

“Let me guess: Jesus,” she smirked and grabbed a handful of popcorn.

He shook his head. “Nope. Someone came before him.”

“Huh,” she said, stuffing her face with the salty snack.  She chewed for a minute and then it dawned on her what he was getting at.  It surprised her that she felt a stinging sensation in her chest, but she suppressed it.  “Did something happen to her?” she asked, covering her mouth with a hand so she didn’t spit popcorn out of her half-full mouth.

Again he shook his head. “No, she never knew. I never told her. Then I chose the path that I’m on. She still doesn’t know.”

She swallowed and pouted a bit.  “That’s kind of sad, but it’s for the best, right?  You answered God’s call. It wouldn’t have worked out if you had gotten involved with her.  I mean, you’re glad you chose this path, right?”

Ulquiorra didn’t answer. He tilted his bottle up and drank the rest of the cider, sighing when he finished. He set the glass container on the side table and stared at the TV. He didn’t necessarily answer anything. He chose the path that would let him be free to utilize the most of his time. He wanted to be alive but since he decided on this career path, it didn’t seem like anything mattered. When he became a priest he had to give everything up. If he had known that only seven miles had separated them, would he have become a priest? Would he have devoted his life to the church?

Probably not.

She watched him silently mull over her question.  He seemed conflicted. He was still very young. It must be difficult for him to see his options fall away and devote himself to such a consuming calling.  Even Christ had his moments of doubt. The story of his agony in the garden of Gethsemane came to mind, and she felt pity for Ulquiorra. “Why don’t we start the movie,” she suggested, hoping that changing the subject would help.  “Can I pour you a glass?” she offered, holding up his bottle of bourbon.

Ulquiorra nodded and pressed the correct button on the remote this time. He still wasn’t used to stuff like this. It was difficult to get used to it but he was a fast learner. “Sure.”

She poured him a glass and passed it to him, “To the snow day,” she said, holding her glass up toward his with her other hand as he took his.

Bringing his glass to hers, Ulquiorra gently clinked it against the other one. “To the snow day,” he echoed.

She smiled at him and raised her glass to the level of her brow, and said, “Sláinte,”  before taking a sip and turning toward the television, snuggling into the cushions of the sofa and bringing her legs up toward her chest.  It was chilly in the basement. She unzipped her hoodie and brought her knees to her chin, then covered her legs with it.

“You’ve said that to me before,” he stated. Ulquiorra raised an eyebrow. “What does it mean?”

“It’s Irish.  It means ‘good health’.  It’s like, um, kampai. Or prost.  Or cheers, I guess.”

“Mmmm,” he hummed. As he watched the opening scene between the kid, the kid’s mom and the grandfather, Ulquiorra had to wonder when this movie was made. “Those are some horrible video game graphics. Had to be made before I was born.”

She chuckled and nodded.  “Well before your time,” she commented, taking another sip.

He smiled as the grandfather said something sarcastic. His face became blank as it showed a blonde couple, a male and a female. “Who names their kid Buttercup?”

“Shhh, just go with it,” Orihime shushed him, looking at him from the corner or her eye and snickering.  She thought it was a ridiculous name too. She continued to watch him in the dark, more interested in his reaction than this part of the movie that she had watched dozens of times.

Those straight black eyebrows dipped as this farmboy said those three words he had seen in her room. “As you wish...”

Then came the grandfather’s words. That line shook him more than anything he had ever witnessed. “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, "As you wish," what he meant was, "I love you."”

It made Ulquiorra gasp. He swallowed several times before trying to covertly look at Orihime. He hadn’t known. How could he have known? Every time he had said those three words had she thought he was saying…? He took a small sip of bourbon.

Orihime’s eyes had drifted back to the television as the love story montage appeared on the screen.  Farm boy Westley has always been her favorite iteration. Most girls liked the Dread Pirate Roberts. He was okay.  

She mouthed the line, “Is this a kissing book?” and laughed silently, taking another sip of bourbon.

The scene with Westley leaving was one Ulquiorra could relate to and he could relate to Buttercup’s misery. He put his elbow on the arm of the couch and rested his temple against his fist. “Whoa, that’s a big guy,” he stated when it showed the three evildoers that kidnapped the princess.

“Fezzik is a treasure,” she murmured, glancing at Ulquiorra, her eyes sparkling in anticipation; she knew what was coming next.

“I don’t like this Vizzini guy. He needs to get beat at his own game,” Ulquiorra muttered, blindly reaching for the popcorn. He missed and hit the cushion and he turned his head to see Orihime practically huddled up. “Are you cold?”

“It’s chilly down here,” she admitted, nodding with her chin on her knees, eyes on the screen as the short Sicilian taunted the princess on the deck of a small ship.  The camera switched to the Spaniard and the giant who traded rhymes. Orihime spoke the lines with appled cheeks. She looked at Ulquiorra and spoke, toward him, along with the film, “No more rhymes now, I mean it!”, “Anybody want a peanut?”, “Gah!”

She laughed and took another sip.

He gave a smirk and then grabbed the blanket off the back of the couch and shook it out before laying it over her. “You really find this film funny?”

“What?  You don’t?  This is brilliant writing!”  She was offended, though she took it in good humor.

“Okay if it’s so brilliant why are they going to let the princess get eaten this early?”

“Oh pssht.  You have to be patient.  You really think that’s how this is gonna go?  We princesses don’t go down without a fight, ya know.”

The priest got himself another handful of popcorn and averted his eyes back to the screen. It was quiet until the three men and the woman got to the cliffs. “There is no way that guy is gonna be able to lift them all up there,” he said and shook his head. Ah the wonders of Hollywood because that giant was doing just that.

Orihime said nothing to that, but after the man in black supposedly fell, she murmured, “This next part is the best.”  She waited until he seemed fixated on the action that followed, and turned her head slightly to watch his face.

He watched the sword fight, eyes darting over the screen. The way the men moved was like a dance. One of his favorite sports to watch was fencing when it was on during the Olympics. He found the back and forth conversation of metal to be enthralling. Then the screen cut to the guy in black running across a green field after he predictably won the duel. “Let me guess. Vizzini is gonna be annoyed.”

Orihime said nothing again, this time bringing her fingers to her mouth with one hand and moving the popcorn onto the tray on the ottoman with the other.  She knew what was coming, but it still got her every time.

A loud crashing noise.  The man in black jumped.

Orihime shrieked and jumped as well, pulling the blanket over her eyes and ducking her body into the center of the couch.

Ulquiorra had a laugh at that. “Is this movie scary?” he asked teasingly as the man in black fought the giant. “Do you want to scoot closer so I can protect you?”

She peeked out from under the covers and scowled at him, but didn’t move away.  As she sat up she pulled her seat up to where her elbows had been on the center cushion.  “It’s not scary; that part just always startles me,” she grumbled. She leaned over for the popcorn she had left on the tray and her drink and leaned back into the cushions, silently offering Ulquiorra the popcorn by tilting the bowl in his direction.

“I promise I won’t bite,” Ulquiorra said, his eyes back on the television as he watched that sleazy looking prince come onto the screen. “At least I promise not to bite hard.” The man smirked.

She scrunched her nose in distaste.  “This isn’t Twilight , Edward.  Focus,” she demanded, but scooted closer to him nonetheless.  “Are your legs cold?” She said quietly, offering a side of the blanket to him.

He didn’t think it was a good idea to be this close to her and be under the same blanket as her but Ulquiorra moved closer to her until he could feel heat radiating off of her leg. “If you think Twilight is scary, then I could show you a thing or two about what is scary,” he said, leaning against the couch and placing one arm on the back of the cushions. “But, okay, this movie is good… so far.”

“The only thing scary about Twilight is the character development.  And I remember a young Master Cifer, the terror of Sacred Heart. I believe I showed no fear against you before,” she said somewhat distracted as she followed the battle of wits on screen.  “You may not bite hard, but I do.”

He was too distracted by her to watch the film. He could smell that flowery scent coming off of her and the faint laundry scent. Without thinking, Ulquiorra’s hand touched Orihime’s silky hair, almost ghosting over the copper tresses. He raked his teeth over his bottom lip as he heard her say that, breath hitching. “What if I like it rough?” he murmured. “I might like it if you bit me hard.”

“What a strange person,” Orihime commented in a faux British accent, quoting another favorite movie of hers, smiling.  She didn’t know why he would say that, and she was not about to figure it out. The man in black was about to reveal himself to the princess.  She grabbed a cookie and bit into it.

“Holy shit!” she swore with a full mouth, and then covered her mouth and looked at Ulquiorra sheepishly.  She chewed and swallowed, then whispered, “Sorry. These are really good.”

Orihime startled him and Ulquiorra jumped when she cursed. He shifted his body several inches away from her and dropped his arm, thinking he had done something to offend her. When she explained about the cookie, he felt rejected. He kept striking out with her. Maybe she truly wasn’t interested. He turned his attention back to the movie as the two blondes made their way into some forest… Swamp… Whatever it was. He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that a swamp could spew fire. It was like the Bog of Eternal Stench in that one film. He reached for a cookie and bit into it. “Wow, I had one of the chocolate chip ones before I came down here but this--My compliments to the baker.”

She nudged his shoulder with hers.  “I believe it was a team effort,” she said, smiling.  Then her face dropped a bit as the evil prince and count appeared on screen.  

“I bet those two are the real bad guys,” Ulquiorra said after finishing the cookie. “Those other three were just unfortunate idiots.”

“What gave it away?”

“That prince. He gives off this bad vibe. I bet you he kills the king or something just so he can take the throne. That’s what happens in all these fantasy movies.”

She smirked.  “You’ll have to wait and see.  Patience is a virtue.”

Ulquiorra gave a snort. Patience was a virtue. So were courage, honor, compassion and about twenty other words that described moral standards. He decided to ignore the redhead. “Those are huge rats,” he said as Westley rolled around with the oversized rodent.

“Technically I think they are little people wearing rat costumes,” she muttered, pouring herself some more bourbon.  “Oh, sorry, can I top you off?” she asked after almost setting the bottle down.

“I think I’ve had enough tonight. It’s clouding my judgement,” Ulquiorra replied.

“As you wish,” she said casually.  “Some might say that is the point, but I think that’s just an excuse.  I find that it just unlocks the truth. Not that you always want that flying around unchecked,” she said, drinking her drink.

Really? She said those three words to him? Did they mean what he thought they meant? He scrunched his nose up and threw back the rest of the bourbon into his mouth. Did she want him to get drunk and start kissing on her? Did she want him to throw caution to the wind and pin her against the wall so that he could grope her? What the hell did she want? He’d practically done everything but scream it from the pulpit that he wanted her. She continued to be oblivious.

With a sigh, Ulquiorra peeled the blanket off his legs and stood up. “I’ll be right back,” he muttered and headed toward the stairs. He made a mental note as soon as his feet hit the concrete floor to order a rug. The damn thing was like ice.

“Do you want me to pause it?” She called after him, feeling around in the dark for the remote.

“No, keep watching,” he said and started climbing the stairs. He walked through the dim mudroom and kitchen. He climbed the stairs to the second floor, opening the door of his room. Ulquiorra shut it quietly before sitting down on his bed. Maybe he needed another all night session on his knees in the sanctuary of the church. He needed to pray. He needed to ask for guidance. Maybe Orihime would understand if he cut their day short. Would she get mad if he didn’t say anything? The priest had no clue what to do. He was supposed to be this guy who was so devoted and cemented in his faith. All it took was one redhead to be a stick of dynamite and blow that entire foundation apart. It wasn’t her fault either. It was his.

He stood up and looked at the crucifix that hung on the wall. The carving on it stared back at him. He could man up and just tell her. He could get so drunk that the words could just fly out of his mouth. That was a sound plan. After using the restroom, Ulquiorra went back to the basement and sat back down on the couch. He reached for the bottle of bourbon and poured himself a generous amount. He said nothing to Orihime as he drained the glass.

Orihime watched him out of the corner of her eyes.  Something had happened, hadn’t it? Her lips pressed into a line but she ignored him.  Maybe he didn’t like the movie and had grown tired of it.  Maybe it was the thing with his brother in the hospital. She couldn’t guess, and his body language told her she had better not ask.  She sat back in the far corner to the couch to give him space. He appeared to need it.

He drank two more glasses of bourbon, staring at the movie on the screen. “That guy has six fingers,” he muttered. Ulquiorra looked at Orihime for a moment and then back at the screen. “Told you he was evil.”

She sputtered and laughed.  He was drunk! And observant.  “You have a good eye,” she commented, looking at him in amusement.  She was pretty sure she could handle him drunk.

“Nope. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I didn’t like that Rogaine guy or Hump-his-dick,” Ulquiorra replied. He turned his head and stared at Orihime. The television cast an eerie blue light on them both. “I like you. As you wish, my ass. What are you playing at with that?”

She smiled at him.  He was drunker than she thought.  “I like you too, Ulquiorra,” she said, and turned her attention back to the screen.  

Oh, she was going to use his own tricks against him. He saw how it was going to be. He huffed and sat there for a few minutes in silence. It was bugging him. It had been bugging him for months now. He turned his head and didn’t even try to hide that he was looking at her. Ulquiorra wanted her to notice him.

It didn’t take more than three minutes, before she started exhibiting behaviors that gave away that she had noticed.  It started with involuntary swallowing, then pulling hair behind her ears. She cleared her throat a couple times. He was being persistent.  Finally, she turned her entire body away from the screen and toward the priest, asking, “Do you have a question or something?”

Green eyes looked over her face and what he could see of it. “You want the truth?”

“Sure,” she answered.

He gave a scoff. “As you wish,” Ulquiorra said without moving his gaze from her. He wanted her to understand what he was trying to say without voicing it. If he said it, it would become more of a problem. He scooted closer to Orihime and ran a hand over her cheek. He had to brace himself for what his nerves screamed at him as soon as he touched her. “I--I need to go pray.”

She was speechless.  Yes, he was drunk, but this seemed too significant to explain away.  Her mouth parted but no sound came out, although her hand came up on its own accord and pressed the one he touched her face with into her cheek as she closed her eyes and nodded.

Ulquiorra brought his face closer to hers but he did nothing else. Listening to her breathe and feeling her little movements had to be enough. He would probably look back on this tomorrow morning and regret it but with how drunk he was at that moment he didn’t care. After a few moments with them posed like that he finally pulled away, standing up. He had to go now before his hormone-addled brain decided to take this farther. “Tomorrow, we can sort the Christmas tree out, if you’re feeling up to it,” he said.

She did not look at him.  She kept her eyes downcast.  “Yeah. Sure. You must be tired.  I’ll clean this up,” she was talking in a voice that sounded like she had just woken up from a nap.  “If you have earplugs or headphones you should wear them. I don’t want to wake you up with all the knocking around I may be doing.”

“Orihime,” Ulquiorra sighed. He wanted to do nothing more than pull her off that couch and explain to her in detail what was bothering him; what was wrong with him. “You can be as loud as you’d like. I meant it when I said I needed to pray. I’m struggling right now.”

“Okay.  I just don’t want to distract you, that’s all.”  She turned and started picking up items they had been using and putting them on the tray.

“I’ll be in the church. If you need anything, I’ll have my phone.” Ulquiorra wanted to add ten other things but he said nothing else. He went up the stairs only to find that there was a lot more snow out in the yard. There was no way he was going to get out of the house. With a sigh, he decided that spending a few hours on his knees in his room would suffice until he got his head out of his ass.

Orihime turned off the movie.  She started bringing stuff upstairs.  She was feeling raw. She didn’t know what exactly was bothering Ulquiorra.  She only knew how she felt, and that was fucking confused. She had acted like a child.  She didn’t know how her actions had been interpreted. She put Ulquiorra’s bottle of bourbon away and made sure the rec room was decently clean before heading up to the kitchen and cleaning up in there.  She sang an angry sounding song in Irish Gaelic to herself as she washed up, one with lots of throaty, somewhat guttural and scoffing sounds, one where she slapped the counters in a slow, driving beat. It helped to focus her frustration at this situation into a song.

Ulquiorra heard her downstairs. He was in his room, laying on his bed. Orihime sounded angry. He should get up and go downstairs. That sounded like a great idea. He should go down there and give her the business. Sitting up the room swam slightly. He should have not drank thatdrunks of water. For some reason it always made him feel drunker. He dragged his feet going to the door and almost stumbled down the stairs. His footsteps were heavy once he reached the hallway, slapping against the wood floor. He must have taken off his socks before he laid down.

Orihime was stomping and setting dishes away in time with her song, aggressively spitting out consonants, letting her lips curl up as her emotional turmoil bubbled around her chest.  It was helping keep it in there. The lyrics themselves were, “Óró ‘Sé do bheatha ‘bhaile,” which repeated three times, then ended with “Anois ar theacht an tsamhraidh!” and got progressively louder with each verse and chorus repetition until she was nearly shouting it.

Then she heard a noise and went quiet.  He was moving around. She must have disturbed him.  She finished putting everything away and opened the fridge, looking for something else to drink.  She needed to suppress how she was feeling. She knew if she dove deep enough into a bottle, she’d find her escape.

His green eyes followed her as she moved around. Now faced with the possibility that he could talk to her, Ulquiorra found that he didn’t want to stir the pot. What he needed to say wasn’t that important but still he didn’t move from the kitchen doorway. He didn’t retreat back upstairs. He walked until he was standing behind her and reached passed Orihime for the bag of lettuce. A salad sounded good right now. Maybe. No. He was just reaching for something to let her know he was there. It could have been liver he reached for it it would have been okay to grab.

“Sorry,” she whispered.  She waited until he stepped back and smiled, not making eye contact.  She had a bottle of water on the counter and a cup, which she picked up and side stepped so that Ulquiorra had full access to the refrigerator.

“Stop,” he stated. He put the produce back and peered at her. His chest started rising and falling rapidly. “Just stop. You--You!” Ulquiorra couldn’t even get out a sentence but it sounded like he was accusing her of something.

She nodded.  “I know. I’m think I’m going to go to bed.  I’ll see you in the morning,” she said and took her cup and water, not wasting any time getting up to her room.  She closed her door and let the bottle of water fall onto her bed carelessly. She only had it for show anyway. She opened her closet and filled her cup full of Jameson, drinking it quickly, then poured another glass.  By the time the second cup was reduced by a quarter, she was feeling it. Her eyes heavy and balance tentative, she turned on her phone, put the volume on a decent level so as not to disturb the whole house, and put on another song.  A prettier, sadder sounding song. She didn’t sing at first.

He stayed in the kitchen for a good fifteen minutes contemplating things and just trying to understand everything that was going on in his head. It was useless to try and make sense of it. Ulquiorra knew this. Grabbing a pad of paper Orihime used sometimes, Ulquiorra wrote down what he knew, it wasn’t much but the five things he listed were major factors. There was only one thing he didn’t know though and it bothered him.

  • I know how I feel about Orihime
  • I know I want her
  • I possibly don’t want to be a priest anymore.
  • This could ruin my life
  • I could be in love with her.

That was all sorted but still. The one point below those still glared at him.

  • I don’t know how she feels about me.

Ulquiorra sighed and tore the piece of paper off the pad, stomping upstairs. He heard her music. It didn’t sound like she was going to bed. Who had music blaring like that if they were going to bed? An idea occurred to him. He could shove this piece of paper under her door, just like some secret admirer. He folded the paper in half and then quarters before he squatted down. A hand came up and tugged at his ear before he sighed loudly. This was all a fucking mess.

As he stood there deliberating, her voice joined the music.  It was gentle, sweet, and sad. “'Sé mo laoch, mo Ghile Mear, 'Sé mo Chaesar, Ghile Mear, Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin, Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear.”  The melody was rather emotional, regret and hope flowed through it and pulled at Orihime’s chest. She paused to drink more, then began tapping on her leg to the drumbeat.  As the drive of the beat increased, she stood and hummed along, drumming on her bed’s footboard as she crossed the room, cup in hand. She set the cup down on her dresser and drummed with two hands, and when she had passed it she used the side of her fist to bang on her window frame.  She tried to sing along again, but found her voice breaking and lurching. She didn’t know when she had started crying.

He was just about to slip the paper under the door when he heard her. This was his fault. He shouldn’t bother her or burden her with his problems. It weighed on him though. “Damn it.” Ulquiorra scowled and straightened his body. He took several steps towards his room and opened the door, slipping inside.

It was ridiculous.  She was a rotten fool.  How could she, someone so devoted to her faith and her church, have developed feelings for her priest?  Not just any priest. One who was once made appearances in her nightmares. Speaking of those, where had they gone?  It had been at least a month since she woke up in a sweat in the middle of the night. Had she fallen so far for him so fast?  How did she not notice it? She slammed her hands down on the window sill, flung open the window, and finished her cup of whisky, before singing out into the night air at the top of her lungs, words that meant nothing to her, but still spoke to some place in her soul.

Ulquiorra heard her. He was currently on his knees wearing just his pajama pants, praying with that piece of paper clutched in his fingers. The hardwood floor brought no comfort to him. He didn’t feel punished or scolded as a child would as he looked up at that crucifix. He felt no remorse for what he felt. He only felt sorry for what he did concerning Aizen. He was tired of this back and forth with her. He was tired of her overlooking him. Getting to his feet again, Ulquiorra left his room and reached for Orihime’s doorknob, opening the barrier. “Shut the fuck up. You. Are. Not. The. Only. One. Suffering.” He pronounced every word through a clenched jaw. When had he gotten so angry?

She whipped around, closing the window but still singing, her lips snarling at him as she took a measured step toward him with each beat until she finished the verse and the song faded out.  She stop an arm’s length away, and looked up into his eyes with her own glassy ones and asked, “Would you prefer if I just threw myself into my mother’s grave?” her chin wobbling but her brows deeply knit in frustration.

So she did remember. Ulquiorra swallowed. Those words haunted him every night for years, calling out to him from his dreams of her in black. He ran his teeth across each other, feeling enamel grind against enamel. Taking one step towards Orihime, Ulquiorra looked down at her. “Throwing my words at me,” he stated. “Why would you want to jump in now when you’ve made my life a living hell for the past twelve years? Why?”

Her head snaked forward and her mouth fell open in an expression of disbelief.  “I was a child .  My family had just been murdered!  What did I ever do to you!?” She stood up straight, squaring her shoulders and flaring her nostrils. She made a fist and brought it up to the level of her hips, tilting her chin a bit to the side.  She didn’t trust herself right now.

“You fucking exist, that’s what you did to me,” Ulquiorra replied. He took another step towards her, narrowing his eyes. He was aware that he was drunk and this was a potentially dangerous situation to put himself in. “You don’t get it do you? I did this for you.”

“Did what for me?  And I am sorry for existing ,” she spat the word out like she thought it was disgusting.  

Ulquiorra found himself within inches of Orihime. He wanted to give into what his brain was telling him but he didn’t dare reach out or touch her. “I’m not sorry. You’re alive. You continue to make my life hell. I’m suffering through it and yet you’re the one who hates me so much for calling you a pathetic little shit and telling you to jump into a hole in the ground. You could have been dead because of your precious Uncle Sousuke. He fucking sent me away because I had the power and the intellect to challenge him. I stopped your execution.”

Her face looked into his like she had seen a ghost for a moment.  Then a quiet voice emerged. “No.” She took a deep, sharp, involuntary breath.  “No!” a bit louder. “No you’re lying!” Her trembling fist raised to the level of her chest, and she clutched it above her breasts.  “He wouldn’t…” She could see the truth in Ulquiorra’s eyes but she did not want to believe it. All these years. All these years, Uncle Sousuke had been the one person who had truly cared for her.  That was what she had believed. Could she believe the man standing before her now, telling her that the very man she considered her benevolent father-figure tried to have her killed?

“You were a child; an innocent who did nothing wrong. He wanted to eliminate everyone who had ties to Barragan, even his family. Your stepfather was encroaching on his territory, Orihime. Aizen isn’t some loving uncle. He’s a monster. He created my brothers and my sisters to be the people they are,” Ulquiorra stated. He turned away from her. “I would never lie to you but I can’t make you believe me.”

“No,” she whimpered.  The first tear fell. “No,” she said again, this time a plea.  Shaking her head, she brought her fist down onto the priest’s back, striking the cross tattooed to his back with the weight of it, but without intent to harm.  She choked and brought the other fist down on it, then started to weep, dropping her head between her fists.

He stiffened at the first contact but didn’t move. There was nothing he could say or do to make this right. Not even a sorry could correct this situation.

Orihime’s voice tore into a ragged cry, and the fists on his back trailed down to his sides and opened, clutching his body, then wrapped around his front as she pressed her wet face into his back and sobbed, harsh spasms wracking her body as grief and betrayal consumed her.  She believed Ulquiorra; she just didn’t want to.

The need to comfort her was overwhelming but Ulquiorra did not move. He let one hand settle lightly over hers as she cried. He wanted to turn around. He wanted to tell her there was some way to fix all of it. He wanted to tell her everything but he couldn’t get his body to listen to him. It wouldn’t turn for anything and he found that he couldn’t speak.

After several minutes, her cries began to subside, but she remained attached to his back, sniffling and sighing and trying to calm herself, but everytime she tried to speak a sob would take its place and she would just hold onto Ulquiorra more tightly, shaking her head against the warm, tear-soaked skin of his back.  She didn’t want to let go of this contact.

“Shhhh,” he finally said. Ulquiorra took a deep breath as he slowly turned in her arms. Right now she needed comfort, not someone who lusted after her. He switched his mindset from angry, testosterone fueled meathead to concerned, benevolent priest; one who always smiled and charmed his parishioners. One arm wrapped around her and he used the other to stroke her hair, gently running his fingers from the crown of her head to mid back. “I’m here for you, Orihime. I will always be here for you,” Ulquiorra said softly, pressing his lips into her hair.

Orihime wanted to believe him so badly.  She knew that he probably only meant for as long as they were both at Sacred Heart.  She truly was alone in the world, when it came down to it. The thought made her shiver.  Still, she desperately wanted to believe him. She brought her hands up to his neck and laced her fingers behind the base of it, near where his hair skimmed his shoulders, and looked up at him for a second, just long enough to say, “I really want to believe you,” then dropped her head into the side of his chest.  Something about how she did it unbalanced her.

Ulquiorra stumbled as her weight dragged him forward. He thought he was stable but found himself teetering towards her bed. At least it wasn’t the floor. Then he noticed she was stumbling too. Shit. They were both drunk off their asses; she was probably more inebriated than him because he saw the bottle of Jameson on her dresser. When his calves hit the frame of the bed, the priest just decided to go with it and fell backwards onto the surface, still holding onto the woman in his arms.

This was good.  This was… This was comfort.  Orihime rolled off of Ulquiorra’s body but did not let go of him, pulling him onto his side to face her.  They both needed this, she decided, in her judgment-impaired state. There was nothing wrong about two hurting people holding each other and feeling less lonely.  She took her hand that was not pressed into the bed and held his shoulder, and with the other, she took ahold of his hand and brought it up under her chin. “Stay with me,” is all she said as she closed her eyes.

Stay? Stay with her? Like stay with her in this bed with her? Ulquiorra gazed at her face, desperate for an answer. He wanted to tell her this was wrong; this wasn’t how it was done. He opened his mouth to refuse her request. “As you wish, Orihime,” he whispered to her.

Chapter Text

The morning after their snow day, Ulquiorra awoke next to a warm body and an erection that was wedged against him and that body. How long had it been since he slept beside someone? Besides the scattering of one night stands in college where they both had been too drunk to get out of the bed, he’d never slept beside someone for longer than a couple of hours. He carefully untangled himself from Orihime and practically slithered out of her bed, feeling like he had somehow taken advantage of her or the situation although he couldn’t rightly remember what the hell had happened. He remembered writing something down and then yelling. After that things became a muddled mess.

There had been more snow through the night and Zommari was stuck at the hospital yet again. Ulquiorra sighed but he did what needed done around the church, hoping they’d be able to open the doors tomorrow for Mass. He still had to do confessions that night and collect things for Aizen. He kept to himself though, dealing with the massive hangover that plagued him that day. As it turned out, the roads were closed and expected to be that way until Sunday evening. Aizen had called him and told him to just bring what he had on Tuesday.

He was frustrated because all he could feel was how warm and soft she had been. He couldn’t remember how they ended up that way. Where had his shirt gone? Why was he not wearing socks? Ulquiorra kept his distance from Orihime because he didn’t know how much more he could take without betraying the vows he had spoken years ago.

Did she remember falling asleep with him? Did she know how they had cuddled and what his body had done? If he was a man of lesser morals he would have done what he wanted to do to her. He would have taken pleasure in her body. Ulquiorra couldn’t do that. He sat in the office for most of the day and looked out the window, utterly disgusted with himself frowning at the snow and the drifts.  

When Zommari came back late Sunday afternoon, Ulquiorra reported that nothing was amiss and he was going to shovel the driveway. It was hard and cold work but it kept him occupied rather than sitting in the rectory thinking about Orihime’s body.

Orihime woke up cold and alone on Friday morning.  She had a headache. It was nearly nine o’clock in the morning.  Oh no. She had breakfast to make. She sat up quickly and grabbed her forehead.  This didn’t bode well. She was supposed to decorate a Christmas tree with Father Cifer today.  Poop. Well, first things first, she thought. She went to the bathroom and took a painkiller, then came back to the hall.  Ulquiorra’s door was open so he must be up already. Oh well, there were cookies and he wasn’t an invalid; he could feed himself if necessary.

She went downstairs and looked around the rectory.  She didn’t see Ulquiorra anywhere. She was just about to go upstairs again when she noticed the office door was closed.   She knocked and heard him grunt and she apologized through the door for getting up late and that she’d be ready to decorate the tree later in the day.

He had made an excuse about there being a lot of office work to do, and said she could go ahead and do it herself if she wanted.

She did not care much for that idea.  She ended up going back to bed and sleeping off her hangover until late in the afternoon.  She made dinner and told Ulquiorra through the closed office door that it was ready. He didn’t come out.

That night as she went to bed she felt like something was missing.  She remembered bits and pieces of the previous night. She remembered arguing with Ulquiorra in her room.  Maybe he was avoiding her because of that. She remembered that he had drunk a lot, and so had she.

She remembered something else.  Something disturbing. It would have to wait, though.

On Sunday she woke up feeling much better.  Ulquiorra had mentioned in passing that he was going to go clear out some of the snow later.  Orihime helped earlier in the day on the opposite side of the building, clearing half of the sidewalk in front of the rectory and the path up to the door before she got cold and decided to start putting up the Christmas tree in the parlor.  She turned on some carols and had some hot chocolate. It was unsatisfying. When she was done she plugged in the tree and sat and stared at it until Zommari came back.

The black priest came in from the kitchen with a cookie in his hand, nibbling on it.  “Miss Inoue. I see you and Father Cifer survived the blizzard. The tree looks nice. I saw it in the window when I pulled into the driveway. Did you, uh, make the cookies?”

She smiled at him.  As weird as she found him, she missed him  “I did. Two types. Can I get you some more?”

Zommari shook his head. “I tried the oatmeal ones; too sweet but these chocolate chip ones are good. We could do a bake sale one of these days and put these out.”

Orihime laughed.  “One of these days when the roads are passable, maybe.  How is it out there? How was it at the hospital?” she asked, her second question more quiet and somber than the first.

“It’s nasty outside. There’s some snow drifts that have trapped people in their homes. The wrecks…” Zommari sighed. “The hospital was fine. I was telling Ulquiorra that I helped people when they needed it the most and that’s all that mattered. His brother woke up before I left, so that’s a bit of bright news. It’s good to see that you kids didn’t burn the place down. Makes me that more confident to leave you two here in January when I head to Dallas.”

She laughed.  “Kids? Okay, I’ll accept I’m a kid but Father Cifer is an old man,” she laughed, teasing.  “Anyway, I’m relieved to hear about his brother. He took the news really hard, although he tried not to show it.”  She smiled as she stood and grabbed her cup. It was fake, though. “Are you going to be hungry enough for dinner after all those sweets?  It’s time for me to start cooking.”

He considered her question then nodded. “I’ve eaten out of the hospital cafeteria or the vending machine since I left here. I want something good to eat, please.” Zommari gave her a nod and then went in the direction of his office. “I’ll be in here. Stuff to look over for the week.”

She nodded and went to the kitchen to start preparing dinner.  She was going to make something warm but healthy because, honestly, both she and Ulquiorra needed to give their livers a break.  She started making a vegetable soup and some rolls, and had just put some chicken thighs and potatoes in the oven when Ulquiorra came into the mudroom.

He was trying to avoid her and forget about her but here she was. Ulquiorra could see her where he stood, taking off the boots and the rest of his outerwear. He turned his back to her as he took off the snowpants to reveal a pair of compression pants. He usually wore them to work out in but they worked in a pinch as thermal wear. He didn’t say anything as he took the wet clothing down to the basement and began hanging it up on the rack in the laundry room.  He tried to keep his eyes from glancing over at the living room area down there. Hopefully Orihime would be gone from the kitchen and he could go to his room but that was not the case. She was still standing in the kitchen when he walked in. “Hey,” he said, as he walked to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water out of it. He didn’t want it, it was merely to keep his hands and mouth busy.

“He lives!” she said in a lighthearted way.  “I’m glad you didn’t die of exhaustion or hypothermia. I’m making some nice warm soup for you and Zom.  After dinner, I have to talk to you about something.”

Ulquiorra looked at her and sighed. “I’m sorry. Whatever I did in my sleep--”

“What?  No… You’re a quiet sleeper. I never hear you through the wall.  No. It’s about your family.”

He almost collapsed into one of the kitchen chairs in relief. Maybe she didn’t remember them sleeping together. “Oh well, Zom said Nnoitra’s fine so... ”

“Yeah, I know.  I still need to talk to you though.  It’s important.”

“We can talk about it later then,” Ulquiorra said. “I’m gonna go change because it really feels like I’m in my underwear.”

She guffawed, her eyes squinting into little crescents.  “It looks like it, too.”

Ulquiorra’s face colored slightly and he put the bottle of water down on the table. He walked over to where she was at the stove and put his hands on her hips, turning her back to the appliance. It was a rather intimate gesture on his part but he figured if he had woken up beside her he could get away with this. “I knew you were looking,” he whispered into her ear. “Don’t burn anything.”

All her blood rushed to her face, and she giggled nervously.  “Ha, ha, I wasn’t going to,” she protested lamely. “And really, you can’t blame a girl for looking when you put it out there.”

“Put it out there? Tch,” he scoffed and shifted his hips away from her. Ulquiorra thought about doing the opposite but he really didn’t want to deal with himself. He rolled his eyes as if annoyed. “I did not put anything out there. Miss Inoue, I offered to show you any time.”

She exhaled as though she had been punched in the gut, then inhaled shakily.  “Ulq-- Father Cifer. You are trying to fluster me on purpose. That’s just mean,” she said, although her voice didn’t convey the level of offense her words did. “If I burn something it’ll be your fault.”

He smiled but didn’t step away from her, his hands still on her hips. “Okay, I get it. You want me to leave you alone. As. You. Wish.” With that last statement, Ulquiorra let go of Orihime and started walking towards the stairs. At least he could handle the guilt of his actions now, he thought as he moved away from her. It felt easier to flirt with her and she was right. He was trying to fluster her on purpose.

Orihime felt hot somewhere else beside her face.  It was uncomfortable, like a feeling of being too full.  It made her want press against it to relieve that pressure.  Unfortunately grabbing herself in the kitchen was not something one does when one lives with two priests.  Besides, that wasn’t something Orihime had ever done before and she wasn’t going to start now, especially when the reason for it was a naughty priest with a questionable background.  That thought started to bring her back to reality. She needed to talk to Ulquiorra about Aizen. She also needed to apologize for getting into a drunken argument with him. After dinner though.  

He stood in the shower letting the hot water beat on his back. Ulquiorra couldn’t believe himself. He was going to end up digging himself into a hole and it wouldn’t be fun trying to get out of it. When he was done he dried off and redressed in more priestly attire, putting on some khakis and a sweater. He went back downstairs and saw Zommari coming out of the offices. “Everything in order?” Ulquiorra asked.

Zommari nodded. “I was just speaking to Father Tosen. Apparently I’ll be going to Rome twice this year. Once in April and then again in October. I also smelled what Miss Inoue was cooking and am going to see if it was done or swipe a couple of those cookies.”

Ulquiorra nodded. “Driveway is cleared, by the way and uh--”

“It’s fine Ulq, you’ve done a great job while I was at the hospital. Tuesday I want you to go visit Nnoitra. No ifs, ands, or buts.”

“I have to see Aizen and I have other plans,” Ulquiorra said, automatically lowering his voice. All Zommari did was give him a disapproving look. “Fine, I’ll make time to see him. When Aizen--Do you think we can get another vehicle? Would it be in our budget to get another one? It doesn’t seem right for you to keep filling up that gas guzzling beast to go on these--”

“Ulquiorra, the only reason I made it home was because of the van. I’ll look into a smaller vehicle though for personal trips. I understand that you and Miss Inoue can’t keep sharing a vehicle. I could move your days off. I never realized that you two are off on the same day.”

“No, I mean we have our schedules planned out around Tuesday. It would be disruptive,” Ulquiorra said. “It was just a thought, Zom.”

With a nod, the priest headed toward the kitchen and started talking to the redhead.

“Well hello boys,” Orihime addressed them both although only one was there; she had heard both their voices in the hall.  “Dinner is almost ready if you’d like to sit.

She gave them each a roll and a bowl of soup to start with and then took the chicken and potatoes out of the oven.  “Anybody want sour cream or is just butter fine?” She asked, bringing everything else to the table.

She put a glass of milk at her spot as well.  “Drinks, anyone?”

Ulquiorra held up the bottle of water that he’d left on the table and Zommari shook his head. “Sit down and enjoy, Miss Inoue,” the green-eyed priest said.

“Okay.  Who would like to say grace today?” She asked.

“I will,” Zommari said. He bowed his head and clasped his hands together.

Orihime did the same, but peeked up at her companions as she always did.  They never peeked back. It was a secret activity she enjoyed.

The head priest began droning on and Ulquiorra stared at the tabletop. Orihime always sat across from him but he didn’t dare try the antics that he had the other night, not with Zommari there. They would get caught quicker than a cheetah chasing a gazelle. He glanced up and was surprised to see Orihime wasn’t praying. She was looking at him. He raised an eyebrow at her.

She smirked.  She was finally caught after all these months.  She watched with amusement at his expression.

His eyebrows then furrowed. “What?” he mouthed at her. Ulquiorra shifted his eyes at Zommari and then reached out with his foot, trailing it down her leg.

Her eyes bugged out at him and then darted toward Zommari and back, silently accusing him of instigating something.  She didn’t move her leg away though, partially to not attract Zommari’s attention and partially because she liked it and wanted to know how far he was going to go.

A smirk crossed his face as his foot traveled higher and he brushed it against her inner thigh.

Her cheeks turned pink and she pursed her lips, clenching her folded hands more tightly and looking down at her lap.  What was he playing at? This was going pretty far for a prank. When his toe touched the inside of her thigh her eyebrows flinched, and that same overfull sensation returned deep in her lower belly.  The urge to fidget was overwhelming.

Just as he was about to move his foot again, Zommari said, “In the Lord’s name we pray, Amen.”

Ulquiorra sat up straight and mumbled, “Amen.” His gaze averted away from Orihime. He cleared his throat and turned to Zommari to ask, “Do we have anything planned for tonight?”

“No, just nightly prayer. You can have the rest of the night off but we need to work extra hard next week,” Zommari answered.

He nodded his head and the rest of dinner went by quietly. Zommari left his dishes on the table, used to having Orihime pick them up and the man retreated to his bedroom. Ulquiorra remained at the table. “Do you want help cleaning up?”

“Yeah, actually, can you check that he’s somewhere out of earshot please?”

Ulquiorra looked at the redhead and nodded before he stood and went upstairs. After knocking on Zommari’s bedroom door, the green-eyed priest had a short conversation with the other. He came back to the kitchen after three minutes. “He’ll be in his room for the rest of the night,” Ulquiorra said. “If you want somewhere out of earshot, why not just go to the garage or the basement?”

“We can go to the basement later, but these dishes aren’t going to do themselves,” she said, turning to look at him over her shoulder, elbows deep in suds.  She turned back to the dishes. “First things first, I’m sorry I got so drunk and argued with you. I can’t say I remember everything we fought about, but anyway, sorry,” she said, looking over her shoulder at him again with a small smile.

Walking over to the sink, Ulquiorra leaned against the counter and looked at her. “You don’t remember that night, do you?”

“Not really.  Bits and pieces.  You?”

“I remember yelling at you and I woke up beside you.”

Her eyes widened.  “What? I mean… What?”

“I was missing my shirt and socks,” Ulquiorra said, not looking at her. “I think I lost those before I came to your room. But I woke up holding you. I left as quickly as I could.”

“Yeah, you had it off before you came into my room, I remember that.  I remember when we fought it was off. Why did you leave?”

He huffed as he felt his ears turning red. Ulquiorra did not want to explain it was either leave or just grind against her until he relieved himself. “C’mon surely you’ve had a boyfriend and know what happens to guys in the morning.”

“Um, no?”

“Wait, what? No?”

“No.  Aizen sent me to an all-girls’ schools.  I had a minimal social life.”

He felt his heart beating in his chest. Did she mean what he thought she meant? “College?” he stammered. She had to have had some experience in college.

She shook her head.  “A women’s college. I did meet a guy who liked me through the Asian American Association, but I just wasn’t feeling it.  I turned him down. I don’t really know why. It just didn’t feel right.”

Blowing out a breath, Ulquiorra shook his head in a sad manner. He had to be the one to explain this. Great. “I left because I was hard and, uh, well, you know.”

She looked at him like she was missing the punchline to a joke.  “Hard? I mean, you aren’t exactly soft looking, I guess. But why is that a problem?”

His jaw dropped and he stood there staring at her with an open mouth. Was she being serious? Was she actually being serious or was this just here trying to troll him? He decided to bluntly answer her. “How to put this without offending you… Uh, my dick got hard and I went to jerk off,” he finally said.

She scowled, not understanding.  “I don’t really get it. Why’d you do that?”

“You were asleep and I am not supposed to have sex.”

“I know that but what does it have to do with—  You know what? Nevermind. It’s not important. The point is, I’m sorry we fought, and did I hear you right when you told me about your dad?”

Ulquiorra sighed. Was this what she wanted to talk about? “I don’t remember what I told you. All I do remember is telling you to be quiet,” he said.

“Oh no, was I rage-singing?” she groaned.

“If you call screaming at the top of your lungs into a snow storm singing, then yes.”

“I’m sorry for that then, too.  Anyway, you told me that Aizen ordered my family, including me, to be killed, and that somehow you saved me.  And that he is responsible for your siblings’ lifestyles, and that you were sent away.”

Oh. Had he said all of that? He scoffed. He probably declared his undying love for her too. “Yes, Orihime.” was all he could answer with. Ulquiorra couldn’t lie to her but he wasn’t going to elaborate either.

“I’m sorry for that, too, then.”

Sigh. Ulquiorra crossed his arms over his chest. “Is that all you wanted to talk about?” he asked.

“No.  Why did you do that for me?  You didn’t even know me.”

 "Because I remember a little girl with red hair telling me, the son of a mob boss, to leave her brother alone. She looked like she was willing to fight me too.”

She rinsed her hands and dried them on the dishrag and turned to him, looking him in the eyes for a long moment.  “I owe you my life, don’t I?” She finally said. She did not wait for him to answer. She stepped toward him and hugged him around the waist.  “Thank you,” She whispered.

“You don’t owe me anything, Orihime.” Ulquiorra sighed and draped his arms over her shoulders. “I did what was right or what I thought was right.” There was a creak overhead and the dark-haired man looked up. “Since he’s back home, we should be careful.”

She nodded and stepped back, letting go of him and wiping her eyes once with the back of her hands and returned to the last of the dishes.  “You told me that he turned your siblings into what they are.  I don’t know what they are and I am not sure I want to know, but did he make you become a priest or did you choose it?”

Immediately he missed her closeness. Ulquiorra turned around and walked over to the drip coffee pot. He didn’t like this kind of coffee but there was no sense in making an entire huge pot of coffee when they would be heading to bed in a couple of hours. He felt like he needed it though. When he was done and the coffee was brewing he finally answered her. “The day after you were sent to Wisconsin--actually that night, Aizen had me beaten. He found out what I was doing and what I did. Then I found out the next morning I was being sent to Idaho to a private catholic boarding school. Tier and Nel were sent to some girls catholic boarding school. Grimmjow and Nnoitra were sent to a military school. It’s hard to get expelled from a military school but both of those fools managed to do it. My brothers are perfect for Aizen. They want death and destruction. I’ve told you that they both have been in prison. Petty crimes but still they’ve been there.”

The priest felt defeated telling her all of this. “Nel’s a dancer at one of my father’s clubs and helps manage it. Tier’s a lawyer for him but she’s trying to get out.”

She sighed heavily.  Clearly he was not happy with his siblings’ fates.  “Grimmjow… I thought he was kind. I hugged him,” she admitted, her eyes widening in fear for her past self.  She turned her head toward Ulquiorra. “You still didn’t answer my question though.”

“Maybe you could be the woman to change him, I don’t know, but Grimmjow is the furthest thing from kind.”

She made a face that indicated the idea did not appeal to her.

He gave a soft chuckle. “Yeah, I don’t like the idea either. I know I didn’t answer your question. I don’t know what to...I don’t know what to tell you without sounding like an asshole.”

“I’m sure you won’t.  Just tell me the truth,” she suggested gently,

Ulquiorra wanted to tell her that he would always tell her the truth but she had heard that line before from him and still didn’t believe him. “I became a priest to atone for my sins. I made sure I wouldn’t be a threat to Aizen. I made sure that he couldn’t touch me either but, that’s not the case. Of course, this is all speculation but I think Tosen and Aizen are up to something nefarious.”

She looked frightened.  “Are you in danger?”

He was pouring coffee into his cup when she asked that question. Ulquiorra carried the cup to the table and set it down before he went to the fridge, taking out the small carton of half-and-half. Finally Ulquiorra shook his head. “I don’t think I am. All I do is listen for information to give to Aizen and give him the money that parishioners owe him. Because Tosen is allowing this to happen, Aizen has been giving money to the church. It’s the one reason why the roof was fixed in October or whenever it was.”

Dawning realization appeared on Orihime’s face.  Here she was pitying Ulquiorra and his siblings, but she was in exactly the same boat as them.  “Even you are not untouchable… He has funded my entire life since Barragan’s death. He created this job for me.”  She looked off into the distance and tears started to fill her eyes. She was realizing it was only a matter of time until she would have to pay the price for Aizen’s “benevolence”.

“He leaves me alone as long as I bring him money and information. I use my day off to go into Boston and drop off the stuff then come back,” Ulquiorra said. “This job was given to you; why though? I’ve no clue. Usually they pick some old hag who’s been a nun for the past thirty years. Aizen had to pay for you. He blames me because you’re still alive.”

She turned to him tearfully and said, “No, don’t you see?  He’s the same as Barragan. He would just have had me killed anyway if he didn’t have plans to use me for his own purposes later.”

Tugging on his ear, Ulquiorra scowled. “I’ve known for a long time what kind of guy Aizen was. I spent twelve years trying to get away from him. I was kind of happy in Rome, then I get told I’m going back to Boston. I never fooled myself when I came back. I knew that Aizen had something planned.” He gave a bitter laugh. “I’m basically laundering money for my dad. But, Orihime, if he comes here to see you or you get a call to go to him, you can’t act like anything has changed. If you do, then...” he trailed off.

She was scared.  She was scared for herself and for him.  Her hands were shaking and she dropped the bowl she had been drying.  It clattered loudly as it hit the floor, but being made of plastic, it did not break.  She bent down to get it and contemplated either just sitting on the floor and feeling sorry for herself, or standing with the bowl in hand and throwing it at something, hard. Instead, she stood up and set it down on the counter, sniffling, and told him how she felt.  “I’m scared, Ulquiorra.”

“You think I’m not? I am. I was scared the moment you walked away from me at that funeral and I saw Aizen look at me. I was scared the moment I asked Aizen or my mother about you.” Ulquiorra picked up his coffee cup and took a drink. “I don’t know what to tell you to make you feel safe. I just do my job and life goes on.”

“Is that really all this is to you?” she asked, gesturing around the room as if the rectory kitchen symbolized all of Catholicism.  “A job ?”

Gazing at her face, Ulquiorra thought about her question. “Being a priest is not a job. Doing what Aizen wants is a job. Doing what he asks keeps me here… With you.”

“But you could go anywhere, right?  Somewhere where you couldn’t be used by him?  Wouldn’t you want that?”

“Only with Bishop Tosen’s permission,” Ulquiorra replied. He tapped his fingers against the tabletop then frowned. “Aizen would probably have me moved to a different parish in Boston. Orihime, I don’t think he’s going to come after either of us. We’re nothing. We’re goody-two-shoes.”

She laughed in spite of herself.  Ulquiorra had a way of snapping her out of her despair.  “That is… Accurate. At least for me. Mostly, ” she said, raising a sly brow at him.  It looked ridiculous, given the state of her face with its swollen lips and red-rimmed eyes.

“Really? Besides drinking what sins have you committed? As far as I’ve deduced, you’re still a virgin.” Ulquiorra raised one eyebrow at her. “I don’t think you’ve ever done drugs. I don’t think you’d hurt a fly.”

“Sins of the flesh, perhaps not.  Sins of the mind are something else, though.”

He looked at the floor around where her feet were and then let his gaze travel slowly up her body, lingering on her thighs and chest. Hearing her say that shouldn’t have been so erotic sounding. It shouldn’t have been a turn on. Impure thoughts happened in everyone, there was no way around it but if she was talking about thoughts of anger and rage, that was something completely different. “We all struggle with sin everyday,” he said.

“I know.  Thanks for hearing my confession, such as it was,” she laughed glibly and sighed.  “I can’t spend my life worrying all the time, can I? There are things to be done. What are you up to tonight?”

“Nothing,” he answered. Ulquiorra looked at her for a moment then asked, “Why?”

She looked down at her feet and dug the toes of one foot into the floor a bit, biting the inside of her cheek.  “I dunno, I thought maybe we could hang out.”

He stood up and walked over to where she stood. If there was something about her that drove him crazy it was this. She was too shy to ask for what she wanted. Maybe she didn’t know what she wanted. “As you wish,” Ulquiorra said.

She smiled.  “You need to watch the rest of that movie, anyway.”

By Tuesday, Ulquiorra was once again frustrated and he dropped the money and information he collected off to Aizen before heading to visit his brother who had been moved to a regular hospital room. The dumb ass had been drinking and rolled his vehicle while doing almost ninety on the snow and ice covered freeway. Both legs and arms had been broken and Nnoitra was lucky he wasn’t dead because the man boasted about not wearing a seatbelt.

“Well look who decided to drag his ass in here,” his brother said as he walked into the room.

Ulquiorra was tempted to turn around and walk out. He had promised Zommari that he would visit the man. “Nnoitra, it’s nice to see you’ve survived your brush with death.”

“Ha! Please that wasn’t a brush with death,” Nnoitra cackled. “You fuck her yet?”

“What?” Ulquiorra was going to sit down in the only chair in the room but he stopped when his brother asked him that ridiculous question, so he remained standing.

“The redhead that Grimmjow’s been going on and on about. Did you fuck her?”

The priest scoffed. “You’re disgusting. I took on vows of celibacy which I’ve upheld now for six years. I take my path in life seriously.”

His brother’s smile grew and his eyes got squintier. “Do you? Don’t you wish you could let it all go and do what Grimmjow and I do?”

“I promised my boss I would see how you were,” Ulquiorra said, nodding at the man who was laid up in the hospital bed. “You’re perfectly fine from what I can see, so I bid you farewell, brother.”

Ulquiorra turned on his heel and exited Nnoitra’s hospital room. He could hear the tall man yelling at him as he left. It didn’t take long before the green-eyed man was at the local mall, browsing for Christmas presents. He knew exactly what he was going to purchase for Orihime and Zommari.

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra had taken the station wagon, and Orihime did not want to strand Zommari without a car, so she took the bus to the mall.  It was going to be a madhouse, she was sure of it. It was only a week before Christmas. Oh well, at least it wasn’t Christmas Eve, she thought to herself.  

Her first stop was the Christmas ornament shop.  She and Ulquiorra had talked about personalized ornaments for each of the residents of the rectory, but she had another idea.  She went inside and looked for the cheesiest ornament she could find, the kind that someone at the store would paint names on for you if you waited.  She was faced with penguins, polar bears, snowmen, gingerbread men, elves, mariachi band guys… it was a tough choice. They were all equally ridiculous.  In the end, she chose an ornament with three snowmen in front of a fireplace, which she thought was darkly humorous, and asked the shopkeeper to write the first name of each resident on the snowmen, and the year at the bottom where usually the family name would normally go.  The ornament could potentially stay with the rectory as a memento of the residents there that year.

With a promise to return several minutes later, she went to the anchor department store on the far end of the mall and marched straight to menswear.  She did Ulquiorra and Zommari’s laundry, and she was not impressed with parts of their wardrobe, specifically their underwear and socks. Threadbare. Worn. Holey. It was ridiculous that grown men would wear such garbage. She picked out types that were the same or similar to the kind they normally wore, and bought the multipacks for savings.

She had some time to kill and window shopped a bit, stopping at a candle shop and smelling nearly every kind of candle there.  She stopped at a tea shop and sipped their sample teas, telling the multitude of salespeople in the tiny place that she was “just browsing” repeatedly.  She stopped at a fancy interior and furniture place and sat down on fancy leather sofas she would never be able to afford and ran her hands over chenille throw blankets, again telling shopkeepers she was “just browsing.”

She looked at her phone and realized it was time to pick up her ornament, so she did, and then stopped at a bakery for some pastries for the next morning’s breakfast, then walked toward the bus stop.

Ulquiorra’s trip through the mall was busier. His first stop was at some custom engraving place where he had Zommari’s name engraved on a small cross that could be hung up anywhere but Ulquiorra was going to present it as a Christmas decoration. The second thing he purchased was a small oval plaque made of glass or crystal, he wasn’t too sure but he had the words, “As you wish...” carved into the surface. The man who ran the shop asked if Ulquiorra also wanted it to be a christmas ornament and he gave a slight nod. In reality he’d give her this gift in private.

His next stop was the local suit and tie place. He bought Zom a gorgeous butter yellow tie and then an emerald one for himself. It was Christmas after all. He was allowed to splurge a bit. He was walking past a jewelry store when something caught his eye. Ulquiorra walked past and then stopped. He turned around, coming back to the glittering display.

There were keychains--heart shaped keychains made with precious metals. He tried to think of some reason that Orihime would need a keychain but he had never seen her with a set of her own keys. She always had the rectory keys. His mouth twisted to the side as he stared hard at the trinket. In the end, Ulquiorra bought her the smallest heart shaped keychain and went back to the engraving place to have her name etched into the pinkish surface.

It wasn’t much. The next store he went into was a giant department store that had women’s clothing, bags, luggage and makeup on the first floor but if one rode the escalator up to the second floor there was the men’s clothing, shoes and home goods like overpriced decorations and small appliances. He bought one of those single serve coffee makers along with a brand new, big name electric mixer. It was black which Ulquiorra thought went well with everything. His other choice was a pale pink or an electric orange. When he was done, he took his purchases to some gift wrapping station and paid for the people there to wrap the gifts up with plain brown paper and twine as he addressed each present. He had also picked up a fancy corkscrew for Zommari so the man would quit buying cheap ass boxed wine.

Once he was done at the mall he drove to the liquor store that Orihime had taken him to several times. The woman behind the counter eyed him as he browsed the shelves. Eventually he picked up a bottle of Four Roses, Jameson, and another expensive bottle of whisky for Orihime. Then he went around to the wines and picked up Zommari a nice bottle of red wine. Ulquiorra knew nothing about wine but he googled each of the wines he thought were interesting until he came upon one that got a good review. It was after he took all those bottles to the register that he went back for a bottle of amaretto and a six pack of cider.

The woman said nothing as she rang up everything. Ulquiorra kept a straight face as he pulled out a plain black credit card with a silver logo in the corner. All the other stores he had presented the card to had employees whispering and talking. They were fools. It was just a bank card from Italy. He didn’t have his salary deposited into a regular bank in the States. It also seemed like a hassle to have the money sitting in there transferred to a new bank and having to set up a new account. It was problematic for people to see it though.

After his things were in bags, Ulquiorra put them in the back of the station wagon and drove back to the rectory. He pulled into the garage and made two trips into the house. One was to put the alcohol into the basement. He’d bought giftbags for each one and would wrap them later that night. The second trip was to grab the bags with the gifts he had bought at the mall which he arranged under the tree. There were two big boxes, a giftbag and a small box sitting there. It looked sad but this was the first time in about eleven years Ulquiorra even cared about Christmas. He had hidden the rest of the gifts he’d bought for Orihime.

When he was done with that he decided to go to his room and read. It would do him some good to just relax.

Wednesday came and went. He took confessions, money and information. The same thing happened on Saturday; more money, sins, and greasy people wanting to “atone” for their sins. He laughed when he saw Zommari poking around under the Christmas tree and scowling at the boxes. Ulquiorra had gotten several other small gifts for the other occupants of the rectory and even a gift card for Chad, the groundskeeper. It wasn’t anything big. Ulquiorra got ready for the different masses and helped Zommari prepare for Sacred Heart’s Christmas Eve service which would begin at six in the evening. The dark-haired priest did not like evening services. They seemed duller than usual and Zommari’s voice had a droning effect. The only thing interesting about this service is the choir was going to perform. They usually came out of hiding once a month to sing for the parishioners.

Ulquiorra was nervous though. The next morning after Christmas Eve Mass, they would get up, pray, eat breakfast and then open the few gifts under the tree. Then there would be Christmas morning Mass and after that, the head priest, would throw his overnight bag into the van and drive to his parents house to visit, leaving the two to their own devices.

The dark-haired man once again gave the redhead space. He didn’t want to seem too obvious around Orihime. He would help her clean up the kitchen at night and when the various meetings at the end of the day were done, he’d stare at her. Ulquiorra would go watch a movie. He would do laundry that he had to hide from the woman.

The morning of Christmas Eve, Ulquiorra came up behind Orihime as she was washing dishes. “Do you need help?” he said softly.

She had been up nearly all night, as she had been for most of the week previous, burning the wick at both ends.  She had not brought her gifts down to the tree, instead having squirreled them away in her closet. Add to that, she had been doing double duty with the parish ministries in anticipation for Christmas; helping coordinate the children’s Christmas pageant, cooking meals for the needy, meeting with the music coordinator, and stringing lights on more Christmas Trees that a parishioner brought in to add to the festive atmosphere.  It was fun but exhausting.

When Ulquiorra offered to help, she could have kissed him.  She looked at him with gratitude and affection and, frankly, sleep deprivation, written all over her face, and answered with a breathy, “Yes, please.”

“Why don’t you get some rest and I’ll finish up in here. I found this recipe online for french toast bread pudding,” he said, leading Orihime into the living room. Ulquiorra made her sit down on the couch. She looked worn out and he was sure his behaviour wasn’t helping. “I could make breakfast tomorrow for morning, to give you a break.”

“But you have mass,” she protested.

“It’s not hard to mix everything together in a bowl and let it sit in a pan in the refrigerator overnight,” Ulquiorra stated. “All you would have to do is bake it the next morning.”

She gave him kind of a goofy, lopsided smile.  “Okay, mister, show me what you’ve got. I’m looking forward to this,” she said, stretching her arms overhead and yawning.  “If I’m not awake by noon, please kick me.”

“I will do no such thing,” he said walking back to the kitchen. Ulquiorra turned and looked at her. That nervous feeling was building in his stomach again. Everything was going to be okay. It would be fine. “I demand that you rest now.”

Orihime watched him leave the living room, but by the time he was halfway through the dining room her eyes had closed and her cheek was laid out on her forearm on the arm of the sofa she was curled up on. She slept soundly until well past lunch, and woke up with drool on her arm and a sweater knit impression on her face.

“Oh no!” she shouted, standing and panicking, before she ran up the stairs, washed her face and started getting ready for mass.  She wasn’t going to be able to hide in the pews as usual this time. She had to put forth a little effort.

She dressed in a maroon velvet skirt and ivory blouse, curled her hair into more controlled waves, and put on some modest makeup.  She had to get over to the church early for rehearsal.

Ulquiorra had been in the office doing some research and totally forgot about Orihime’s request. He had done the dishes, swept the floor and made the bread pudding for the next morning. While he did all that he got to thinking. There had to be a way around everything. There had to be some loophole. There wasn’t though.

He heard her yell and then footsteps pounding up the stairs. He exited the office and went upstairs, knocking on her door. “Orihime?”

“Yeah?” She asked awkwardly with bobby-pins stuck in her mouth as she did her hair.

“I’m gonna open the door,” he said. Ulquiorra did as he said and poked his head into her room. “Sorry, I totally got sidetracked but everything is done. Do you feel rested?”

She put the last pin in place and stood, turning to face him with a smile, “Yes, thanks to you,”  she twirled around in a little circle, letting the skirt do its thing, and asked, “What do you think of the Christmas duds?  Pretty fancy for me, right?”

Ulquiorra let his gaze travel over her, watching as she showed off for him. There was a hint of a smile there. “Uh, you look beautiful. Um, I was wondering if you weren’t doing anything tomorrow, I know it’s Christmas but, I was wondering if you’d like to go somewhere with me.”

She stopped playing around and answered without a pause, “ Of course. Where do you want to go?”

“The cemetery,” he said.

Her smile dropped for a moment, not because she was upset, but because she was surprised, then it returned as she nodded.  “That’s… perfect.”

Ulquiorra was momentarily shocked by her agreement and didn’t know what to say. To be honest, he should have paid his respect to those three people long ago. “Okay,” he stated. “Um, after we get back I have some personal gifts for you.”

She grinned.  “Same,” she said, tilting her head a bit to the side.  “Hey, do you mind helping me for a second? I have a cross necklace I’d like to wear tonight but I can never get the clasp by myself.”

He held his hand out for the necklace and understood what Orihime meant. The clasp was tiny. Holding up a finger he went next door to his room and rummaged around the bedside table until he came back with what he was looking for. Ulquiorra didn’t wear them in front of anyone so that’s why he mostly read in his room. He unfolded the black framed glasses and slipped them on his face while he figured out the necklace.

Orihime’s face lit up like a Christmas tree when she saw Ulquiorra’s reflection in the mirror with the glasses on.  “You never told me you wore glasses!” she enthused.

He sighed and looked at her. “I wear contacts most of the time but occasionally when I don’t have them in I wear glasses. Don’t tell me you like them,” Ulquiorra said as he fiddled with the necklace.

Her grin grew increasingly creepy and dorky, her chin slightly disappearing into her neck, as she said, “Yyessss…  it is a nice look for you,” in a cringe-inducing unplaceable accent.

Ulquiorra looked at her face and laughed. Huh, maybe he’d wear them more often then. “I look like a nerd. Are you ready for me to put this on?”

“A hot nerd…” she said ultra quietly to herself before quickly chirping in a normal volume, “Yep!” and brought her hands behind her head, gathering up her hair and pulling it off of her neck.

Standing behind her, Ulquiorra placed the necklace over her head and drew the two ends up, then threaded them through the space between her neck and arms. He carefully joined the two ends, almost dropping one side. It took about thirty seconds for him to actually get the thing together. He lingered there, his thumb brushing the side of her neck for a moment before his pale hand swept the few remaining wisps of hair to the side. “Orihime,” Ulquiorra whispered.

“Yes?” she answered softly.

He leaned down and touched his lips to the nape of her neck. It was bold and reckless but she had been driving him crazy for months. When he straightened, he stared at her reflection but said nothing.

The tip of her nose to the tips of her ears tingled and felt hot.  Her eyes slowly rose to his in the mirror and she asked in a whisper, “What was that for?”

“Good luck tonight.”

Her eyes smiled first, but her lips quickly followed.  The color that the first tingling reaction initiated appeared on her cheeks as she looked down and answered, “Thank you.”

He gave her a small smile. “I’ll leave you to finish preparing for this evening,” Ulquiorra said, with shaky sounding words. He had no clue why he did that but it was an impulse and as far as he knew, he had absolutely no control of that around her.

Rehearsals went well and before she knew it, the pews were filled and Orihime stood in the choir loft with the other members of the choral group and the organist instead of her normal spot in the second or third pew from the front of the church.  She was nervous. She kept finding herself fiddling with the cross on the necklace Ulquiorra had helped her wear. She could not stop thinking about how it felt; his soft, warm lips on her neck, the puff of breath that followed. She was having a hard time concentrating.  It was just as well; she would otherwise have been getting increasingly nervous for her solo that evening, where she would be leading the choir in a verse of the Adeste Fidelis.

She watched the processional, led by an altar boy and girl, then Ulquiorra, and Zommari following last as the choir led the congregation in an opening hymn. Even from as far away as she was, and even with all the Christmas decoration splendor shining from every corner and lining every wall of the church, she couldn’t take her eyes off Ulquiorra, in his black-framed glasses. She took a deep breath and bit her lip.  Damn.

Ulquiorra turned for a moment and caught her eye, locking his gaze with Orihime’s. He tapped the frame of the glasses and gave her a half smile. As he walked up the aisle between the pews he heard what people said and whispered. They were talking about him and how handsome he looked. He decided not to put the contacts in and ignored the curious looks from his boss.

“I didn’t know you wore glasses,” Zommari had quietly intoned.

“They’re for reading.”

Zommari started droning on and Ulquiorra would quickly glance around the church but still, his eyes fell on Orihime.

A young woman sitting next to Orihime leaned in toward her and whispered, “Um, is it just me, or is Father Cifer looking, um… kinda foxy tonight?”

Orihime had to cover her mouth to hold in the snort that wanted to escape her nose.  She leaned forward, her hair falling over her shoulders a bit, before she leaned back and hissed in the girl’s ear, “Um, that’s inappropriate!” Shen then paused two full seconds for effect and whispered, “Totally.”

Christmas Eve Mass wasn’t much different than any other ceremony, except a little bit more pomp and circumstance. Both priests were dressed in their finest for tonight. There were more prayers said and no announcements but still it was tedious to Ulquiorra. He took a deep breath as Zommari sat down. This was Ulquiorra’s first time speaking in front of the congregation but he stood up straight and walked over to the pulpit with his bible. He saw a lot of people whispering to each other.

Why had he let Zommari talk him into this? It was just a simple Psalm but still, he felt like everyone knew what was going through his mind and what he had been thinking. Ulquiorra felt like everyone knew that he was in love with a certain redhead in the church.

He cleared his throat and opened the book, letting it fall to the correct page. He began to read the verse that the other priest had picked out and minutes later, the green eyed priest sat back down, shaking slightly. He fudged a couple of words and tripped over things but he’d done alright.

Orihime listened to Ulquiorra’s reading with rapt attention, smiling slightly at his blunders and otherwise studying his words.  She found herself not listening to the message of the words, but to the timbre in his voice, the pattern of his breathing, and the way his lips and tongue would form each sound.  She was mesmerized, so much so that when he finished, she realized that she had been leaning forward into the amplified sound of his voice coming from the speakers, and had to straighten back up.

Ulquiorra didn’t dare look at Orihime; she probably thought he had flubbed things up. Zommari said a few more things and then signaled for the choir. It was only then his eyes searched for her.

Adeste Fidelis, known in English as Oh Come All Ye Faithful, was a crowd favorite at Sacred Heart.  The choir started the first verse in English, and the cantor signaled the congregation to join in song.  The second time around the choir switched to Latin, and Orihime stood before the other members and sang a verse on her own, while the remainder of the chorus hummed in the background.  She sang well; her voice was clear and pretty, and she pronounced the words properly. After her little solo she stepped back and rejoined the rest of the choir until the song ended, blushing madly in self-conscious embarrassment as other soloists took their turns.

Zommari continued speaking for another half-hour until he dismissed the congregation, saying the same thing he did every mass.  The crowd responded with their lines. It was only as mass came to a closes and Ulquiorra stood up that he saw Aizen, Retsu and his sisters in the crowd. Shit. He did what he normally did and went outside to say goodbye to those who came, shaking hands and helping the elderly down the steps. He swallowed once he saw Aizen and his mother standing there.

His father was speaking to Zommari with a frown on his face. It was the woman with long black hair that drew him away, pulling him along. “Ulquiorra,” Retsu said, giving him a warm hug.

He’d not seen this woman in a dozen years and she wanted to act like it had been only a week. Ulquiorra gently pushed her away. “Thank you for coming tonight. Drive safely.”

“Really, Ulquiorra? You’re going to treat your mother like that?”

The priest could see his sisters exchange glances; Tier looked worried. “My apologies, I have a lot of people to help and--”

“Are we going to see you and Orihime tomorrow for dinner?”

“No.”

“Oh? Why not?”

“Zommari is visiting his family and Orihime is going to be visiting some people at the hospital or something,” Ulquiorra said. He had to quickly think of something to tell them. He knew it was a lie and instantly guilt overcame him.

Aizen gave him a look and then smiled. “How charitable,” he said and clapped Ulquiorra on the shoulder. “Come on girls.”

Ulquiorra watched them leave before he finished his task. His stomach was in knots by the time he entered the church again.

Orihime had been graciously accepting compliments on her solo after the recessional and almost didn’t notice Aizen and family, and probably would not have if Nel hadn’t raised an arm over her head, waving and calling, “Yoo-hoo, Orihime!  Down here. Merry Christmas!” before being herded down the aisle by Tier. Orihime smiled widely and waved back, and when Aizen’s head popped up at the sound of her name, she kept that grin plastered on and flashed her eyebrows at him for good measure, and much to her relief he granted her a small smile in return.  When the family was out of sight, she sighed in relief, said her goodnights to the other singers, and came down to spiral steps of the tower to the side door of the church entrance, watching Ulquiorra and Aizen’s family interact from the shadows.

Zommari had done his job by taking off with the wine again. Ulquiorra didn’t have much to clean up. He extinguished all the candles. He stood in the empty, dark church and sighed loudly. Seeing Aizen had brought a feeling of uneasiness to him. What had once been a delightful, joyous day had been tainted by his so-called father. He grabbed his coat and walked out of the church, making sure to lock the door behind him and walked inside of the rectory. He stomped the snow off of his shoes and took off his outerwear, hanging it on the coat rack that had been installed in the mudroom. He put his hat and his scarf there too.

Walking into the kitchen, Ulquiorra could hear Zommari in his office talking to someone. The bald priest was probably on the phone. Oh, well.

The green eyed priest climbed the stairs to his room, making sure to hang up the cassock so that it didn’t wrinkle. The clergy shirt was hung up along with that damn collar. Once Ulquiorra was standing in just the boxer-briefs he wore, he stretched his body up and then down. For some reason he felt more at ease out of his “work” attire. It didn’t use to be that way. Twisting his body Ulquiorra leaned his body back. His spine popped and cracked.

All the tension seemed to melt away. He got dressed in warm fleece pajama pants, the warmest socks he could find and a long sleeve t-shirt before heading back downstairs. He was going to get a cup of coffee. It was his custom to stay up late on Christmas Eve praying, and after the rollercoaster kind of day he had, he needed the caffeine.

Orihime was in the kitchen as Ulquiorra came downstairs, as she seemed to be a lot of the time, making herself some spiked eggnog.  She was still dressed as she was at mass. She felt like since she had put in the effort to look nice, she might as well make the most of it.  She was admiring her reflection in the window above the sink when Ulquiorra came in.

“Hey,” he said, glancing at her and then looking away. “What do you got?”

“Eggnog.  Want to try some?” Orihime asked, holding out her mug to him innocently.

Ulquiorra raised his eyebrows and then looked at the mug. Knowing her there was alcohol in that cup. He leaned forward and brought his lips to the edge of it and took a small sip. “What’d you put in it?” He asked.

“Brandy.  Not too much.  Just to warm me up,” she said, smiling and taking a small sip of her own.

“I could warm you up,” Ulquiorra said. His face colored after the words left his mouth. It had been an automatic response. “Uh, I was going to get some coffee.”

She looked at him over the brim of her cup and nodded, letting his flirty words float past her.  She was starting to get used to him acting that way around her, and honestly, she liked it as much as it confused and sometimes troubled her.  She took another sip and then took the cup away from her face and asked, “Won’t that keep you up all night?”

He shrugged. “I usually stay up late on Christmas Eve anyway. It’s nice just sitting in the quiet watching the world go to sleep or laying under a Christmas tree full of twinkling lights.”

Shit.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit, she thought to herself.  That was the moment. There was nothing particularly special about it; maybe it was a culmination of everything that came before; maybe it was just the unguarded way he said it or the boyish, romantic charm of his sentiment, but that was the moment she knew:  she was in love with him.

She swallowed hard.  “That sounds lovely,” she finally replied.

Ulquiorra nodded and gave her a half smile, bringing one side of his mouth up. He decided to forgo the coffee and instead got himself some eggnog without the alcohol in it. He had to help Zom with Mass tomorrow morning. “It’s nice. I usually pray on Christmas Eve until midnight, then I either go to bed or stay up watching lame television. I think this year I might go to bed after I’m finished.”

She smiled in response and said, “Well if you do stay up, eggnog also makes an excellent coffee creamer.  I recommend it. I may have some in the morning.” She looked back down into her cup. This wasn’t supposed to happen.  She wasn’t supposed to feel this way. She wasn’t supposed to just accept it and not have any expectation that it would go away.  Especially when there was no hope for them; no hope for her. He would never return those feelings. He couldn’t, even if he wanted to.  She sighed. “I think after this cup I may go to bed. I want to sit by the tree for awhile first, though.”

“I might join you in the eggnog as coffee creamer camp. This is really good stuff,” Ulquiorra stated taking a drink from his own cup. He looked at her face; studying the way she held herself. Something was different about her. “Do you want me to join you or… I can let you have the tree to yourself.”

“No, there is something sad about being alone with a tree, sometimes.  Your company is always welcome, anyway,” she said, her tone carrying a tiny hint of defeat. She was going to be miserable either way.  She may as well be miserable in his presence.

Ulquiorra heard the office door open and took a step back from Orihime. It was a good thing he did because Zommari popped in a moment later. “I’m going to bed,” the older man said. “You two behave and try not to get too crazy. Santa’s watching.”

The younger male scowled at his boss and shook his head. “You’re old Zom, go to bed before you can’t get up the stairs anymore.”

“Tch,” Zommari scoffed. He nodded at them before heading up the stairs.

“He’s funny,” Orihime commented darkly.  “Shall we?” She started toward the parlor.

Ulquiorra watched her walk away before he followed her. Something was off. “Orihime,” he said before he sat down on the floor. “What’s wrong?”

She sat on a chair to his side.  She smiled and shook her head. She was afraid to speak, lest the words she could never say might come spilling out.

He frowned but Ulquiorra had to respect that she didn’t want to talk to him about it. Looking up at her, he said, “You did great tonight. You have a lovely voice when not screaming angry Irish words at people.”

She chuckled at that.  Then she had an idea, something that might ease her angst a bit.  “Thank you, but angry Irish? Hmm, I don’t remember any angry Irish.  Wait, was it Mo ghrá thú ?  or Tá grá agam duit ?  Oh-- or was it Tá mé i ngrá leat ?” All Of these phrases were, of course, variants of ‘I love you.’

“What? I have no clue what you said that night. I just remember you screaming at the snow and then threateningly stomping towards me,” Ulquiorra said. He leaned back against the chair, his shoulder touching her leg.

“Oh, I should have warned you, that is just the song and dance of my people,” she said, snickering softly.  “It must have been quite the display. Usually, we reserve that one for human sacrifices and retirement parties; things like that.”

“Well, I’m not a virgin so the human sacrifice would have have been pointless,” Ulquiorra replied. He tilted his head back and looked at her.

She snorted.  “You assume a lot.  The sacrifice is for the purity of spirit, not purity of body.” She laughed at herself; she was being stupid and transparent.  “Anyway, stupid jokes aside, I’m sorry I freaked you out.”

“You didn’t freak me out,” he replied. Ulquiorra turned and then got to his knees. He put his hands on the arms of the chair. His green eyes searched her face as if memorizing each detail of it. “I freaked myself out that night. I was so close to losing control.”

She was trying to keep things lighthearted.  She didn’t need to fall to pieces or confess her love.  She studied his face a moment and then responded in hushed tones, “Are you the Hulk?”

He chuckled then shook his head. She obviously did not want to talk about this. “If I were a comic book character, I’d be Deadpool; the antihero.”

“What makes you say that,” she asked, looking at his hands on the armrests of the chair.

Ulquiorra tilted his head and thought for a moment. “I lack the conventionalisms of a normal hero. Just like I lack the conventional traits of a normal priest,” he replied.

“Such as?”  She was exceptionally interested to hear his answer.  In the back of her mind, a voice was telling her to retreat - that this was dangerous territory - but she stifled it and looked into Ulquiorra’s eyes, waiting to hear his answer.

The proverbial ice he stood on was cracking and he could feel it. This was a precarious situation. “I’m not a good role model,” he said before swallowing. He leaned forward a bit, bracing himself on his arms. “I want things. I lack self-control at times.”

“We all want things, Ulquiorra,” she said and sighed.  “I see you sneaking sweets out of the cupboard.  You are not as stealthy as you think. I know Zommari has a taste for Cuban cigars now and then.  I find the labels stuck to the insides of the trash cans in the office,” she giggled a bit. “I want things too.”

"What do you want?” He asked as he stared at her mouth. “If you knew what I wanted you’d be scandalized, Orihime.”

She raised her eyebrows momentarily and looked at his mouth too.  “I…” she breathed through her open lips, her breath ghosting over his face.  “I want things I can never have.”

“Same.” His eyes went from her mouth and then flickered up to her dark gaze. “Maybe one of these days I’ll get it though.”

One corner of her mouth quirked up into an ironic smile, her eyes still on his lips.  “Well, I hope at least one of us does.”

He brought a pale hand up, running the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip and down her chin. Ulquiorra watched her as he did it. The little shiver was barely noticeable, but it made his breathing hitch. The priest had to remain calm, or he’d be committing a cardinal sin right there in the rectory.

Orihime’s brain flooded with conflicting thoughts and ideas.  Her eyes closed, savoring his touch and she was aware that everything her body was telling her to do - lean into him, take his thumb into her mouth, reach out and grab him by the shirt and pull him to her - not only were they wrong, but they would make him hate her.  Even if he did want her as he appeared to, he would eventually blame her for tempting him and for his downfall. She couldn’t do that to him.

She opened her eyes and looked at him as her shoulders raised and fell in a gesture of defeat.  “Do you think Aizen was there tonight talking to Zommari about parish business, or something else?”

Her words were like a cold shower and Ulquiorra sighed as he sat back. He was glad his t-shirt was long enough to cover his lap. “I don’t know,” he answered. “They asked if we were coming to dinner tomorrow and I said that we had other obligations.”

“We?  Why would both of us be invited?” she asked.  She found it odd that after all this time being at Sacred Heart with no contact from “Uncle Sousuke” that she would be expected in his home on what was traditionally a family occasion.

“Truthfully, I don’t know. I suspect it’s nothing good. I declined the invitation saying that you were going to be visiting people at the hospital. I lied to him.” Ulquiorra settled himself back on the floor, facing the Christmas tree again. He grabbed his cup of eggnog and took a drink, wishing he’d spiked it.

She hummed and nodded, not that he could see it.  “It’s worrisome,” she admitted. “Thanks for getting me out of it.  I’m sure it’s the last thing you need; adding me to the list of your problems.  I’m sorry. Here, scootch over, I’ll make it up to you,” she said, setting her cup on a coaster on a side table and patting the front of the chair she was sitting on, indicating she wanted him to sit directly in front of her.

Ulquiorra snorted. “You’ve been on my list of problems for a while,” he stated but did as she asked.

“At least twelve years, huh?” she asked with a lame laugh, placing one of her legs on either side of his body, and bringing her hands to the tops of his shoulders, kneading with her thumbs at the base of his neck.

An obscene but soft groan left his lips. He had been thinking of getting a massage. It’d been one of his guilty pleasures when he was going through college and while doing his time in seminary. Even in Rome, he’d found someone who would pound on his back and shoulders to relieve the tension there. Usually he wasn’t this keyed up because he used exercise as a means to rid himself of unwanted energy. His eyes widened.

That was it!

He’d start running again. He’d lift weights. He’d do something physical to keep his mind off of Orihime. She must have hit something because he made a pleasant almost purring sound.

Orihime smiled, encouraged by his pleased noises.  She ran her thumbs up and down the length of his neck for a good amount of time and then moved further down his shoulders.  At one point she positioned him with his elbows on her knees and worked the tissue under his shoulder blades, making her way back toward his spine, back to the tops of his arms and then down the sides, his forearms, then pushed him forward and worked toward his lower back.  She never got off the chair. She never let him see her other than her fingertips or knees. She was enjoying the feel of his body under her hands too much, she didn’t want him to have to be reminded that it was her doing this to him, causing him to stop her.

But as if he could forget. That’s all the went through his mind as she worked the tense muscles. Every little touch sent shocks down his nerves and into his brain. He had to clench his fists on his thighs when she worked the lower half of his back. “I can lay down if it makes it easier for you,” he murmured.

She chuckled.  Apparently, her fears about him wanting her to stop were unwarranted.  “That works,” she said, waiting for him to lie down on the rug.

Ulquiorra took his shirt off and used it as a small pillow before he stretched out on that filigree patterned rug. He had to take several deep breaths to calm himself down. She was just being kind to him. That’s all this was.

She got off the chair and walked up his legs with her knees on either side, her skirt tugging at his pajama pants as she went.  “This alright?” she checked, as she tentatively settled her seat just above the backs of his knees.

“Mmmhmm.” Ulquiorra didn’t look back at her. He stared at the Christmas tree and the presents underneath it. “You’re fine. Are you comfortable?”

“Yes,” she said, raising up slightly as she brought her hands down to rest lightly on the muscles of his back right above his waistband.  “You’re not ticklish, are you?”

“Nope, not there at least.”

She chuckled, and was half-tempted to bring her fingers to his sides and tickle him on purpose, but decided it would defeat the purpose of relaxing him.  Starting at his waist, and using long, smooth strokes, she rubbed the length of his back from waist to neck, and then back down further past his waistband to his tailbone, concentrating pressure on either side of his spine with her thumbs there, and with the heel of her hands as she traveled further up his back.  She did this for several minutes and then spent more time kneading around each shoulder; she found more tension there and around his neck anyway.

When she moved up to his neck, she was forced to lean forward a great deal, and her hair fell over her shoulders to brush his skin, and try as she might to avoid it, from time to time so would her breasts.  

Ulquiorra’s breathing grew harsh every time he felt her body come in contact with his. This was something he wanted badly, but on the other hand, it was utterly wrong. Her hands brushed part of his lower back with just a light touch, and it made him squirm, arching his back and propping his chest up with his elbows.

“You okay down there?”

It depended on what she meant by okay and down there. She had hit a spot which he knew was one of those places that were an automatic turn on for him. Ulquiorra slowly nodded. “Uh, yeah,” he answered in a strained tone.

“Relax,” she told him, waiting for him to settle back down on his stomach.  “Did I get you in a sensitive spot or something?” she asked, settling back on her heels as she waited for him to get comfortable again.  

“You could say that,” Ulquiorra replied. He focused on his breathing; inhaling and exhaling as he pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Where’d you learn to do this?”

“Um, I didn’t?  Sometimes Maggie would take me along to her ‘spa days’ and pay for me to get a massage alongside her, so I’m just doing what I think they did,” she explained as she pulled on one of his elbows for him to bring a hand behind him for her.

Ulquiorra let her maneuver his arm, bending it at the elbow. His palm lay against the black ink of the tattoo on his back. He could feel how much strain was on his shoulder. He had no clue what Orihime was going to do until it felt like she ran her thumb under the shoulder blade. Then the side of her hand followed the ridge. “Hnnnghhhh, damn,” he groaned.

“Found the spot, huh?” she asked in a soft, smiling voice, and did it a couple more times before she pulled on his other elbow and did the same thing to his to his other shoulder blade.  Then she gave him that hand back and took the first one back, massaging his palm with her fingertips and working her way up his forearms, working the muscles there decently hard. There was a lot of tension there.  When she was finished what she nearly considered abusing him, she soothed it with long, pulling strokes, and then, again, did the same to the other side.

When she finished the other arm, her own forearms and thumbs were starting to feel fatigued.  She could see Ulquiorra’s profile; he had had to face the side to be able to breathe. His eyes were closed, and she couldn’t tell if he was awake or asleep.  She put her palms on his arms and slowly trailed them up to curl over his shoulders, lifting her seat off his legs slightly, and covered his back with her body for a minute, pressing her face into the back of his neck. Orihime then whispered, “All done,” giving each shoulder a firm squeeze, then releasing and sitting up immediately, as if that erased the intimacy of the action.  Then she got off of him and sat to the side, looking at him until he started to get up, at which point she turned her gaze to the Christmas tree.

Feeling her body against him like that made him want to roll over and reverse their positions. It almost felt like she had kissed his neck but he couldn’t be for certain. He did not want to say anything or move because he didn’t want her to stop. Then that’s what she did and Ulquiorra knew that the moment was over. When he got to his feet, he grabbed the balled up t-shirt off the rug and shook it out, looking at her from the corner of his eye. Orihime wasn’t looking at him and that was a good thing because he had the start of another damn erection and he didn’t want to adjust himself in front of her. “Thank you, Orihime,” he said after he put the shirt back on. “I think that’s the nicest Christmas gift anyone has ever given me,”

She smiled, still not looking at him, and said, “It was my pleasure, you, um, smell nice.  Also, that wasn’t for Christmas. That was… just because you deserve it.”

He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t deserve anything. Ulquiorra sighed heavily, wanting to pull her up from where she sat and lead her down to the basement, pin her against the wall or the couch and kiss her until she couldn’t breathe anymore. “It’s the shampoo and conditioner stuff you got for me. You have good taste,” he said after several quiet moments had passed.

“Hmm, I am a very experienced shampoo sniffer.  You know, I think I spent forty-five minutes picking that one out, and I enjoyed almost all of that time.  Some of the shampoos are not as nice as others though,” she told him. She was trying to force the mood into something less emotionally charged, but she was starting to get the feeling that that ship had already sailed.

Ulquiorra peered at her before he squatted down beside her, reaching out with a hand. He wanted her to look at him. He needed her to look at him. Lowering his voice so that only she could hear, he whispered, “Zom’s gonna be gone in a couple of weeks. We could have another movie night.” He let his fingers trail down the side of her face and neck then dropped to her thigh where he drew circles on the material of her skirt with his fingernails. “I liked sleeping next to you Orihime.”

She felt drunk. Her face was hot, and her mind was lagging. She slowly brought her gaze to his green eyes.  Her lips parted to answer, but only a tiny strangled sound came out. She nodded.

“Good night and merry Christmas, Orihime,” Ulquiorra said before standing up. He offered her a hand. “I look forward to spending tomorrow with you.”

She took a deep breath and squeezed his hand.  “Merry Christmas. I’ll see you in the morning.  Don’t stay up too late,” she replied in hushed tones and looked down at their joined hands.

It was tempting to just tilt her chin up and plant his lips onto hers but he didn’t. Ulquiorra returned the action and then let go first, stepping back. “I won’t stay up too late.” 

Chapter Text

Orihime woke up first, putting the French toast bread pudding in the oven, starting the coffee, and hauling her gifts under the tree before she went back upstairs to get ready.  She ran into Zommari on his way out of the bathroom.

“Merry Christmas Father!” She cheered at him as she stepped into her room to grab her shower things, then made her way to the bathroom.

The older priest merely grunted in response and made his way back into his room. He had drank one of those cider things in the refrigerator and now had a hangover. This was not good. He had mass in less than two hours. There was no way he was going to make it, not with feeling this bad. Although the younger priest ribbed him for it, Zommari could tolerate the weak wine. He stood up, wobbling a bit and made his way down to Ulquiorra’s room. He didn’t bother knocking and opened the door to find an empty room. Where was the man?

He had seen Ulquiorra and Orihime growing closer as the days went by and he prayed to the Lord that he wouldn’t find Ulquiorra next door. He listened for sounds of Orihime in the bathroom, and when he heard the shower, he opened her door to find her bed empty also. Relief flooded through him.
Going downstairs in his pajamas, slippers, and robe, Zommari looked all over the first floor but did not see the young priest. The man was either down in the basement or out in the garage. With a sigh, Zommari hauled himself down the basement stairs and flipped on the light switch down there.

Curled up on the couch with a rather festive looking blanket, Ulquiorra slept while the DVD menu of the Princess bride playing on the television. The dark-haired priest looked like a kid to the older man and he sighed. Knowing Ulquiorra’s background, Zommari was giving him plenty of leeway when it came to things. He frowned and walked over to the couch and grabbed his shoulder.

“Get up!”

Green eyes flew open and looked up at Zommari. “What? Where? What? I’m up!” Ulquiorra stammered. “What? Why is it so dark in here?”

“One, you’re in the basement. Two, you left stuff on all night. Three, please, please, tell me that’s not some pornographic material--”

“Zom, it’s a fantasy movie with pirates, thieves, a princess, and daring rescues,” Ulquiorra said, sitting up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. They burned which meant he hadn’t gotten enough sleep or the air down in the basement was irritating them. “I was watching it last night and fell asleep. No harm, no foul.”

The black priest folded his arms over his chest. “I checked Miss Inoue’s room,” the man stated.

Ulquiorra’s gaze automatically snapped to his face, eyes wide. “I would never...No… I...” He realized he sounded defensive. “Orihime and I are just friends. That’s it, Zommari.”

“Get upstairs, we have a lot to do today, and I have a hangover,” the older man replied. “I need your help.”

He stood and stretched before following after the priest. He made Zommari sit down while he got him a strong cup of coffee and something for the headache. Then Ulquiorra went up to his room and looked through the supplements and medications he kept in his closet. He got Zommari some ginger and a couple of B-12 pills before returning to the male and explaining what they were.

“You’re going to be doing Mass today.”

“Say what now?”

A baleful look was given to him. “You will be doing Mass today. I’m under the weather.”

“What did you drink?” Ulquiorra asked as he rummaged through the refrigerator. His own coffee cup was waiting for the eggnog he was going to be using as creamer.

“I ran out of that stuff in the box, and I usually water it down, so I drank one of those cider things.”

“Did I overhear somebody complaining of a hangover?” Orihime said in a soft, sunny voice as she entered the kitchen dressed in jeans and a sweater, not yet ready for church.  “I have got a cure for you, Father.” She ran into the mudroom and down the stairs to the basement and got the vodka and Bloody Mary mix, then stepped into the garage and grabbed a bottle of beer.  She brought these items back into the kitchen and set to work mixing him a weak Bloody Mary with a tiny beer chaser. She dusted it with celery salt and threw a pickle spear and celery stalk in it and put it in front of the older priest.

He looked at her like she was nuts.

“I know it’s counter-intuitive, but trust me, it works,” she urged, going to the cupboard to get herself a coffee cup.

Zommari looked at Ulquiorra and then at the redhead again.

“Bottom’s up, Zom. I can’t do Mass,” Ulquiorra said. “I messed up the little bit I had to do last night.”

“Fine, but I better--”

“You’re gonna be fine. I’ll do half of Mass. Okay?” Ulquiorra looked at the man questioningly. The older priest sipped on the concoction Orihime made and then went to get ready for the day, taking it with him. It made Ulquiorra snicker with laughter. He realized he was alone with Orihime once again. “Morning,” he said to her.

“Good morning, Merry Christmas!” she bade him with an ear-splitting grin.  “Coffee first, I was up early wrapping gifts. Forgot that little detail.”

She looked so happy. It was that moment Ulquiorra knew he didn’t want to be a priest anymore. He wanted to be a regular man so that he could fall in love with this woman without guilt. Ulquiorra set his coffee cup down and walked over to where Orihime stood. “Woman,” he said looking down at her.

“Man?” she asked, confused by his action but not put off by it, still smiling. Still full of Christmas.

He backed her up against the counter, tilting her face up and Ulquiorra would have kissed her had he not heard Zommari tromping down the stairs like an elephant. An irritated groan went through him as he stepped away from the redhead. “Later,” he murmured to her.

If Orihime had had any tiny experience with a man before, she would know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what he meant.  As it was, she was uncertain, but she thought for sure it was one of two things: 1. She was in deep trouble, and he was going to give her a lecture later, or 2. He was going to kiss her.

As she sat there, starting to worry, it crossed her mind that there was a third option, and that was that anything else might possibly be it and she should stop worrying because it was Christmas and it was her first Christmas at the rectory, and she didn’t want it worried by possibly unwarranted anxieties.  She took a deep breath and grabbed the eggnog out of the fridge and poured some in her coffee. She put it back, and before she took a sip she asked Ulquiorra, “Did you try it yet?”

“I was about to,” he said to her. Ulquiorra moved across the kitchen to the table and picked up the cup as Zommari entered the kitchen dressed for his duties. Ulquiorra kept his eyes on the cup as he drank.

“How much time until breakfast?” Zommari asked.

The woman looked at the oven timer.  “Three minutes until it’s done and then we should give it five to cool.  Do you want some fruit first?”

Zommari did not want any fruit, but Ulquiorra said, “Do we have any bananas? Those are good on top on the French toast stuff.”

“Yessir,” she said, reaching toward the corner counter and grabbing one.  “A banana sounds good,” she murmured, grabbing one for herself and setting at her spot before handing Ulquiorra his.

The oven timer dinged, and she took the dish out of the oven, setting it on the unlit upper burners to cool, and sat down to start on her banana.

“I’m starving.  Only half goes on the french toast thing,” Orihime said, sticking the phallic object in her mouth and taking a bite.

Ulquiorra swallowed as he watched Orihime’s mouth close over the fruit. He didn’t care if Zommari was standing there watching him and judging him. Anyone would be crazy not to witness what she was doing.

Orihime set the banana aside after a few bites and dished up the rest of the breakfast.  She used a butter knife to slice bananas against her thumb and then passed the knife to Ulquiorra.  “Do recommend syrup or powdered sugar or anything on this?” she asked, popping her thumb into her mouth for a moment to get the residual fruit off of it.

“Uh, both if you want them,” Ulquiorra answered, still mesmerized by her mouth. He was going to have to take a cold shower before Mass, he thought. He cut up his own banana dotting big chunks over the cinnamon-vanilla bread stuff he’d made yesterday. Ulquiorra then looked at Zommari.

“What?”

“Grace?”

Zommari grumbled but said a quick prayer. The priest was hungry. Ulquiorra ended up putting butter, syrup and a bit of powdered sugar to top off his breakfast. It was Zommari who went to the fridge and looked in the door.

“What are you getting Zom?”

“Aha!” Zommari came back to the table with one of those cans of whipped cream which he piled onto his portion of breakfast.

“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack,” Ulquiorra teased the man.

Zommari was polite enough that he chewed and swallowed before retorting, “Yeah, what about your sugar coma waiting to happen?”

Ulquiorra had grabbed the whipped cream and was putting a healthy dose on top of the pile. “I’ll burn it off later,” he replied.

“Had I known you two had such sweet tooths I would’ve been making desserts more often,” Orihime muttered, raising her eyebrows at the two priests in mock judgment.  She sighed. “All right, if you insist, I’ll try some. Pass it over, Rover,” she said, holding her hand out to Ulquiorra.

“To be fair, Miss Inoue, I only indulge on sweets during holidays. Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July,” Zommari stated.

Orihime’s face fell slightly at the mention of Easter.  She stopped spraying the whipped topping onto her dish and set it down, looking down at it and taking a few quiet breaths.  She nodded a tiny nod, the smiled and took a forkful of breakfast, “Itadakimasu!” she said, thinking of her mother, before taking a huge bite.

She squinted and hummed her appreciation for the food, pretending to sob at how good it was.  She thought it was an ingenious solution to her current emotional outburst.

Ulquiorra scowled at Zommari and gestured at Orihime. The head priest just shrugged. The silent argument went on until Zommari grabbed his plate and his bloody Mary and walked into the conference room. The green-eyed man sighed. “Orihime, make sweet stuff and desserts any time you want. I’ll eat them and Zom can kiss your ass.” He reached across the table and held out his hand.

She swallowed and smiled at him, shaking her head, but took his hand anyway.  “Thanks for worrying about me, but I can’t go through life feeling sorry for myself. Zommari didn’t know.  I should go ask him to come back.” She didn’t get up though. “This breakfast is amazing, by the way.”

Clearing his throat, Ulquiorra nodded. “It’s from some cooking channel show and I just followed the woman’s directions. She had red hair and lives on a ranch. She also made some kind of egg bake thing but I was drooling over the idea of french toast bread pudding.” He gave Orihime a smile. “I have a sweet tooth but I try to abstain from it because you know… It steels us against temptation or whatever.”

She laughed.  “I don’t know anything about that.  There was a time shortly after I came here that I was spending an inordinate amount of time fantasizing about getting ridiculously fat and just stuffing my face with anything I wanted at any time.  It was a nice couple of weeks, imagining that,” she said, looking up toward the ceiling with a dreamy expression.

 “You’d still be beautiful to me,” Ulquiorra said. He leveled a look at her then the priest decided just to jump off the deep end. “I like women with meat on them, so to speak.” He loaded his fork with the bread pudding and shoved it into his mouth so he wouldn’t embarrass himself further.

She sputtered out a laugh and decided to it would be prudent to let the topic lie. “I better go get Zommarino before he starts pouting and refusing to come out and do mass.  I’ll be right back,” she said, withdrawing her hand.

“As you wish,” he said after swallowing. When she left, Ulquiorra got himself a glass of milk and finished his breakfast. He could hear Zommari talking.

She came back into the kitchen arm and arm with the older priest, laughing about something.  She looked at Ulquiorra as he looked up at her and flashed him a wide-eyed expression that seemed to signal that she was just as confused as he looked.  She sat the priest down at his spot, along with plate that she carried. He clutched his mostly-drank bloody mary. After he was situated she sat back down in her spot and tried hard not to laugh as she continued eating.

She kicked Ulquiorra’s foot under the table.

He was busy gawking at his boss. “Okay, what have we learned today? Zommari?”

“Get Miss Inoue to make a pitcher of this stuff,” Zommari answered.

Ulquiorra was unimpressed with this answer. “Wrong. You have to drive to see your parents today, right? You need to sober up. Don’t drink my hard cider and Orihime, no more bloody marys for Father Light As A Feather,” he stated.

Orihime nudged Zommari’s elbow with her wrist and looked at him conspiratorially, then looked back to Ulquiorra and said, “Yes, Dad,” in the kind of way an obnoxious child would then giggled.  The foot that had kicked his raised as she leaned toward Zommari and dragged the hem of Ulquiorra’s pants halfway up his calf.  She didn’t seem to notice.

His jaw tensed when he felt the touch on his leg. She wanted to be a brat? Ulquiorra could show her how much of a brat he could be. Scooting his chair forward just a fraction, he didn’t just brush against her calf. No, Ulquiorra’s foot started at her knee and went upwards, trailing along her inner thigh before he stopped scant centimeters from the apex of her thighs. He raised an eyebrow at her, before picking up his glass of milk and taking a drink.

She shot him an unimpressed look.  “I think we should finish up breakfast and go do presents before it gets too late, what do you boys think?” she proposed, narrowing one eye at Ulquiorra.

He wiggled his toes, letting just the tips of them brush against her. “I’m game. I already finished breakfast, just have to drink my milk. It does a body good, you know.”

“Braggart.” Zommari was taking bites of his bread pudding while he scowled.

Orihime stood up quickly, desperate to get away from Ulquiorra at the moment.  “I’ll let the plates soak in the sink,” she said, taking hers and plugging the sink, adding some soap, and clutching the edge of the sink for dear life as she tried to calm down.

Ulquiorra sighed. He screwed up. He stood up and walked over to the counter and set the glass that had milk in it on the surface. “I’m going to get ready,” he said more to her than to Zommari.

“What?  No!” she protested, facing him with flushed cheeks and troubled features.  “You have to come do presents.”

“I will. Geez, all I’m doing is changing clothes,” Ulquiorra replied. “Give me five minutes to do that.”

“Father Cifer slept in the basement last night, so he didn’t get up on time,” Zommari chimed in.

Orihime scowled.  “You were supposed to get some sleep,” she murmured, hoping Zommari wouldn’t hear.

“Later, okay?” Ulquiorra gave her a somewhat pleading look.

She smiled at him, “As you wish,” she said and turned back to Zommari to see if he had finished eating so she could take his plate.

Taking a step back, Ulquiorra stared at the woman for a moment. Did she mean that? Was her “as you wish” the same as the one in the movie or did she mean something completely different by it? It left him confused as he went upstairs. Ulquiorra stripped out of his pajamas and pulled on a clean pair of boxer-briefs. For some reason all of his comfortable boxers had come up missing. There were either R.O.U.S.s eating them or the washer was ingesting them. Either way once the holidays were out of the way, he had to buy new ones. He got a pair of pinstriped dress socks and then finished getting dressed with black trousers, his clergy shirt and collar and then the black blazer. There was no way in hell he was going to wear his cassock today. Knowing his luck, Zommari would make him put it on.

He spritzed a bit of cologne on and then grabbed his glasses off the bedside table and put them on. The last thing Ulquiorra did was run his fingers through his hair, trying to tame it. It was time for a haircut too. He left the room and went back downstairs and sat on the couch. Zommari was sitting in the chair with a cup of coffee otherwise Ulquiorra would have taken that seat.

Orihime heard him come down the stairs and then wiped her hands and joined him and Zommari in the parlor.  She turned on the cabinet record player, and the scratchy sound of Bing Crosby singing carols filled the room.  “Okay, who’s first? I can play the elf,” she offered, then stopped short when she saw Ulquiorra.

He looked like a priest.  He was a priest.  It was easy to forget, though, when he wasn’t dressed like one.  She took a slow breath and held it, waiting for a response to her question.

“Give me the bag that has my name on it,” Zommari said.

She expelled the breath she had been holding and smiled, doing as he said.  “Here you go, and a very Merry Christmas to you, Father Zommari. Your sermons and reading choices never fail to inspire,” she said as she took a seat at the base of the tree to watch him open his gift.

“Thank you Miss Inoue,” Zommari said before ripping into the gift bag. He pulled out the bottle of wine and the corkscrew, scowling. “Really Father Cifer?”

“What? I also got you a gift card to a wine tasting thing around here at some restaurant,” Ulquiorra said. “The voucher is in the bag.”

“Hmph.”

“Oh, don’t be a grinch, Father.  He means well. Anyway, one for Father Cifer?  Or should we spoil you more,” she said, eying the older priest.  I have another one with your name on it,” she said, picking up one from herself and passing it to him.

This time Zommari opened a more thoughtful gift. It was a hat and scarf. He gave Orihime a wide smile. “Thank you, I’ve always wanted a hat and a scarf. See Father Cifer, Miss Inoue knows how to treat her elders.”

Ulquiorra rolled his eyes. “Orihime, there’s a box back there for you.”

She crawled under the tree and grabbed it. “This one?” she asked.  “Huh, I guess so,” she said, finding nothing else. “It’s heavy!” she stated as she pulled it over the tree skirt, dragging the fabric along with somewhat.  She pulled at the paper until it tore and then saw the picture of the stand mixer on the box. “What?! This is AWESOME! Thank you!” she beamed at him and made to hug the box.  “I’m guessing this means you want more cookies, eh?”

The green-eyed priest shrugged, “I figured you could use it,” Ulquiorra said.

“What’s that small box,” Zommari asked.

“I figured you could use it,” Orihime echoed Ulquiorra’s words in a mocking manner, ignoring Zommari.  “Pssht. You want cookies. Anyway, this box?” She held it aloft. “It’s for you,” she said, passing it to him.

Zommari kind of smiled and tore open the brown paper away from the small box. He raised an eyebrow and looked at Ulquiorra. He lifted the lid and his eyes went wide. “Cifer!” The black man lifted the silver cross up and then with his other hand he stilled the movement of the item. “It’s engraved with my name, the year and Sacred Heart,” the older priest said.

Orihime smiled gently at the older priest and then let her eyes drift over to Ulquiorra.  She waited until she caught his eye and then widened the smile a bit, going back to the tree.  “Alright, I want both of you to open these at the same time, okay?” she said, pulling out two similarly-sized bundles from under the tree and passing them out.

Ulquiorra took the package from the redhead and waited for Zommari to take his. He gave Orihime a bewildered look. “Why at the same time?”

“Because we’re running behind because of you,” Zommari stated already ripping the paper.

The other priest sighed and pushed the glasses up on his nose. He carefully opened the package and laughed when he saw what it contained. That explained why his underthings were missing.

“Old men love socks,” Zommari said. He stood up and then patted Orihime on the head. He cleared his throat, “I have an announcement to make.”

Ulquiorra was looking at the boxers and the socks and the package of undershirts then his head snapped up.

“From today until Friday, you guys have those days off. I didn’t think of presents,” Zommari said. “I’m going to be gone until Thursday, so behave and don’t burn the place down.”

“What? Why?” Ulquiorra asked.

“Ah, my brother is going on a three-year mission trip and I won’t be able to see him. So I’m going to be spending time with him,” the priest explained. “I believe we’re done, so I will see you--”

“Wait!  I have one more!” Orihime said, grabbing a small package and holding it, “Um, actually, this one is for all of us.  Father Cifer, will you do the honors?” she asked.

He stood and walked over to where Orihime sat and took the package from her. “Zom, did you miss the other box under the tree?”

“It’s addressed to you and wrapped in the same stuff as ours was so I figured you already knew what was in it.”

This made Ulquiorra roll his eyes again. He looked down at Orihime through the glasses and then started picking at the corner of the paper. When he had it unwrapped, he read the ornament. “This is nice Orihime.”

“What is it?” Zommari said taking it from Ulquiorra. He looked at the snowmen and then read their names. “I know I’m a little round about the middle, but there’s no way I’m this big.”

“Come on, you guys!  It’s funny!” Orihime pouted.  “Fine. You two are just fuddy-duds.  I’m getting dressed,” she announced and got up.  “Thank you both, this was a great Christmas morning,” she said in a believable tone as she made her way up the stairs.

“Cassock,” Zommari said before he disappeared into the offices.

Ulquiorra scowled at the man’s bald head and went upstairs. He didn’t go into his room though. He knocked on Orihime’s door first. It was just a couple of taps.

“What is it,” she said through the door.

“It’s me,” Ulquiorra replied. “I want to apologize.”

She threw a shirt on and opened the door.  “What about?”

Orihime was not going to make this easy for him, was she? Ulquiorra took his glasses off and rubbed at his eyes. He shouldn’t have stayed up so late. “I’m sorry for what I did at the table this morning. I did not have your consent and it was wrong of me. My apologies. Also,” he swallowed the lump that developed in his throat because he was nervous.

She was looking at him like she wanted to sweep it all to the side but paused when he did, feeling the tension rise.  She waited for him to continue.

This was a big gamble. He didn’t even know if she wanted him like this. He didn’t know if she wanted the burden of what he was about to do. Ulquiorra put his glasses in his pocket and then took a step towards Orihime. He slowly brought his hands up, trailing his fingers over her arms, shoulders and her neck. Then Ulquiorra cupped her face as he brought his mouth closer to hers. It was just a slight brushing of their lips but it gave him the confidence to press her against him. He pulled away from her, chest heaving and looked at her.

Her eyes closed when he kissed her, and they were still closed when he pulled away.  When her wits returned, she opened them slowly and searched his face for answers. Her right hand raised to her lips, and she touched her lower one for a moment, looked down and then looked back up at him.  “Ulquiorra…” she said in a tiny voice.

“Later tonight, when we’re alone, I have other presents for you in the basement,” Ulquiorra said. He kissed her once more, slowly, letting their lips meld together. Again he pulled back from her but this time he put space between them. “Zommari’s moving around downstairs. I have to get my cassock on.” 

She watched him retreat silently and then closed her door and sat on her bed, completely stunned.  She didn’t know what to think or what to do. She just sat there, feeling her insides boil and her mind replay what just happened over and over.  She desperately tried to memorize how it felt, what he did, how his voice sounded. She was terrified that as soon as she left this room, the memory would disappear and she would never have the chance again.

She knew it was wrong.  And it wasn’t that she didn’t care; she cared a great deal.  But she could not deny her true feelings, despite not having had any previous intent to act on them.  She stood and looked at herself in the mirror and saw someone she didn’t recognize. She knew she was short on time and didn’t have the time to really sit and analyze the situation, so she went back to dressing for mass, wiping errant tears as she did.  She knew that there was no going back from this. She would either have to live in misery and silence, or, more likely, Ulquiorra or she would have to leave Sacred Heart. She should be the one to go. This was her fault.

She finished dressing and waited until she heard Zommari shouting to get moving, then started down the stairs.  “I’ll meet you there,” she called from the stair third from the top, and then made no move to go further, ultimately turning back into her room and closing the door.

Ulquiorra had shed the blazer and got that awful looking garment out of his closet, slipping his arms into it. He grabbed the rosary that he left on his dresser. He shook his head, disbelieving what he had done. He had kissed her. It was one thing to think about her. It was one thing to dream about her. It was one thing to contemplate having an emotional bond to Orihime, but the green-eyed priest crossed the line and he knew it. He couldn’t go back to just treating the redhead like he had in the past when something between them connected. He had touched her. She had touched him. There was a physical intimacy there.

There was no going back from that kiss on her neck. There was no return from the way her hands and body felt against his back. There was certainly no way to take back the two kisses he’d given to her. Ulquiorra left his room and glanced at her door, then headed down the stairs. He told Zom that he would meet him in the church. When he entered the sanctuary, Ulquiorra got down on his knees and prayed.

Zommari found him like that when he came into the church alone. “Are you alright, Father Cifer?”

“I’m fine, Zommari.”

“Do you want to tell me?”

“No,” Ulquiorra said in a flat voice. He saw the black man kneel beside him, and folding his hands.

“I’m willing to overlook things. I’m willing to bend the rules for you,” Zommari stated.

Ulquiorra sighed. That wouldn’t do. He shook his head. “There’s nothing to warrant that,” he replied. “I’m just feeling--”

“Guilty?”

It was then that Ulquiorra looked over at Zommari. The man was holding out a picture. It showed him, a woman and a child. “Is this your sister and your nephew?”

“I do not have a sister,” Zommari replied. “I’m an only child. I’m going to see my wife and my son.”

“What? That’s--”

Those golden eyes that turned on Ulquiorra were cold. “That’s what? Tosen holds it over my head. Your father holds it over my head. Are you going to be the one who says something?”

Ulquiorra felt the blood drain from his face. “You’re still a priest,” he countered.

“Maybe,” Zommari said. Green eyes watched the man as he did the sign of the cross and then stood. “We have a job to do, Ulquiorra.”

Chapter Text

Orihime did not have to sing for Christmas morning mass; it was an entirely different choral program.  She genuflected and slid into her usual seat in the third pew several minutes before mass was scheduled to start, pulling out the kneeler and getting to her knees.  She crossed herself and clasped her hands together, an emerald green crystal rosary she had received from the Rohertys clutched between them. She bowed her head and prayed for guidance; for answers.

By the time the organ started, alerting the congregation to stand for the processional, she was no closer to any answers. Her face made a pained expression, which she toned down using a lot of willpower, as the familiar priests made their way past her and toward the altar.  She was surprised to see Father Zommari look directly at her, smiling kindly, for a moment before he began his greeting.

Ulquiorra looked everywhere but at Orihime. At least he tried, but again and again he found himself seeking her out. All he saw was the top of her head most of the time. He was conflicted. Hearing about Zommari and his situation tore at what he had been taught. It was wrong. Then again, Ulquiorra wanted to do the same thing. He wanted to be with Orihime like that. He’d struggled with his growing feelings for her over the past few months--no, years! He’d been thinking about her like he did now when he entered the seminary… She was his entire reason for becoming a priest.

He did this so he could not harm anyone else.

It was after Zommari started his sermon about love and compassion and how kindness led people away from sin that Ulquiorra finally caught Orihime’s eye. He stared at her for several minutes. His face was impassive but he was trying to speak to her using just his eyes. He was sorry for his actions. He was remorseful that he placed the burden of his desire upon her too.

When it was his turn to close out Mass, Ulquiorra had to focus on his words. He had to keep his eyes moving and not single out just one parishioner. The green-eyed priest looked over at Zommari who urged him to continue after saying the Eucharistic Prayer.

He had never stood in front of an audience and said the Lord’s Prayer. It was always done in a crowd. Ulquiorra searched out Orihime’s face again. He opened his mouth and began to recite it, “Our Father, who art in Heaven...”

It was easy when he focused on her. He got through the rest of Mass easily. After communion, Ulquiorra gave up his spot to Zommari again. He didn’t stick around to bid people farewell, that was Zommari’s duty today; his job was to clean up everything and finish off that nasty communion wine.

Orihime waited in her seat as everyone else filed out of church after mass, contemplating her options.  She was at war with herself. In one camp, her mind was telling her to just act normal. Act like nothing happened.  Just go with it and everything will work out. It’s not like you killed a guy, Orihime. This is not irreparable.

In the other camp, her heart told her to that she would have to choose: her faith or her love.  That’s if the choice was even hers to make. It was in his hands as much as in hers. She closed her eyes and prayed again.  God did not immediately answer.

She knew one thing at that moment, though. One thought flowed through her blood, beat through her heart and echoed in her mind:  She wanted to see him. Now.

Uncertainty was not her strong suit.

She stood from the pew and folded her coat over her arm, walked past the altar and into the sacristy.

“Ulquiorra?”

His first thought was to scoop her up in his arms. The next was to refrain. “Orihime. I thought you left with everyone else. I’m almost done here.”

She nodded and bit her lip, then said, “I just wanted to tell you that you did a good job today.”

“Come here, Woman.”

She approached him and stopped about two paces away.

“Did you still want to come with me to the cemetery? I understand if you don’t want to in light of my actions this morning,” he said in a solemn tone. “I’m not sorry for what I did.”

She regarded him for a long moment, her face blank but for that bottom lip pressed firmly between her teeth again.  She took a measured breath and then gave him a button-lipped smile. “Of course I want to go. Nothing you do would change that.”

He doubted that but didn’t challenge her statement. “What about the rest of the day? I would like to spend it with you.”

She nodded.  The voice inside her telling her "no, this was wrong, back away from the sexy priest and leave your immortal soul intact" was still there, screaming in her right ear.  Her body told it to fuck right off. She was going to give it the day. Actually, she was going to give it until Zommari came back from his family’s house. Reality could come crashing down then.  The damage had already been done, anyway. She listened to her body. “Me too.”

The priest stood there for a moment, tilting his head to one side; staring at her once again. He contemplated on whether or not to tell Orihime about Zom and his secret. In the end of his thoughts, he decided not to. It wasn’t his information to tell anything about it at all. “Go inside, make sure Zommari has what he needs for the trip and tell him to take his bottle of wine and the corkscrew.”

Her laugh surprised her, and she kind of choked on it, then looked up at him, slightly hunched over, and answered, “That is actually something I can handle.  I’ll see you later,” she smiled and turned away, leaving him to go back to the rectory.

She went inside and made sure Zommari had his hat and scarf, and then put the bottle of wine and the corkscrew in a reusable thermal grocery bag, together with a screw-top jar full of premixed  bloody marys and a couple bottles of beer, along with an ice pack, and told him with a wink not to get into it until he reached his destination. She hugged him despite him stiffening up and protesting the action, then went to the kitchen to clean up what hadn’t gotten done after breakfast.

Zommari was just getting into the van as Ulquiorra walked into the garage. “Ulq,” the priest called out.

The green-eyed man looked at him. “What Zom?”

“Don’t beat yourself up over it,” he said. “You’re both probably feeling conflicted. Just ride it out and you’ll see the light, eventually.”

“You don’t even know what happened,” Ulquiorra said.

“Mmmm, you two aren’t as covert as you think you are. I saw what happened last night. I can hear what you two say.” Zommari raised an eyebrow at Ulquiorra. “I mean you two went upstairs in a good mood. Come back down with swollen lips and acting like the world is ending.”

“Oh.”

“Plus, there’s cameras on the outside of the rectory. ”

Ulquiorra’s eyes went wide. What? Did that mean? “Are you--” The question hung in the air between them, unasked.

Zommari shook his head. “Think it over for the next couple of days. When I come back, we will talk.”

The dark-haired priest watched the other drive off in that huge van with his lips pressed together. Then Ulquiorra went inside the rectory. He did his routine, shedding his shoes and then walked through the kitchen to the stairs. He went up them and into his room. Once again, the cassock got hung up. He’d wash his other clerical stuff this week. Maybe he’d get it dry cleaned. When he was nude, Ulquiorra grabbed his towel and bathrobe putting it on, then slinging the former over his shoulder. He opened his door. All he had to do was walk across the hall to the bathroom.

Orihime had finished in the kitchen and decided to go upstairs to change.  She reached the landing and saw Ulquiorra in his bathrobe and froze, hoping he didn’t notice her there.

He heard the soft creak of one of the stairs. It had to be Orihime. Don’t look at her. Don’t look at her. That’s what he was screaming at his body… It obviously was being the equivalent of a four-year-old child and not listening because as soon as he could he turned his head, he did. He said nothing but smiled at her before he went into the bathroom. That dark side of his brain that told him to do bad stuff was telling him to leave the door cracked. To invite her into the room. Ulquiorra would much rather throw himself off the top of the Sacred Heart’s tallest spire than do that. Instead the man stuck his head out the door. “Give me thirty minutes and I’ll be ready,” he said to the redhead still standing on the steps.

Orihime held her breath until the door shut, and then she exhaled in a big whoosh and smiled to herself, thinking it was some kind of close call.  She scurried into her own room and closed the door. She stripped out of her church clothes and put on some nice jeans and an oatmeal colored cable-knit sweater that came down past her hips.  They were going to the cemetery and there was still a lot of snow on the ground from the blizzard, so she decided that snow boots would be the way to go, so she also put on some knee-high woolly boot socks over the tight jeans.  She looked like she was going to hang out in a ski lodge. It was fine, she thought. Her mom and brother wouldn’t mind. Plus, she didn’t want Ulquiorra thinking she was asking for it by dressing too cute. Better to just be herself, she figured.

When she was done, she took the present she had prepared for him out of her closet and brought it downstairs, placing it under the tree.  She went to get some coffee and waited at the table, idly looking through her emails on her phone.

Ulquiorra showered. He shampooed his hair making sure to rub that soap into his scalp so it would sink into his skin. When he rinsed his hair, he slicked the conditioner goop through it. He washed the flat planes of his body. He groaned her name as he jerked off. It was beginning to be a habit. One that was frowned upon.

He got out after fifteen minutes and dried off. He was half tempted to just walk out of the bathroom naked but Ulquiorra had morals. He had standards. He would not turn into some sex-crazed maniac just because he kissed someone for the first time in years. The guilt was still eating away at him, like acid. It was an unpleasant sensation. He opened the bathroom door, steam pouring out into the hallway and looked around. It was clear. He slipped on the bathrobe and walked across the hall, back into his room and got dressed. It was his regular off-duty attire. Black, close-fitting jeans, a white oxford shirt with a dark gray v-neck sweater on top of that. He left the white shirt untucked and did a spritz of that cologne that almost smelled like his shampoo and conditioner. He contemplated wearing his glasses and opened his door. “Orihime!” he shouted down the stairs.

“Yeah?” She shouted back, not getting up.

“Glasses or no glasses?”

“Uh…” she looked outside.  It was starting to get sunny.  “No glasses. You may need to wear shades outside,” she shouted.  It was a matter of practicality.

He trusted her judgement so he went to put his contacts in. After his hair was combed, he left his room, and entered the kitchen. Ulquiorra stopped and stared at her when he saw her. She looked adorable. “Hi,” he said from where he stood.

She looked up at him. Her eyebrows flashed without her permission.  He looked dapper. “Well, now I feel like a ragamuffin,” she said, looking him up and down, innocently enough.  

Ulquiorra chuckled. “You look cute,” he replied. “I’m just dressing how I would if I was going to a function. Casual, yet with a touch of class.”

She laughed silently, her shoulders shaking and breath coming out her nose in a staggered rhythm.  “You say that like it’s only natural. Effortless. Like, “duh , rest of the world, get with it,” she laughed again, this time with voice.  

Shaking his head Ulquiorra walked over to where she sat, picking up her coffee cup. He took a sip and looked at her the entire time he did it. “Did you want one of your presents now?” he asked.

“One of them?  Ok,” she said.

“I’ll be right back,” Ulquiorra said. He disappeared into the mudroom and down in the basement. He’d hidden her stuff in a box in the maintenance room. There were twelve gifts in that box. One for every year he had thought about her. They were mostly small things. He picked up the the basket he’d put together. He had spent almost his entire free day last week picking out stuff for her.

The basket was an idea he had overheard one of the ladies talking about at one morning Mass. He’d found the nearest chain smell good store and picked out what he thought would smell good on Orihime. In the end he ended up appealing to her heritage and bought the Japanese Cherry Blossom scent. It was wrapped in pink cellophane and had a white bow. He took it upstairs and then put it on the table without saying a word.

“What?!  You shouldn’t have!  This is great, I love this smell,” she said, tearing the cellophane open and grabbing the hand lotion from the basket.  “Timely too, I just did the dishes and my hands are dry,” she said, smiling up at him. She felt like she should hug him, but she wasn’t sure where they stood, so she just smiled.  There was body scrub and a small candle and hand soap in the basket as well. “I know where this is going,” she said, taking the hand soap and putting it next to the kitchen sink. “Only you and I ever bother using this one so it won’t go to waste,” she said, turning her head over her shoulder and laughing.

She turned around then with an apologetic grin and said, “I would give you a present now, but I only have one, I’m sorry to say.  I’ll save it until the end, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind,” Ulquiorra replied. He didn’t want to bring her happiness down any but there was a weight pressing on his shoulders. “Um, did you--do you--” He sighed. “Are you okay? I mean with this morning?”

She looked at him like she had been caught out, her chest collapsing and her eyes cringing.  “I don’t want you to hate me, Ulquiorra,” she said, looking to the side.

He shook his head. “I could never hate you. If you regret it, that’s fine. I just need to know if you are okay after it.”

She looked at him again, her expression uneasy.  “Honesty for Christmas, okay?”

He brought his hand up and tugged at his ear for a moment as he thought about the question she just asked. Was she asking honesty from him? Was she offering her honesty? “I would never lie to you,” he said in reply. “I would expect the same from you, so yes, honesty.”

She rose her eyebrows then, feeling the weight of his statement.  “Okay, um, for me it’s too soon to know if I regret it or not. Um, If your question is whether I…” she blushed and looked down, letting her hair cover her face.  She was too embarrassed to continue.

Realization dawned on him. Oh. Oh. Oh… Orihime just wasn’t a virgin, it was quite possible that she had no romantic experience whatsoever. If that was the case then he had--No, he wasn’t going to feel bad about it. Zommari told him to think it over and that is what he was doing. “Again?”

It was a poorly worded question, but it seemed that they were both at a loss for speech and complete sentences.

She didn’t answer for what felt like a long time, and when she did, it was in the form of red hair bobbing up and down.  She still hid behind it.

“As you wish,” he said. He walked over to her and took her hand. “C’mon, I’m driving.”

That got her to look up. In fact, her head snapped up.  “I was starting to think you couldn’t,” she said, her face still red as an apple, but her eyes sparkling with thinly veiled delight.  “This is either going to be a treat or a terror.”

Ulquiorra looked at her with an offended look but it seemed dramatic for him. “I am a perfect driver. I’ll drive us there and you can drive home, deal?”

“Depends. If you are a good driver you can drive all the way home,” she said, the double entendre completely lost on her.

One straight eyebrow rose and he considered her words for a moment. Being as innocent as she was, Ulquiorra just gave his head a little shake. “What are we eating today?” he asked as they got their coats on. The priest hung his scarf around his neck and looked at her expectantly.

“I know it’s a little unorthodox, but spinach lasagna.  It’s Christmas colors at least. Hope you don’t mind. I made it ahead so I could relax today,”  she said, stepping into her fleece-lined snowboots and putting on her parka.

Ulquiorra put on the black leather boots he had bought which had much more traction than the rainboots he’d worn the day after it snowed. They were a tad cold though. He put the hat Orihime made him on his head and opened the garage door. With keys in hand he was in the driver seat of the station wagon. He pressed the automatic garage door thing and waited for Orihime to join him.

Orihime zipped herself up and made sure she had sunglasses and mittens and then followed Ulquiorra to the garage, watching him from outside the car as he got in and then made her way to the passenger side, buckling up and looking at him like she expected something magical to happen.  She wasn’t sure what - not like she expected the car to start flying or something - but she was sure Ulquiorra would have some signature driving move that would set him apart from other drivers. Maybe he listened to Celine Dion or something equally ridiculous while driving. Maybe he had some weird superstitious habit.  Maybe he had road rage. She was excited to find out.

He backed out of the garage without any flair. The only thing Ulquiorra did was constantly checked the three mirrors, making sure he had room and he flipped the turn signal on in parking lots. He knew where the cemetery was but he had his GPS app on his phone guide him to the place. Relying on an old memory was probably a good way to frustrate him and get them lost. When they entered the quiet place with the cold stones, he spoke, “I don’t remember exactly where your family is.”

“Straight down this lane and then veer left at the big pine tree,” she said, pointing in that direction.  “You can stop about fifty feet after that.”

Ulquiorra followed the rather vague directions but he got them to where they needed to be. The snow crunched under foot as he stepped out of the vehicle. He walked around and waited for the redhead to open her door so that he could offer her a hand to make it over the bank of snow.

She opened the car door and saw him waiting for her with an outstretched hand.   She took it and let him guide her through the snowbank, then made to let go. She held on though, and pulled him in the direction only she knew where to go.  They passed several larger headstones and then stopped in front of two smaller ones, almost completely covered in snow. Orihime let go of Ulquiorra’s hand and brushed snow off of the markers.  The one on the left read “Ai Barragan, 1969-2006”. The one on the right read, “Sora Inoue, 1992-2006”. Orihime took a step back and said a prayer that Ulquiorra recognized to Sora’s stone, but when she faced her mother’s stone, she did a strange ritual he did not recognize, producing a cloth from her pocket and wetting it with a bottle of water, polishing the gravestone, saud a silent prayer with hands pressed together instead of folded, then brought her head upright and smiled when she was finished.  She then produced a bottle of unsweetened iced tea and opened it, placing it into the snow next to her mother’s headstone. “I usually do flowers, but any offering will do. She loved iced tea…” she explained quietly.

It must have been a Japanese custom, he thought as he watched her, his hands buried deep into the pockets of his coat. “I was thinking about flowers but it’s Christmas day; only crazy shop owners are open,” Ulquiorra said. He took a deep breath, before walking forward and placing his hand on top of Sora’s stone. He closed his eyes and said a quiet prayer then stood beside Orihime’s mother’s grave and did the same. When Ulquiorra was done, he stepped back and looked at the redhead he had saved many years ago. It was amazing how desperate Ginjo had been to take the amount he offered to spare the two children.

“I’m sorry,” Ulquiorra finally said. He schooled his expression into a blank one. “I never meant the words I said to you that day. I didn’t realize what would happen. If I had a choice, I would make the same decisions. I would have done even more if I could.” He took a deep breath then and held it.

She stepped up beside him and put her hand in his and stood quietly for a moment.  The questions were eating away at her. “Why did you say them? I never thought you meant them, but I never understood why you said them.  It seemed almost like you were talking to yourself more than you were talking to me.”

He gave one nod. “I hated my childhood. I hated my life.” Ulquiorra hesitated for one moment and it was enough to make his shuddering exhale known to her. He was trying to keep it together. “You were so wrapped up in this game Aizen was playing that I disliked you for believing his lies. The reason he sent you away was because he knew he couldn’t keep it up. The perfect family; the bloodthirsty wife; his cruel intentions. For some reason, you were sent away to live a life untainted by him.”

“What did you do?  I remember that night in my room.  You told me you saved me. What did you do?”  she asked, her tone gentle but insistent.

Closing his eyes, Ulquiorra tilted his head back, unsure if he wanted to tell her. “I paid the man who was going to kill you. I paid him and told him to leave the children alive. I don’t know how Aizen found out. I remember fidgeting a lot that morning. I threw up. We all got into the limo and Tosen asked if they’d be picking up Barragan and his family. Aizen had this smile on his face. I used to sneak around the mansion a lot. I had terrible sleep habits. Laying in bed was the worst thing for me to do so I would explore. I overheard him that night. Your stepfather--Aizen is greedy.”

Orihime nodded.  None of this came as a huge surprise now, nothing except the fact that Ulquiorra had paid for both she and her brother to be saved.  That Sora was not spared was not Ulquiorra’s fault. None of it was Ulquiorra’s fault.

If he wanted to confess his so-called sins to her, she would listen.  But as far as she was concerned, he was innocent in all of this. She gave his hand a soft tug and then ran it up to his elbow, turning to look at him.  “Ulquiorra?”

He didn’t look at her. “Do you know the worst part? Four people died because of what I did. If I had gone to Barragan and told him what Aizen was planning, maybe he would have left town. Aizen would have killed me probably. The man who gunned down your family was executed. Aizen laid the blame on me for that.” Ulquiorra pressed his lips together and placed his hand over hers that held onto his arm. “I’m sorry for causing you grief.”

Orihime’s heart broke for him, but there was something else there.  Something was bubbling up inside of her. It wasn’t anger at him. It was outrage at Aizen and Barragan.  She let go of his elbow and marched in front of Ulquiorra, grasping him by the upper arms and bringing her face close, looking up into it.  “Listen here, Ulquiorra Cifer - None of this - none - is your fault.  You did not order anyone dead.  You did not preside over a crime syndicate.  You did not pull a trigger. You didn’t do anything wrong.  You were a child. A child! You bribed a hitman to spare my life and the life of my brother!  Do you know how brave and reckless that is? Do you have any clue the kind of guts it takes to stand… Of course, you do.  You knew perfectly well what was on the line and you did it anyway because you knew it was right. ”  Her chin started to wobble as she continued to lecture him, “You are a good man, Ulquiorra.  A hero. At least you are to me.”

She didn’t understand. “Orihime, if I had not done what I did, do you understand that I’d be one of Aizen’s underbosses? I’d be carving out hearts and killing people who displeased me? Aizen was pissed when he found out I was going into a religious field. Livid. Let me tell you a fucking degree in art history is useless. I can tell you what is a fake and what isn’t. I can appraise art that Aizen buys. I was supposed to take over and I fucked all of that up.”

She smiled at him.  “And that, Ulquiorra, is what redeemed you.  You chose a path of righteousness. It wasn’t the cloth.  It wasn’t the religion. You knew you couldn’t live that life and you found a way out.  Not only that, you chose a vocation that helps people. Yes, you could have been a bad guy.  That’s the point. You could have easily chosen that life. It was laid out for you on a silver platter.  You chose not to take it.  That is what is important.”

Ulquiorra slowly blinked at her. Nope. She didn’t get it. He could never be one of those people under Aizen’s thumb. He never wanted it and he wouldn’t tolerate it. He didn’t want her to see him as one of them. It was when he was away from all of the corruption and the saccharine-sweetened bullshit that he saw the error in his family’s ways. He leaned down and pressed his forehead against hers, enjoying the warmth of that touch. “Are you ready to go home?” he asked.

“Are you ready to accept forgiveness?”

He grinned at her and said, “No. It’ll take me another twelve years to accept that.”

She grinned back.  “Very well, I accept the terms of your acceptance.  Let’s go.”

She knew it wasn’t in her power to stop him from beating up on himself, as much as she hated to see him do it.  All she could do was tell him her truth, as many times as it took, until he believed it. At least he had listened.  She took a step back, letting her hands trail down to his, and pulled him into the direction of the car. “Come on, let’s go.  It’s freezing out here. I wish the station wagon had heated seats. I have no feeling in my butt.”

He was going to say something inappropriate but she gave him a look that made him snap his mouth shut. “I’ve been trying to talk Zom into a different car. He said maybe which I took as no. Did you want to drive home?”

“Nah, you’ve proven yourself worthy,” she said, stopping when she got to the passenger door.  “Just let me in!”

He’d gotten to the car first and unlocked his own door, sliding behind the wheel again. The seats were freezing and he smiled at her as he leaned over to unlock her door. Ulquiorra waited until she got in then he put his fingers on her chin turning her face towards him. He watched her face for a moment.

Her eyebrows lifted just slightly, and again; a conflicted look showed her her eyes, but then her lips lifted into a small smile.  “Are you looking for something?” she asked in a sweet, hushed tone.

She continued to surprise him even after months of living in the same space. Was he looking for something? Not really, but whatever he’d been searching for he found it in her. That was the one flaw he found within his religion. The one thing he had had trouble coming to terms with as a priest. All humans required love; some craved it while others brushed it to the side. He closed his eyes and gently kissed her, letting those fingers on her chin, slide up until they were tangled in her hair.

Orihime froze.  This was different than those two kisses in the rectory.  Now they were truly alone. She didn’t pull away. She searched herself mentally, and found, to her great surprise, that she could not find a single objection to this.  She leaned into the kiss as her hand found the lapel of his coat to pull herself closer.

The priest stiffened slightly when she touched him. He wasn’t used to it. He broke the kiss, pressing their foreheads together. “I have been barely holding on. I’ve been so close to saying to hell with all of this. There have been so many times I wanted to do this to you,” Ulquiorra said to her.

Orihime’s fingers loosened, smoothing out his lapel as she let go, but not backing away either.  She closed her eyes, breathing his breath as he spoke to her. “Since when?”

“The day you introduced yourself to me.” Ulquiorra returned to his own seat and stopped invading Orihime’s space. He started the car but made no move to leave.

She felt the loss of his touch as a punch to her gut, and was almost out of breath from it.  She turned her body to face forward again and looked down at her lap, folding her hands and fidgeting with her fingers.  After a long pause, she took a shaky breath and said, “I’m sorry. It’s my fault. I was too familiar and overly friendly.  It was comfortable for me to deny to myself that you would be affected. I took advantage of your position and let myself pretend that nothing I did mattered because you would never want to act on it.  I acted selfishly.”

He narrowed his eyes and turned his head slightly to look at her. “Shut up. It’s not your fault. I made the choice. I’m a human. I was given free will. You didn’t hold a gun to my head for the past twelve years and force me to think about you. I did that on my own.” With that Ulquiorra put the car in drive, making his way out of the cemetery.

She was quiet for most of the ride home, thinking about things; what he said, what he did, what she said. It was hard for her to wrap her head around what was happening.  They were going to have to talk about this. “Ulquiorra?”

“Hmmm?” He had his eyes on the rectory as he turned into the garage.

She decided maybe it was best to ease into it.  “What do you want for lunch?”

As he cut the engine, Ulquiorra gave her a strange look. They had just had another profound moment happen to them and she wanted to know what he wanted for lunch? It was confusing. “We could make grilled cheese and soup,” he said quietly, answering her. He didn’t know what else to say.

She smiled at him.  “I love that idea,” she stopped as they got into to mudroom, watching him take off his jacket, and took off her parka.  When he had removed it, she grabbed his hand. She had sensed his unease. “I just want you to know…” she didn’t know what she was trying to say, and she looked down at the floor, trying to find the words to describe how she was feeling.

“I don’t feel guilty about this,” Ulquiorra said. “I mean I do but I don’t. I can’t explain it.”

“But…”  she looked at him with a troubled brow. “You are a priest.  We aren’t allowed… What kind of person does that make me?”

He scoffed. “If you do not want this, it is fine but I cannot go back. Orihime, I am a priest and I took vows to be celibate. I want to break them with you. What does that say about me?”

Her legs felt weak.  “What will happen to you if you do?”

“Nothing. As long as--” he stopped and thought about what he was going to say. Ulquiorra sighed. He could offer her nothing. He couldn’t give her anything. Still, he finished his thought. “If we are careful, we shouldn’t be caught. Only God can judge me.”

She knew that was the truth, but hearing him say it made it real.  She didn’t want to live a lie. Her heart twisted and throbbed in her chest.  She knew the right thing to do would be to walk away. She steeled herself to tell him that.  

She looked up into his eyes, and opened her mouth to speak.  “What kind of… cheese do you want?” She said, dropping his hand and walking to the refrigerator quickly.  “I think we have Swiss and cheddar and American.”

That wasn’t what she was going to ask. Ulquiorra had a feeling there was another question she wanted to know the answer to. “Give me a sandwich with all of them,” he said. He got himself a cup of coffee and then sat at the kitchen table staring at the tendrils of steam rising up. His eyes kept shifting towards her.

Orihime chuckled.  “As you wish,” she said, ducking into the fridge and pulling out the cheese.  She backed out and set them on the counter and turned to go to the pantry. She got a can of soup and griddle pan and started heating things up. She was avoiding the truth, yes.  The truth would still be there after lunch. It would still be there tomorrow. It would still be there on the weekend. She did not want this lovely dream to end so soon. She wiped her eyes and stirred the soup.

“By the way,” she said with her back to him.  “Did I ever tell you about the time I went to Door County?”

“Door County? Where is that at?” Ulquiorra asked. It sounded like she was trying to hide the emotional tinge to her speech. This was going to be difficult for both of them.

“Yeah, it’s the peninsula in Wisconsin that sticks out between Green Bay and Lake Michigan.  It’s really scenic and touristy. Anyway, there’s all these cute shops there and there is this magnificent Christmas decorations store…  that’s not where I was going with that. They are famous for cherries and I had the best grilled cheese in my life there. It had Brie and some other cheese and arugula and sour cherry jam and the mustard with seeds in it on this whole grain bread and I honestly thought life could not get any better than that sandwich.  Sometimes I still think about that sandwich and it’s like...it’s like the one that got away. I’ve tried recreating that sandwich and it’s never the same. I have dreamt about that sandwich more times than I care to admit. I think one of my life goals, one of the greatest of them, really, is to go there again and eat that sandwich.”

Ulquiorra listened to what the redhead was saying and raised his eyebrows at her back. There had to be some veiled meaning in her rambling. But if they were comparing food… “Sounds like a wonderful sandwich. In Naples, there was this cafe that served a wonderful tart lemon curd with a sweet blueberry sauce and slices of gruyere. I’ve never had anything like it before.”

“Sounds amazing,” she commented.   Obviously, he didn’t realize she had been comparing him to a cheese sandwich.  Oh well, it was stupid anyway, she thought. She had just finished preparing lunch anyway and brought the steaming bowls of soup to the table, setting one in front of him and pausing by his shoulder and taking a sniff of his hair.  She had thought she was being discreet about it. She wasn’t.

It was the fact that she lingered by him too long and he felt his hair shift slightly as her nose came into contact with it. Then he felt that warm air against his scalp. “Yes, I used it,” he admitted to Orihime. “The soap--shampoo that you picked out for me.”

She laughed awkwardly. “I suppose; I’ve used Zommari’s in a pinch… rather fruity for my tastes, and yours, I presume,” the tension had been broken and she relaxed a bit, going back for the sandwiches.  “And I suppose you don’t want to smell like freesia, so your options are limited,” she said, setting his sandwich and hers on the table, this time leaning across instead of standing beside him.

He’d actually used her soap once. It was to wash his body but smelling the flowery scent had caused that first illicit shower session to happen. He refrained from using anything of Orihime’s from that day on because he’d felt terrible after it happened the first time. He’d used Zommari’s raspberry mint soap once and that was enough to turn him off from anything. “There’s nothing wrong with the soap you use.”

She smiled at him and dipped her sandwich into her soup and took a bite, chewing slowly.  Things had grown quickly stagnant and awkward. “What do you want to do after lunch? Take a nap or something?”  She didn’t have a plan in mind when she suggested it; it was just something the Rohertys always did on Christmas Day after lunch.

“Would you like to open more presents?”

“I cannot presently imagine a scenario in which I would say no to presents,” she said, and the shoved another bite into her mouth, chuckling through it.

Ulquiorra dunked a piece of his gooey cheese sandwich into the soup. He chewed thoughtfully thinking of which gift he would allow her to open next. “Pick a number between one and eleven,” he said.

“Um… four,”  she said with a glint in her eye.

“You want to open four gifts?”

“How many are there?  I want all of them!” she said, trying to be cute.

Ulquiorra gave her a small smile. “Patience is a virtue, remember?”

She smirked at him.  “Yeah yeah, I remember.  I’m done. Present time.”

“My someone is rather eager,” Ulquiorra said with a teasing voice. He pushed back his empty plate and bowl then stood. “Come with me then.”

He exited the kitchen and made his way down into the basement. He waited for Orihime at the bottom of the stairs before directing her to sit down. He then went into the room with the water heater and other stuff that kept the rectory running comfortably and snagged the box he had hidden the gifts in.

She sat and waited.  She had not been back in this room since their snow day, and the memories of that night flooded her.  To her surprise, despite their arguing and hangovers, she found herself fond of the memories.

He looked at her with a blank stare, tilting his head to the side. “I wanted to kiss you that night, you know.”

Her head whipped toward him.  “You did?”

Ulquiorra didn’t reply to her question. He just bent over and rifled through the box, picking out four of the small gifts. He handed them to her then sat on the ottoman, waiting for her reaction.

She decided to go smallest to biggest.  The first one she opened was a gift card to a fancy liquor store. She grinned and said, “Thank you!  Also, clever… something we can both benefit from”. She giggled and added in a more concerned tone, “I hope Bob doesn’t find out I’m cheating on him… oh well.” She smiled and reached for the next smallest thing.

He watched her face as she opened the gift. That laugh that came out of her throat mesmerized him. Ulquiorra sighed heavily. “Well, I did visit your favorite establishment, so I don’t think Bob will mind much.”

She was looking at a hot pink shot glass that had the words, “I LOVE BOB’S DISCOUNT LIQUOR” on one side.  “I guess he can’t complain about this. I love it.” She tore open the next package to find a collection of lip gloss.

She became quiet and blushed.  “Um… Sorry about my chapped lips, but thanks this is really nice.” She took one out, one that was glossy with a faint pink hue and tried it on. “Feels good, What do you think?” She puckered her lips at him and grinned like girls do in cosmetics commercials on television.

Ulquiorra swallowed. He had to ball his fist up, digging his fingernails into the palm of his hand to keep from leaning forward and kissing that shine off her lips. “It looks good on you.”

She took the last one and opened it to find a pair of fuzzy socks.  She smirked in a knowing way and said, “I think these will take up residence down here.  This floor is freezing.” She stood up after a couple seconds of internally arguing with herself and took the one step that separated them and, standing between his knees, leaned over and hugged him, draping her arms over his shoulders and letting her chin rest next to his neck.  “Thank you. You are kind of spoiling me today.”

“Isn’t that what a man is supposed to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“If you don’t like them--I did it because--Ugh,” Ulquiorra sighed.

She leaned back, sitting on his knee without thinking, her arms still around his neck, and looked at him.  “What gives you the idea I don’t like them?” she asked, confused by him. “I love them. I--” she leaned forward and caught his lips is a petal-light kiss and pulled back after a beat.  “Thank you.”

He wasn’t going to let that go. Ulquiorra brought her face to his. His hand on the back of her neck held her firmly to him. His lips pressed against her mouth. His other hand lightly grabbed her thigh. He should have known this was a bad idea. He only released her when it felt like he couldn’t breathe.

“Ulquiorra,” she whispered when he finally pulled back.  “I--”

“My apologies. I should have asked.”

She didn’t try to argue with him this time.  She put her hands behind his head and pulled him to her, a small gasp escaping her lips before they crashed back into his.  As they made contact, one of her hands trailed down his neck to his shoulder blade, and she nudged her seat slightly further up his leg.  She didn’t know what she was doing, she just did what her body told her to do.

When her weight settled on his thighs, Ulquiorra had a death grip on her sweater. He had to hold on because if he didn’t then he’d throw common sense out the window. He let out a soft moan, his hand traveling up her leg and under the hem of her sweater. His thumb caressed her side just above the waist of her jeans. “Orihime,” he murmured before kissing the corner of her mouth.

“Yes?” she answered, breathless and anxious.  

“You have several more presents from me to open.” Ulquiorra looked at her with a desperate expression.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me,” she said, looking to the side with wide eyes.  She was damned for sure. She slid off his lap and sat back down on the sofa.

Ulquiorra cleared his throat. “I--I didn’t--I’m sorry.” The priest stood up and peeled the dark gray sweater off his body and threw it in the direction of the couch. He felt entirely too warm. He walked over to the box and dug into it again. This time he picked out three more gifts.

She opened a coffee mug, a calendar with cats pictures on it, and some chocolate.  She laughed quietly and shook her head with this batch. “Okay, the mug I get, the chocolate I get, but the cat calendar?  Do I seem like a crazy cat lady to you?” she laughed again, flipping through the pages, smiling at the cats.

He shook his head, “No, the cats were cute, and you’re adorable.”

“They are cute.  Thank you. I really wish I had thought to get you more than just one thing, socks and undies notwithstanding,” she said bashfully.

“Orihime you’ve given me more than that today.” Ulquiorra folded his arms over his chest. “I consider that massage a present.”

“That’s a relief,” she said, chewing on her bottom lip.  “I could always do that again, you know; it’s starting to look like I owe you.”

He gave her a stern look. “It’s Christmas and I wanted to spoil you,” Ulquiorra stated. “I thought I would never see you again.”

She looked up at him, surprised.  “Why would you think that?”

“Aizen made it seem like I would never see or speak to you again,” he replied. He picked up the last four gifts and arranged them on the ottoman. “You may pick one gift.”

She looked down. “Hmm, I went smallest to biggest before, so this time I’ll go biggest first?” she said, reaching for the largest package.  She ripped open the wrapping paper to see a white long-sleeved t-shirt. She unfolded it to see the phrase, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” screened on the front.  She laughed straight out and clutched it to her chest. “You want me to wear this in public? Okay. But I’m not wearing it to Bob’s, one of his minions has a crush on me.  You know her. Carol. Crazy hair Carol. She wants this bod,” she said, gesturing to herself. She doubled over laughing. “Thank you, this is actually really sweet,” she said after several more seconds of giggles.

A scowl crossed his face. He did not like the idea of anyone showing interest in the redhead. He couldn’t stop “Carol” from looking though. “You’re welcome.”

“Before, when you said you thought you would never see me again, were you talking about all those years ago?”

Could he tell her? Could he articulate what he needed to say to answer her question? Ulquiorra gave a nod. “You never left my mind.”

Her eyes locked on his and she began to understand that this was not a new-found interest; the one he had in her.  “Ulquiorra, you must… Was it…” she stopped and nodded. Her questions were stupid.

“I know it’s pathetic,” he replied.

“No!” her hand shot out to land on his knee.  “No, it’s not. I… I understand how that feels.”

He sighed and handed her another present. “Woman, how can you know what that feels like?”

She took the gift and shook her head.  “Well, maybe not exactly how it feels, but something like that, I think.”  She sat back and began to unwrap the gift. It was a phone case done in Japanese lacquer, red with a gold foil moon with weeping cherry blossoms in the foreground.  It was not something you see every day. “Wow. Wooow,” she said, turning it over in her hands and looking at how the light changed the color of inlaid mother-of-pearl details on the branches of the cherry blossoms.  “This is gorgeous, Ulquiorra.” She leaned forward, wanting to get closer, but not wanting to overstep her boundaries. He seemed intensely uncomfortable the first time she kissed him.

He wanted to tell her that if she wanted him, she would have to ask but he wasn’t that cruel. “I hope I got the size right.”

“It looks like it is.  Thank you. It beats the scratched-up one I have now by a long shot.  By the way, do you want to stay down here for a while or go upstairs? Looks like you’re running low on presents and I don’t want to have to make you wait for mine; it’s upstairs.”

He leaned forward slightly, inches away from her. What was she thinking? “We can go upstairs,” he replied.

What was he thinking about?  It seemed like a loaded suggestion.  “Um, okay. I, uh, put your gift under the tree after mass.”

“Why didn’t you give it to me while we were opening presents?”

“I didn’t want to make Zom jealous… Or suspicious.”  

Ulquiorra snorted. He didn’t want to tell her that Zommari already knew what was going on and the man was a bigger sinner than the green-eyed priest was. He furrowed his brows. “While we’re up there I might change into something that’s a bit more comfortable. These jeans are like a cheap castle.”

“A cheap castle?”  She had never heard that phrase, so Orihime asked as she stood, collecting several of the gifts she had received in her arms, and headed for the stairs.

He swiped the two wrapped presents off the ottoman, picked up his sweater and followed her up to the kitchen. “No ball room,” he said, walking past her into the living room.

“No ballroom…  HA!” She was slightly slow on the uptake but she got it.  “Then, by all means, change.”

“I’m fine for right now.” Ulquiorra had put those two presents under the tree and sat on the couch. “It can wait. I want to see this present you have for me.”

“Okay, here you go,” she said, pulling a large, lumpy looking parcel from under the tree and walking it over to him.  “Merry Christmas, Ulquiorra.”

His eyebrows raised as he took the package from her. He peeled a strip of wrapping paper off of the present from what he saw it was more knitted material. Had she made him another scarf and hat? He finished unwrapping it and then shook it out. Oh. “It’s a sweater,” he said. Some of the stitches were a bit messy but the yarn she had used was nice. It felt like a cashmere or angora wool. Maybe it was bamboo or silk yarn. Ulquiorra didn’t know he just knew it was soft. “Did you buy this? There’s no tag.”

“Nope,” She said, stifling a bigger smile than the one she had on, but she was excited. She wanted to be bopping up and down on her heels.  That sweater was the reason she had been so exhausted the day before. For the past several weeks she had been staying up late knitting it.

“Did you bribe one of the little old ladies to knit it?” When she shook her head, Ulquiorra looked down at the sweater. “You made this for me?”

She grinned and nodded, completely gratified by his delayed reaction.

“Open your next present, Orihime.”

Her grin contorted into a disgusted expression, like how a sports fan looks when the star player flubs his chance for victory.  “Fine, which one?” she asked.

Ulquiorra looked at the two packages sitting under the tree. “The flat one, please.”

She took it and because it looked like it had been professionally wrapped and therefore may be breakable, carefully peeled the tape off and pulled the paper off the box like a sleeve.

Inside of a white cardboard box was what looked like a crystal Christmas ornament, flat with faceted beveled edges, and engraved into the front was the phrase, “As You Wish.”  Orihime stared at it for a long moment without saying a word.

He observed her reaction and her face. She was unhappy about it? Did she not like it? Was it too much like the needlepoint piece in her room? He stood up with the sweater, planning on going to his room to dress in some comfier clothes.

“Ulquiorra?” she called softly before he moved further.

“Yes?” he answered. It was quiet in the living room after he spoke. He could hear his own breathing, and he could hear Orihime’s respirations.

“Does this mean what I think it means?”  It is was but a breath. He could easily not have heard it.

Ulquiorra turned his head and looked at her. “Open your last present,” he replied. “You’ll have your answer, Orihime.”

Slowly she turned her attention to the last gift.  It was small and also well wrapped. With trembling hands she opened it. The box under the wrapping bore the logo of a well-known chain of jewelers.  She opened it. Inside, the rose gold, heart-shaped keychain was engraved with the words, “This is my heart.” Orihime took it out of the box by the key coil to look closer at the shining object, and when it twisted on its chain, she saw something else on the back. The young woman grasped the heart-shaped fob and turned it around.  A cross was engraved on it, and under that, her name.

She stood and looked at the man watching her from the other end of the room.  Her chest rose and fell in an exaggerated rhythm and she stared at him; the realization that he was confessing to her that she held his heart washing over her in waves of both incredible joy and bittersweet regret.  This was real. This was what her heart desired. This was also forbidden.

Fuck it.

She crossed the room toward him and opened her arms, wrapping them around his neck, raising up on her toes, and pressing a kiss onto his lips.  She pushed into it for a long moment, pulled back, then kissed him again - two consecutive pecks - then lowered to her heels and pulled her hands down to rest on his chest, standing there and looking at them there for a moment before speaking words she never imagined having the capacity to say to him.

“I love you.”

His arms enclosed her. He wanted to be happy that she said those words to him. He wanted to smile and enjoy those words of affection. How did Orihime know that she loved him? As far as he knew she detested him the day of her family’s funeral. Sure she had been friendly to him the first day there, but surely she was just being accommodating. Right?

A sigh left him. This was his own mess and he had dragged Orihime into it with his wanton behavior. He opened his mouth several times but found his voice left him. Could he just pat her on the head and then avoid her? Should he take her declaration of love and run with it, burying it like a dog so that no one else could touch it?

“Thank you for the sweater, Orihime,” Ulquiorra stated after his brain had calmed down enough to make words and sounds. He wanted to tell her this was his sin, but he had been taught that love was never a sin.

“You’re welcome.”  She had not expected some grand, romantic moment.  They could never be together; not rightly, anyway. Her confession was as much a trespass against him as it was a gift.  

She stepped back.  She wiped her eyes.  She took a deep breath.  She smiled at him. “Why don’t you get changed.”

Ulquiorra looked down at her. “Come up with me,” he said.

She was in too deep. “Okay.”

He took her hand and led her upstairs and into his room. Ulquiorra didn’t bother closing the door. Throwing the store bought sweater into his dirty clothes basket Ulquiorra laid the handmade sweater on top of his dresser. “Go ahead and sit down,” he said softly.

She sat on the edge of his bed silently and watched him move through the room.  She was in a completely passive state, having already mentally surrendered to whatever fate may await her after crossing the line she had.  

“We need to talk about some things,” Ulquiorra stated as he turned his back to her and started unbuttoning the oxford shirt he wore. Undoing the cuffs, he peeled it off his shoulders and down his arms before he threw it in the basket. He undid his belt and unfastened his trousers. “Do you want to do this?”

She was not sure what exactly he was asking her.  No, she didn’t want to do this.  She didn’t want to have fallen in love with a man who could never be hers, not really.  That did not change anything though. She had fallen in love with him and there was nothing that could remedy that fact.  No amount of prayer or begging for mercy would change it. Orihime loved Ulquiorra.  She surrendered to her love and was prepared to follow it to its inevitable doom. “As you wish... Is what I wish,” she answered.

“I will take that as a yes, then.” Pushing the jeans down his legs, Ulquiorra was glad he had a nicer pair of boxers on. They were ones he really never wore because they had little bats on them. They were a bit embarrassing. “Um, I know Zommari never goes into the basement so that can be our space. At night, maybe we can come up with some kind of knock to signal that we want to spend time with each other.”

She nodded.  Why did it feel like she was headed to the gallows?

“There’s always texting too. Um, you are going to have to tell me when you want me to touch you or kiss you. I mean there are times where I want to do that and you may not want it.” Ulquiorra had thrown the rest of his clothing into the basket and then crouched down to pull a pair of black and white striped pajama pants out of the bottom drawer of the dresser. He turned around and faced Orihime. “Do you want to get a look before I put on clothing?”

She didn’t answer.  She just looked. At first impassively, but then curiosity got the better of her, her head tilting a few degrees and her chin leading it to the side, snaking around to get a different angle.  “You look pretty perfect, “ she murmured.

He gave a sort of a chuckle before he put the pajama pants on. After he was partially decent, Ulquiorra went over and sat on the bed beside the redhead. His shoulder brushed hers. “I want you to listen to me,” he said. “You’re in control of how fast this progresses and what we do. From what I’ve gathered you’ve never had a physical relationship, let alone a romantic one. At any time all you have to say is you want to stop this and we will stop. Okay?”

“Okay,” she said in a somewhat unsteady voice, nodding and looking directly into his eyes for the first time since before her confession.

“I’m going to kiss you again,” Ulquiorra murmured while looking at her. He leaned over a few inches and touched his lips to hers. This was still so strange. He’d not done this in a little over seven years. The green-eyed man had decided to get his life straightened out before he gave everything up and after that weekend in Vegas, he’d gone cold turkey on all his former vices.

At first, she froze, still reeling from the weight of their fall from grace, but it only took a few moments to remember why she went through with it.  It wasn’t just the warmth or the pressure. It wasn’t his scent or the way his breath in her nostrils felt like the soothing steam off a hot cup of coffee.  It wasn’t just that he was close to her, and that his closeness made her feel safe and wanted. It was that it was Ulquiorra. Her savior. Her friend. Her heart.  She was overcome with emotion and a tear crept out of her left eye as her hands found his shoulders and grasped them, her body collapsing somewhat into his.

“Shhhh,” he whispered to her, using his thumb to brush away the tear. Ulquiorra wrapped his arms around her. “Orihime. It’ll be okay. We’re not doing anything wrong. Love isn’t wrong.”

She leaned into his hand and looked up into his face with sad puppy eyes, saying, “You're going to think I’m an idiot but that’s not why I’m crying.  It’s just, I’m so overwhelmed right now… My heart feels so full that it hurts.” Her chin wobbled and tears started seeping out of both eyes.

Oh. That wasn’t stupid at all. Emotions were emotions; Ulquiorra had learned to deal with his at an early age. The impassive behavior had caused Aizen to mostly ignore him, except when he voiced an opinion. “This is overwhelming. I was floored by it when I realized what was happening.”

“When did you know?” she asked, trying to keep it together and not doing a great job of it.  

“October? November? It was sometime when I was acting like a dick.”

She choked on a laugh.  “Lucky, you’ve had some time to get used to it.”

Ulquiorra gave a small smirk. “The thing is, I’m not used to it.”

“Well, That makes two of us then.  Could we, um, maybe just… lay down?”

“You want to lay down?” Ulquiorra asked. He moved back on the small bed and laid down so his back was against the wall. It was one of the first things he did when he got to the rectory was move the furniture around in the room.

Orihime watched him position himself on his side and then reclined her body next to his, her knees touching his and her forehead near his mouth.  Her right hand fell onto his forearm, and she allowed the bridge of her nose to rest on his chin, and she closed her eyes.

She wasn’t getting any sleep though.  It was enough for her just to enjoy this closeness.  She ran her hand up Ulquiorra's arm to his hand and brought it to her lips, kissing each of his knuckles where his fingers met his hands.

His breath hitched. Feeling her lips against his hand was the most sensual thing he had felt in a long time. There was no way she was ready for anything. They could barely handle kissing each other. Ulquiorra untangled his hand from hers then brought the underside of her wrist to his mouth. He placed a kiss on the pulse point. He watched her as his tongue traced a lazy trail on her skin.

It was her turn for her breath to hitch as his lips touched that sensitive area of skin, and she stopped breathing altogether when his tongue came out to taste her.  When she finally felt her lungs burning, she gasped for air, unsure what to do next, but positive that she wanted more than she was perhaps ready for. She scootched her body up the bed a bit so that her lips could meet his and angled her head so that she could kiss his lips, this time her tongue coming out to taste him between pecks and lingering touches, trailing lightly from nearly one corner of his mouth to the other, then closing the tips of her lips over his upper one.

The blood in his body was boiling by the time she was done kissing him. It seemed like it had pooled in this thighs and lap. Ulquiorra had closed his eyes enjoying what she was doing but now he wanted more. He wanted more contact between their bodies. His hand slid up one of her arms to her wrist and the priest pinned it down against the mattress before urging Orihime onto her back. He somehow ended up straddling her thighs and pinning the other wrist to the surface of the bed. He was hard but there was no way he was going to push his hips against Orihime to relieve the pressure. She was in no way ready for that.

She looked straight up into his eyes and smiled at him.  “I love you, Ulquiorra,” was all she said, watching his face as he showed her a kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions.

He brought his face down, nudging her cheek with his nose so that she would turn her head. When she did, Ulquiorra put his lips against her ear, breathing gently against her skin. “I love you, Orihime.” Then he let his mouth trail down her neck, licking and sucking. “I’m going to finish getting dressed. This is--the temptation is too much. I don’t want you to regret anything.”

“Wait,” she said, breathlessly.  “Kiss me one more time.” It was a desperate sort of plea.

He took a deep breath, trying to solidify his resolve. It wasn’t working. He let her wrists go and leaned down, propping himself up on his forearms. “Tell me what you want again,” he said to her. Instead of being a gentleman, he would show her a glimpse of how he was before he took his vows.

“I want you to kiss me,” she repeated.

Chapter Text

“I want you to kiss me,” she said.  Her cheeks were rosy and parted lips wet and slightly swollen; her eyes dark and beckoning.  Her newly freed hands ran up Ulquiorra's bare arms, smoothing the skin over his biceps, his shoulders, down his neck; further down, unconsciously tracing the path of the cross tattooed across his back.  Down to his ribs, the pads of her fingers traveled, then curled to retraced the path they had just traversed using her fingernails to scratch his skin gently. “I don’t want you to stop so soon.”

Ulquiorra’s gazed darkened, and he let his mouth hover above hers. The way her fingers dug into his skin made him rake his teeth over his bottom lip. How he wanted to follow her wishes but the man knew just a taste of this wouldn’t be enough, and he would probably end up sliding into her with no regret. Sitting up entirely, Ulquiorra swung his leg over Orihime and then got off the bed. He stood there for a moment, not bothering to hide the hardness in his pajama pants. He wanted her to see what she had done to him. Walking over to the dresser, Ulquiorra pulled out a t-shirt and put it over his head. Then he grabbed the sweater Orihime had made him.

Once he was covered, he turned and looked at the redhead. “Ease into this,” he said in a strained voice, trying to regain his composure. “Do you want to lose your virginity that badly?”

Orihime didn’t really understand the effect she had on him.  She was just following her heart. Her heart was following her hormones though, not that she realized it.  “I don’t— I wasn’t trying to— I’m sorry,” she said, sitting up and folding her hands in her lap. She looked down at them, shame settling on her shoulders.  She exhaled heavily and looked up at him, catching a glimpse of his erection. “Oh,” was all she had to say about that.

He sighed and brought his hands up to the back of his neck, elbows sticking out to the sides. He was half-tempted to stand in front of her and let Orihime do what she wanted, but Ulquiorra had more sense than that. “Baby steps, Orihime. Too much, too soon and you might scare yourself,” he said in a warm tone. “I know what it’s like to take pleasure in someone’s body. I know what that feels like. I don’t think I’d be able to stop.”

She looked out the window.  “But how am I supposed to be around you and act normally when I know what it feels like to kiss you?  I’ve never…. today was my first time and if I had any idea I probably would have started sooner. Now I can’t stop thinking about it,” she mumbled, partially to herself.  “What do we do now?” she asked, looking back at him.

It was then Ulquiorra walked over to the woman and stood there. He took her hand into his and held it for a moment. “I thought about us together. If we take our time with this it will become second nature. It will become normal. Orihime, that is all I thought about this morning. I thought about kissing you. I thought about touching you; feeling you. I thought about taking you.” It was then Ulquiorra placed her hand on his abdomen a couple inches above his suppressed hardness. “Just thinking about you does this to me.”

Orihime’s mouth fell open and a whisper-quiet whimper escaped, her eyes glued to what stood just below her hand.  

“What?”

“It’s… there.”

“Yes,” he replied with a smile. “You can’t have it yet though. I just want you to understand what I deal with everyday and I still act normal.” Ulquiorra removed her hand.

“My sympathies,” she murmured, humbled and impressed.  “Well, we should probably go downstairs then. I have to get the lasagna in the oven.  Do you want to go for a walk or something?”

Ulquiorra sighed. He was damning himself for his restraint in situations like this. Shaking his head, he said, “You can take a walk if you need to. I’m going to get things ready for Thursday’s bible study. It might do us good to spend a few minutes apart. Otherwise, I might say fuck it.”

Her face fell into a portrait of dejection when he suggested that she take a walk alone, but recovered.  She took a deep breath and stood up. “Alright, I’ll go make sure the sidewalks and stuff are clear.”

“Orihime, you realize that we would have to go to a different part of the city or another town or something to do things that normal couples do, right? We cannot walk around the neighborhood hand in hand. People will talk. I don’t want to do that to you.” Ulquiorra looked at her then leaned down giving her a slow kiss.

She sighed after he stopped, and leaned against the door frame.  “I didn’t even think about that…”

“Just remember, all you have to do is say no or we need to stop. You don’t have to do this,” he said. “I don’t know if I could ever give you a normal life.”

She twisted her mouth to the side and nodded.  She wasn’t sure if this was something that she could live with long term.  This may have been something he had been thinking about for a long time, but her feelings about him came on relatively suddenly.  A sinking feeling settled in her stomach. “You’re right, I know.”

His arms went around her and he drew her close again. Ulquiorra was silent for a moment. “I don’t want you to tell me that you don’t want this though and that’s selfish of me.”

“I wasn’t lying.  I wasn’t stretching or telling you what I think you want to hear.  I love you. We’ll figure it out, I guess.” She hugged him back.

How had Zommari done it? How did he have a child and a wife? How was he still a priest? Then the thought occurred to him that the other priest could have been lying to him just to make him lose his cool. No, he had shown him that picture. Ulquiorra sighed. “Give me an hour to get things ready for Thursday and then we can sit on the couch and look at the Christmas tree or watch a movie,” he said to her absently. He was still trying to think of a loophole or a way out of his commitment to the church.

“Okay.  See you in an hour,” she said and kissed his chin, then squeezed him again and left the room.

Ulquiorra watched her go and then listened as she made her way into the kitchen. He thumped his head against the doorframe and sighed. What was he doing? What the hell was he doing? This was insane. He wanted it. He wanted her. He had spent the past twelve years wondering about Orihime and asking about her and forming this version of her  in his head that he had fallen in love with. Orihime was what kept him going through college and seminary. He prayed for her every day while in Rome. Maybe he did have this idea in his head that maybe when he got back to Boston he’d run into her.

He hadn’t expected to be living with her. It was done and over with now. Ulquiorra had plunged into icy cold water of sin. He’d expected to feel more guilt about the situation but he didn’t and he wouldn’t, he decided.

Going down stairs and pouring himself another cup of coffee, Ulquiorra added some eggnog to it and took it into the office. He didn’t know he wanted to teach the members of his bible study this week. To be honest, Ulquiorra felt like a hack; like he didn’t deserve to preach to the parishioners or wear his collar. After thirty minutes of just sitting there he finally found a generic topic to talk about and some bible verses to go along with it on the internet then he began to do some research.

 

***

 

Orihime put her boots and parka on and went outside with no real destination or purpose in mind other than to cool off and gather her wits.  The walkways around the rectory and church were perfectly clear.

She just kept walking after she passed the church, one block, two blocks, three blocks, all the way to Hyde Park Avenue.  She stood on the corner of the normally busy street, the gas station, liquor store, auto repair, and pizza place surrounding the intersection all darkened and closed for the holiday.  She wasn’t sure which way to go and was feeling a little exposed and uneasy out there in the open like that with no one else around.

After about ninety seconds of standing there, she decided just to go back to the rectory.  She turned to go back and thought she saw headlights turning somewhere behind her. She turned her head to check but did not see anything.  She pulled the neck of her parka up around her cheeks and lengthened her stride, making her way back at nearly twice the speed as she used on her way out.  A couple blocks later, when she was about halfway back, a black sedan passed her going normal speeds. She exhaled. That must have been the car she had detected earlier on that desolate road.

She returned to the church about eight minutes later and as she passed the parking lot, a dim light attracted her attention.  That same black sedan was parked in the center of the otherwise empty parking light with its dome lights on.

A soft clicking noise was heard and the dome lights extinguished.  A figure appeared and spoke to Orihime.

“Well, well,” Grimmjow said getting out of the driver seat of the car and closing the door. “If it isn’t Orihime. What are you doing roaming around alone on Christmas day?”

She stiffened when he said her name, but otherwise relaxed. He was the devil she knew.  “Hey Grimmjow, Merry Christmas! I was just taking a walk; I overate and needed to digest.  Did you have a nice holiday so far?”

He raised an eyebrow and looked back at the car. When he turned back to Orihime there was a small smile on his face. “It’s been a fine holiday so far. Was over in the neighborhood and decided to pay Ulq a visit. He’s around, isn’t he? Didn’t see him or you at Aizen’s today. The old man bought you two gifts and you weren’t there to open them.”

“Oh, that was kind of him!  I have something for him the next time I see him,” she lied, making a mental note to set aside the ugliest scarf she had made for him.  “I was at the hospital today but I stopped by the rectory to start dinner. U—Father Cifer May have been in the office.”

Grimmjow nodded like Orihime had told him something that was very interesting. He personally didn’t give a shit what she or his churchy brother did. All Grimmjow was there for was to rile things up; to stir the pot. “You look cold, why don’t you get into my car and we can drive around and talk. I promise to warm you up, Princess.”

Orihime’s plastered-on grin faltered a bit.  “Oh, no thank you Grimmjow, I am almost home and I have to check the lasagna.”

His blue eyes narrowed and he stomped toward the redhead. What he had suggested wasn’t a damn request. Aizen wanted to talk to her and she was being uppity. He had to play this out and get her in that car. “Oooh lasagna, not your average Christmas day ham or roast beef. Sounds romantic. Can I join you? You never did answer my question about taking you to lunch. Maybe I can, uh, stay over and have breakfast.” The man’s strange blue eyebrows waggled at her.

She dropped all pretenses if being charmed; what he suggested was offensive.  “Grimmjow, you are Father Cifer’s family and I would never turn you away from his table; it’s not my place.  But what the rest of what you said was inappropriate. I don’t appreciate being talked to that way.”

Here comes Goody-Two-Shoes, Grimmjow thought as he rolled his eyes. “That’s right, I am Ulq’s family. We come from the same background,” he said with a sickly sweet tone. “And c’mon, with a body and a face like yours, like you care if something was inappropriate. I bet you blow all the parish bachelors, don’tcha?”

“I…” she couldn’t even respond.  She had never in her life been subjected to such vulgar insinuations and assumptions.  She felt degraded and stripped of her dignity just hearing the words come out of his mouth.  She turned on her heel and made quick steps toward the rectory, hot tears streaming down her chilled cheeks.

“Oh no, no, no.” Grimmjow caught up with her quickly and spun her around, leading her back toward the parking lot and the car. “Don’t play like you’re offended. You got this angelic look about you but I know all about women like you.”

“You don’t know anything about me, let me go!” She shouted, pulling against his grip in a growing panic.  

“You’re gonna get in that fucking car,” Grimmjow snarled at her. “And--”

It was at that moment another voice rang out over the parking lot and disrupted the blue-haired heathen’s threat. “Is this guy bothering you, babe?”

Grimmjow looked up to see a huge muscled guy standing near the steps of the church with a shovel in his hands. “Oi, who the fuck are you? Who is this asshole?” He gave Orihime a little shake.

Orihime looked at the large man.  She had never seen him before. Still, he didn’t appear ready to abduct her.  “That’s my boyfriend,” she said with a good dose of anger, yanking her elbow in an attempt to extricate herself from Grimmjow’s grasp.

The big man took several steps in their direction and while he didn’t look all that dangerous, he still had a shovel in his hands. Grimmjow let her go and narrowed his eyes at Orihime. “See ya around, Orihime,” he called out as he jogged back to the black sedan.

“You can bother her during business hours. Church is closed for today,” the mystery man said in reply. As soon as the car peeled out of the parking lot, leaving the acrid smell of rubber lingering in the air, he turned to the woman. “Sorry about that. You okay?”

Orihime’s bottom lip trembled and her hands clutched her elbows as a sob wracked her small frame, followed by near hysterical cries.  She had never been directly threatened before and now that the threat had passed, the realization of what might have happened absolutely terrified her.  She shook her head and managed to whimper, “I’m not okay!”

The man pushed his floppy brown hair out of his face. “I can see that. I’m Chad Sado; the groundskeeper? Father Zommari hired me a couple weeks ago. I heard you talking to that guy. Father Zom said there was a woman who worked at the rectory. Are you her?”

She nodded, sniffling hard and trying to calm down.  “Oh, yes? I remember your name; Zom mentioned it… or maybe it was Ulquiorra, I don’t remember.  I’m Orihime Inoue. Thank you so much. Grimmjow is not a nice guy. I don’t know what he wanted but it couldn’t be anything good.”

“Father Cifer? Seems like a nice guy. Quiet,” Chad said. He offered her his arm to take. “I can walk you back to the rectory, if you’d like. That guy seemed pretty peeved that I came around.”

She nodded and accepted his arm, and they started back to the rectory,  “So, Chad, why are you working on Christmas Day?”

He rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “Uh, my Abuelo fell asleep after we ate and Father Zom asked me to salt the sidewalk and steps because we’re going to be getting more snow or rain. I’m not sure. The weather man isn’t sure but Zom didn’t want anything slick or iced over.”

“Well, can I offer you some spinach lasagna to take home?  I made a whole pan and it’s just me and Father Cifer to eat it; we’ll never finish it.  It’s the least I can do.”

His forehead furrowed slightly. “Uh, sure, never had it but I’m sure it’s good.” Chad didn’t really like spinach. He was more into kale because he could put it in his smoothies in the morning. Spinach made it taste like green dirt.

She saw him make a little face.  “Oh, don’t knock it till you try it,” she said, finally smiling.

“Not knocking it,” Chad said with a small frown. “It’s just the image of spinach lasagna reminds me of spinach being in place of the noodles and does spaghetti sauce even taste good on spinach?”

“You have no clue,” she laughed.  “It’s regular lasagna but spinach instead of meat.”

The big guy shrugged. “It could be interesting,” Chad said. They were nearing the back door of the rectory and he gave her a smile. “I’ll swing by in about twenty minutes to pick it up if it’s ready. I’ve got to finish putting salt down and lock the church back up. Is that cool?”

She opened the door and stood in the entrance.  “That sounds perfect. Thank you again, so much.  I don’t even want to know what would have happened if you weren’t there.”

“Any time. It was fun being your boyfriend for all of five minutes. Sorry about that,” he said. “It was the first thing I thought of because I’d seen these posts on the internet saying act like you’re a woman’s boyfriend to chase off other men to help them. It was stupid.”

“Well, you’re a great temporary boyfriend, Chad.  I’ll see you soon,”. she said, backing inside and closing the door.

Ulquiorra had been standing in the kitchen and heard her talking. He’d seen her walking with the groundskeeper. He pushed down the feelings of jealousy. She wasn’t his because he wasn’t supposed to have anyone. She was allowed to take interest in other people. He had even encouraged her to meet Chad. He ran water into his coffee mug and stood there watching the water spill over the top and enter the drain.

She took three steps into the rectory and stopped, taking off her boots and coat.  As she pulled of one sleeve, she hissed. A bruise that encircled part of her forearm was starting to blossom.  She pulled back her sleeve and looked at it, and started to cry again.

That was all it took to pull himself out of the pity party he was having for himself. Ulquiorra turned the water off and took off out of the kitchen. He saw Orihime standing by the coat rack and his eyes widened. Immediately he was by her side and had his arms around her. “What’s wrong?”

“Grimmjow was here,” was all she managed to say before she buried her head into his chest and cried some more.

What? What did she mean Grimmjow was here? No one had knocked on either door. “Orihime? What’s--” He glanced down at her arm and saw the four finger like bruises starting to form. Ulquiorra had to stomp down some serious anger. He had to reign in a beast that had rarely seen the light of day. His voice when he spoke again sounded calm but there was a dark edge to it. “Orihime, did he do this? Did my brother touch you?”

She nodded.  She took a step back and tried to breathe through her nose and calm down so she could tell Ulquiorra what had happened.  It took the better part of a minute, and then she told him, “I had walked down to the gas station across from Atlas and saw headlights, and I was weirded out so I came back and then a car drove past and when I got here it was in the church parking lot and he came out and asked me to go for a drive and then he said some really degrading things about me and male parishioners and then he said Aizen missed us at dinner and had two gifts for me and I lied and said I had a gift for him and then I tried to come back but he grabbed me and started pulling me to the car and then Chad stepped in and pretended to be my boyfriend,” she paused here to gasp for breath, “and then he walked me back here.”

“Chad pretended to be your boyfriend,” Ulquiorra said quietly. His eyes were still glued to Orihime’s arm. This was his fault. This was all Ulquiorra’s fault. He sighed. “He’s a good guy. Decent. If you need to go out again by yourself, see if he can tag along.”

Orihime made a face that told him she was not exactly comfortable with that idea. “I’m sure he is,” she said. “I offered for him to take some of the lasagna back for him and his grandpa but he didn’t seem too keen. We’ll see if he really comes back for it.  Oh well, I thought it was the least I could do… Anyway I don’t want to have to rely on outsiders to be my bodyguard every time I have an errand or want to take a walk; it’s impractical.”

Ulquiorra sighed. “It’s just I’m not going to be available all the time. I’m sure you don’t want a bodyguard following you around, it’s just...” Another sigh. “I want to drive to my father’s house and rip Grimmjow to shreds.”

She ran her hands over his arms in a soothing gesture.  “I know. Let’s just forget about it for tonight and have a drink and watch a stupid Christmas movie.”

The way she touched him kind of calmed him down but Ulquiorra knew it was only a matter of time before he was going to go after the blue haired man for scaring Orihime. She had done nothing to him or Aizen! “Uh, let’s wait and see if Chad comes back. I don’t want to be drunk and making out with you only to get interrupted.”

She laughed, but it wasn’t sincere. “Do you think people think I’m some kind of slut?  I mean, have you heard any rumors or anything?”

“No, Orihime. The men I speak to say that you’re a wonderful woman and a few have expressed interest. There have been a few I’ve had to admonish for saying improper things about you.” Ulquiorra looked down at her. “The women that I’ve spoken to think you’re a delight. Grimmjow thinks every woman is a slut or a bitch.”

“Well he certainly thinks I’m something.  He said… I can’t even repeat it. I mean, I can’t help how I look.  I dress modestly enough, I think. I don’t even wear makeup most days.  I’m not even that pretty… I didn’t… I don’t want you to think I’m trying to attract attention.”

He became angrier with every word she said. “You’re right, Orihime. You’re not pretty. You’re beautiful and I don’t want you to ever insult yourself again. Grimmjow is trash.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, nuzzling his chest as she leaned into him again, breathing in his scent and letting it comfort her.

“I have an even better idea though,” Ulquiorra said, slowly backing her up against the wall.

She yielded to him without reservation, but she was surprised when her back made contact with the wall and she looked up at him with curious black eyes. “What kind of idea?”

He leaned down far enough so that his mouth was by her ear. “After we eat, why don’t you take a nice hot shower to relax or change into something comfortable. We can go down to the basement and I can give you your last gift.”

“Oh?  I thought we were done with presents?”

Smirking, Ulquiorra pulled back to look at her. “It’s alcohol, so it’s kind of a present to both of us.”

She grinned at that, one that made her eyes squint and nose scrunch up a little.  “Excellent. You’ve really got my number, haven’t you? Sharing is caring,” she giggled and sighed.  “Anyway, I’ll go check on dinner. I’m anxious for that shower now.”

 

***

 

Chad did come back for the lasagna. Ulquiorra and Orihime did watch a movie down in the basement and they kissed. Several times the priest had to distance himself from the redhead because he felt too hot and he didn’t want to cross any more lines that night. The next two days were much of the same thing.

Zommari had called Thursday morning and told him that the roads were a bit slick and he wouldn’t be back until that evening. Ulquiorra made note of this and then went back to what he had been doing. Cuddling with the redhead who was dozing beside him. This domestic bliss he had been experiencing would soon be ending.

Orihime was very confused by Ulquiorra’s resistance.  He had explained that he didn’t trust himself around her but it seemed to her like he was happy to keep things exactly as they were indefinitely.  What was worse was that Zommari would be back soon and then they would revert to how things were before he left. She didn’t know how she was going to do that, and as the hours clicked by over their few days alone, she was growing moody.

On Thursday morning she heard Ulquiorra take the call from Zommari and decided to just stay quiet.  Soon their dream would be over and they were going to have to wake up. She was was not pleased.

“Zom’s gonna be back tonight,” he murmured to her, reaching across Orihime’s warm body to drop his phone back on the nightstand. He gave a sigh before kissing her forehead. “Any special requests for our last few hours like this?”

“No, just to stay like this until it’s over,” she said quietly.  Her chest and throat hurt as she said it.

Ulquiorra hugged her tighter to him. “As you wish,” he said. “I was thinking about something. I’ve been doing some research.”

Orihime found his statement odd.  “What kind of research?”

He took a deep breath. “Um, well at first I was looking for ways to control myself but I can’t. Then I was looking for some loophole for me. From what I can tell there’s not one. I was--Teenagers can find ways around anything and I think I’m going to take a page out of their book.”

She furrowed her brows.  What was he on about, talking about teenagers? She turned around in his arms to face him.  “What are you talking about?”

“Just listen; a priest on a forum was asking if he was giving correct advice to a teenage boy. The kid was eighteen so I thought it was a bit silly but the kid and his girlfriend fooled around with their clothes on. The priest said they engaged in oral with their underwear on,” Ulquiorra said. He looked confused himself trying to imagine how that would work. He shook his head. “Anyway, the priest told the guy any contact as long as it wasn’t skin to skin was okay. Wrong, any--You know.”

She looked at him bewildered. “I really don’t,” she said.

He groaned, knowing that his story probably didn’t make any sense to her. “Okay, um, I want to touch you with your clothes on. It’s silly shit that I did when I was a kid and--Urgh!” Ulquiorra rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling with a scowl on his face.

“Okay, do it,” she said.  “You don’t have much time.”

The priest had been expecting the redhead to talk him out of the idea not basically give him a blank check to her body, so he was a bit shocked at her words. “Do it? Did you just--” He paused. He had noticed Orihime was grumpier and he’d just chalked it up to it being that time of the month for her, but it seemed to happen whenever he pushed her away so that he could calm down. “You want this,” he finished.

“I’m not exactly sure what this is, but it’s got to be better than not knowing, and this awful feeling like I’m starving for you and am never satisfied.  It’s frustrating.”

“Oh,” he said. Then it hit him. OH. He had been teasing her with kisses and the subtle touches and the words he would whisper into her ear. They had been turn ons for him but he hadn’t realized he’d done the same thing to her. “You never said anything.”

“Yes I did.  I told you I didn’t want you to stop but you said baby steps so I deferred to you,” she replied.

Ulquiorra propped himself up on one elbow and stared at her. That had been days ago. “You could have tried to talk me into it. I just didn’t want to escalate things to sex right off the bat which is what I wanted. I mean, if you’re okay with the idea of me touching you we can see where things go.”

She looked at him in the eye with a weary expression.  “Ulquiorra, there is something you need to understand about me that maybe isn’t clear to you yet.  I have been sheltered and overprotected my entire life. I went to all-girls schools all the way through college and was encouraged to avoid social situations with people my own age as much as possible.  My sexual education is basically just, “When a man and woman love each other very much they get married and pray for a baby.” Also I know how a fetus develops and the rest of that. But If you want me to be able to articulate what I want… you’re going to be disappointed.  I don’t even know what to ask for.”

“You know how a pregnancy goes but know nothing of how to create it? That’s some shitty--That was poor parenting. You could have gotten married to someone like Grimmjow who screws anything that walks and--” Ulquiorra sighed. He leaned towards Orihime. “You like when I whisper in your ear don’t you? You like it when I kiss your neck and mouth, right? I want to do that while touching your chest.”

She smiled.  “Okay, sounds good to me.”

He shook his head and prayed to God for some restraint or else this woman was going to drive him to do something. It was the goal but still, things like this needed time. Ulquiorra reached out with a hand and placed it at the base of her throat, lightly trailing his fingers across her collarbones. She seemed to handle that well enough that he brought his hand down the center of her chest. “Well?” he asked.

“Oh come on, you’re not going to break me.”

That statement nudged that beast he liked to keep hidden; the one he shoved into a mental box and padlocked, throwing away the key. So he thought. Without warning, Ulquiorra wormed his hand under her shirt and grabbed her left breast. If he didn’t need to use caution then he might as well go all out.

Orihime gasped at his forward action and arched her back into his palm.  She did not expect how stimulating it felt to be touched there. She whined a little hum and asked, “Well?”

He smirked. “I’ve not felt a boob in seven years,” Ulquiorra admitted. He trailed his fingers around the skin, purposely avoiding her nipple. He wanted her to be nice and keyed up once he got to it.

“Is it the same as you remember?” She asked, slightly amused and somewhat distracted by his touch.

Ulquiorra’s gaze turned from her face to where his hand was outlined under the pajama top she wore. He shifted until he was laying on his side, pressing his hips into her thigh. All it would take would be a trip to the bathroom to get rid of his desire. It was too late to go back now. He’d crashed through a barricade and was heading towards a cliff edge which only held sin at the bottom. “What’s it feel like to you?” he asked as a finger brushed over her nipple before his thumb joined it to gently squeeze.

“Ah,” she gasped.  “I asked you first.”

He chuckled before putting his mouth close to her ear. His teeth raked over her earlobe before he said, “Your body is amazing. Curvy and soft; it makes me want to worship you with my mouth.” Ulquiorra returned to his position, fingers still groping her.

The image his words conjured in her brain made her squirm and for heat to rise in her body.  When his teeth touched her ear, she shuddered and felt a strong thump in her lower abdomen. She bit her lower lip, then finally answered, “It feels good.  I don’t want you to stop.”

“I should stop though because I just want to let go and show you an entire world that you have yet to experience,” he replied. Ulquiorra didn’t stop though. He let go of her for a minute so that he was sitting in between her legs. He was trying not to push his hips into hers. Letting his hands worm under her shirt again, his fingers wrapped around both tits this time.

Her teeth sunk deeper into her lower lip and she closed her eyes, focusing on the sensation of his hands on her, breathing heavily.  Her mouth was starting to feel dry. Her lips parted, and she sighed each slow, tortured breath as her hands came up to cover his, pressing his hands onto her breasts more firmly.  She had no idea what she was doing; she just wanted more of him. She didn’t know what she was asking for when the word, “Please,” escaped her lips. She really didn’t know what she was doing when her hips raised up on their own accord to press against his abdomen.

A low groan left his throat, and Ulquiorra closed his eyes as her hips rolled over his lap. “Orihime,” he murmured, chest heaving. His hands stopped moving. “You’re making this difficult to be good.”

She opened her eyes just enough to see the worry in his brow.  “Just kiss me,” she whispered, thinking it would help.

Swallowing, Ulquiorra leaned over her body and kissed her. It was slow. It was sensual the way their mouths brushed together at first. The way their breath mixed together made him want to give into whatever she wanted. He let go of her breasts, bracing one hand on the bed. Without thinking, his other hand made it’s way down her stomach until it reached that place between her legs.

She broke their kiss with a start and looked at his face wide-eyed.  “What was that? It felt like… like you zapped me with electricity or something, but it didn’t hurt,” she searched his have face for an answer, her brows knitting in confusion.

“What? This?” Ulquiorra asked as he pressed the palm of his hand against her body again. The warmth seeping from her body felt like it was going to burn him. “Woman, you’ve never touched yourself or had an orgasm?”

A strangled cry left her throat as he pushed his hand against her.  “No?” she finally answered, breathless.

He thought Orihime had been kidding about the sheltered life; like maybe she hadn’t had a boyfriend or done anything sexual but had explored. She was completely untouched. Guilt washed over him in tiny waves. They shouldn’t be doing this. She should be waiting for whomever she was going to marry. The remorse didn’t stay for long. His hand didn’t stop moving. Ulquiorra decided to go for a more exact method to bring her pleasure. He slipped his hand under the waistband of the pajama pants she wore. As long as there was cloth between them, it would be okay.

Orihime did not wear underwear to bed as a rule.  Mrs. Roherty had told her it was “healthier to let things breathe” at night.  That meant no bra and no panties. When his fingers touched her bare skin, it felt hot and natural.  There was no innate resistance on her part.

“Orihime?” Her name sounded like a squeak as Ulquiorra’s hand brushed against curls instead of cotton. His green eyes were wide, pupils crowding the ring of color. He wanted to stop but found his thumb sliding against her nether lips.

“Yes, Ulquiorra?” she answered him in a cautious breath.  “Did I hurt you?”

He narrowed his eyes slightly. “You’re not wearing any underwear,” he said. He wanted to groan at himself. Smooth move for stating the obvious. “I mean... ” Ulquiorra was at a loss for words. Here he had a gorgeous woman in his arms; in his bed and he wanted to flounder. Although his mind was conflicted at what it wanted his body knew as fingers parted those folds, brushing against her sensitive skin.

Orihime’s mind had no clue what was happening or what was possible, but her body was ready for the possibilities.  She could feel wetness on his fingers as soon as he moved them, and that gave her pause. “Oh no, did I—?”

He shook his head. “No, it’s supposed to happen,” Ulquiorra said. He rolled off of her so that he could lay beside her. He wanted to make this easier for himself and for her. “You’re turned on by this.” His fingers replaced his thumb, sliding against her clit.

Orihime cooed as he touched her there. It felt like his fingers were covered in hot oils, slick and gliding; easy.  It felt right. It felt good. As his fingers moved gently back and forth, she began to notice the heat there increasing. Her breathing involuntarily shuddered, and she was feeling an almost uncontrollable urge to move her hips along with his ministrations.

“Hnnngh,” he hummed against her neck. Ulquiorra kept pressing his groin into the side of her upper thigh. He was enjoying this too much. Feeling how wet she was; listening to her breathing; even the smell of her arousal was turning him on more. “Do what feels good,” he told her. “Move if you want.”

She did not second guess him or wait; she shifted her hips up toward his digits so that they edged closer to her entrance; it seemed to her that that spot, more than the tension in the area he had been manipulating, was most demanding for attention, though she didn’t know the cause.  Her hands were also much too free; she slid one over to cup his face, letting her fingers curl into his hair. With the other, she set a course south to explore the object currently abusing her thigh. She made contact with the back of her hand, not disturbing his contact with her leg, only just observing via touch.

When the tip of his finger dipped into her body, Ulquiorra almost stopped breathing. He stopped grinding his hips against her leg and let out a slow exhale after several seconds passed. The heat that flowed through his body was too much. The only thought going through his brain was that he had made a mistake. He had made a mistake in becoming a priest. Once he found his wits and started moving again, she touched him, and he felt any composure he had, shatter. He allowed his finger to sink deeper inside of her, slowly thrusting in and out of her.

The dryness in her mouth flooded out with saliva as he entered her, and a choked “ugh” accompanied a small belly spasm.  This was some kind of magic for sure. She had no idea that her body was capable of such pleasure and torment concurrently.  She was finding it more difficult to breathe, like the air in her lungs was hot and did not contain enough oxygen. She began to pant and rotated her hand to grasp at Ulquiorra’s length, coaxing it to continue, urging them to continue their rhythm.

His mouth opened against the skin of her neck and Ulquiorra let out a moan. Nothing felt so wrong or so right at that moment. How many times had he dreamed of this over the past three months? How many times had he stood in the shower and jerked off to a daydream of her? It took all he had not to shove his own pajamas down his legs and let her wrap her hand around his cock. Either he had to end this soon, or he was going to end up doing something stupid. “Feel good?”

“Yes,” she hissed.  “Please don’t stop.”  She did not know where this was going to end, but she knew she wasn’t there yet.  She was growing increasingly desperate to reach her destination. She craned her head down and to the side, tilting Ulquiorra’s chin up and slipping her tongue into his mouth, moaning into it until she couldn’t breathe.  Her head fell back into the pillow, and her fingers of her other hand had figured out the outline of his cock through his pajama bottoms and encircled it as much as was possible, stroking him through the fabric. She groaned and whimpered, “I love you.”

It was by chance his thumb had started making slow but firm circles over her clit again, manipulating the flesh. He kept increasing the pace; his finger sliding in and out of her. The touch of her hand on his dick was heady and just added fuel to the fire that he wanted this more than ever. “I won’t ever stop,” he said between their kisses. “I love--I love you too.” His words were strained.

She turned to kiss him again but was stilled by a sharp cry as she felt an intense series of pulses and a pleasant burning sensation starting from where he touched her with his thumb and radiating from there through her body.  Rhythmic wails of decreased intensity followed that cry as her legs shook and her fingers tightened in his hair and around his erection. “Ulquiorra!” she whined as the involuntary vocalizations stopped and she was able to form the word.

He kept touching her, not satisfied. Ulquiorra wanted more. It was only when the grip on his hair got painful that he turned down the intensity. Her fist balled into the hair felt like it was on the verge of being ripped out. When he extracted his hand from her pajama bottoms, he looked down at his fingers. They were wet. “Did you--?” No, she wouldn’t know what he was talking about. “Did you come?”

“I think so,” she panted, having released the death grip on his hair.  “Is that what that’s called?” She did not let go of his penis, still caressing it through his pants.

“Orgasm, come… It’s the same thing,” he replied. Ulquiorra glanced down at her hand and then back at her face. “I’m going to take a shower.”

“Wait, don’t you want to come?”

“I do but--I can while in the shower.”

“No, stay with me,” she pleaded, turning to face him and switching to her dominant hand on his cock.  “Can I… can I touch it?”

Could she touch it? She was asking? He licked his lips. “Take what you want, Orihime. Do what you want. If it feels good, do it,” Ulquiorra said after a few quiet seconds. He had meant to tell her that this was improper. He should have stopped her.

She tipped her lips up slightly after obtaining his consent, scooted down the bed slightly and let go of him, only to creep her fingers up to his waistband and slither between his warm skin and the elastic of his boxers.  She followed his abdomen lower, through a trail of hair, until her fingers reached the base of his length. She separated her thumb from her fingers and wrapped the around it, first just testing the girth and adjusting her grip to make sure no hair was caught in it.  She brought her lips to Ulquiorra’s throat and murmured, “Let me know if I am doing anything wrong or if I hurt you,” and then pulled her grip up along his shaft until she reached the base of the head of his dick. “The skin is a lot softer and hotter than I thought it would be,” she said into the skin of his neck before she sighed onto it and licked a small area, before closing her lips around it to clean off the wet spot.

His mind went blank, and his body did what it wanted, thrusting into her hand. He growled softly as her thumb hit a particularly sensitive spot. “What did you imagine it to feel like?” he asked panting.

“I dunno, more like stone?”  

“Getting hard is just an expression,” he said with a small laugh then moaned. His hips moved of their own accord, rolling into her hand. Ulquiorra could feel the muscles in his abdomen and thighs start tensing as his own orgasm approached. He was desperate in trying to hold back this impending end and wanting to let go. He gasped as he felt her mouth latch onto his neck. “Ori--,” he breathed, eyes rolling back into his head. His jaw clenched as the first wave of pleasure overtook him and with the next one, he felt the first spasm come as that milky white fluid spurt against her hand and the material of the boxers he wore. Damn it.

The spine-tingling sensation crashed again and again against his central nervous system. Ulquiorra was confident that this act was going to condemn him to a life in hell. It was so gratifying to come by her hand instead of his own.

Orihime yelped softly when that first rope of hot liquid landed on her hand, but she didn’t stop until Ulquiorra stilled his hips and put his hand on her wrist.  “Was that okay?” she asked uncertainly. She thought it must be, but she didn’t know.

“It’s--Oh God--” he huffed. “It was great. Fine.” He looked at her, eyes still dark with lust. He wanted to kick himself for holding back for the past couple of days, not wanting to scare her with this but she seemed to take it well. “We’re going to have to wait for Zommari to go to Dallas before we do anything else.”

She bit her lip and smiled, nodding.  “I know, that’s why I wanted… why I wanted to.  I was worried, I guess.”

Ulquiorra gave his head a little shake before kissing her. “Worried? Worried about what? I’m worried that I’m going to be all over you now. There’s always the basement but still, who knows what you’re going to sound like as we… well… if you want...”

“If I want what?”

“More.”

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra was done with bible study and coming back to the rectory when he ran into Zommari. The black priest was rummaging around the refrigerator when the younger priest walked in. “Father Cifer,” he said with a small smile.

“Zommari. How was your visit?” Ulquiorra asked hanging up his coat in the mudroom. He stared at the other priest who seemed less stressed out and happy. After what happened that morning the dark-haired man tried to keep calm, but panic and guilt kept welling up into his throat until it felt like it was choking him.

“Great,” Zommari replied. “My brother says that his wife is pregnant again.”

That made him want to scowl. Ulquiorra leaned against the frame of the door with his arms crossed over his chest. “You said your brother is going on a mission trip. He must not be Catholic.”

There was a cough. “Methodist.”

“Hmmm, why did you become a Catholic priest?”

Golden brown eyes gave him a long stare. “How were the holidays? I see you have a new coffee maker.”

Ulquiorra didn’t glance at the small appliance. He kept his eyes trained on Zommari. “I need to know how you did this Zom.”

“I don’t talk about it,” Zommari said quietly. “That’s the only reason I’ve gotten away with it for--How old is Arden? Seven years?”

“Who is Arden?”

“The kid in the picture I showed to you,” came the reply.

Ulquiorra was becoming irritated. He raised his voice. “How do you justify this? How do you deal with your faith and your vows knowing that you’re sinning?”

Zommari closed the refrigerator and sighed. “Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I struggle with what I’ve done. I drink a lot. Sometimes I smoke a cigar and call it a day, Cifer. You learn how to cope. Even if the truth came out, there’s no guarantee that I would be let go. I might get suspended. I might have an audience with the cardinal. I might see the Pope. They would definitely remove me from Boston. I would probably be relocated somewhere else.”

“Why?” Ulquiorra asked. “Why not just hang up your cassock and be a normal citizen?”

“Are you asking me that or are you asking yourself?”

Those words verbally slapped him in the face. Ulquiorra would never think about leaving--Oh. Yes, he had thought about it. He had even researched it. “I need you to explain all of this,” Ulquiorra said after a few seconds ticked by.

Zommari looked at the priest and shrugged. “I used the ninety-day plan. I met my wife when I broke my arm doing some work on the rectory. She was the nurse that set my arm in the emergency room. I went along my business but found myself thinking about this woman. Her smile. Her grace and poise. She was calm under pressure although my bone was about to come out of my skin. She kept me grounded. I courted her for a year. When she decided enough was enough, I found myself sinning over and over with her. She knew she wouldn’t have the kind of life normal wives have. She knew I couldn’t be a full-time husband. Then we found out we were expecting a child. I took the weekend off, we flew to Vegas, and we got married. I used a fake ID and everything. Our marriage certificate has a fake name on it, but I took her last name. So Maria is married to a Zavier Newell, not Zommari Rureaux.”

 

“I don’t want that for--I mean--”

 A laugh came from Zommari. “It’s written all over your face.”

“We didn’t do anything,” Ulquiorra stated. He felt like a child being scolded. “I made a mistake. I don’t want to do this--be a priest anymore.”

“If you breathe a word of your sins to anyone, do you know what will happen? You’ll be sent to Rome. Orihime will be ousted. She’ll be ridiculed and mocked. She’ll basically be the woman from the Scarlet Letter. Excommunicated.” Zommari’s tone was stern and angry. “I think the word is conversion therapy. They’ll torture you until you won’t even look at a woman. Those are the kind of things I’ve heard that happen. Do you want to work in an all-male school in the middle of nowhere?”

“What if I just leave?”

“Kiss everything goodbye. No religious organization will hire you. You’d be laicized. The Pope will not retract your vow of celibacy, and he’s the only one who can do it.” Zommari looked at Ulquiorra. “I have a degree in theology. There is nothing I can do with it except teach. What did you go to school for? Is it useful?”

Ulquiorra shook his head. “Art history,” he said. “Associates degree in--”

Zommari held a hand up. “No one is going to care about your little associate's degree in whatever. What they will know is that you’re a man who cannot stick to your word.”

With that, Zommari left the kitchen and walked into the conference room. Ulquiorra heard the door shut and sighed, sagging against the door.

 

***

 

Orihime stood at the stop just above the landing, out of sight.  She heard the two men arguing downstairs. At first, she thought to go back to her room and give them their space, but then as they came through the first-floor hall to the door to the rectory office, she thought she heard Zommari threatening Ulquiorra.  She froze and listened. Each word cutting her resolve in the justifications she had laid for herself in undertaking the bizarre relationship she had formed with Ulquiorra.

She would be his downfall.

A cold feeling permeated her skin down to her bones.  She had been a naive fool. How could she say she loved Ulquiorra and then do things that would cause him such hardship?  It was too much to deal with standing up. She went back to her room and sat on her bed, cradling her head in her hands.  She was glad she had an empty stomach; she felt like vomiting.

She would have to leave.  She would have to leave the church and the rectory.  Maybe the cafe at Holy Hill would take her back. But how could she ask for a job back there when she had willfully led a man of the cloth down a path that caused him to break his vows?  She didn’t deserve even to be Catholic.

She wondered if she even deserved to live.  Ulquiorra had been right those years ago; she should have thrown herself into the grave with her family.  It would have saved him a lot of trouble.

With a sigh, he climbed those steps and walked into his own room. Ulquiorra could smell the scent of their activities that morning, lingering in the air. He didn’t care. He flopped onto his bed; his hand knocked against the wall by accident. Why did this have to happen? Why was this so convoluted? Why weren’t priest allowed the same rights as every other person who led a church? Ministers could have a wife, be married and fuck. Preachers could have the same thing!

Ulquiorra knew what would happen the moment he renounced his faith and religion.

It would be open season on him to get him to start working with Aizen. He’d be taught to kill just like Grimmjow and Nnoitra. The man would groom him to take over the Boston syndicate. He didn’t want that though. He didn’t want anything to happen to Orihime either. He sure it would be a dick move to ask Zommari for a transfer or to tell her that they couldn’t do this; that she should just move on to one of the single parishioners who had expressed interest in her. Either way, there would be tears and a lot of awkwardness.

Orihime heard the knock on the wall that they shared and decided it was better to do this now.  Without having a plan or even the resolve to do what she thought needed to be done, she went to his room and knocked on the door.

“What?” he called not bothering to get up or answer the door. Ulquiorra stayed there with his back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. For all he knew, it was Zommari wanting to belittle him again.

“I’m coming in,” she said.  She opened the door and closed it behind her, leaning against it and looking at the black-haired man reclined on the bed they had shared for the past few nights.  “I heard. I can’t do that to you.”

Ulquiorra lifted his head and gazed at Orihime. Then he laid his head back down and sighed. “What did you hear? Did you hear the part where old Zom has a wife and a kid and another on the way?” he snapped. “All I want to do is leave, and he’s telling me I can’t.”

“Wait, you want to leave?”

“I think so. I mean I was happy in Rome. I was happy being a lowly priest over there; a scholar, researching works of art and appraising them for the church. I never really interacted with people, especially women. I would smile at them and their babies, but it was all for show,” Ulquiorra said. “As soon as Aizen called me, everything turned to shit. As soon as I landed in Boston, I felt dread. As soon as I saw you again...” he trailed off. “I should be the one that leaves.”

“If you leave…” she stopped short.  “I can’t stay here either. Without you, not only would I be miserable, but I think Aizen or Grimmjow or whoever would find a more lucrative use for me. Let’s be honest; the rectory doesn’t need a full-time housekeeper.  My job is completely made up.”

It wasn’t that the rectory didn’t need a housekeeper because priests were busy people. Sacred Heart couldn’t afford it. Ulquiorra ran the numbers. He added and totaled and punched numbers into spreadsheets. Aizen basically paid her. He said nothing of it though. “We can’t do this, and we don’t want to do what we need to do.” The priest sat up on the bed and stared at her. “What if we continue this and I get you pregnant? What happens then? There’s nothing in the bible that requires me to be celibate. It’s a requirement from the church because priests can’t pass anything down to their children. It’s an economic solution, not a biblical one.”

“I understand.  I would never ask you to choose between your faith and me,” she said with as much conviction as she could muster, although she could feel herself shattering on the inside.  “I’m going to call some people tomorrow. I’ll make arrangements to find something else. I’m freer to do it, and even if I end up working in a cafe again at least, I’m not likely to be abducted and made to work in a club like Barragan used to run.”

He sat there for a moment, thinking about her words; thinking about how he didn’t want her to leave. Ulquiorra stood up and crossed the few feet to the door, pinning Orihime against it with his body. “I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want to end this. Zommari knows a way around this. He has an entire family. That’s where he’s been,” he said. “I’m already questioning my faith. How can I do my job when I’m nothing but a pawn here? Zommari is fucking his wife whenever he gets a chance, and I’m nothing but a fucking bank teller for Aizen so people can pay him.”

She furrowed her brow.  She wasn’t sure what he was trying to say.  “Are you saying you want to leave the priesthood?”

“I do, and I don’t.” Ulquiorra looked at her and swallowed. “I do because I want to be with you. I do because I don’t want to question everything I do. On the other hand, I, don’t. I don’t want to leave because I don’t want to be in Aizen’s grasp. I don’t want to because I did this to pay for my sins.”

 

She shook her head, “What sins?  What sins have you committed that have not already been absolved?”  She paused and looked down between them, “Besides the obvious…”

He snorted. It wasn’t funny but just the way she said it made him laugh at the absurdity of the situation. “I don’t know. I’ve never forgiven myself for you. What I said and what I did.”

She grabbed his chin.  “Look at me. That was not your fault.  What you said to me-- Yes, it was cruel.  But you were a kid. You have to forgive yourself. Otherwise, my forgiveness is meaningless.”

Ulquiorra took hold of the hand that was on his chin and threaded his fingers with hers. “Orihime, your life could have been different had I done more or had I just left everything alone.”

She shook her head.  “No. No. No. No. Ulquiorra, had you done nothing, I’d be dead.  The sins of the father are not the sins of the son. You were powerless.  You might not have thought so, but you were. That you were able to spare my life is only a testament to your virtue and fortitude. You did what you could.  More than anyone else could. Your hands are clean.”

“Aizen would call me every Easter and remind me. On the anniversary of their deaths, he would tell me this was my fault that he had to pay for you.” Ulquiorra let her go and walked back over to the bed. “Maybe this is karma coming back to bite me on the ass.”

“No, you know what that is?  It’s Grade-A bullshit.” She was pissed.   How dare Aizen play the benevolent uncle to some girl he had tried to kill and all those years impart mental torture on his own son?  “He is evil. Everything about him is evil. You were just as much a victim of him as I was.” Her fury was starting to show on her face, and she avoided looking directly at Ulquiorra so he wouldn’t think it was directed at him.

Scoffing, Ulquiorra shook his head. “No one sees Aizen like that. He’s the good guy. He gives to his church and his community. He helps out those in need, but the interest on his kindness is insane.”

“Do you really believe that?  Do you know what the old ladies say?  Men shout. Women whisper. It’s known that he is not a good guy.  The amount of nieces and granddaughters’ lives ruined by that man or his business associates - the men whose livelihoods were ruined and are forced into servitude - the people who moved to Utah under mysterious circumstances only to never be heard of again - the forced bribes and the coercion.  Nobody can stand against him, so nobody says anything, but it’s known .”

“What do you want to do then?” Ulquiorra asked, gazing at a spot on the floor. Defeat settled in his bones. “Should we go ask Zommari for a step by step guide on how to do what he’s done? Should we just run away?”

She scowled at his first suggestion, but her brows lifted for a moment at the second.  She shook her head though and sighed. “I want you to get it through your head that you are innocent.  That’s what I want. What you want to do for your vocation is up to you. You and me… I know… I mean, I want…  I am not the one… I don’t know. I don’t. I know I love you. I know I want to be with you. But I don’t know if I could live a lie like Zommari.  I’m sorry. I just don’t know.”

Ulquiorra had told her if she said that they couldn’t do this that they wouldn’t. He had made that promise to her. Now she was saying those words, and he didn’t want to give it up. This was what he had been dreading when he kissed her Christmas morning. He gave a nod, accepting that fact. “Okay, so we go back to before. I treat you with disinterest, and we avoid each other.”

It felt like she had the wind knocked out of her.   “What? No, that’s not what I meant! Why?”

“Why? Because--” Ulquiorra was at a loss for words. He furrowed his brow. “It’s easier if you’re going to leave the rectory or go back to Wisconsin.” He didn’t want to say what he was actually thinking. He didn’t want to tell her that it would be easier for him to push her away just in case someone else came along in her life and could give her what she needed.

Her nose tingled and her eyes became painful and red, and she balled her fists.  “No. No. You can’t-- You can’t.” She marched over to where he sat on the bed and kissed him, pressing her lips to his firmly.  “What about running?”

His brain was telling him to push her away but instead his arms wrapped around her. “Where? We have no money; no practical skills. Aizen would chase me down. The only other option I can think of giving this time. Zom said--What if we gave it a month? You might feel differently in a month about me.”

She scoffed, but put her arms around his neck and rested her cheek on the top of his head.  “I can do a month. I can do several months, I think. I just meant that I don’t know if I could live the kind of life Zommari does.  I couldn’t have a fake marriage, I think.”

“You’d be okay with secret love children though?” Ulquiorra asked. He didn’t like the idea of any of it, but he’d painted himself into this corner. “I don’t want to do that to you.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t sound ideal, does it?”  The words were flippant, but the intent was serious.

Ulquiorra looked at Orihime with a questioning look. “We need to act normal. I’m still going to pump Zommari for information. I’m going to be looking for a way out of this, Orihime.”

She nodded, cheek still attached to his head, and pulled him closer to her body.  “I know this is a lot for you. It’s a lot for me, too. I never thought that love could change a person so much…”

Hugging her tightly as he thought about what she said. Love made people do stupid things. Love made people kill. It drove them to steal. It caused them pain. The one-sided emotions that he had labeled as love for a memory of a person made him turn to religion to help him deal with the guilt he harbored. “You need to get out of here,” Ulquiorra said to her. “I don’t need Zom to find you in here with me. It’ll just give him more dirt on us.”

“Do you think he would turn us in?” she asked softly, taking a step back.

“I can turn him in for worse. What we’ve done is nothing compared to what he’s done.” Ulquiorra missed the warmth of her body but knew they were doing the right thing.

She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly.  “Okay. Well, back to the mutual pining then, I suppose?” taking some more backward steps to the door.

“Maybe if I don’t bend you over a table or the couch first,” Ulquiorra replied. “As you wish.”

Her eyes widened in shock, but gentled when he quoted her favorite movie.  “As you wish,” she echoed, and left his room.

She went to her own room and sat on her bed, feeling ready to burst.  This was much more complicated than she wanted it to be. It didn’t mean she wouldn’t deal with it; it was just frustrating.  Damn Aizen. If there was only a way to bring him down. Orihime shook her head. That was not something she had any capability to do.  Short of murder, she couldn't think of a way to topple the kingpin anyway.

And she was not going around murdering people anytime in this lifetime.

The thought of Aizen reminded her of her brush with Grimmjow on Christmas.  She pulled back her sleeve to look at the bruise on her forearm, now turning a nasty combination of brown, green and yellow under her skin.  As much as she hated it, Ulquiorra was right. She was going to have to be careful. She didn’t know what he or Aizen wanted, but they weren’t likely to just give up because of her groundskeeper “boyfriend”.

The day after Zommari came back, he started working Ulquiorra extra hard in the office, claiming that the days off he had given to him and Orihime required doubling down on work to catch up.  It also snowed that morning, so Chad came into shovel and plow the walkways and parking lot. Orihime had watched the big guy work as she made her grocery list and decided it wouldn’t hurt to ask him to come along while she ran to the store and the post office.

She was glad she did.  She saw a black sedan at the end of the block, and if she wasn’t mistaken, it followed her from the rectory to the supermarket three cars back.  While they were out, she explained to Chad in vague terms that Grimmjow and his men were bad guys, and if Chad didn't mind, she would try to consolidate her trips into two or three a week, and if he was available, he could go with.  As a trade-off, she would make dinner for him to take home for him and his grandfather on those days.

Chad agreed on the condition that she make that spinach lasagna again sometime; despite his misgivings, he actually really liked it.

Chad was a quiet guy and easy to get along with.  It turned out he had a few connections to Wisconsin as well  - a friend of his just graduated from Marquette and was interning for the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office while he went through law school.  He had visited about two years ago, and they chatted about all the places they knew and had begun to kick off a kind of camaraderie.

Orihime and Ulquiorra had more or less put their relationship on hold.  They both found it easier to limit their interactions to knowing smiles and simmering glances.  Only when Father Zommari was over at church or school, and Ulquiorra had a spare moment or two in the rectory without him there, did they dare go into one another’s room, and then only for a few minutes.  They didn’t even trust each other to hang out in the basement. The one time they tried, they ended up nearly getting caught with Ulquiorra’s hands up her shirt at the bottom of the stairs.

New Year’s came and went without much fanfare, and starting the first of the year, the already intense workload at the rectory intensified even further, and Orihime found herself roped into even more of the office work, so much so that she was falling behind in her housekeeping duties.  Zommari excused that, saying it was more important to have everything in order prior to his departure for Dallas the following Monday, plus they had to work on year-end book reconciliation. They all worked late every night that week, sometimes taking dinner in the Conference Room to stay on top of things.  They fell into their own beds exhausted every night.

Orihime and Chad’s arrangement seemed to be working out well, and she was glad it did.  That Friday, Bob’s Discount Liquor was closed due to a frozen water pipe flooding the store, so she and Chad went to Atlas instead.  They weren’t there for five minutes before she heard a voice that made her blood run cold.

“Hey, Princess.  I see you don’t venture very far without your guard dog these days.  I don’t know what you’re so worried about. I just need a few minutes of your time,” he said over a rack of Italian reds.

“This guy botherin’ you, Babe?” Chad said once again, sidling up beside Orihime and letting one eye peep through his long brown bangs at the blue-haired Aizen follower.

Grimmjow just scoffed and pushed the envelope through the racks to Orihime, saying, “My number’s on the card inside, call me for lunch one of these days, babydoll.”

Orihime scowled but took the envelope and went back to the rectory with Chad.  She set it aside to deal with later as she put groceries away. Zommari called her back to the office right away, insisting they order take-out that night so that they could all spend as much time as they could working in the office because the next day he needed to prepare for Mass and Ulquiorra had confession, then Sunday was Mass and the following morning he was leaving for Dallas.  Orihime apologized to Chad and gave him a frozen casserole she had in the freezer from a time she had made too much and sent him home with directions to leave it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour and ten minutes, then returned to the office. She had set the envelope from Grimmjow on the counter and quickly forgot about it after getting caught up in paperwork.

After confessions were done and Ulquiorra had a pocket full of cash, he walked into the rectory. He was tired and frustrated. It was hard to listen to people week after week, detailing their sins. They didn’t even sound a bit remorseful about what they did.

“Forgive me, father, I slept with my boss’s wife again.”

“Forgive me, father, I got drunk and gambled my bill money away.”

“Forgive me, father, I can’t pay Aizen this week.”

Every time he dismissed someone with their penance, Ulquiorra felt cheap. He felt like he was a fake. Every time he accepted an envelope with money in it, he felt shamed. He was nothing but a money launderer for his adopted father. Not to mention Zommari was having him come up with his own ideas for Mass and put together all the things he needed for that.

Being mentally and physically tired left little room for him to think of Orihime or their situation, except he thought of her all the time when in his room, in the dead of night. She was just on the other side of the wall. He could have knocked or texted her. He knew though that she was just as exhausted as he was.

When Zommari handed him his schedule, he had crossed several things out. Ulquiorra saw no need for a pastoral staff meeting. He saw no reason for the parish committee meetings, except for Thursday’s bible study. He could do everything else. It was times like this he wished there was another priest around because Ulquiorra still had to do mass with the school children. He had to do confessions.

Just thinking about the schedule made him exhausted. He was about to go into the conference room and get the special plastic envelope that he put Aizen’s offerings into, when he saw another envelope on the counter. A chill went through him.

He recognized the bright blue handwriting on the front.

Grimmjow.

Grimmjow was the only one who wrote in all capital letters. He was the only one who wrote that sharply. Had his brother been here?

He read what the envelope said and scowled. “To Princess,” he said to himself. There was only one person who his brother called princess, and that was the redhead. A flash of anger went through him. When had Orihime talked to or seen his brother?

Picking up the envelope, Ulquiorra walked into the conference room where Zommari was sitting with Orihime. They were going over something. “When did Grimmjow come by Zom?”

“Hmmm?” Zommari said, looking up at the other priest. “As far as I know he didn’t, why?”

Ulquiorra handed the envelope to Orihime and said, “Because that was on the counter. I just wanted to know if he was here because of Aizen or if he was here trying to kidnap her again.”

“What?”

“He gave it to me.  I went to Atlas today instead of Bob’s.  He was there. He asked for “a few minutes of my time” and to call him for lunch,” Orihime chimed in with a disgusted voice.  “Chad was with me though, so he just gave me this and left.”

Ulquiorra sighed. He knew his free time on Tuesday would be spent going to Aizen’s pub and handing over the money he had collected and then come back to start on his afternoon duties. He quickly glanced at Orihime before saying, “Well bless Chad for being around.”

Zommari was frowning. “Grimmjow tried to kidnap you, Miss Inoue?”

She nodded.  “On Christmas.”

“Pardon me; I need to make some phone calls. You two need to keep going over these so I can submit them to Tosen.” The black priest stood and left the room going into his office beside the conference room.

Ulquiorra was silent until he heard the man on the phone. “What did Grimmjow want?” he asked.

“He said he wanted a few minutes of my time.  He wants me to call him. That’s all he said before he gave me this and left.  I’m kind of scared to open it.”

The priest grabbed the manila envelope from the table and went to open it. He stopped. “We could throw it away. Nothing says we have to read it.”

“Is that really an option?  If it is, please, throw it away,” she said, cautiously hopeful.

It felt heavy, and Ulquiorra shook it. Something inside slid around. “Go ahead and open it,” he said, handing it back to her.

Orihime took it from him, and closing her eyes, slid her finger under the flap and tore the envelope open.  Inside was a letter on stationary and a stack of photos.

She took out the letter and read silently.  Her face contorted and tears came to her eyes, which she did not bother to wipe away.  When she finished reading, she dumped the remaining contents of the envelope on the table with shaky hands.  One came up to clasp over her mouth as she stared down in horror at pictures of people she knew and cared for: the Rohertys, Chad, Zommari, Bob from the liquor store, friends from college, her old dance coach, even that Kurosaki guy she met at that mixer.  They all appeared to be recent pictures, and all of them had gun scope markings on them.

Aizen was telling her that the people she cared for were targets.  That is, unless she did what he wanted.

“Orihime? What’s wrong? What did the letter say?” He reached for it and the pictures that were on the table.

She didn’t stop him, but she summed up what it said in one short, bitter phrase, “He says it's time for me to pay my dues.”

That sentence made him stop, and his stomach felt like it had dropped to the floor. His hands dropped to the tabletop as he stared at the redhead. Usually, when Aizen said those words to someone, it meant they were going to die by Aizen’s hand, or they were going to work for him. “So which is it? He either wants you dead or wants you to work for him.” He snatched the letter up and quickly scanned the contents.

The corner of his lip curled as he started to read the letter out loud. “My dearest Orihime. Nice how he’s laying it on thick there. You were never his, and he does not think you’re dear to him. There was never any good things that came out of his manipulation of you. The only thing that’s going to come to an end is his fucking reign of terror over us.”

The letter in its entirety read:

My dearest Orihime,

All good things must come to an end, and I’m afraid your gravy train has done just that.  The time has come, my sweet girl, to pay your dues. Meet me on Tuesday at 4:00 at Tres. Wear something pretty.   We’ll discuss the terms of your debt at that time. Oh, and don’t keep me waiting.

Love,

Sousuke

“He has you going to Nel’s club. Why?” Ulquiorra looked at her with a disgruntled expression. “Are you going to go? I know it’s none of my business but--I mean you’re not my--mine--” Sigh. He was livid to the point he couldn’t formulate sentences.

She wore a hurt expression when he said that.  “We both know that’s not true,” she murmured. Then she took a deep, shaky breath. “I have no choice.  He’s clearly threatened all these people. This is personal,” she paused as she held onto the picture of Ichigo, letting it hang suspended between her fingers.  “These people are totally innocent. They don’t deserve this.”

“I know it’s not true, but we also know that while I’m collared you can’t be mine,” Ulquiorra said. He looked at the picture in her hand then sighed. Another wave of guilt came over him. “Your mom and brother were innocent too and look what happened. We know Aizen doesn’t play fair. He doesn’t care Orihime, as long as he gets ahead. We’re pawns to him. I’m going with you. I can strike a deal with him to leave you alone.”

“How?”  She was very skeptical.  She didn’t want Ulquiorra compromising himself for her.  She sighed. “What’s the worst that can happen? He’s having me meet him at Nel’s club, right?  He probably just wants me to take over my mother’s legacy. Barragan always said that was my destiny anyway,” she ground out the words through hot, bitter tears.  She knew there was nothing she could do.

“What? You want to be some--” Ulquiorra couldn’t repeat what Aizen had called Orihime’s mother. “I’ll do what he wants. Obviously, I’m not doing enough for him.”

“Why would this have anything to do with you?  He doesn’t know.” The “about us” was implied.

It was time to confess. “Nnoitra asked me when I visited him in the hospital if we’d fucked yet. He asked if I had had sex with you.” Ulquiorra huffed and then raised his eyes to meet her gaze. “I got upset about it and walked out.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.  It was just rude, right?”

Ulquiorra shrugged. “Grimmjow made some comments the day he helped you with stuff. I got pissed off then too. Maybe they’re just egging me on, I don’t know, but I’m not going to let you go there alone.”

“Ulquiorra, I can’t corrupt you any more than I already have…  I’ve been doing it since I was little. You shouldn’t have to compromise yourself for someone who will only ruin you,” she choked and sat up.  She was in the throes of despair; feeling like Aizen had her by the hair and knowing that the man she loved would sacrifice himself with no hope to save her anyway.  He’d saved her life. He’d done enough. What kind of wicked woman would ask for more?

Tch. She thought she had corrupted him? Ha! He walked over to where she sat, standing slightly behind her chair. He leaned down so that he could whisper in her ear. “Let me make this clear to you. I was tainted and corrupt way before you came into my life. I’m not compromising anything, Orihime and you will not ruin me. Don’t you get it? I was ruined before I became a priest.”

She sighed.  She knew there was no arguing with him.  “Fine. What should I wear?”

“I have no clue,” he said and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. He didn’t care if Zommari walked in and caught them. “You could go buy yourself something, couldn’t you?”

“Do you really think I should?”  She was surprised that he would encourage her.

He put his lips against her neck and thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think you should. I think you should walk in there looking like a little old church-going lady. The only time you should look sexy or pretty is for me.”

That made her laugh.  “Are you trying to tell me I look old?”

He stepped away from her and shook his head. “You’re what? Twelve? You don’t even look--How old are you? Twenty-two?”

“Twelve?  Ew! I’m twenty-three.”

“Whatever, talk to me about looking old when you hit my age. I’m ancient compared to you,”

“Nuh uh, you are the hot young stud of Sacred Heart.  At least that’s what we print in the advertisements,” she teased, giggling.  “That selfie on my phone was used for them.”

His brow furrowed. “Oh no you didn’t,” he said. Ulquiorra raised an eyebrow and stared at Orihime. “I thought you were gonna delete that.”

“I’m teasing of course. That gets archived in my private collection.  You don’t have any pictures of me to trade for it, so I think you are out of luck.”

Ulquiorra blew out a breath. “I know we have a lot to do but do you want to spend some time downstairs tonight? Or tomorrow?”

“Yes, I think we need it.”  She looked at him like he meant the world to her because he did.  She needed him more than ever, now.

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra got up early to see Zommari off. The man waved and he knew he was driving down to pick his family up. The three of them were going to the conference but Zom wasn’t staying with the rest of the priests and bishops. Ulquiorra wasn’t sure of the travel details and it was probably for the best.

He went back inside, closing the garage door and then reentered the rectory. It was only five in the morning. There was still time to go upstairs and crawl into bed with the redhead. Their basement time the other night only lasted fifteen minutes before Zommari was calling for them to do something else. It was frustrating but there was nothing Ulquiorra could do about it.

Would Orihime be up? He wondered that as he climbed the stairs, taking the steps two at a time. He’d soon find out. He ignored the door to his room and quietly opened the redhead’s door without knocking.

Orihime was sleeping lightly, having been disturbed by Ulquiorra and Zommari moving around that morning.  When her door was opened, she rolled over toward it and squinted; it was still dark outside and the light coming from the hallway was bright and hurt her eyes.  “Are you just going to stand there like a holy picture? Get in here and close the door,” She grumbled.

“Impatient aren’t we?” he said peeling off his t-shirt and the pajama pants he wore. It was chilly in the room so he quickly walked over to Orihime’s bed and slipped in beside her.

“Yikes, your hands are cold!” she squeaked, squirming under them.

He chuckled as he put his fingers on her back under her shirt. “C’mon, I was just outside and it’s cold. I need help getting warmed up.”

“You’re evil,” she purred, putting her hands on his abs and running them up his chest and over his shoulders, slinging a leg over his hip and pulling him in for a hug.  “Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning,” he replied, tightening the embrace and burying his face in her neck. He breathed in the flowery scent of the body wash she had used the previous night then exhaled slowly. “Did you sleep well?” Ulquiorra asked, voice a bit muffled by her hair.

“Alright, you?” she asked, working the fingers of one hand into his hair, scratching his scalp lightly with her fingernails.

Ulquiorra enjoyed when she did that and moved his head around when he wanted her to change spots. It felt nice; the attention and how she touched him. It made him feel loved. “It was okay,” he replied. “I’ll have some time today after dinner to spend with you if you’re not busy.”

“I’m never busy for you, unless Zom is breathing down my neck,” she chuckled.  And tomorrow is off, so…”

“I’ve got to work tomorrow and you have that thing with Aizen,” he said, kissing his way up to her ear. Ulquiorra also used his hand to cup her breast. “I’ll be off the clock as soon as five-thirty hits.”

“Oh, now I can handle going to meet your father alone, hmm?  I see. Interesting. Well, better make the most of the time we have today, then,” she replied, her voice becoming breathier as he touched her.  “So what do you want for breakfast?”

“You?” He saw her face in the dim light and laughed at the confused expression. “I’ll eat some cereal later. You don’t need to make me breakfast.”

“Well, I plan on making you something,” she said, finding his lips with hers.  She kissed him playfully, pecking at his lips softly and nibbling on the bottom one a bit, then licking the abused area a bit before scraping her lower teeth on his upper lip and then drawing it into her mouth. She stopped for a moment a while later and said, “Yeah, I think I figured out what I want.”

Ulquiorra had his eyes closed, losing himself in the sensation of her touch. It was something he never did with his other partners. Though with the other women he’d had sex with intimacy wasn’t the point of it. “Hmmm? What you want?”

“Yeah,” she paused kiss him again and said, “I’m already having it.”  Then she tried to put her tongue in his mouth, but he pulled back at just the wrong moment and she ended up just licking his chin.  “Hmmm, stubbly,” she commented.

A grin blossomed over his face. “Well, it’s that time of the month to shave,” Ulquiorra replied. He propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at her. “I, uh, would you...” He felt his face getting hot and the priest brought his hand to Orihime’s nightshirt then tugged on it.

She smiled, and it quickly turned into a grin as she took the hem in her own hands and pulled it up over her head, arching her back to shimmy it out from under her, then dropping it on the floor. “Happy?”

His ability to speak ran away and found a home with somewhere else because Ulquiorra opened his mouth and nothing came out. He was too busy staring at her and her chest. He gave a small nod. With a deep breath, the man reached a hand out, letting the back of his hand brush her skin.

She was pleased with his reaction and shivered at his touch as he regarded her bare skin.  Their eyes had been slowly adjusting to the light filtering through her curtains from the street and the glow from the standby light on her Bluetooth speaker.  His eyes looked fascinated. “Touch me,” she invited with a whisper.

He nodded before licking his lips. Her tits were something he’d felt a lot since Christmas. They were quick gropings while she was cooking or while they were alone but seeing them - that was something totally different. Seeing them made him swallow. His fingers did their own thing as his eyes watched, grabbing a handful then letting go. He let his index finger circle her nipple. “You’ll let me know if you don’t like something, right?”

“I promise,” she answered.  He was adorable. She wanted to feel his hands all over her, but she was patient, enjoying his natural, unhurried reaction to her body.

This had been something he had been contemplating for several days now. Ever since the conversation in the conference room. He wanted to do more with her; to her, but he wasn’t sure how to go about asking for what he wanted. Ulquiorra knew he could probably just take her clothes off and manhandle her but he didn’t want to scare her. “I wonder how you taste,” he murmured, his index finger and thumb closing over a nipple.

Orihime whimpered when he did that, enjoying it but never quite satisfied.  “Well, you’re welcome to find out,” she moaned softly. She really did enjoy his touch on her breasts, and no matter how much he did it, she didn’t grow bored or tired of it.

Wasting no time, Ulquiorra tilted his head down and let his mouth close over the peaked bud of skin that was closest to him. His eyes closed as he sucked and kissed her skin greedily. This was good. It was better than he had imagined.

Her reaction did not disappoint.  She whined and cried as his mouth tasted her,  her head slowly thrashing back and forth as her core throbbed in response to the hot, wet mouth on her nipple.  It was an overwhelming sensation, and before she knew what she was doing, one hand was cupping the back of his neck, coaxing him to fill his mouth as full as he’d like, the other one grabbing at whatever it could; her pillow, his shoulder.  She began to grind her ass into the mattress in an attempt to alleviate the growing tension between her legs.

Ulquiorra pulled his head away from her and smirked. “Shhhh,” he said, kissing her mouth. “Did you enjoy that?”

“Mmhmm,” she whimpered, totally hot and ready to go.  If he left her like this she was sure she would die.

“Yeah?” He’d noticed what she was doing because her body had been shaking. Could he? Ulquiorra bit his lip and internally shook his head. There was no way he could have sex with her as much as he wanted it. They still had things to talk about and discuss. It would probably end up in tears or a shouting match, he didn’t know.

There was what he did the last time. He brought his head back down to her breast, leaning slightly over her to lick at her other nipple while his hand traveled under the blanket that covered them both. He knew what to expect now so the bare skin he came into contact with didn’t really shock him much.

This was better,  this she knew lead to some kind of satisfaction. Still, he had already wound her up like a clock and she was anxious to fall apart.  Her hips autonomously rose to meet his approach. She mewled and whimpered more, sometimes dropping his name or an “I love you.”

As he slipped a finger into her, Ulquiorra noted she was already wet, so he decided to up the stakes a bit. Withdrawing the finger amidst protests and whines, he glanced at her while his mouth was busy. How would she react to two? He lifted his head up and brought the hand that had been under the blanket to his mouth licking them. The first taste of her hit his tongue and he had to calm himself down. A moan almost left his mouth. He didn’t look at Orihime as he did it because the act seemed really obscene and lewd. Making sure that his fingers were nice and slick, Ulquiorra’s hand returned to its previous position, slowly pressing into her.

Orihime groaned, starting softly and then opening up to a long, nasty “oh” as Ulquiorra’s fingers slid into her.  Her legs parted further without a direct order from her brain. “Ulquiorra—“ his name fell off her lips in a prayer as he pushed deeper inside of her.  Although being a virgin, she had very little barrier remaining after years of dance and just being a hyperactive kid, and it had torn on its own long ago, but still, there was a small band of resistance that was undetectable with one finger but made itself known with two.  She hissed when he put pressure on it, but did not protest.

“Ohhh,” he breathed. She was definitely a virgin. Ulquiorra stopped for a moment and watched her face. He probably should have made sure it was okay with her before he decided to do this. “Pain?” he asked.

“No, just a little tight,” she answered in a tense voice. “Don’t stop though, I like it.”

A soft snort left him. He wasn’t going to stop. Ulquiorra planned to keep going as long as she said so. He sucked on her nipple as his fingers began to thrust in and out of her. The feeling of her body wrapped around him was good but at the same time, that nagging voice in the back of his head was telling him this was wrong. He didn’t care. All he wanted to do was show Orihime as much pleasure as he could possibly give her.

And it was pleasurable. This was a new kind of pressure rising within her, more primal and less focused than the last time he had his fingers on her there.  She felt pressure building in her face, breasts, and abdomen at the same time as her vaginal walls swelled with blood as he stimulated her, making her feel hotter and tighter and more slick than ever before.  Her breathing came in quiet, harsh gasps. This wasn’t like the first time with the whines and the whimpering. Orihime was on autopilot, trying to chase the feeling that was just beyond her understanding.

He hummed, satisfied with how the redhead was responding to his touch. Ulquiorra had an evil idea and he lifted his head, kissing Orihime. Trailing his tongue along her bottom lip, it didn’t take much for her open her mouth more, allowing him inside. It was then that he pressed the palm of his hand against her clit, moving it along with his fingers; making sure to stimulate it while fucking her with his fingers.

This was not an Orihime anyone was used to.  This was some kind of medieval monster. A low, throaty groan pushed through her nose and her body clamped around his fingers and was followed by a long, deep, tortured moan that rose and fell slightly in pitch as his fingers did their best to keep moving inside her as she rode out her orgasm.  When she was done, she was wrecked.

When she clutched his shoulders and dug her nails into his skin, Ulquiorra knew it was time to stop what he was doing. He eased his hand out of her and then smirked. Orihime looked like she was ready to go to bed and sleep for a couple of years. “Well Miss Inoue, how was the second orgasm of your life?”

“Uh huh,” she paused to catch her breath and smacked her lips.  “Yeah.” She gave him a shaky thumbs-up.

“Good,” he replied before rolling off her bed. “Whenever you get the feeling back in your legs, I’ll make us some tasty cereal.”

Now she whimpered.  “Ngh, wait. Snuggles.”

He sighed and looked at the small clock she had. Ulquiorra could give her five more minutes of his time. Kneeling beside her bed,  he put his elbows on the mattress and looked at her. “Did you want me to get back in bed with you?”

“Mmmph,” she nodded and pouted.

Ulquiorra half-heartedly rolled his eyes before he was laying beside her again, with his arms wrapped around her. “You okay?” he asked after several seconds had passed.

“Yeah, Sorry, I just need a couple minutes to be wagamama Hime and then I’ll be human again,” she said in a thick voice.

“You need to do what in a Wawa parking lot?” Ulquiorra asked.

She blew air out of her nostrils in a lazy sort of laugh.  “No, wa-ga-ma-ma Hime. Hime is an abbreviation of my name.  Wagamama means, kind of like, selfish or self-centered. My mother used to call me that when I would whine or make a fuss,” she explained in a fond voice.

Once again that feeling of blame washed over him. Whenever Orihime would talk about her mother or brother, it sounded like she missed them. Had Aizen not did what he had done, there was no telling what kind of life she would have led. They probably would have never spoken or maybe they would have ended up like Romeo and Juliet. There would be warring families and blood spilled. He sighed. “You can be waggles-Hime all you’d like,” Ulquiorra said.

She snorted.  “Nice try there.  Not much of a linguist, are you?” She giggled.

“I can use my tongue rather well, thank you,” Ulquiorra said to her. “Wagamama. You can be selfish any time you’d like with me.”

She buried her nose in the hollow of his throat and hummed appreciatively.  “You can speak clear Japanese anytime you’d like too… Hmmm, that’s nice.”

He gave a soft chuckle. “I know two words in Japanese. That’s your name and now wagamama.”

“But you only know what one of them means, so technically you only know one.”  She stretched. “I think I’m ready for that gourmet bowl of cereal now.”

Ulquiorra looked at the redhead. “Well, let’s eat then I have to take a quick shower and then get my clothes on. Priesthood calls.”

“Ugh, hang up on it,” she said and laughed.  “I’m just kidding please don’t smite me.” She stood up and found her shirt on the ground and put it back on.

“I would show you what I could smite you with but I need you to be functional today,” Ulquiorra said as he stood up. He didn’t bother to put on his pajamas but did pick them off the floor.

It was cold so Orihime grabbed her bathrobe and threw it on, although she let it hang open, and went downstairs.  She was starting to get nervous about her meeting with Aizen the next day, and she chewed the inside of her cheek as she went to get the coffee started.

The change in her was enough to make Ulquiorra worry. Had he said something wrong? Had the teasing line he said to her too much? Before he went down stairs he put his T-shirt on; once he got down to the kitchen he got two bowls for them, spoons, and even put the fruit bowl on the table. He placed the milk and the two boxes of cereal on the table. He watched her for a moment, tugging gently on his ear. “Would you like to talk about it?”

“About what are you talking?” She turned from the coffee and saw what he had done with the cereal and gave him a lopsided smile.  “Are you spoiling me again? If so I ought to show you my boobs more often.”

He didn’t take the bait. Ulquiorra stood by the table and looked at her with his arms folded over he chest. “I will spoil you if I can. What I am talking about is the fact that I offered to show you my dick and it seemed to scare you.”

Her eyes widened in shock.  “Is that what you meant? I didn’t even realize. But please, by all means, show me,” she smiled and looked down toward it.

His face remained passive. “Orihime, did I scare you? Or is something else bothering you?”

She sighed.  “It’s not you.  It’s that meeting tomorrow.  It’s making me nervous.”

“If I didn’t have to work you know I would come with you,” Ulquiorra said. He moved across the kitchen and held her. “Take Chad along with you if he can go.”

“No,” she answered sharply.  “Chad is not a human shield. He already helps me too much.  I’m not putting him in Aizen’s crosshairs too.”

Ulquiorra studied the woman for a moment. He really didn’t want to bring down harsh reality upon her head. “Chad is probably in Grimmjow’s sights though,” he said quietly.

“I know, but he’s an idiot,” she said unironically.  “Besides, other than him getting in the way twice Chad has done nothing to inconvenience him.  Grimmjow doesn’t care if I have a boyfriend,” she said using air quotes.

The green eyed priest knew his brothers well. Grimmjow probably didn’t care if Orihime had a boyfriend; it was enough that she would spread her legs. The fact that Orihime called him an idiot was proof enough she hadn’t seen him in action. Nnoitra didn’t care either way and would just take what he wanted. Ulquiorra had been fortunate that his half-sibling had been kept away from her so far. “I want you to be careful tomorrow.”

“I’ll be careful.  I’m at his mercy though,” she admitted. It was the truth, too.  Although unlikely, she could be walking intro her own execution and not be able to do anything about it.  More likely, Orihime thought, was that Aizen would present her with a “proposal” that she had no option to refuse.  Either to start working in one of his clubs or as an escort or something like that, but probably to gather intelligence for him in some capacity.  Or maybe there was a man he wanted her to get close to for nefarious purposes. It was useless to speculate. She’d be finding out in about thirty-four hours.

As soon as breakfast was over and Ulquiorra had a cup of coffee, he went upstairs and took a shower. He thought about Orihime and her meeting, damning the fact that he had a full schedule for the week. Today he had Mass at six-thirty, followed by office work, then he had to visit a nursing home. He didn’t know if he’d be back in time for lunch. He’d spend a couple of hours over at the school with the kids. There was more office work to do; sermons and studies to plan; people to counsel. Then it would be dinner, he’d be mostly free after that except for Thursday where he had bible study. His entire week was going to be like that, with different activities going on like confession.

By the time he finished that night, he was absolutely exhausted. Ulquiorra kissed Orihime and went up to his room, falling into bed. He understood why Zommari was so tired. Dealing with the parishioners was mentally exhausting.

Orihime had tried to pick up some of the slack that day by working longer in the office but she was finding herself distracted by worries about her meeting with Aizen the next day.  Ulquiorra stopped in for dinner at almost six and was back out the door by six-thirty. By the time he got back it was nearly three hours later and her stomach was in knots. She was grateful that he was too tired to do more than just crash next to one another.  He began snoring lightly within three minutes of his head hitting the pillow.

She didn’t fall asleep until nearly two in the morning.

She was up at the normal time, however, and had breakfast and coffee ready before Ulquiorra woke up. He came down and ate; she lied and said she already did.   They kissed each other goodbye and then there was nothing for Orihime to do but fret and get ready for her meeting.

He fretted as he did what he needed to do that day. The hospital visits felt rushed, he was only half listening to those who needed his help. It was around three o’clock when Ulquiorra returned to the rectory. He was dead tired but he searched the entire building for Orihime only to find her in the bathroom. He knocked on the door. “Orihime? Do you want me to go with you?”

Her voice sounded surprised through the door.  “You’re not supposed to be done until 5:30 you said.”  She opened the door, putting a fake pearl earring into one earlobe.

“I rushed, but I have some marriage counseling with, uh, the Harrisons at four-fifteen. I can cancel it.” He looked her up and down, evaluating her outfit.

“It sounds like the Harrisons need you more than I do.  Their marriage may be hanging in the balance. I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she said, straightening out her below-the-knee skirt and blouse.

Ulquiorra wanted to tell her that Harrison’s marriage would be okay if Doug would quit banging his secretary and his wife would quit drinking and shopping but he said nothing. “If you need help, please don’t hesitate to call me,” the priest said, cupping her face. He kissed her hungrily his teeth grazing her bottom lip. “You’re my woman,” he murmured to her.

Her brows tented together at his words and she pulled back to look at him.  Why had he said that? What was he worried about? “Do you think something will happen?”

A sigh. “When I’ve heard my father say those words to people bad things usually happen. The phrase ‘pay your dues’ means you’re either going to be a slave to him or you pay with your life, Orihime. I just want you to know I love you.”

She swallowed hard and closed her eyes.  “I love you, too.” She wanted to tell him how scared she was, and that she didn’t want to go and that she was afraid she’d never see him again, but she didn’t want to leave him with that guilt.  “I have to get going,” she whispered.

“Are you going to be okay?” Ulquiorra’s heart felt heavy but he moved out of her way.

“We’ll find out, I guess,” she said, trailing her hand from his shoulder, down his arm to the tips of his fingers as she passed him in the hallway on her way to the stairs.

He stayed at the top of the stairs as she made her way down. He stayed there as he heard her getting her coat and shoes on. Ulquiorra stayed up there until he heard the station wagon start. As soon as he heard the vehicle leave, he wanted to punch something. He wanted to unleash all the anger inside of himself. This was stupid! Why had he become a priest? Why hadn’t he just gone with Aizen’s plan? He punched the door to the bathroom, not realizing it was made of solid wood. He grit his teeth as pain radiated up his arm. With another sigh, Ulquiorra went to get ready for the marriage counseling session he had.

Chapter Text

Aizen sat inside of Tres at a booth in the back of the club. He had a glass of red wine in front of him, a nice vintage. It was smooth and just a bit dry. He smiled as one of the waitresses came by, giving him a nod. Sousuke Aizen thought that his plan would work. He thought he would be able to sway his son away from his so-called profession and back into Daddy’s service.

That was not the case because every week he showed up to Aizen’s pub with that damn priest collar around his neck like some loyal lapdog. Ulquiorra was a good kid; smart, cunning, ruthless at times. It had scared the older man to find out what his son had done years ago. How could that snot nose brat steal drugs from him and sell them? How could that boy of his do business right under his nose? How could Ulquiorra pay Aizen’s own hitman to spare the life of two kids that he didn’t give a damn about?

At least, on the surface, he didn’t seem to give a damn about them.

He had never talked about Sora Inoue or Orihime Inoue. The only thing he’d heard about the two was how some little bitchy redhead stopped Grimmjow from shaking down some nerdy kid for his lunch money.

Aizen knew what had happened the day of the Barragan assassination. Ulquiorra was nervous. He kept looking around and checking his watch. As far as the father knew, the green-eyed child was always a stoic individual. The errant behavior was noted. Of course, Aizen heard the rumors. Ginjo had a big mouth, liked to drink and bragged that he was planning to run because he got a windfall of money.

Those two events made him tell Tosen to drag his son out of the car. He watched the boy and the girl interact. There was almost a softness on the black-haired kid’s face. It was minimal, but those green eyes were different.

At the funeral when those men told him what happened, all he could think of was the fear that ran through him at the thought of his offspring conspiring against him. It was too much for Aizen to comprehend, so he made plans with Retsu. All the children needed to be taught a lesson; Ulquiorra especially. That is why he had the kid beat. That is why he sent him away to some Catholic school out in the boonies to fend for himself.

But, Ulquiorra made it. The kid managed to obtain scholarships and grants to help put himself through college for some bullshit excuse of a degree. It was more than his other boys had done. Grimmjow and Nnoitra were expelled from that military school and were in prison just a year later for some petty crime. Those two knew their place.

Speaking of Grimmjow, the man was escorting a redhead over his way. His blue-haired son looked pissed off. Hadn’t he told that redheaded bitch to wear something pretty? She looked like a spinster. Aizen’s smile dropped and he toyed with the wineglass as Grimmjow pushed Orihime into the booth and slid in beside her.

“Grimmjow, Miss Orihime Inoue,” Aizen said. “I thought you would have visited me sooner, Orihime.”

Orihime only nodded, finding her throat too dry to speak.  She cleared it and finally answered, “I know you are a busy man.  I had waited for your call for months. Imagine my surprise when I received your invitation,” she said cautiously.

Aizen watched Grimmjow shake his head as the woman finished speaking. “Orihime, I expected you here the day you arrived. Grimmjow informed me that you didn’t want to come visit.”

“What?  No! I was never given the option.  I got the flowers and asked that my thanks be relayed.  No one told me you were willing to receive me!”

“Hmmm,” the businessman hummed. He knew one of them was lying. He had never given Orihime flowers and no thanks had been ever reported to him. His eyes cut over to Grimmjow. “Grimmjow, I am sure you have things to do. Why don’t you send in Nnoitra? Try not to trip him this time.”

The blue-eyed man gave a grunt and got out of the booth and disappeared. Aizen turned towards the redhead. “So Orihime, are you enjoying yourself at Sacred Heart?”

“It’s always been home in my heart.  I love it,” she answered honestly. “Thank you again for pulling the strings for me, I really appreciate it and—“

“Then enough bullshit. I didn’t bring you back here for sentimental reasons. I brought you back home for business purposes.” Aizen sat back and pick up his wine glass, swirling the liquid in the cup.

Orihime swallowed and decided to play ball. “Alright, I’m not much for business.  I don’t think I can be of much use in that regard, I’m afraid,” she said, acting humble.  It was an extreme long shot, but maybe Aizen would agree and just let her be?

A small smirk played over the man's face. He raised an eyebrow. Had the people he sent her to sheltered and coddled her that much? Did she not understand what was going on here? “You’ll be perfect for business, Orihime. There are men into that kind of thing. All we would have to do is put you in a plaid skirt and a white shirt and I will be standing under a shower of money.”

She furrowed her brows in a picture of confusion.  She leaned in toward him a bit and whispered, “Why?”

“Did you think that you got a free ride? I demand payment for my generosity,” Aizen stated. “I’ve already set up and interview with Nelliel for tomorrow. You’ll be working at Tres on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. All your tips—“ he paused because he could see the unhappy look on her face. “This displeases you.”

“But, my work at the rectory would suffer - Father Cifer and Father Rureaux need me—“ she argued, before she was cut off again.

A laugh rang out. “You are a silly little girl, Orihime. Zommari and Tosen got by fine with the part-time housekeeping that came in once a week. You are not needed there. And frankly, you’re a distraction.” Aizen took a sip of wine. He saw how her face fell. “Oh, cheer up, as soon as you’re out of that stuffy place you can have all the fun you want.”

She knew what he meant, she just didn’t want to know.  Her eyes were stinging. “Please, Uncle Sousuke, I can’t do that.  I can’t. You don’t understand…” her throat started constricting as she begged for the possibility to hold on to her virtue.

This was perfect; she was falling right into his trap. “Oh, Orihime. Don’t tell me you like working at the rectory. You get pitiful wages which barely cover your drinking habit. If you work for me, you can have all the booze you want. But…”

“I love working at the rectory!  I’m sorry, I know this is your work - and I am not casting judgment - but I cannot do it!  Please! There has to be a different way!”  She was nearly hyperventilating at the thought of being forced into sex work.

“Well there is another matter you could help your Uncle Sousuke with,” the man crooned, putting his hand on Orihime’s thigh and squeezing. “I don’t know though. I thought you’d be happy to dance for gentlemen.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” was all she said, wincing at his hand on her leg and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Aizen slid his hand up and down her leg several times, before patting it above the knee. “I need suitable heirs,” he said with a smile.

Her eyes widened in shock.  “But…. But you already have lots of children.”

“Sadly none of them are qualified to take over, except one and he wants nothing to do with me.”

“I’m confused.  What does that have to do with me?”  She asked, despite having a decent idea what he was suggesting,

Aizen lifted his hand from where it sat on her knee and took her hand. “I want you to seduce Ulquiorra. I want you to get pregnant by him. I mean he seems to be the most suitable choice, doesn’t he? There’s always Grimmjow but he’s a bit destructive for my tastes. Of course, there’s always Ulquiorra’s brother. Nnoitra,” the man called.

A tall man hobbled over to the table on crutches and leered at the redhead with squinty eyes and a too wide smile. “So you’re the bitch that has Ulq in a tizzy.”

Orihime cowered away from the tall man.  Never in a million years, she thought to herself.  She would rather sleep with Aizen.

“But Father Cifer is a priest.  We can’t get married,” she countered.

“Then you become my personal whore.”

“But…”. She was despondent.  “There has to be another way!  Can’t I just get a second job and pay you back that way?”

He chuckled as did Nnoitra. “Orihime, I just offered you a second job but you said your work would suffer at the rectory, so I think that option is out, don’t you?” His tone was mocking and Aizen knew it. “Either you sleep with Ulquiorra or Nnoitra and bear a child to become the heir to my legacy or you become my personal slut. What I am offering is much more pleasant than what Barragan had in store for you.”

She knew what he meant.  Barragan often scolded her as a child, telling her he’d sell her off or have her turning tricks.  She looked at Aizen and knew there was no way she was leaving there, intact, without agreeing to his terms.  With tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes, she nodded.  “I will seduce him.”

Whether she would actually go through with what she agreed to was an entirely different matter.

“Logical choice, Orihime. You just saved everyone in those photographs. Now, back to business. Nnoitra will accompany you to a doctor where you’ll be examined and some tests will be run. I need to make sure you’re in optimal health. I’m sure you understand,” Aizen commented in a casual way. “You’ll be picked up once a month and taken to this doctor. All your bills will be paid for and I’ll even throw in an extra stipend.”

She nodded.  “I understand.”

“Oh, and another thing,” Aizen said before bringing his wine glass to his lips. The man took a long swallow of the liquid before he continued. “You have six months. Before the time Zommari goes to Rome in October, I want results. I want Ulquiorra to quit this farce of an occupation because he’s so in love with you that he'd rather quit the priesthood than give you up. If he doesn’t in that time, you’ll be shuffled to Nnoitra and someone else will take your place to seduce the priest.”

“I know how to make kids,” Nnoitra said with that same wide smile.

Orihime winced. “And if I’m barren, what then?”

“You’d make a great addition for the men here. There’d be no reason to keep you at the rectory. From what your foster parents told me, you’re a virgin. So we should know within the first couple of months.” Aizen had dropped all pretenses of pleasantries.

Orihime felt like she was going to be sick.  “So do we go to this doctor now?”

“Your appointment is at whenever you get there. I’ve had the doctor block out the day to see you. I wasn’t sure how this meeting was going to go. You always have choices, Orihime. I’ve paid for the life that you have enjoyed for many years, my dear. Hopefully, you get to enjoy it for many more.” Aizen finally dropped her hand and waved at his son.

“Come on, firehead. Get up and get to the car and don’t fucking run. I’m not like Grimmjow or Ulquiorra.” Nnoitra narrowed his eyes at her until they were tiny slits in his face. “I like violence.”

Aizen cleared his throat. “Oh, and Orihime?”

“Yes?” she asked in a defeated tone.

“Feel free to let Ulquiorra know about this.”

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra was confused when Grimmjow pulled into the driveway of the rectory in the station wagon. His stomach dropped as his brother threw him the keys without any explanation as to WHY he was driving the parish car around. “Grimm!”

A heavy sigh. “Yeah, Ulq?”

That sounded like a tired man who had seen too much and just wanted to hide himself away from the world. It sounded like someone who could not care less about the rest of the world. Fuck. Orihime had given herself to Aizen. “Is she working for him? Is she his whore? Did he shoot her like he wanted to years ago?”

Grimmjow said nothing as he walked to the black sedan parked on the street. Just before opening the door, he said, “Nnoi’s gonna be bringing her home.”

Nnoitra? His brother? Ulquiorra’s mouth opened and closed. By the time he had gained a coherent thought, the car and Grimmjow were gone. The green-eyed priest felt rage boiling inside of him. Orihime had done nothing wrong. Now Aizen had his claws into her and knowing his piece of shit brother, Nnoitra was probably having his fun with her.

Looking at the station wagon and then the keys in his hands, Ulquiorra decided to just leave the vehicle outside and walked back into the garage, closing the automatic door. He poked around the refrigerator but decided on a bottle of beer that was in there. Then the man sat at the kitchen table and waited.

 

***

 

Orihime was taken to a clinic where she was told to pee in a cup and had blood samples drawn.  Then she was made to undress and put on a hospital gown and lie down on an examination table. A cold, humorless doctor came in who introduced himself as Mayuri Kurotsuchi and told her to put her feet up into stirrups.  He inserted his fingers into her first, covered with a cold jelly that felt uncomfortable and unclean. He told her he was palpitating the area. After that he told her to look at a picture of a baby pig on the ceiling as he pressed a large, cold, steel instrument inside of her, looked around and took a tissue sample of her cervix.

It hurt.

Nnoitra was in the room for all of it.

Then the doctor started asking questions.

“Are you sexually active, Miss Inoue?”

“No?  I’m a virgin,” she answered in a tiny voice.  She didn’t want Ulquiorra’s brother to hear.

“I don’t believe you, Miss Inoue.  Your vagina shows signs of mild trauma. Nothing serious, and I don’t see evidence of deep penetration, but there is some irritation and swelling.  Do you have a boyfriend that maybe you’ve fooled around with?”

She sniffled and nodded.

“Have you been fucking Ulq already?  I knew that prick was still getting his dick wet,”  Nnoitra sneered and spat. “Answer me, bitch!”

“No!”

Nnoitra dragged himself over to stand behind the doctor, her body on full display for him to see, and leaned over, intimidating her.  “You’re gonna tell me who you’ve been letting fingerfuck you, Pet. If you were lying to the old man about you and the good Father Cifer, Daddy dearest is going to not be pleased.”

“Umm,”  she hesitated.

Nnoitra was not a patient man.  “Tell me who it is, ya whore!” He barked into her face, saliva spraying over her.

“The groundskeeper!”  Orihime squeaked, terrified of the man hovering over her.  

“There, that wasn’t so hard, was it, Pet? So, just the finger fiddling, right?  Because if you’re handing out blow jobs I expect one on the way home.”

“No,” she sobbed, shaking her head.

“Fine.  You’re no fun.”  He turned his attention to the doctor.  “You almost done, doc? I got shit to do.”

Dr. Kurotsuchi took the instrument out of Orihime and tossed it onto a metal tray with a clang, and then took off his gloves.  He put on another pair, letting the latex snap around his wrists, and said, “Not yet. I have to examine the rest of her.

The doctor pressed on her abdomen and breasts, detecting the size of her uterus and checking for any abnormalities.  Then he stood straight and said, “I’m done. I don’t think you need an ultrasound, but Aizen insists,” he said as a technician rolled in a large piece of equipment.  More cold jelly, on her belly and in her crotch, and the one tech took images of her insides from above while another used a long wand pressed up deep inside of her.

When all was said and done, nearly two hours had passed.

Orihime was humiliated and felt like she no longer had a trace of autonomy.

Nnoitra was just pissed off and bored.  “Get your fucking clothes on and stop crying.  It’s time to go. I’m in fucking pain.” When she didn’t move the tall man hobbled over on his crutches and looked down at her. “What you want to show me everything?”

Orihime whimpered a no and took her feet out of the stirrups, her inner thighs shaking.  She put on her underwear and skirt while she still had the hospital gown on and the turned around to put her bra and blouse back on in a worthless attempt to salvage the last shred of her modesty.  When she was done she turned and left the room, stopping about ten paces away for Nnoitra to follow.

He fucking hated being on these crutches. It was a good thing only one side of his body was out of commission because he would have royally bitched about being stuck in a wheelchair. The only thing he was glad about was the fact that this baby-making doc was on the first floor of the office building. “Keep moving,” Nnoitra demanded. “I got my own shit to do unless you’d like to take care of me?”

Orihime didn’t answer but made her way quickly and silently to the car they had arrived in.  When Nnoitra unlocked the automatic door locks, she slid into the passenger seat and buckled up before he had made several steps out of the clinic.

A scoff left him as he approached the car. That stupid bitch. She was dumb as they came. It was hilarious that she thought Aizen would be a kind person or that she could get out of her debt. No one was able to get out from his father’s thumb. Nnoitra climbed in beside her and started the car. “This groundskeeper got a name?” he asked as he waited a minute for the car to warm up. He hated driving in the cold.

She considered lying.  It was no use, though. Grimmjow knew who he was.  Aizen had his image among the group of photos he threatened her with.  “Chad,” she answered.

“Chad gotta last name? Don’t make ask again either, Pet.” Nnoitra said. He looked at the redhead with that leering smile. “You need to remember that I can and will tear you apart. I won’t give a fuck either.”

“Sado,” she said, choking on a guilt-ridden sob.

“Good girl,” the tall man said, reaching his hand out, giving her tit a vicious squeeze. Nnoitra laughed as he saw her shrink back. This bitch was such a newbie. She was gonna have to learn the ropes real quick if she was going to survive.

Orihime expected to feel relief when the rectory came in sight, but she only felt dread.  Her teeth started chattering before the car stopped. When it did, she picked up her purse and reached for the door latch.  It would not open from the inside. Somehow, knowing now that even if she had tried, there would have been no escape from that car, made her feel even more traumatized.

Nnoitra had engaged the locks and had the only button that would unlock the entire car. He leaned over to the side of the car Orihime sat on. “Make sure you do a good job, Pet,” he said in what could be considered a soft and seductive tone for him. “I’ll break you if I get my hands on you.”

With a wild cackle, the tall man unlocked the door, watching her scramble for the door handle.

Orihime got the door open and toppled out, nearly falling on her knees before she ran past the station wagon still in the driveway for the rectory door.  She turned the knob and pulled, but did not enter, instead watching to make sure Nnoitra’s car pulled away before she stepped inside and closed the door, leaning against it with her head tilted back, tears streaming from her eyes down her temples, into her hair.  She gasped for breath as she tried to calm herself, but there was nothing she could do to calm down. All she could think about was how many lives she had ruined. Ulquiorra’s. Chad’s. Oh dear God, Chad! She had to warn him.

He heard the door open and then slam shut. Ulquiorra just used his new coffee maker to make himself some type of caramel flavored coffee. He walked to the doorway that separated the mudroom from the kitchen with that cup of coffee in his hand. Orihime was back home. She looked an absolute mess. Ulquiorra blew out a breath. He could only imagine why she looked like that. “Nnoi brought you home?” he asked. His voice sounded like he was dead inside.

She nodded slightly and opened her mouth to speak, but only a tortured cry came out.

That was never a good thing to hear. He’d heard that noise come from Nnoitra’s bedroom several times as a teenager. Ulquiorra took a minute to center himself before he put down the cup of coffee down and approached her. “Do you want to call the police?” It was a stupid question to ask. The police worked with Aizen.

“No,” she managed to say, then shoved her hand into her purse, fishing for her phone.  “I have to warn Chad,” she choked out.

“Warn Chad?” Ulquiorra asked. What? Why? His thoughts were scrambled from the beers he drank “What do you mean warn him? What happened Orihime? Tell me? Why were you gone for so long?”

“There’s no time!  I lied, ” she shouted in a panic, finding the groundskeeper’s number on her phone and pressing the button.

“Hello, Orihime, did you need an escort?” Chad said as he answered his phone.

“Chad!  Listen to me, please.  Is there anywhere you can go?  A friend’s? A relative’s? Can you take your grandpa and just get out. Now?

“Uh, can you tell me why I need to move my elderly grandfather? I mean he’s sick at the moment and I’m at my second job,” Chad replied.

Orihime looked at Ulquiorra.  “They asked if I had… they wanted to know if I had a boyfriend and I lied and said it was Chad. They made it seem like that was a problem,” she quickly explained, and handed her phone to Ulquiorra with shaking hands after whispering a tearful, “I’m so sorry,” into the receiver.

It was up to him to explain and he had no clue what the hell was going on! Ulquiorra sighed and put the phone to his ear. “Chad this is Father Cifer,” the priest said. “There could be some men coming after you, that’s why you need to go somewhere else. A man with blue hair and another man who is really tall.”

“Uh,” Chad trailed off. “You mean Grimmjow? He doesn’t seem--”

“He may not seem dangerous but he has a gun and he will not hesitate to shoot on sight,” Ulquiorra explained. “Please, just do as Orihime asks. We don’t want you to fall into any trouble or for anyone to get hurt.”

He heard the big man sigh. “Okay, I’ll leave work and get my grandfather over to my Aunt’s.”

The green-eyed man said his goodbyes and ended the call. He looked at Orihime as he handed the phone back to her. “You lied about Chad being your boyfriend? Why? Are you ashamed of us? I mean I know what we’re doing is forbidden but why would you tell people that Chad is your boyfriend?”

She had returned her head to its previous position, leaned back against the wall, finding it easier to breathe that way and to keep the headache triggered by her cry-swollen nasal cavity at bay.  She cracked her eyes open to look at Ulquiorra from that angle and whispered, “I did it to protect you. If he knew he would destroy your life.”

“Orihime, you don’t need to protect me. Putting other people in danger isn’t very--” Ulquiorra stopped because he couldn’t find the right word he wanted to say. “Who did you tell?”

“Nnoitra,” she croaked, sounding incredibly guilty.

Bile rose in Ulquiorra throat. “Did you have sex with him? Did you--What happened with Aizen?”

“I can’t—  I didn’t have sex with anyone.  I need to take a shower though. I’m—“  she started to wail, overcome with shame.

She was what? Ulquiorra desperately wanted to ask but he stood there. His arms and legs felt like lead, heavy and hard to move. After a minute or two of her sobbing, he finally took her hand. “C'mon,” he said to her. “We can talk about this when you feel like it. Right now you need a shower and then we can get something to eat or just get drunk. I’ve already had a couple of beers. A couple more won’t hurt.”

She nodded and made her way past him, letting his hand drop when he didn’t follow quickly enough.  She went to the bathroom fully clothed and stripped, leaving her clothes in a haphazard pile on the tile floor and got into the shower.  She didn’t wash or anything, she just let the water pound on her skull, drowning out the outside world, as she replayed the events of the evening in her mind on repeat.  She eventually did wash the gel off her belly and from in between her legs, and then sat on the floor of the tub and let the water pelt her head and back as she let the steam soothe her nose and sinuses and allowed the repetitive strikes of water to provide a backdrop for her thoughts and feelings about what happened to get organized.

Ulquiorra stayed in the kitchen, giving her space, but he had been watching the clock. Thirty minutes had passed and the shower was still running. With a sigh, he made his way upstairs. He didn’t knock on the bathroom door, he just entered the steam-filled room, huffing as the warm air hit his lungs. “Orihime?” He said as he walked over to the tub. He peeked behind the curtain and saw her sitting there. His first instinct was to get into the shower and comfort her but she probably didn’t want anyone to touch her. Whatever happened at Aizen’s had been traumatic. He stepped back and waited for her to acknowledge him.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said softly.

“You did nothing wrong,” he said with a frown. “You know that. Come out and we can talk. Or you can yell. I need you to tell me what happened.”

She turned the tap off.  “Could you pass me a towel, please?”

He rummaged through all the towels for the biggest and fluffiest towel he could find. Then he held it out through gap of the shower curtain, waiting for her to take it. “Do you want to eat?”

“No.”  She was quiet as she dried her body, then wrapped up in the towel and stepped out of the tub.

“Do you want me to leave you alone?”

“No, I’m sorry,  I’m struggling with coming to grips with what happened.  I think I just fucked up your life,” she said bitterly.

Ulquiorra stepped forward and put his arms around her shoulders, not caring if her hair was damp or that the sleeves of his shirt were getting wet. “Woman, there is no way you could do that,” he said to her. “How could you possibly do that?”

“Because…  I don’t even know.  I was given several options.  All of them include being some kind of whore.  I picked the one where I have a bit of a grace period.”

“What were the options? Work for him? Die? Did he offer you another one?” Ulquiorra didn’t want to look at her face because she sounded… pained at her own words. “You are not a whore, Orihime.”

“Not yet.  Let’s walk and talk. I’m cold,” she said, shutting off her emotions for the time being.  She was exhausted from crying and being afraid. She gently pushed him away from her and started for her room.

Ulquiorra let her go. He wanted to help her but she seemed like she was pushing him away. It seemed like all their progress had been erased in the entire time she was with Aizen. He decided to go into his own room.

She changed and looked around.  He didn’t follow her. He didn’t come.  He said he was going to go with her to Aizen’s and then said he wasn’t.  Then he changed his mind, then she said no, then she went alone… her mind started racing again going through what had happened.  “Ulquiorra…” she called softly, her emotions coming back in full force. “Ulquiorra!”

As soon as he heard her, he took off running towards her room, not that it was a far distance. He burst through her door and stopped just inside the room. “Are you--Is everything--” his words were disjointed because he heard the fear in her tone.

She turned to him with wild, round eyes and grasped at him.

“Orihime? What’s wrong? I’m right here.”

She pulled at him and made him sit on her bed and then crawled into his lap, clinging to his clothes and just trying to calm down, focusing on her breathing.  “Don’t,” she paused for another breath. “Leave me.”

“I--” Ulquiorra was at a loss for words. He hadn’t planned on leaving her. He tightened his embrace on her; holding her. “It’s okay. I don’t plan on leaving you.”

She cried in his arms until she couldn’t anymore. She took a deep breath and started, “When I went in there, Aizen told me I had to pay him back and that I’d be working for Nel in her club and he’d take all my tips.  I begged him for an alternative. At first, he refused, but then he offered me another one,” she paused here to take a ragged breath.

Ulquiorra’s worried look turned into one of anger but it was directed at his father rather than her. “What did he offer?” he asked. It had to be bad if she was so distraught.

“He said he needed heirs.  He told me I had six months.  If I couldn’t do it, he’d pass me on to Nnoitra.”

Why would Aizen of all people need heirs when he had four other adopted children who could run his businesses. “So you’re going to--” the word stuck in his throat. He couldn’t say it, not to her. He had to steel himself for this. “You had to pick Aizen and that’s okay. I understand. I wish you luck. He’s not very nice though. I would catch Retsu crying at night because he would--I’m sure you and my father will make beautiful children.”

She looked at him incredibly hurt.  How could he give her up so easily? “No,” she said in a wounded voice.  She was confused now. Did she mean so little to him? Should she bother telling him?  Maybe she should just leave and let him live his life. “He doesn’t want me to have his baby.”  

“No? Not his baby? Whose--” Ulquiorra’s eyes went wide as he thought about what she meant. If Aizen didn’t want direct heirs… Oh. He wanted to expand the hierarchy. Nnoitra was too suicidal to lead the syndicate. Grimmjow would destroy everyone in his path. “Me,” he finally said.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll figure something out.  I just need time. I bought myself six months.  I bought you six months,” she said, plucking up her courage.  “Although I have to warn you, when it comes to light that we didn’t make it happen he is going to send another woman after you. He wants you to give up the priesthood.”

Six months? That’s all they had? Another woman? “He’s fucking crazy. I can barely--I struggle every day not to take you; to make you mine and Aizen expects that to happen with another woman?” Ulquiorra laughed at the thought of someone else trying to worm their way into his life. He’d keep so busy that he wouldn’t have time to breathe. He barely had time for Orihime these past two days. “If I’m not willing to give up my vows for you, what makes him think I’ll do it for someone else? I’m not saying I’m not going to give it up for you, it’s just… I need time to think about it. What will I do when I don’t have this to fall back on,” he explained.

“Is that all that it is for you?  Financial security? I can’t even—  Ulquiorra, I’m disappointed in you. There are a million things you could do to make much better money than you do here.  People with a lot less education than you do it all the time. You should reflect on what being a priest means to you.”

Tch. He wanted to stand up and dump her on the floor but he couldn’t do that. It was just his anger at Aizen bleeding through. “That’s not what I think. Being a priest is shit pay, I assure you of that. I mean my faith; everything I know. If I leave, I have none of that anymore.”

Her heart was aching and raw, and even though she sat on his lap, she felt incredibly alone.  “He said he wanted me to seduce you. To make you fall in love with me and our baby so much that you would renounce your faith and come back to work for him.  He said if I refused he would kill those people in the pictures unless I accepted to be his personal whore or produce offspring for Nnoitra. I was afraid and I agreed. I was taken to a doctor.  I was examined thoroughly .  The doctor saw that I had been touched.  Nnoitra was there for all of it. He demanded to know who did it.  I refused to tell him and he screamed at me and I was laying on a table with some metal thing in me and I was so scared and I said it was Chad because I didn’t want you to get in trouble and I was afraid and I just said the first thing that came to mind…” she was blubbering and incoherent as she finished retelling the events of the evening, falling into a puddle of distraught woman again.

He rubbed her back and waited for her to calm down. When he couldn’t hear her cries anymore, he tilted her head up. “You’ve already seduced me, Woman. I fell in love with you a long time ago,” Ulquiorra said. “I planned to do that with you but the time never seems right to express how I want to be inside of you.” He kissed her softly before pulling back. “Nnoitra can go fuck himself. My father can go fuck himself. I’ll kill either one if they touch you again.”

“And yet you were willing to give me up to him so easily a moment ago,” she said in a hollow voice.

He shook his head. “You think I wouldn't have figured out a way to take Aizen down? I know where to buy a gun, Orihime. I have enough to pay someone to take him out. If you were going to him I would accept it but I would have the last laugh.”

She looked at him confused and frightened.  “What are you saying? I don’t understand; it doesn’t make sense to me.  How do you expect that situation to have gone? ‘Okay, Hime, Yep, good luck with my dad, have pretty kids,’ and then you kill him? What does that do but knock me up with orphaned bastards and land you in jail?”

“I’d take over. I’d do what he wanted me to do,” Ulquiorra said. He finally pushed Orihime to the side and stood up, pacing. “I do not know what you want me to say. Do you honestly expect a priest to go against a mob boss? Had you said well I’m gonna have Aizen’s kids, I would leave. I would turn my collar in right now to Tosen. Then I would join my father just to shoot him in the back.”

“I would expect you to ask me not to do it.  I would expect you to want to hold onto us enough to not let it go; to help me find another way.  I never expected you to let me go without at least an argument,” she said.

Ulquiorra sighed as he bent his head from one shoulder to the other trying to crack the tension gathering there. “Orihime, I thought I had found a way out of Aizen’s grasp but I’m still there. Why was Nnoitra in that exam room with you? Did he see anything? Why did he offer you to Nnoitra instead of Grimmjow? Why? Just fucking why? I asked you if you wanted me to go.”

“You--  You told me when I got that envelope from Grimmjow that there was no way you would let me go alone.  I argued against it and you insisted and then I agreed, and I was so relieved. Then yesterday you told me you were not coming; you acted like it was no big deal and I should just accept that I was a lamb to slaughter.  Then an hour beforehand you show up asking if I want you to come but that you have something to do. I felt like an inconvenience to you. Anyway, I am sure he offered me to Nnoitra to scare the shit out of me. That’s probably why he was in the exam with me.  And yes, he saw. He saw everything.”

The green-eyed man pulled his phone from his pocket and scrolled through his contacts. His brother had seen everything on the woman he loved. Ulquiorra wasn’t going to stand for it. He was not going to allow it. Would the number still be active after all these years? Would Szayel even remember him? He tapped on the contact and left Orihime’s room going next door to his own room, waiting for someone to answer the call.

He was quite surprised as he heard an old voice greet him. “Hello, Father Cifer. I’ve heard a lot about you,” Szayel said into his ear.

“Szayel, I need a favor.”

“A favor? What could a man of such faith need with me?”

Ulquiorra sighed, knowing the man was milking this for all he could. “Is your brother still around? I need a gun.”

“A gun?” the man laughed, positively gleeful. “Ooooh, but no, my twin got into some trouble with law enforcement some years ago. There’s some bitch named Aaron Nero or some shit who runs the guns. Want his number?”

“Text it to me,” Ulquiorra said. He ended the call and threw his phone on his bed. He decided that the wet clergy shirt was too much and changed out of his outfit before putting on dark jeans and a dark shirt. He needed to be incognito to do this.

Orihime was heartbroken and just basically destroyed.  Ulquiorra didn’t hear her. He didn’t see her. He only saw Aizen.  She couldn’t stay there. She felt that Ulquiorra would destroy his life and sell his soul, for what?  She didn’t understand. She pulled her luggage out of her closet and started packing. She had no idea what she was doing.  She had nowhere to go. No car. No money. No relatives. She decided she just needed to get out of her room. She shoved her half-packed suitcase back into her closet and went down to the basement.

Had this been ten or twelve years ago he wouldn’t have cared what Nnoitra saw. He wouldn’t have cared what Nnoitra did. That’d all changed. As he redressed, Ulquiorra heard her banging around in the next room. He heard her practically run down the stairs. If he thought about this he was going to shoot his brother. He was planning on hurting another human. As soon as his phone chimed, Ulquiorra couldn’t believe what he was contemplating. His hands started shaking. What was he doing?

He looked all over his room for that bottle of alcohol but remembered it was in the basement. It was just his luck. With a sigh, he made his way downstairs, through the kitchen and mudroom to the basement. He was surprised to find the redhead down there.

She was surprised to see him down there, too.  “Why? Why would you throw it all away? If you take a life, it’s all over anyway.  You can have me if you want. If you don’t, that’s fine. You are so caught up in perceived slights against you that you are missing the big picture.”

“I do want you!” He shouted those words. “I’ve thrown my life away for you once. I would do it over and over again. I don’t want Aizen to have you. I don’t want Nnoitra to look at you. Do you know what’s going to happen? Nnoitra’s gonna bump into you or you’ll be called to Aizen’s and he going to look at you and he’ll know what’s under your clothes. That fucking bugs me. You have no clue Orihime Inoue how much I want you. It’s making me crazy. It’s making me contradict myself.”

She was on the verge of insanity herself.  “If that’s what you want, then take it. You can keep me locked up in the rectory or in your room or whatever.  You can hide me away. You can make me have ten secret babies if you want, just don’t start killing people because you can’t handle the possibility that he might see me again.

Ulquiorra looked at her. He stared at Orihime. He took in every inch of her small frame. “You know I can’t. I don’t want that for us. If I were to take you--It’s a sin. I can’t fuck you. I’m not doing this because I want to. I’m doing it so that I never have to hear you cry like that again. So I never have to wonder why you’re taking such a long shower or why you’re such an emotional mess. That is why I want to end Nnoi’s life. It’s not what he saw, it’s the psychological trauma he inflicted on you.”

“You don’t understand.  He was just following orders.  He wasn’t the one who had those tests done.  He wasn’t the one who did this. Yes, he’s a terrible person.  But he didn’t do this,” she said, gesturing to herself. “Aizen did.”

He walked over to where Orihime stood in front of the couch. “I’m going to do the same to Aizen one of these days. He’ll get what he deserves. It’s been brewing for twelve years.” The beers he had drunk earlier that evening were making him think irrationally. “What do you want? We can talk about what Aizen wants and what I want, but what do you want? Do you even want me?”

“I told you what I wanted.  I want what I can never have. I want all of you, Ulquiorra.  I don’t want you because Aizen told me to. I wanted you long before he brought it up.”

Ulquiorra pushed Orihime back onto the cushions of the couch and immediately was on top of her. “You want this? You want us? Yes or no. I don’t want to hear it’s not your choice.”

“Yes!” She answered sharply.

He brought his mouth down to hers, kissing her forcefully. All he had been waiting for was her to tell him that. Ulquiorra knew what he would do. After Zommari got back from Dallas, he’d tell him that he no longer wanted to be a priest. He’d tell Tosen. He’d even tell the Archbishop. He didn’t care anymore. He pressed his hips against her. He made sure her breasts were molded against his own chest.

She opened her mouth and her legs to him, clutching his back and pushing his body into hers, as if he needed any encouragement.  She sucked his tongue into her mouth and whined, raising her hips to meet his in an instinctual frenzy.

Her body felt hot against his. It felt good. Ulquiorra moved his body, letting his legs power the motion of his hips. His hands slid against her arms. The feel of her tongue against his made him want more. But this wasn’t how he envisioned their first time together. There was not supposed to be anger in their coupling. Their relationship was nothing but warmth and affection and sweetness. Not rutting against a couch in a basement. He pushed off of her enough to rip his shirt over his head and throw it to the cement floor.

She unbuttoned her blouse and pulled it off her arms and pulled her skirt up to her waist.  She still had her bra and panties on but that was more of an inconvenience than a hindrance.  Her hand shot out to grasp the back of his neck and pulled herself up enough to kiss him again.

The heat coming from her body was enough to make him say to hell with everything. He pushed the bra up her chest and caught her breasts as they fell. Orihime was soft and yielding. She was warm and inviting. She loved him. Just that thought should have had him running to Tosen to remove his collar. He should have left as soon as he knew he had feelings for her. His head came down, burying his face in her cleavage; mouth licking a trail from there to her neck where he bit her, hoping it would leave a mark. Then he brought his mouth to her ear, letting his teeth sink into her the shell of it. “I want you, Woman. I love you,” he moaned with a harsh panting breath.

“I love you Ulquiorra,”  she cried back, deep in the throes of passion, rocking her sex against his pants.  

Reaching down between their bodies with one hand, Ulquiorra undid the button and pulled down the zipper of his jeans. He was ready for this. He wanted this--He had no protection. Fuck. “Wait, Orihime. Stop,” he said breathing heavily. “I--not here--no--”

Her motions slowed to a stop and she looked at him with a guarded expression.  “What’s wrong? she asked breathlessly.

“I don’t want to here,” he said quietly. “Your first time should be magical and great not like we’re some teenagers getting it on while their parents are at a party and will be home soon. Not like how we’re feeling. I’m angry; you’re upset. We’ll regret this tomorrow.”

Her blood ran cold with rejection.  “Okay,” She said softly, pulling her bra back down and scooting out from under him, hiding her body as well as she could as she recombobulated herself.

Somehow he seriously blew it. He was just trying to think of her and he fucked it all up. Ulquiorra sat back on the couch, glaring at his lap where his dick was outlined against the material of his jeans. Some fucking priest he was, he thought. With a sigh, he stood and grabbed the bottle of Four Roses out of the storage area of the ottoman. He didn’t give a shit as he took a healthy swig from the bottle. “Orihime, please, don’t get the wrong idea. I want you but I want to you to remember the first time in a good light, not a bad one.”

“Yeah, I got it,” she said in a glum voice.  She was done with today. So done. She held a hand out toward his bottle, but just as he saw it, she pulled it back quickly.

No, she didn’t get it. She thought he didn’t want her. Ulquiorra held out the bottle towards her, offering it. He knew it would be useless to offer her any kind of comfort or embrace. She looked like she was about to just set everything on fire and call it a day. “You know, next Tuesday, we could go on a date. We could spend the entire day together. Get dinner, go shopping.”

“No, we can’t.  You’re a priest, remember?” she said in a monotone voice.  “I can’t have any of that,” she said, glancing at the bottle.  “No good for pregnancies. I forgot to tell you that I’m to repeat those tests every four weeks to make sure I’m not sabotaging my efforts,” a bitter tinge colored the flat tone of her voice.

“How can you sabotage them when you’ve got me around,” Ulquiorra said before rolling his eyes. He took another drink from the bottle. “So he’s tracking your fertility? We’ll know when to and when not to?”

“Yeah.  I have a goodie bag full of prenatal vitamins and ovulation sticks and all manner of things I don’t know anything about.”

He shook his head. “Don’t worry about the priest thing. As soon as Zom’s back I’m giving this shit up. We’ll go to Idaho or Chicago or even back to Cheeseland.” Ulquiorra said, referencing the state of Wisconsin. He swallowed the rest of the liquid in the bottle and then looked at her. “That is if you want to, with me.”

She did want to.  More than anything.  But she didn’t believe that sober Ulquiorra did.  Still, it was a nice dream, and she was exhausted.  “More than anything,” she admitted sadly. “More than you’ll ever know.”

“You want to sleep with me tonight? You’ve had a shit day and I’ve been a shittier person,” Ulquiorra shrugged. “I’m going upstairs. Just don’t worry about this, Orihime. We’ll figure it out even if we have to go to Vegas, get married and rename ourselves something boring like Johnson.”

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra almost ignored Orihime for the rest of the time Zommari was gone. He would kiss her. He would touch her. He would talk to her but as soon as he thought of his family and her, he’d walk away. It wasn’t fair to her but it was how he coped with everything. He thought back to that Tuesday night where he had said he would leave the priesthood to be with her. A text had been sent to Zommari about it. Ulquiorra sent a Bishop Tosen an email.

He had asked for an audience with both men.

Eight days after he decided to leave, he was in a meeting with both men, sitting in the conference room of the rectory. Ulquiorra drew a deep breath, then exhaled.

“Well, Father Cifer? I don’t have all day. State your concerns so I can be on my way,” Tosen said.

Zommari said nothing but pinched the bridge of his nose with both hands as his elbows rested on the top of the table. “Cifer...” The older priest knew why they were having this meeting.

It was now or never. Ulquiorra cleared his throat and then placed that white band on the table. “I no longer wish to be a priest.”

“Is this because of your budding relationship with Miss Inoue?” Tosen asked, unaffected by this declaration.

“Yes and no.”

“Does your father realize if you leave, he can no longer use Sacred Heart as a front?”

This question baffled the young priest somewhat. Tosen had been in his father’s pocket a long time. He didn’t know how to answer because he didn’t know and did not want to ask. Ulquiorra shrugged.

“You understand if you leave, Orihime will be excommunicated. I’ll make sure to smear her name through the mud.” Tosen’s eyes were cold as he looked at Ulquiorra.

“Are you denying me--”

“Yes. Boston needs good priests. I allow the shenanigans that go on because each priest that is installed in this city does his job. Ever since you arrived at Sacred Heart, attendance has been up. Offerings have increased. People enjoy watching you work. I’m not about to let that go.” The Bishop turned his head to look at Zommari and then back to the younger priest. “Father Zommari has a family. He sees them--What Zom? A couple of times a month?”

The bald priest nodded. “Maria and I visit on my day off; I go down there once a month.”

Tosen smiled. “See, and I allow that because Zommari is an exceptional priest. I’ve watched the video of your Mass from this past week. People look up to you, Father Cifer, and I’m not going to let a little bit of sin come in the way of profits.”

Ulquiorra couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How the hell did Tosen get promoted to Bishop with an attitude like that? How did anyone believe he was a man of God? He stood up and was about to walk out the door. He needed to talk to Orihime about this.

“Father Cifer, you need your collar.”

“I don’t want it.”

“Maybe you need a vacation. I recommend taking the rest of the week off and then donning your cassock next Monday,” Tosen said.

 

***

 

Ulquiorra found Orihime in the upstairs bathroom scrubbing the tub.  “I just told Tosen and Zommari I didn’t want to be a priest. I handed over my collar.”

She sat back on her heels and looked at him, pushing a few strands of hair out of her face with the back of her wrist.  “How did they take it?” she asked, not allowing her own feelings to leech into her voice. She didn’t want to upset him by showing how happy this made her.  She knew he was conflicted about it.

“They denied me. They said to carry on doing whatever I was doing but they wouldn’t let me go, short of killing someone.” Ulquiorra leaned against the doorframe and sighed. “Tosen said they need good priests. People who actually care about the church, faith and the people who come to Mass. Profits are up.”

“I see,” she said, standing back up on her knees and burying her arms in the tub again, scrubbing intensifying.  “So where does that leave us? I mean, if you are staying here I still have an obligation to Aizen.” Again, she remained unemotional.  She was trying to keep this conversation as fact-based as possible.

Ulquiorra looked up at the ceiling and silently prayed. “Orihime, my feelings for you haven’t changed. I still want you. I love you. My next step is to contact the Archbishop. I’m getting out of this somehow.”

She sat back up again and studied his face.  He confused her. She confused herself. Since meeting him again her entire world flipped upside down.  She knew she could never go back to how things were before coming back to Sacred Heart though. She gentled her eyes.  “How long will that take? I’m not trying to pressure you, but I have a deadline breathing down my neck.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. It had only been a week. They had time. Was she that eager to get knocked up or did she want to leave that badly? “I’ve no clue. It could take a week, could take a month or three. He’s a busy man. If you want to get this over with, I have the rest of the week off. We can go to a different city, maybe down to New York and get a room. I’ll fuck your brains out and then wait.”

She sighed.  There was no good answer.  “No, thanks. I don’t want you to regret it,” she said, echoing his words from a week ago.  “I need to start thinking about contingencies though. If everything falls apart, I need a plan.  I’m not giving myself up to Nnoitra under any circumstances.”

“I wouldn’t regret it, Orihime,” he said, softly. And it was true. The only reason he said that a week ago was because they were both too emotional to think rationally. “If it comes to month six and you’re not pregnant, we run. I’m not going to allow anyone into my life if I can’t have you.”

She wasn’t sure she believed him.  He’d been avoiding her all week. “All I know is that I have an appointment in three weeks and the thought of it makes me want to run now.  What if I have an escort again?” she asked rhetorically and shuddered.

He stared at her for a moment. Ulquiorra just offered her the chance to fulfill her obligation to Aizen and she had turned him down. He shook his head. “I can guarantee that Aizen will have someone come for you. He likes doing that to people. He likes messing with their minds. It’s like since you told me about this, I just keep thinking what if that is what you were brought here for? What if he purposely put us together knowing how I felt about you?”

“Would he have known?  How could he?”

“I always asked my mother if she had any news of you. I asked Aizen if he’d seen you or talked to you. I never wanted any other information. I just wanted to know about you,” Ulquiorra replied. “Even if he didn’t know, why stick us together? I mean he knew what I did about interfering in your--thing -- but did he think I’d quit out of guilt?”

Orihime closed her eyes, understanding and the warring emotions of bitterness and affection washing over her.  “I can think of no other reason for him to use me, to be honest, than if he thought it would bother you. He thought I was in a relationship with Chad.  He probably thinks, or at least thought, that our feelings for each other aren’t mutual. He will publicize the pregnancy for sure, forcing you out. This probably has nothing, or at least little, to do with heirs.  This is probably about making you a more valuable asset.”

Ulquiorra nodded. “I can’t be an asset if I’m gone. That’s the only thing this going to make me do. Him threatening you is going to make me leave.“

She nodded.  There was nothing she could have done differently to change his fate, really.  If Aizen wanted him, he’d do whatever it took. She was just the pawn he chose.  It didn’t make her feel much better though. “If I left on my own, would it make things better for you?”  She was pretty sure she knew the answer, but she had to ask.

A scoff. Is that what she thought? Okay. “No, I mean sure, I’d focus more on my job and my head would be clearer but like you said, Aizen would just send someone else. He’d find you. If we leave, Tosen plans on contacting people and dragging your name; excommunication… the works.”

 

Orihime looked at Ulquiorra with a resigned expression.  As far as she was concerned, the damage to her reputation was already done.  She had become intimate with a priest. She, him, Zommari and Tosen may have been the only ones in the Church who knew until now, but God knew.  That’s what mattered. What the rest of the church thought only mattered because it would be a blow to her vanity, if she had any, and she strove not to be vain. “I don’t care.  I chose to sin. I gave up my rights to be a Catholic in good standing. If I had any integrity, I would have left the church as soon as I fell in love with you.”

“So we’re no closer to an answer and seemingly going around in circles.” Ulquiorra folded his arms across his chest. “I could go talk to Aizen.”

Orihime did not think that would be productive.  “The way I see it we have three choices: One, you decide to join Aizen on your own. I do not recommend this course.  Two, we run. Now. Three, we make a baby and try to think of something else in the meantime. Can you think of anything else?”

Ulquiorra stared at the floor and thought. There were plenty of possibilities but none of them she would like and none of them he could live with. They all ended in Aizen dying and him taking over because Boston’s underworld would be in shambles when it was all said and done. Chaos would run rampant. “Okay, option one is off the table. Option two is a possibility, but we need money to get a car, a place, and living expenses. Option three is up to you. I can’t say yes or no to it. It’s not my body. Option four, I go talk to Daddy Dearest and see what the hell going on.”

“A point of order, option three is not just up to me.  We’ve never discussed it outside of the context of us having a figurative gun to our heads.  Do you even want to have a baby with me?” She asked this question carefully, she wanted his honest answer and not what he thought she might want to hear.

His expression became disgruntled. “Never thought about it,” he replied. “I mean, I’ve thought about us having sex. I figured we would use condoms or you were on birth control. No priest plans on having kids. It just happens. If I wasn’t tied to the church, then yes.”

She nodded.  It made sense.  Still, she was bothered by the situation. It felt like Ulquiorra was missing a piece of the puzzle.  “Yeah. No girl plans on falling in love with a priest either, but here we are. Then there’s the matter of the Church’s stance on premarital sex and contraceptive use...”  She sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know what to do,” she said, sounding defeated. “My time here is definitely limited. I’m not letting Aizen pass me around like some kind of party tray. I’d rather die.”

“No.” Ulquiorra walked over to Orihime and tilted her head up. He had not saved her from death only to have her throw her own life away. He hadn’t waited all these years just to hear her say that she would much rather die than live. “No. I don’t want to hear you say that. Just tell me what to do, and I will do it. If you want to run, we leave tomorrow. You want me to—to—to… if you want me to have sex with you, I will. Just don’t die.”

“No.  I don’t think that’s something I can answer for you, Ulquiorra.  I don’t want you regretting your decisions and for me to be the cause.  You need to choose what you want. I need to disappear. I need to warn those people in the photos to do the same.  I can’t think of any other solution. If you have one, please let me know.” If he wasn’t willing to put his foot down and make a decision, she wasn’t going to make it for him. She knew it would come back to bite her later if she did.  She could only choose for herself, not for him.

He felt defeated. He was exhausted. He was mentally fed up with everything. “I don’t have one Orihime. If you just walk away from this what can I say? Would it matter? Will it change how you feel? If you disappear, I’m still going to feel like this; I’m still going to be in love with you. I don’t want you to go anywhere.” Ulquiorra threw his hands up. “I’m going to see my father.”

“What are you going to tell him?”

“I don’t know. I could go in there and gather information. I could tell him it’s done.”

“Then just wait until next Tuesday.  There’s no reason to make a special trip without raising suspicion, is there?”  She made a frustrated noise. She didn’t like this plan. She wished he could just cut ties with the Church and run away with her.  It was the safest option. Besides, in her mind, the moment he decided he wanted her more than he wanted to protect his vow was the moment he stopped being a priest in the eyes of God.  It frustrated her that he didn’t seem to see it that way. Sure, he could keep pretending like nothing had happened as Zommari did, but that wouldn’t change facts. He would still be living a lie. She realized her thoughts were not productive at the moment and set them aside for now.  “Maybe we can get some help. I have some friends who now have personal motivation to help thwart Aizen…” She stopped herself; it was a pipe dream to think any of the people Aizen had targeted stood a chance against him. She sighed again.

“Why wait? I have nothing to do until next Monday.” Ulquiorra stood there for a moment thinking. There was no one he could contact that could help him without it getting back to Aizen. Zommari wouldn’t help because of his own family. “I need to go. Sitting back and letting this ride out isn’t working.”

“Wait,” she said, standing up and dropping her gloves into the tub.  She wrapped her arms around him and looked up at his face. “I love you.  Just because I sound a little desperate right now does not mean that has changed.  I just don’t have anybody else to talk to about this and I know I’m scared and I can’t trust my own judgment.  When it comes down to it, I’m still just a naive, sheltered little cheesehead with no idea about much of anything anymore, except that I love you.”

Her words almost broke him. Ulquiorra didn’t know what to say or what to do. He kissed her backing her up against the sink. He was scared out of his mind too but he had been trained from an early age to hide his feelings and stifle them. This entire thing was frightening. Falling in love with her; committing the sins; this situation with Aizen. The fear would hit in the dead of night, waking him up from nightmares with a start.

Orihime kissed him back, surrendering to the only thing that felt pure in the world to her.  When the kiss broke, she buried her nose into his neck, breathing his scent and taking comfort in it.  She did not want to let go.

Ulquiorra wrapped his arms around her, holding her body against his. “Orihime,” he whispered, “I’m scared too. I feel lost. Everyone I used to be friends with or connected to is tied to Aizen; it’s just me and you.”

“Would none of them switch allegiance?  Is there no one from college or seminary that you can reach out to for help or advice?”  She paused, thinking of the Rohertys, but knowing what she knew now about Aizen and the way they had completely disengaged from her life since she left Wisconsin, she realized that they were most likely in Aizen’s pockets. “I have friends from college; I met some people through the Asian-American Association that I can reach out to; some of whom have marks on their heads too, anyway, so they may want to… resolve that.”

He thought about who he was friends with in college. Yammy said Ulquiorra could always depend on him to lend a hand. There might be a chance he could get Starrk off his lazy ass. There was Findor and Patros from the seminary. He shrugged. “There might be some people to help once we get out of Boston. I have no one in this city to help us.”

“What about Chad?  Is he connected to Aizen?”

“No, his grandfather has been coming to Sacred Heart since he was a boy and Chad has been coming here since he was a kid. The guy answered the ad we ran in the bulletin. As far as I know he has no ties to Aizen. Tier might help. Grimmjow might help. I don’t think Nel will help but...” Ulquiorra trailed off. It wasn’t his business to say anything about Nel. His sister had a dark past, and an even darker hatred for Nnoitra, but she loved Aizen.

“It would be a gamble to ask your siblings, but you know them best.  What about Nel, though?”

Ulquiorra closed his eyes. “Nel’s kept in line by Nnoitra. She decides to step out of line or leave and Aizen sends Nnoi after her. She won’t help… Not while Nnoitra’s still in the picture. She doesn’t do it often but sometimes she’ll lash out at our father.”

Orihime closed her eyes and winced.  She could imagine what he meant well enough.  “He does not have a gentle touch, either,” she murmured, remembering his assault on her in the car.  She opened her eyes then, and asked, “What about your mother? Would she side against her children?”

“Retsu? She doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body. She’s just as ruthless as Aizen. Maybe there are some men or women that have been destroyed by Aizen. Maybe Aizen accidentally fathered other children that he’s kept secret.” Ulquiorra dropped his head to her shoulder. “It just seems easier to see if I can get you pregnant,” he finally said.

She nodded.  “For the short term, yes, but what happens then?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t or should. I mean, I said I would do it, but what would happen if we succeeded?”

He didn’t say anything. He stood there thinking. What if he did get Orihime pregnant? Then what? Nine months of playing a waiting game? After that what would happen? Aizen demands more babies? He demands her life? He demands for Ulquiorra’s service for sparing Orihime? The priest’s brow furrowed just thinking about it. “I’m gonna go talk to him. I need you to think about what you want to do; either with or without me. You need to make plans for both situations.”

“I know, and I will.  But I’m not giving up on you either way,” she said into his ear.

Ulquiorra lifted his head and gave her one last kiss before taking a step back. “I’m not giving up on you either. I’m not giving up on what we have. I spent too long waiting for you to give it up.”

 

***

 

The pub was dimly lit when Ulquiorra walked in. He saw Aizen in his customary booth in the back of the place along with Nnoitra, Tier and Retsu. Tier was looking over some document with Retsu while his brother lounged against the leather seat. His father was looking directly at him.

Ulquiorra walked over to the booth and stood at the end of the table. He had to show Aizen he wasn’t afraid. He could offer the man no weakness.

“Well, well, look what the cat dragged in,” Nnoitra said.

“Trash,” Ulquiorra muttered.

“Boys,” Retsu warned in her sweet voice, glancing between the two of them. “It’s nice to see you Ulquiorra. Why don’t you sit down and--”

The priest decided to interrupt his mother. “No, thank you. I’m not here to see my family. I’m here to talk to Aizen.”

The man that had posed as his father for as long as he could remember smiled at him with a raised eyebrow. “Aizen is it? Not Father?”

“I did it.”

“You did what? Whatever do you mean?”

“I told Tosen I wanted to leave and he wanted to remind you of the fact that you would lose Sacred Heart as a front if I left,” Ulquiorra spoke with confidence. He had to be confident. “Is that what you want? You can launder your money in traditional ways. You can store it in offshore accounts. You can invest it. Or you can keep me at the church where I am more helpful to you than being a part of this organization. You have Nnoitra to carry out your dirty work. You have Grimmjow to cause hell. You don’t need me.”

Aizen seemed to consider his words. “Would you trade Miss Inoue’s life for your freedom?”

“No.”

“Correct me if I am wrong, but priests aren’t allowed things like wives right?”

“You are correct,” Ulquiorra answered.

The man smiled. “It has come to my attention that Miss Inoue has a boyfriend--”

“Had; Orihime broke up with him last night because she was traumatized by whatever Nnoi did to her,” Ulquiorra interjected.

Aizen’s face seemed to glow. “That’s wonderful,” he stated. “I’ll see you on Tuesday, Ulquiorra. We can talk more then.”

“Whatever, asshole,” Ulquiorra muttered. He turned around and walked out of the pub. He was angry enough that he didn’t hear the footsteps of Nnoitra, who had come off his crutches a couple of days earlier.

As soon as he got to the station wagon and was digging the keys out of his pocket, Ulquiorra was spun around, and a fist crashed into the side of his jaw, sending him falling to the wet and cold pavement. The green-eyed man looked up at his brother, gasping, holding his face as Nnoitra leered closer.

“I’m going to fuck your woman.”

Ulquiorra sat there with a deadly glare on his face as he watched Nnoitra walk away. There was no way he could take on the other man. Nnoitra would use every dirty trick in the book to win. His tall brother had stabbed someone before with a broken beer bottle. The man had been drunk and probably didn’t deserve the injury but Nnoi didn’t care. That was the second time he’d gone to prison for assault. Ulquiorra stood, livid that his brother got a cheap shot in.

“Fuck them,” he grumbled, as he got into the car. Ulquiorra adjusted the rearview mirror to see that his lip was bleeding but it didn’t look bad. He probably had bitten it when Nnoitra sucker punched him. Just as he put the car into drive, the passenger side door opened.

“Go, dammit.” Grimmjow looked pissed off, and his face was cut and bruised.

“What happened?”

“Drive before I punch the other side of your face!”

 

***

 

Orihime had been working her tail off the entire time Ulquiorra had been gone, for no other reason than to try to keep her mind off of the danger he might be in.  It didn’t work; she was just as fretful as she would have been had she just sat around filing her nails.

Zommari had been invited into Boston proper for dinner with Tosen and left in the early evening with directions for Orihime not to wait up.  She took the opportunity to vacuum and dust his bedroom and the other two bedrooms before she got started on dinner. She finished before Ulquiorra got home, and since she had nothing to do but be nervous, she decided to bake some cookies.  

When that was done, he still wasn’t home so she made some pies and a hot dish to eat later in the week and was looking into making her own flavored syrups for coffee when she decided enough was enough and broke out the bottle of Baileys in the fridge, using it as coffee creamer.  It was a very, very pale coffee.

Ulquiorra should have known when he got home that she would be in rare form.  She had Irish music playing again.

The priest came back after three hours. He spent three hours in that station wagon outside of a townhouse in Jamaica Plains. Grimmjow told him what was going on. His brother introduced him to his children. He told him how it all fit together. He told him what Aizen ultimately wanted. It was much more horrible than Ulquiorra could imagine. The fact that his father was cruel enough to use the two kids that Grimmjow had sired as a way to keep the man on his side was deplorable. The man was worse than Barragan had been to his people.

Then Tier called him from an unknown number while Grimmjow was in the car. Apparently being Aizen’s lawyer meant the blonde got to find out a whole lot of fun stuff about the man who adopted them. Their sister said she’d call later with more information.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Grimmjow said before he left the car.

When he arrived home he could hear the Irish music blaring even as he walked into the rectory. Orihime must have been really drunk. “I’m back,” he shouted.

“You’re home!” her voice rang happily through the first floor as she came bounding into the kitchen in what looked like nothing but her apron.  “I’m sorry it is so hot in here, I started anxiety baking.”

“Where are your clothes?” Ulquiorra asked. It didn’t seem any warmer than usual. “Are you--You’re drunk.”

“I’m just a little buzzed is all.  And my clothes are here,” she said, turning around to show him that she was wearing a tiny tank top and shorts under the apron.  “I don’t think the rectory has ever been this clean, and I’ve made enough sweets to give the entire congregation diabetes, I’m sure.  How did it go?” she asked, her awareness finally catching up to the situation at hand.

His throat worked hard trying to speak and his brain felt like it was fried seeing her in such skimpy clothing. Ulquiorra exhaled a shaky breath and grabbed onto the back of one of the kitchen chairs so that he didn’t grab her right then and there. “Uh, Nnoi punched me. Grimmjow and Tier could help. Aizen wants to talk on Tuesday,” he said shaking his head, trying to make some sense of why it was so hard to think. Probably because blood flow was at a minimum.

Orihime’s face darkened.  “That good for nothing jerkoff!  Let me see you,” she said, noticing his slightly swollen lip now that he mentioned it.  She didn’t touch it; she wasn’t as drunk as he thought she was, and it looked like it hurt. She scowled.  “If I ever run into that guy again, I hope it’s while I’m driving the van so I can run into him really hard.  First my boob and now your beautiful face? There will be justice!” she growled, only partially joking.

“What?” Ulquiorra yelled. “What the hell do you mean first your boob? What did he do?” It was then he strode over to her and pulled down the apron and looked down her shirt. He could see several finger-shaped bruises that were fading to a sickly yellow on her chest. He had been angry before; now he was fucking irate. “Why didn’t you tell me he did this?”

“It was not my chief complaint of the night, to be honest.  Having medical instruments shoved up my crotch and being forced to choose between regular sex work or the slightly less reprehensible sex work of becoming a broodmare for the Aizen family was a bit more of a violation,” she replied flippantly.  “But your face… Does it hurt badly?”

Ulquiorra pouted for a moment. It sounded like she didn’t want to even do that with him. “No, it doesn’t hurt. Nnoi caught me off guard. He doesn’t fight fair,” he replied. “You wouldn’t be a broodmare for the Aizen family. Just me. I wouldn’t let that dickhead touch you.”

“Well I wouldn’t mind being your broodmare,” she said, smiling with narrowed eyes.  “Do you want some of this?” She did not specify what “this” was.

He knew she had to be drunk. She was way past drunk if she was offering herself to him. The priest gave a small nod though, despite himself. “You know I do,” he said. “But I don’t just want some of it. I want all of it.”

“Really?” she sounded surprised.  “There is an awful lot,” she added, slightly dubious as she eyed the baked goods crowding the countertops.

Tired of playing games with her, Ulquiorra grabbed Orihime’s hips and pulled her to him. “Question is,” he said as he placed her hand on his hard length. “Can you handle it?”

Orihime gasped and smiled again, slowly, biting her lip.  “I don’t know, but I do want to find out,” she said after a long minute, her hand moving up and down that length at an achingly slow pace.

He shivered. He had not felt this since the first time she had jerked him off in his bedroom. Ulquiorra hadn’t attempted it again for fear of escalating things. Right now he didn’t care about that. Desire was soaking into his senses and urging him to go along with what his body was telling him. “You really want to fuck in the kitchen?” he asked, bending his head down and sucking that spot below her ear, teeth scraping her skin. “Do you want me to bend you over the table? Maybe the counter?”

“What, you don’t want to see my face when you take me?” she whispered into his ear.  She hadn’t had this in mind when he came home but she was in no mood to argue. She had been through an emotional wringer this past week and she had been pushed to not really caring about things like what she “should” or “shouldn’t” do.  Besides, he was doing all the right things and she could feel her body heat up.

He gulped. Her hand squeezed the head of his dick. Ulquiorra knew then something was going to happen. “I want you to get me a drink. Then you’re going to follow me up to my room,” he said to her, grabbing her ass so that he could press his hips into her.

“As you wish,” she said, grinning, and grabbing his ass back, squeezing it, then kissing the side of his neck.

He watched her move around the kitchen putting ice into a glass and then grabbing a small bottle of whisky from a cupboard. They didn’t have to hide the alcohol anymore since Zommari said it was okay and he didn’t care. Within less than a minute he had a drink in his hand, just the way he liked it. Ulquiorra took a sip then motioned with his finger for her to follow him. He could play this confident role. He knew how to be the dominant partner. They reached the top of the stairs and Ulquiorra stood in front of his door. He was going to do this.

Orihime was surprisingly calm about all of it.  Of course she was excited and nervous, but she was not afraid. She trusted him completely in this, and knew he would take care of her.  She smiled at him when he paused in front of his room, waiting for him to let her in.

Taking another sip from the glass he carried, Ulquiorra opened the door to his room and walked in. He set his drink on top of his dresser and turned around to look at Orihime after he turned on the light.

She walked in behind him and stood in front of the door as she shut it, then looked at him expectantly. “So, any requests?” She took a step toward him. “Recommendations?”  She took another step. “Rules?”

“You need to be quiet when Zommari’s home. I didn’t see the van, so I’m guessing he’s not here.” Ulquiorra looked at her, eyes trailing up her legs and chuckled at her apron. “No clothes, no pajamas. I’ll allow you panties in here. That’s it. Get on my bed, on your back,” he stated. “Do we need a safe word?”

“A what?” she asked, already out of her apron and ditching the tank top and shorts as she got into position on his bed.

Of course she didn’t know what that was. Ulquiorra unbuttoned the dark oxford shirt he wore and threw it in the direction of his basket. “A word that you say when you’ve had enough,” he answered as he took off his trousers and the rest of his clothes. He left the boxer-briefs on. “Also, unless you tell me to come in you, I’m gonna pull out.”

It wasn’t until that moment that it really sank in for her as to what was about to happen, and her cheeks blossomed pink.  Her mouth was dry as she nodded her acceptance of Ulquiorra's terms. “How about…”

“If you’re having doubts, you need to tell me now.”

She looked to the side shyly before she smiled and then looked up at him again, her big midnight eyes shining with adoration.  “No doubts. Just trying to pick a good word.”

“While you’re trying to decide on that, I’m going to finish undressing,” Ulquiorra said. He turned his back to her and hooked his thumbs in the waistband of those briefs, shoving them down his thighs. Once the underwear were puddled at his feet, the priest threw back the rest of the whisky in the glass and swallowed. He turned around and walked over to where Orihime was and stood in front of her. “Well?”

“Whisky.”

He smirked, feeling the alcohol he just drank flood his stomach with warmth. It was her safe word, not his. Ulquiorra motioned for her to scoot over so he could lay down with her. After he made himself comfortable he trailed his fingertips from her collarbone down to her hips. He hadn’t even looked down there yet. “We don’t have to go all the way tonight. There’s other things we can do. I mean there’s an entire world of pleasure I can introduce you to.”

Her exhalation stuttered as he teased her, and she sank her teeth into one side of her bottom lip, then she took a deep breath and arched her back slightly, raising her hips to meet his fingers and saying in a weak voice, “I want you to take what you want. In my mind, I’m already yours.”  She’d been aching for him for months.

Those words sent a pulse of blood through his dick. He searched her face for something that said she was having second thoughts or doubts about this but found none. Ulquiorra swallowed again. He kissed her deeply as he maneuvered his body over hers but he did not allow himself to touch her with his hands or the thing that was telling him this was a good idea. Just their thighs touched. Feeling her bare skin against his was almost too much.

She kissed him back, running her hands up his arms, shoulders, up his neck into his scalp, lifting her head off the pillow, humming in anticipation.  Orihime broke the kiss and let her head fall back, her red hair splayed out behind it. She adored him. He was art. He was strength. He was love. She entertained these thoughts as she brought one hand to his face, tracing his brow and trailing a line down his cheek, following the outline of his lips.  Her eyes followed her fingertips, and when she was satisfied, she smiled slightly and looked into his eyes and whispered, “I love you.”

“Orihime,” Ulquiorra murmured. “I love you. I...” he trailed off before kissing her again. He wanted to do this. He wanted her. He started kissing his way down her chin and neck; lips traveling down the center of her body until he reached her chest. One hand caressed her breast without the bruising before sucking the nipple into his mouth.

Orihime whimpered and twisted her body beneath his as a feeling of pressure began to well inside of her.  “Ulquiorra,” she mewled his name, her left knee bending and opening up so she could tilt her hips up toward his. She clutched the skin on his back, gently raking up toward his head, pressing him into her breast.  She got lost in the feeling of his tongue on her, the suckling and nibbling and intense heat. She could feel wetness start to seep into the cotton of her panties as she melted under his attention.

He smiled while his teeth were on that peaked nub of flesh. He looked up at her and hummed “Hmmm?” Ulquiorra was enjoying himself. The smell of her skin; the taste of it. It was intoxicating as he continued to mouth her tits. He paused for only a moment when he felt his dick brush against the junction of her thighs. “Oh,” he breathed.

“Oh,” she echoed, following his erection with her body as it passed, and whimpering when the contact ended.  A pained expression crossed her face and her hands ran down his back as far as she could reach, her freed left leg raising up the side of his hips and pressing down on them, encouraging him to return to her.

“You’re absolutely sure you want this?” Ulquiorra asked coming up to kiss her mouth, taking time to softly bite her bottom lip.

“Yes,” she whispered, returning his kiss.  She had been waiting for this for weeks.

He sat back. His green eyes took in every detail of her body that he could see. The way her chest rose and fell. The way she stared at him. The way she shifted her hips trying to strive for a release. Ulquiorra slid his fingers under the waist of her underwear and slowly started dragging them over her hips and her thighs. She helped him by lifting one leg and then the other. Then she was as bare as he was. Ulquiorra looked down at her, rendered speechless by how perfect she looked. Reaching his hand out, his fingers brushed over those wet lips. “You’re wet,” he said.

Chapter Text

“You’re so, so wet.”

She half-smiled awkwardly.  “Sorry? I hope I didn’t mess up your bed…”

He shook his head, a smile on his face. “No Woman, you want to be wet. For having sex, being wet is good,” Ulquiorra replied while looking at his hand and what it was doing. He could see how his pale fingers stroked up and down, moisture collecting on them.

Her eyes involuntarily closed as she focused on the sensation of his fingers on her body.  Her breath was shallow, so as not to disturb him and to pick up on the faint sounds of her wetness made under his fingers.  She let him do as he pleased, her hands against his bracing forearm and the pillow behind her, as she waited for what was coming.

Ulquiorra shifted their bodies, bringing himself closer to her. He took his hand away from her and let the same hand encircle his hard cock. His brain wanted to scream at him; logic tried to kick him in the ass, but the priest wasn’t going to listen. He bit his lip as he rubbed the tip against her curls and then down the slit. He did this several times, hearing her whimper each time the leaking head came into contact with her clit or slid over her opening.

It felt like she was drowning, desperately trying to reach the surface and take a deep, relieving breath, but every time he would pass over her it felt like she was being pushed back underwater.  She was growing irrationally anxious, her whimpers turned into whines as she tried angling her hips to catch him, but his weight kept her anchored where she was.

Then it happened. Orihime moved just right, and Ulquiorra was rubbing against her. His timing was off, and only the tip of it sank into her. He was completely caught off guard, and his breath hitched in his throat as warmth enveloped the head of his cock. “Orihime,” he gasped. It took everything he had not to snap his hips forward.

Her eyes widened, and she gasped, her breath stilling for a moment.  This is what she had been chasing, and now that it had happened, she wasn’t quite sure how.  She brought her eyes to Ulquiorra's slowly, looking for an answer.

His hips slowly inched forward, separating her. Ulquiorra gazed back at her before pulling back and pushing into her with a smooth roll of his hips. He’d never been with a virgin, so this was new. Coupled with the fact that he hadn’t had sex in years, he was barely hanging on and going out of his mind. “This is--Hnnngh.”

Her stillness left her in a ripple, starting in her head and quickly rushing down to her toes as he filled her.  Compared to the invasion during her medical examination, this was quite pleasant, although the pressure was even more intense.  The difference was he was warm and had a tiny bit of yield, and it felt to her like he was made to be there. As he pressed onward, there was a slight pull, and she hissed, feeling him pass past a place his fingers had not reached, then she grabbed his biceps, wishing he would pause.  

Alas, he was not a mind-reader.  She was forced to surrender, and as Orihime did, the intimidating pressure gave way to heat and pleasure.  She softened her facial features as he began to pull out, already missing the feeling of him so deep inside of her, but then he returned.  She smiled. “Ulquiorra--” she sighed, releasing his arms and reaching up for his face. She wanted to kiss him.

“Hmmm? Did I hurt you?” he asked bending his head down so that she could reach him easier. He was trying to refrain from rushing this, but he knew what the outcome of this was. He knew the end game. As their lips met, Ulquiorra closed his eyes losing himself in the feel of them touching and how her body fit him so perfectly. His thighs braced, and he brought one of her legs up to rest around his waist.

This she liked.  Having her leg wrapped around Ulquiorra made her feel like she had some participation.  Her other leg joined in on its own, and she used them to pull her hips up, pushing him deeper inside of her.  She groaned as the base of his cock came in contact with her body, and her legs tensed to keep him there. If she had her way, he was going to have to live there now.

He sighed in a content manner. Years and months had finally come to fruition. Ulquiorra pulled back from her rocking his hips enough to make her feel it. His hand came up to caress her face. “That was a good sound,” he said to her.

“Mmhmm,” she replied, her lips parting as his thumb came in contact with them, bathing it with her hot breath. “It feels good,” she whispered.

It was going to feel even better soon, Ulquiorra thought.  He began a slow pace with rolling his hips into her; the entire motion going up and down his spine. He’d pull almost all the way out before burying himself again. The thrusts were gentle only because he knew she needed this at first. It was messing with his brain, the pleasure; the heat; Orihime. He knew this was forbidden, but he wanted it all the same. He was going to take this. She was finally his.

She choked on each thrust.  A spot inside of her would buzz each time the head of his dick passed it, making her breath push past her lips in a soft, involuntary ‘ah’.  Each time his belly met her mound, it was met with another sound of pleasure. This slow pace suited her just fine; she was mapping out her insides using him as a divining rod, learning how different parts of his cock had a different effect.

It wasn’t just how he felt inside of her, although that was the main focus — his breath, the way he held it and released it quickly, allowing her to inhale it; the way his straining shoulders rose and fell, the tattoo on his chest bobbing in and out of her field of vision. His startling green eyes, dark and wetter than usual, narrowly opening at her from time to time and showing her a glimpse into his mind; it was all driving her to a place of total transcendence.  Why had no one told her? Why had she instead been told all her life that this would be something she would merely have to endure?

She would not be the same after this, and she did not regret it a bit.

After several minutes of this slow, torturous pace, Ulquiorra decided to intensify things. She seemed okay so far. She seemed to like what was going on. He braced his arms on the mattress and snapped his hips into her several times, eyes rolling back in his head each time he entered her. A moan left him, and he shivered as he felt her legs tighten around him.

Until now she had only had two orgasms, both slightly different from one another.  She was starting to feel the sensation that those two had in common; the feeling of tension building and bubbling, but this was entirely different.  This felt like it had the potential to make her literally explode from the inside out. As the feeling began to intensify, she decided she did not care whether she lived or died, as long as Ulquiorra didn’t stop.  On their own, her hips rose to meet his unforgiving thrusts, and she felt like he must have been growing thicker inside of her as Orihime's walls began to tighten slowly. She started to cry through closed lips each time he sank into her, and her hands grasped his shoulders desperately, clinging to him with all her strength.

Ulquiorra showed no mercy as he drove into her. It was all too much for him, and he didn’t want to stop. He didn’t want to give this up. He wanted all of Orihime. He leaned down, pressing his chest into hers, a hand coming up to hold her hip. “I want to hear it, Woman. Tell me how good it feels. Don’t you dare hold back this time,” he whispered against her neck, breath hot against her skin.

She answered him in a loud cry, filling the small room with her voice.  One hand released his shoulder and grasped the back of his neck, her fingers digging into his hair, keeping his face near hers.  “Ulquiorra… I want you… I want to kiss you,” she begged, her dark eyes staring into his soul.

He granted her request, his swollen mouth pressing against hers. His tongue pushed roughly into her mouth, thrusting against hers. Somehow his body had synced the strokes of his cock with the ones of his tongue. Ulquiorra was so close. It was there, but he didn’t know what to do. They were already sinning, and it would be more of sin to pull out of her.

Orihime whined into his mouth as he kissed her.  Nothing else existed except the two of them; the feeling of their bodies pressed together in this holy rhythm.  Her legs tightened around his hips. There was no way he was getting away from her. She was so close. She tightened and released the muscles in her ass and hips in time with his thrusts, driving her closer to her own oblivion.  She broke their kiss suddenly and stared into his eyes, whispering, “I’m so close. I want you to come with me.”

Giving a small nod, Ulquiorra shifted his body closer to her, driving his hips into her over and over, the muscles in his legs and stomach hardening with tension. The shudder that went through him as he felt the first pulse was visible. A cry left his throat as he started coming inside of her.

The sound of his voice and the feeling of him pressing into her as deep as he could sent her over the edge, and her body greedily sucked at every inch and drop he was giving her.  Her feet pressed into his buttocks, making sure this contact did not end until she was satisfied. Her fingernails pressed into his back at either side of his spine, crushing his body to hers.  She wanted every part of him, and she told him as much as she chanted his name, “Ulquiorra! Ulquiorra, don’t stop.”

His thrusts didn’t stop, but they slowed considerably, riding out the sensations he was feeling. Finally, it was too much. He was too sensitive and sank on top of Orihime, burying his face into her neck. Ulquiorra lay there for several moments, trying to get his thoughts straightened out.

Orihime’s legs held him tightly in place although he had made no attempt to escape, she let her hands relax and trail up his back, one coming to rest on the back of his neck, the other stroking his shoulder in a comforting way.  She panted for a minute or two, and when she had her breath back, she tilted her face to kiss his head. “I will always love you,” she murmured into his hair, closing her eyes as her body began to relax, her legs trailing down his to rest on the back of his thighs.

They were together. Ulquiorra moved his hips so that he slid out of Orihime and rolled off of her so that his back was against the wall. “I love you too,” he said. Ulquiorra reached down and brought the blanket over them. He settled himself down, cuddling her. He had been waiting for this for years. It was just him and her. “I have always loved you, Woman.” The touch was nice, but it didn’t help the guilt that was creeping into his thoughts. He had to slam a wall down in his brain. He would not taint this moment.

 

***

 

Ulquiorra was awake as the door to his room opened the next morning. He saw Zommari’s golden eyes from where he was on the bed with Orihime who was practically laying on his chest. The door closed and the green-eyed priest couldn’t help feeling like he had disappointed the other man. Zom didn’t have to worry. Ulquiorra was already beating himself up for what happened. He knew that he’d probably have to talk to the older priest later about this.

Shifting the redhead off of him, Ulquiorra stretched his arms towards the ceiling and then grabbed his bathrobe. He left his room and crossed the hall to the bathroom. He needed a shower. He smelled like them. He smelled like her. He didn’t mind it, but he was sure that Zom didn’t want him to smell like the depraved individual that he was. The water was hot as he stood under it, thinking.

Orihime woke up shivering about five minutes later, and sat up, looking around the room, disappointed that he wasn’t there.  She saw his phone on the nightstand and picked it up; it was late. It was nearly 6:25. Shit. Double shit. She had left the kitchen a total disaster, and nobody had touched the dinner she had prepared.  Hopefully, it hadn’t totally baked into the slow cooker and was still salvageable.

Spotting her clothes on the floor, Orihime swung her legs over the side of the bed a winced.  She was sore.  Gingerly, she got up and slipped into her shorts, tossing her soiled panties into his basket and picking up his dirty clothes from the floor as well, hiding the evidence underneath them as she added them to the pile in the basket.  She found her tank top, and having no other way to make herself decent, put her apron back on, then opened Ulquiorra’s bedroom door to check that the coast was clear. She crept over to her bedroom and closed the door. It wasn’t until she was alone in there that it finally dawned on her what had happened the night before.

She was no longer a virgin.

She had slept with a man who was not her husband.

She had had sex with a priest.

She sighed, slightly disappointed with herself.  And not because of the reasons she expected, either.  She was disappointed that she hadn’t done it sooner. It had been incredible.  Mind-blowing. Life-altering. All manner of compound adjectives.

She could no longer think of herself as a “good girl”.  She had been tainted, and she had gone along with it willingly and without regret.  She was a sinner. She was Eve.

She looked at the rosary on her bedside table and felt only a twinge of remorse, but she remembered something that Father Cifer had told her:  “Love isn’t a sin.” And she loved him, beyond a shadow of a doubt. What they had done had been an act of love.

Ulquiorra came back to an empty and clean room. Shit, she was awake. He sighed and walked to the next door, knocking softly on it. He had been trying to convince himself that he had just done what his father wanted him to do. He broke his vows. He could have potentially made her pregnant with his actions. He’d done it in lust. He shook his head. No, he hadn’t. He made love to her last night. “Orihime?”

“Come in,” her sweet voice answered.  She turned to Ulquiorra as he opened the door, a small, self-conscious smile on her face.

By the looks of it, she remembered last night. Good. At least it didn’t feel like he had taken advantage of her. “Are you okay?” Ulquiorra asked.

She crossed the room toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist.  “Better than okay. You?”

“I’m fine,” he said kissing her. “So how was it? How does it feel?”

Her eyes grew large as she looked up into his.  “It was… Wow. Um. Yeah. I am going to need to do that again. But right now...I’m a little sore? Is this like riding a horse or something; muscles you didn’t know you had are all tight and tired?”

The priest laughed. “I’ve only ridden a horse once in my life, and really, all I remember is my ass hurting the next day. You get used to it. So, um...”

“Well, I am willing to suffer this as many times as it takes to strengthen those muscles up,” she said, narrowing her eyes on him with what might be considered a sultry smile until she realized she didn’t know if he wanted to do it again.  “What about you, was it what you had in mind?”

“Jesus, Orihime. It was everything. It was more than everything. It was perfect and hnngh, just remembering it,” Ulquiorra sighed. He needed to control himself and tell her the news. “I know you just woke up but, uh, Zom saw us this morning, so play it normally. Do you think you can do that?”

“Uh....” she uttered, unintelligently, brain broken for a moment.  “Was I covered up at least?”

Ulquiorra nodded. “Yeah, I mean your shoulders were bare but other than that,” he paused a moment. “You were modest.”

She snorted.  “Yeah, right. But as long as Zommari didn’t see anything, it’s fine.  He probably doesn’t even care, except that I left the kitchen a mess last night and dinner uneaten.  Do you think I can pass off the baked goods as breakfast, or will I be in trouble for that, too?” She seemed altogether unbothered by the effect being caught in his bed might bring.

“With the way you cook, I think you could pass off boiled potatoes off as gourmet.”

“You flatter me,” she said, bopping the tip of his nose with her forefinger.

“Get a shower and dressed,” he said kissing her. “I believe you’re officially late for work.”

She grinned at him and squeezed him and then did as he suggested.

Ulquiorra went over to his own room and got dressed. As much as Tosen wanted him to take time off, he didn’t think he should do that with Zommari catching them that morning. It was better for him to appear studious. He put on his clerical outfit and placed that white collar around his throat before hiding it away until only a tiny strip showed. He put on those shiny black shoes and then went downstairs. He was surprised to see Zommari in the kitchen. The man had a huge plate of some kind of pie in front of him.

“You two could have cleaned up the kitchen.”

“Zom,” Ulquiorra groaned.

The man took a bite of his pie and snickered. “I’m just saying duty before pleasure. Also, not in the rectory. Go down to the basement and do that shit in your den of sin.”

“Honestly? You’re okay with this? I’m--”

“Father Cifer, I have a family. I’ve already gone through what you’re going through. I go through it every time I am with my wife,” Zommari said. “Two rules though.”

Ulquiorra looked at him with a rather stoic face. “Which are?”

“Not in the church, so don’t think confessional booths are great places for trysts. They won’t be. Two, not anywhere on the first floor of the rectory,” the bald priest said. “Oh, oh, oh. Clean up your messes.”

The dark-haired priest laughed. “We can abide by that, but she made this mess last night before I got home from Aizen’s.”

“Whatever, just don’t embarrass the church, okay?”

Ulquiorra nodded and turned around once he heard a sound behind him.

“Good morning,” Orihime said, trying to act casual.  “How’s the banana cream?”

Zommari looked like he was about to choke on the bite he had taken. Ulquiorra sniffed and hid his mouth behind his hand. He was grinning.

“Did you make this pie?” Zommari asked.

“I did.  And the apple.  And the cherry. And the French silk…” her voice got quieter as she trailed off, ashamed at her lack of control.

Zommari hadn’t seen those, but he had smelled that banana one and took almost a quarter of the pie for himself. “It’s good. As I was telling Father Cifer--”

“Don’t Zom. It won’t happen again. We’ll clean up before retiring for the night from now on.” Ulquiorra turned his head and glanced at Orihime.

The black man’s eyes drifted back and forth between them. “Well, I’m taking my breakfast into my office. You two should know what needs to be done around here by now.”

“Right, glad you enjoyed it,” Orihime said weakly as the older man left, then met Ulquiorra’s eyes and covered her mouth, overcome by a fit of giggles.

He blew out a breath before grinning. Ulquiorra shook his head. “I was almost tempted to say something about banana cream,” he said to her in a quiet voice.

“What about it?” she asked, confused.

“Right, you’re new to this. You asked how the banana cream was… I almost asked you if it slid out of you yet.” Ulquiorra’s face colored slightly, the tips of his ears turning red.

Orihime tilted her head in confusion, and then her face colored as well as she made the connection.  “Oh! You’re so bad!” she hissed, swatting toward him. “Naughty Father Cifer!”

He took a couple of steps away from her. “You haven’t seen how naughty I can or will be. Give it time,” he stated. “Do you want help cleaning up?”

“Don’t you have to get to work?”  she asked. He hadn’t told her he was given time off.  It hadn’t come up.

“It’s just office work. Anyway, Zom said to keep our activities to the basement. Also no fucking anywhere on the first floor.” Ulquiorra slid his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching out to her.

She nodded but scoffed.  “I mean, we have some self-control…”

Ulquiorra gave her a small smile. “Sometimes we do. I know you do, but I clearly don’t in certain situations.”

“I like it when you lose control sometimes,” she murmured, then said, “And I’d say you have a lot of self-control.  You knew what that is like and you held out until now?  That’s impressive.”

He sighed, once again trying to suppress the guilt that was threatening to spill over into his thoughts. “I was holding out for you,” he replied.

She noticed anyway.  “What’s wrong? Do you regret it?”

Ulquiorra shook his head. “No, never. I just worry that you do or that you think I tainted you. I--I did what Aizen wanted.”

“Screw Aizen.  We did what we wanted,” she said, pulling a hand out of his pocket and holding it.  “What he wants isn’t important, as long as we want it. And I do not feel tainted.  I, um, I feel freed, kinda.  Also kinda just awed by it all. It’s kind of a weird way to describe it, but I feel like I’m finally home. I know that doesn’t really make any sense, but I don’t regret it at all.”

He nodded, understanding what she was saying. He had felt the same way after he stopped letting remorse cloud his thoughts. “But you’re okay with it; with what happened, right?”

“Yes.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt.  It’s not what I thought I was looking for.  And I still don’t know what the future looks like, so I feel kind of uncertain about that.  But I want to do that again.  Soon.”

“Great, I’ve turned you into a sex addict. Be a good girl today, get your stuff done and I might watch a movie with you tonight,” Ulquiorra said. He pulled her close and kissed her. “I’m hungry. You said you made cookies.”

She pouted and crossed her arms under her breasts, pushing them out and up.  “You might, huh?  Thanks a lot.  Super glad I gave it away to some ungrateful neanderthal whose only interest is baked goods.  The cookies are above the dishwasher.”

His smile grew. “I’m an educated gentleman. Now, talk to me next Tuesday when we’re off, and I have you all to myself. And believe me Orihime, I’m grateful. Soon I’m going to show you how appreciative I am.”

“We should go somewhere.  Just like, Monday overnight.  Come back late on Tuesday. Just an idea.”

“I suggested we do that yesterday. But I decided not to take Tosen’s vacation offer,” Ulquiorra replied. “We could go down to Providence, or find a little bed and breakfast out in the middle of nowhere.”

“Anything.  It could be the van in the woods for all I care.  I just want some privacy.”

Ulquiorra bent down to whisper, “Why do you want privacy? Do you want me to fuck you that badly? Do you want me to fill you up all night long?”

She looked at him like he was kind of an idiot.  “Yes. Yes, I do.”

His hand slipped under that shirt he had got her for Christmas, and he fondled her tits which were covered by her bra. “Tonight on that couch, I’m gonna show you something else that will completely blow your mind. Then I’m going to take you again. This time we’re both going to be sober.” Ulquiorra kissed her again and then let her go. He walked over to where the dishwasher was and looked in the cupboard for the cookies she made. He was acting like what he had done didn’t affect him but Ulquiorra was hard, and he wanted to give into her right there.

Orihime stood where he left her, eyes closed and biting her lip with a pained expression on her face, willing the heat in her loins to die down.  If she even tried to walk right now, just the motion of her legs moving back and forth would be overstimulating. “Be nice to me, I’m a beginner,” she whimpered after a minute.

Ulquiorra turned and looked at her with a cookie in his mouth. He ate it contemplating what he could do to her while in the kitchen that wouldn’t go against Zom’s rules. He just said not to have sex. He didn’t say anything about touching. “Orihime, come here.” It was a demand, not a request.

She opened her eyes and saw the expression on his face.  She did as she was told, stopping about a foot away from him.

He raised an eyebrow at her and backed her into the counter. “I said come here not stop where I can’t touch you. How am I supposed to have your knees weak and shaking if I can’t touch you?” Ulquiorra asked her in a low voice, his hands on her hips.

Her mind went blank, and she looked into his eyes, her own wide and waiting for further instruction.

“I am being nice to you. If I weren’t I’d have you so keyed up and horny you wouldn’t be able to walk without shivering,” he said. Ulquiorra trailed one hand behind her and squeezed her round ass. The other hand had cupped the area between her legs, pressing gently. “I would leave you like that.”

She whimpered, closing her eyes for a moment.  If Ulquiorra only knew that she was already a wet, simpering mess on the inside, he’d be scandalized, she thought.  Oh, may as well, she decided and whispered to him. “You’re too late; I’m already soaked.”

He brought his mouth down to her ear, letting his mouth suck on the flesh. “I’m not late,” he growled as his hand wormed its way under the yoga pants she wore. His fingers slipped under the cotton material of her underwear, casually like he wasn’t wearing the usual priest outfit. His collar no longer felt like it was trying to strangle him. His hand cupped her again, sliding over wet skin. “Well, someone wants it bad.”

She nodded, biting her lip for a moment, then whispered, “Forgive me, Father.”

His brain almost had a meltdown. Ulquiorra had to think fast or else he was going to break Zommari’s rule. “I think I might prefer, ‘sorry Daddy’ from your mouth,” he replied, slipping two fingers inside of her.

She was tempted to laugh, reminded of the conversation from their time in the basement when that phrase first came up, but then she was immediately distracted by more pressing matters.  If that’s what the man wanted, that’s what the man would get.  She lifted one of her legs slightly to let him in further and whispered, “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

Blood pulsed in his groin and Ulquiorra bit his lip. “You are? I think you should ride my hand as penance. Show me how you’d move if you were on top of me.”

She bit her lip and looked up at him from under her brows, then put her hands behind her to brace herself against the countertop and did as he commanded, lifting her left hip first, then moving her hips around his fingers in a small half-circle and raising her right hip, then letting herself back down to his knuckles.  It was not as good as his cock last night, but it was nice.

He watched as her hips moved, raking his teeth over his bottom lip. It made him realize how badly he wanted her again though he’d just had sex with her a couple of hours ago. “You’ve got to be quiet, Orihime. Not a peep,” Ulquiorra said as he began to move his fingers inside of her.

She bit both lips inside of her mouth and nodded several times, quickly.   She kept moving her hips as Ulquiorra fingered her. After a couple of minutes, she couldn’t take it anymore. Orihime and had to cover her mouth and nose with one hand as her breathing began to struggle, only then able to move one side of her hips properly.  It didn’t matter, Ulquiorra took up the slack.

“You look so good doing this. You feel good. I can’t wait to make you mine again and again,” Ulquiorra told her, voice still low. It was seductive and smooth as he whispered to her. He continued moving his hand making sure that his thumb kept in contact with her clit. “Come on my hand.”

His words did her in, and he didn’t have to wait long before she was doing exactly as he said, doing everything in her power to keep quiet, tears springing from her eyes as she bit her lips hard.  She panted through her nostrils until it got too loud, then finally removed her hand from her mouth and opened it, looking up to the ceiling in a silent scream.

She had come.  Hard.

Ulquiorra knew she had. He’d felt it; holding her close he removed his hand from her clothing and kissed her face. “It’s okay,” he said, running his clean hand over her hair. “Was that too much?”

She shook her head no, unable to speak yet.  Finally, when she got her breath back, she whispered, “I think I’m going to have to do laundry.  Also, when are you going to wear your glasses again?”

That made Ulquiorra laugh. He threw his head back and laughed. “Do you want me to wear them all the time?” he asked.

“No, just sometimes.  As a treat.”

He kissed her again, letting the tip of his tongue flick against her lips. “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in a couple of days, who knows. Thank you for the cookies, Miss Inoue. I’ve got to wash my hands and get to work.”

“Anything, anytime, Father Cifer,” she replied chasing after his lips for one more kiss.

Ulquiorra took that moment to press his hips against her before going to the half-bath. He stood there for a moment and looked at himself in the mirror. It was the same winter pale skin. The same vibrant green eyes. The same dark hair. His lips were swollen slightly from kissing her and biting them. He looked like Father Cifer. He was a sinner.

Shaking his head, Ulquiorra washed his hands and then went into the office, sitting down at the computer. Zommari came through the door that separated the rooms. “What?” the younger man asked.

“Do you want to talk about it now?”

“Pull up a chair,” Ulquiorra replied.

 

***

 

“I had feelings for Orihime probably in my second year of college. I would always ask my mother about her if there was any news. You know, how she was doing--stuff like that. I didn’t realize I had formed this version in my head that I couldn’t shake,” Ulquiorra said.

 Zommari sat there. He said nothing.

 "When I found out Aizen had plans for me, I decided I wasn’t going to hurt another person again. You weren’t there, but Aizen had her parents killed. She was supposed to die. I tried to save her and her brother but that stupid idiot! It was a case of wrong place, wrong time. I saw the blood. I saw what happened. I felt guilty for it. Aizen knew I saved her.”

 “You saved her life. You did a good deed.”

“I made her life hell. I made my own life hell. I lived with this mental picture of her, and I fell in love with that. I knew that going into the seminary that I had romantic feelings for someone I hadn’t seen in twelve years. The last time I spoke to her, I basically told her to go kill herself,” Ulquiorra snapped.

The bald priest looked at him. “You think you caused this?”

A scoff came from Ulquiorra. “I didn’t cause her parents’ death, and I didn’t cause her brother’s death. I tried to save him too. I told the guy don’t shoot the kids. Aizen was the one, but he blames me for allowing her to live.”

“If you loved her then why did become a priest?”

The green-eyed man shrugged. “I became a priest so I didn’t have to follow my father. So I didn’t have to go to prison for stupid things like assault or theft. I didn’t want to do that to people, Zom. I thought becoming a priest would make me untouchable. I became a priest to atone for what I had done to Orihime. I condemned her to a life of being Aizen’s slave.”

A sigh left the older man. “You don’t think you can somehow correct this?”

“Zom, you know how Aizen is. You know once he finds out your secrets; your weakness, you’re done. The only thing that’s going to get me out of this is his death. He needs to die and so does Nnoitra.”

“Thou shalt not--”

Ulquiorra scoffed again. “I know. Thou shalt not fuck other people when you’re a priest, but here we are. You’re living a lie, how do you justify that? How can you answer to Father Zommari or Father Rureaux?”

“Tosen told me the same thing when I told him about Maria. Profits were up; priests were scarce. I could have my cake and eat it too. Why do you think I drink or that I’m a grumpy ass, Ulquiorra? My marriage is conducted by phone calls and texts; Skype sessions and pictures. I send my wages to Maria,” Zommari replied. “I’m asking you not to make a scandal out of this. No PDA; don’t go around talking to her excessively. Just act as you’ve done. So far no one’s suspected anything from you two. You’re role models for a new generation of parishioners.”

Those words cut right to Ulquiorra’s heart. He wasn’t a role model. “As soon as I met her, I knew what I was going to do, Zommari. I planned on this. I have held out so many times against her.”

“I know. I could tell you were struggling. I didn’t know how to help.” The black priest sighed and stood. “Don’t call attention to yourself. Pull out. Don’t get her pregnant.”

A mocking laugh left Ulquiorra’s mouth. “Too late for that.”

“You mean she’s already pregnant?”

“What? No!”

Zommari shook his head. “Heaven knows I’ve given you two plenty of opportunities.”

Ulquiorra’s brows furrowed. “What?”

“The snow day. I did my rounds at the hospital and went to see my wife. I got stuck down in Hartford where she lives.” Zommari sighed. “I thought there were many occasions where you two had done things, but you’ve surprised me.”

“It takes getting punched in the face to get laid around here.”

“You’re going to struggle every day with this. Every-damn-day. Love isn’t a sin,” Zommari said before he retreated to his office.

Ulquiorra sat there for a long while before he started to pray.

 

***

 

As soon as Ulquiorra left the kitchen, Orihime sighed.  She hadn’t been lying to Ulquiorra. She didn’t regret what they had done, and she wanted to do it again.  But other thoughts began to creep into her mind that weighed heavily on it. Thoughts of the people who were being hurt by their actions.  Thoughts of Chad. Thoughts of the Rohertys. Thoughts of her friends from college that now had targets on their backs. Thoughts of the parishioners who would feel betrayed if they knew.  

Those thoughts were troubling, but she could handle them.  It wasn’t her fault that Aizen had targeted those people. If parishioners found out the truth, well, then she would just deal with it.  But another thought stalked her, and that one left her blood running cold.

What if she did get pregnant?

Of course, she would be overjoyed, mostly.  She loved Ulquiorra. She would be happy to bear him children.  As a Catholic, even one who had betrayed her church, she believed that God called on her to “be fruitful and multiply”.  She would welcome a child happily, even if the timing was not great; even if the child was named Inoue instead of Cifer.  That wasn’t the problem.

The problem was Aizen.

What would happen?  Aizen was not yet able to sink his teeth too deeply into Ulquiorra.  As much as he said he loved her, she was still just a woman. She could, in theory, be replaced.  If they had a child, though, she thought there was no way Ulquiorra would jeopardize that child’s safety.  He would do anything Aizen asked.

That was not acceptable.

Then there was the problem of her obligation to Aizen.  How much would her next examination would be relayed to Ulquiorra’s adoptive father?  How much would be revealed to the doctor? She sighed and got to work cleaning up the mess left in the kitchen from the night before.  As she cleaned, she remembered what Ulquiorra had said to her, to make plans with and without him.

She wouldn’t accept being without him.  Not anymore. Not long-term, anyway. She was rational, though.  She could imagine scenarios in which splitting up for the short term in order to avoid detection may be beneficial.  She needed to reach out to her contacts. She needed to warn those who had been targeted. She decided to reach out to Chad, first; see how he was holding up.

She called the man and waited for him to pick up, but on the second ring, it went to voicemail.  She left him a message to call her back. As she did, the doorbell rang. She had been on her way to go upstairs, and turned to open the door.  There was a florist’s delivery truck outside.

“Oh, the funeral flowers should be delivered to the side door of the church,” she told the man as she opened the door.

“This ain’t for a funeral.  You Or-eh-haim In-oh? Sorry if I’m sayin’ that wrong.”

“That’s alright.  Yes, I’m Orihime.”

“That’s an unusual name, lady.  What’s that, Mexican?”

She laughed uncomfortably.  “No, it’s Japanese. I can see where you got, er, Mexican though.”

“Sorry.   Anyway, these are for you.  Sign here please,” the man said, passing her an electronic package tracker to sign with her finger.  “Thanks a lot, have a nice day.”

“Thank you,” she said absently as she closed the door and walked into the kitchen with the flowers.  Did Ulquiorra send these to her? ‘Thanks for the sex’ flowers seemed a little much. She smiled anyway, plucking the card from the little plastic holder.

Her heart dropped to her feet as she read the inscription, her eyes widening in horror as her hand came over her mouth.

The card read:   Good girl.  Keep it up. Love, Uncle Sousuke.

She dropped the card on the table and ran to the office, and was about to pound on the door when she realized, if she was being watched, she should maybe not throw a fit and tattle to Ulquiorra where it could be observed.  She went back into the kitchen and got on her phone. She dialed his number.

He was surprised as his cell phone rang. He picked up the device from where it sat on the desk and looked at the screen. Why would Orihime call him? He declined the call and stood, leaving the office and walked out to the kitchen. Ulquiorra tilted his head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “You couldn’t wait?” he asked. Then he noticed her slightly panicked expression. “What’s wrong?”

She smiled at him.  It looked completely phony.  “I got this lovely bouquet of flowers today.  From a mutual acquaintance.” Maybe she was being overly careful, but she didn’t know and thought it was better to err on the side of caution.

He scowled. Flowers from someone they both knew? Chad? It didn’t seem likely the big man would send Orihime flowers when she put his life in danger. “From who? Why didn’t you just come into the office and tell me?” He turned from her and got his coffee cup out of the cupboard. He almost dropped it as a thought came to him. “Aizen?” Ulquiorra asked.

“Bingo,” she answered, although her voice carried no merriment.  “He even sent a card. Wanna see?”

Abandoning the cup, Ulquiorra looked at her and then nodded. “Why would he send you a card?”

“Come look,” she said through clenched teeth, leaving it in plain sight next to the table and going to the refrigerator as if to start cooking something.

With a sigh, Ulquiorra did as she asked. He picked up the small card and then his stomach dropped. “No,” he muttered. “No, no, no.”

“What does this mean?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” Ulquiorra said and looked at the redhead. “Zommari said that there were cameras on the outside of the house. Maybe...” he couldn’t think at the moment. Just the thought that his father or someone else had watched them… It was enough to make him want to run. “Should I go check my room?”

“I think it’s wise,” she said, trying not to panic.

Ulquiorra felt his skin crawling by now. This didn’t feel right. “I’m going to call Grimmjow while I’m up there.”

“Should I come with?” she asked.  She was starting to realize that her efforts to be covert were woefully inadequate.

With a shake of his head, Ulquiorra declined her offer. “Act normally, remember?” He reached for her hand and gave it a small squeeze. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Why don’t you go see if Zom needs anything? That might help you.” He let go of her and went upstairs. Where the hell could a camera be? Was it a camera? There were minimal decorations in the room. Everything in this room had been the same since he stepped foot into it back in September. The crucifix. The wardrobe. The dresser. The mirror. The bed. The bedside table. Hell, even a charger for his phone had been furnished. The only things that Ulquiorra bought was a lamp for the room because the ceiling light was too harsh and bed linens.

There was absolutely nothing amiss.

He went back down the stairs. “There’s nothing in my room,” he said.

“Would Zommari have told him?” she asked in hushed tones.

Ulquiorra thought about the discussion they had earlier that day. “I don’t think so. Zommari is under Aizen’s thumb just like--I forgot to call Grimmjow. Shit.” The priest shook his head. “I didn’t need or want this today.”

“I’m sorry,” she shook her head, looking at a spot on the floor across the room.  “I’ll call him if you want,” she offered, not sure why, but unable to cope at the moment with Ulquiorra’s displeasure.

Orihime was probably scared again. That’s why she wouldn’t look at him Ulquiorra thought to himself. “Hey, I’m not mad at you. I’m pissed off because of my dad. I hate that someone witnessed us if that is the case.”

“Well, on the bright side, I guess this means we don’t have to pretend around your family, right?  The cat’s out of the bag and all that?” she looked up at him tentatively.

He scoffed. “It’s not like I’m voluntarily going over there to have Sunday dinner with them. Who cares if they know. If someone saw that bothers me. I don’t know if you get it or not but I don’t want anyone to see you… Not how I get to see you.”

“Well I know you and your family don’t have good ties, I wasn’t suggesting that, but why do you care so much about someone seeing me?  I mean, it seems so insignificant compared to everything else that’s on the line.” Her question was sincere.

“You’re mine. I don’t want anyone to look at you without proper clothing. I don’t want anyone to touch you. No one is going to take you from me. I didn’t break my vow for some random encounter; for some nameless woman. I broke it for you; for someone I’ve wanted for years,” Ulquiorra said staring at her. His voice had a sharp edge to it. “I’m not supposed to covet. I’m not supposed to get jealous, but I am. Yes, I realize that this feeling is irrational. I know it shows that I’m somewhat insecure. This is all my family’s fault, and I swear on my life if they try anything, I will bring Aizen down.”

She reached out to touch his arm.  “I am yours.  Never doubt it.”  She sighed softly.  “Are you going to be able to handle the ‘check-ups’ that Aizen is making me go to?”

He huffed. The idea didn’t appeal to him, especially since Nnoitra had accompanied her the first time. “Why do you need to go to checkups?” Ulquiorra asked. “We’ve done our thing; it’s just time to wait, right? Why does a doctor need to--” It was clear he was going to handle this poorly.

“Uh, no, it was explained that I had to, um, perform as frequently as possible to ensure fertility and that the check-ups are for the health of any potential fetus and to make sure I’m not doing anything that would, um, decrease the likelihood of success.  Aizen was clear that if I attempt to avoid a pregnancy, I will be replaced immediately. And apparently, it’s like, not as easy to get pregnant as people make it sound, sometimes…” It was hard for her to talk about it because it felt like she was arguing on Aizen’s behalf.  She didn’t like these conditions any more than Ulquiorra did.

That was why Orihime told him to come with her instead of pulling out. They were pawns. Ulquiorra shook his head in disbelief. He could not believe his father. “So we already have plans to do that, right?”

“To do what?”  She wasn’t following.

“Have sex.”

She smiled for the first time since this conversation started, “I hope so.”

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra rushed through the bible study group, leg bouncing up and down. People kept telling him that they missed him at confession yesterday. “Wasn’t feeling that good,” he said. “Still not feeling the best.”

It was a lie. He just wanted to get back to the rectory. He wanted to get back to Orihime. She probably had her own thing going on though. As soon as the clock struck eight, he was telling everyone that he’d see them next week, practically pushing the parishioners out the door. He locked the basement of the church up and ran back to the house.

It was damn cold for January.

As soon as he was inside he shed his coat and scarf then did his nightly routine of hanging up his collar and then shucked the rest of it into the clothes basket. It was full, maybe he’d do laundry tonight. Ulquiorra looked at his bed. He hadn’t inspected it to see what the damage was and he didn’t really feel like it. He put on some sweats and a t-shirt, taking the basket downstairs. He didn’t see anyone around so he went to the basement. As soon as he reached the bottom of the stairs, he flipped the light switch and frowned.

Orihime wasn’t down there. She was probably busy.

He walked across the basement and into the laundry room, dumping all of his clothes into the machine. He never sorted anything. Soap and that other stuff that Orihime used went in and Ulquiorra started the machine. After that was done, he decided to watch a movie while he waited.

The fluorescent lamps that were secured to the ceiling of the basement hurt his eyes so he turned on one of the lamps that Nel had got him and turned off the overhead lights. He picked a movie and popped it into the DVD player.

He decided on one of the action films Nel got him for Christmas. It was ironic because the movie was called Smokin’ Aces and it dealt with FBI agents and the mafia. He went upstairs and got himself some water and returned to the basement to flop down on the middle of the couch. He pressed play and started watching the movie.

Orihime had not been feeling well. She had a headache and had gone to lie down after dinner. She heard Ulquiorra come in and change but she didn’t come out to meet him. She was stressed and needed some quiet time to think, and besides, she kind of expected that he would check in on her; he usually did.

She had half a mind to go to her secret closet stash and have a drink, but she was afraid to. If there was a chance she could be pregnant she didn’t want to take the risk of harming the baby. She sighed. She had to get out of her room. Brooding wasn’t helping. Maybe some mind-numbing television would help.

She got up and went to the kitchen, making herself a cup of hot chocolate with a quarter cup of coffee poured in and went downstairs. She heard the sounds from the television and saw the flashes of light cast on the stairway walls before she saw Ulquiorra splayed out on the couch. She came around the side of it and asked quietly, “Do you mind some company?”

Ulquiorra looked up at Orihime and shook his head. “Join me. I was just watching this movie. I can turn it off if you want to watch something different.”

“No, this is fine, I don’t mind watching this. I just want to shut my brain off for a bit. This and you will do quite nicely, I think,” she said and smiled as she sat down beside him.

Now that she was around, Ulquiorra wasn’t too interested in the movie. “I thought you needed some space, you know, to think everything over. A lot has changed since Christmas,” he said.

“It’s true that a lot has changed, and thinking is what I was doing upstairs. Turns out thinking is not helping.” She laid her head on his shoulder. “This helps, though.”

“Being around me helps?” He asked as he put an arm around her shoulder, playing with some strands of hair. “Why isn’t thinking helping?”

She smiled up at him. “Of course being around you helps, silly. I love you. You make me happy. Anyway, thinking about it isn’t solving anything and is just making me worry. You know, the same worries keep chasing themselves around in circles. If I didn’t have you… I’d be totally lost.”

Several thoughts rolled through his brain. The same worries were stressing him out. His father, having sex with her, breaking his vows to the church. He also wanted to point out that if she didn’t have him, she probably would have become a whore for Aizen a long time ago. Ulquiorra didn’t say anything though. He just kept playing with her hair, running his hands through it. “I’m glad I can try to help you through it. I’m just as lost as you are though,” he told her before he kissed her temple.

She wrapped an arm across his torso, gripping his side and snuggling her body into his, bringing her knees up onto his lap. “Maybe we should get a boat. Sail away somewhere. Does Aizen have a fleet of ships like Humperdink? Do you think he would be able to find us on the high seas?” Her questions were romantic and silly, and she smiled dreamily as she said them.

“Ha, no. Aizen I think has a yacht… Maybe a fishing boat. Not exactly a fleet,” Ulquiorra answered. He looked at the television where some hookers were getting into a fight and one had just tripped and fallen through a glass coffee table. “We could go overseas.”

 

“Ooh, international intrigue! Any particular destination?”

He shook his head. “I know London and Rome,” Ulquiorra said. He looked down at the redhead and traced a finger down her nose. “Could go to your home country.”

“I guess. Technically I’m not even a U.S. Citizen. I have a green card. I could become a citizen at this point but it has never really come up, I can do everything everyone else does except vote, I think. I’d like to go to Japan one day though. It would be weird to walk in with a Japanese passport and not really be Japanese… it’s a strange thought.”

The priest sighed. “For shits and giggles, can you answer a question for me?”

“Shoot.”

Another sigh. He knew Orihime wasn’t going to like his question. “If you had to choose between me being a priest and us never getting married or being a mob boss’s wife, which would you pick? ”

“Oh man, it’s so hard to pick, they’re such great choices,” she teased, knowing it probably wouldn’t ease the burden on his mind much, if at all. She pitied him. He didn’t choose this life. Neither of them did. She sighed. “Honestly, it depends on the day. If I’m feeling selfish, mob boss wife. If I’m being my best self, the never getting married one. Which would you pick?”

She had a smart mouth sometimes. Ulquiorra decided to let it pass; she was just teasing him and honestly he probably needed some comic relief. “Neither. I would have picked different things. Maybe become a teacher or an artist. If I had to pick, I’d pick the mob boss for the freedom. I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone finding out about us. I wouldn’t have to keep us hidden. I’d be able to fuck you in a king size bed and parade you around. Sorry, I’m--I’m--I’m pissed off.”

“Don’t be sorry.”

He heard the washer beep that it was done and he untangled himself from her. Ulquiorra walked into the laundry room and switched the clothes, put in dryer sheets and then started it. He walked back into the rec room. He stood looking at her, his arms folded over his chest. “You’ve still not decided on what you want to do, have you?”

“What do you mean? That’s a vague question.” she asked, feeling like he was asking a bigger question than she was prepared to answer.

“I mean do you want to stay here or do you want to leave?”

“Honestly, I want to leave, with you. If I can’t do that, then I don’t know. I know you have a lot of obligations, like, real ones, not just arbitrary Aizen ones. But if having your baby is what it takes to stay with you, then it’s something that I’m willing to do, if I can. If it doesn’t work; if it’s a matter of my life or death, then I think that’s the only circumstance where I would choose leaving without you, but only with the understanding that you’d eventually follow…” she looked at him with a tired sort of anguish in her eyes. “I feel like there is no good choice. Only some choices that are more palatable than others.”

“Orihime,” Ulquiorra said but stopped. There was only so many times and so many ways he could say that he was tied to Boston and the only reason he was here was because of Aizen. “I’m tired of all this bullshit. I’m tired of all of Aizen’s bullshit. I’ve been tired of it since the night I heard about the fucking Easter massacre. I want to be gone. I want to go. I want this over with. I just feel like you should move on without me because I’m a mess. I’m poor excuse for a priest. I’m selfish because I don’t want you to go.”

She stood and faced him and sighed. “I personally don’t care if you are the worst priest ever. We really only have one choice anyway. You’re going to have to knock me up. Get crackin’.” Her words were flippant, but she was dead serious.

He scoffed at her but he had a small smile on his face. “You think you can order me around? First off, I told you I was going to blow your mind then I would take you. I’m sticking to that.” Ulquiorra walked around Orihime and sat back down, taking a drink from the bottle of water he had opened. He set it on the floor at his feet then looked at her.

“Okay…” she said, a bit of humor returning to her. “So, what do you want me to do?”

“Sit down, I want your feet in my lap.”

She gave a small smile and sat back down at one end of the couch, then put her feet on his lap. “Okay, done.” she said, with a self-satisfied look on her face. If he was going to be mysterious, she would be obtuse. That’s how she played ball.

“No you’re not,” he said. Ulquiorra reached for that festive fleece blanket and handed it to Orihime. He had plans to show her things but he wasn’t sure if she would be receptive to it just yet. “Take off your pants and your underwear and then put this over you.”

“Okay,” she said, raising her hips off the couch and taking her sweats and underwear off in one fell swoop, then grabbed the blanket and covered up. She thought this was pretty weird, but she was down. Ulquiorra hadn’t disappointed her yet.

The priest hoped to God that his sister had bought a couch with removable covers for the cushions because he had a feeling that it was going to become a mess. His hand landed on Orihime’s thigh and trailed a light pattern over her skin, the circles he made varied in size but he avoided the area between her thighs.

She was enjoying this. It was nice. She didn’t get it though. She wondered if maybe he was trying to write secret messages on her skin. She closed her eyes and tried to decipher them. Nope, just circles. She opened her eyes again to see his face, a questioning expression on her own.

Ulquiorra turned to Orihime. His green eyes stared back at her as his hands changed the pattern. His fingers made their way over her legs but he was beginning to encroach on her inner thighs. The touches were feather light though. He enjoyed seeing her face and how she particularly looked when his hands passed over a certain spot. “You want to know what I’m doing, don’t you? You need a warm up. You just can’t go from cold to fucking in ten seconds. Women need encouragement.”

“What do you know of women’s needs?” She asked playfully. Then he hit that spot again and this time she hissed.

“I don’t know anything about women’s needs but I can guess. Like right now I can guess that you’re getting frustrated,” Ulquiorra said. His hands were rubbing the insides of her thighs now, fingers just barely grazing her curls. “You like my hands and fingers so much. I know you like my cock. I’m going to show you how good my mouth can make you feel.”

Her eyes widened in shock, then she said, “You can’t mean what I think you mean,” lowering her brows and acting like her idea had been completely ridiculous.

A small smile played on his lips as he pushed her legs apart. “I mean I’m going to use my mouth on your pussy,” Ulquiorra stated.

“What?! No! You can’t be serious, it’s… dirty,” she said, trying to close her legs and blushing furiously.

Ulquiorra was about to disappear under the blanket and he looked up at her. “Would you rather use your mouth on my dick?” He asked. “It’s not dirty. It’s another form of sex.”

“But…” She was scared that she would smell or taste bad and turn him off. “What if I… you know…” it was too embarrassing for her to say as she looked down. It was not the act itself that turned her off, it was just the fear of repulsing him.

“What if you what? Come on my face? Good. Do you just want me to finger you again? I mean I can.”

She whined a bit and then admitted, “What if I gross you out?”

He really wanted to roll his eyes at her worries but Ulquiorra knew better than that. She was new to this entire thing. He should be gentler and more understanding. “It’s okay if you’re not comfortable with it. I can show you how to jerk me off. Maybe then you can climb on,” Ulquiorra said as he grabbed her hand and pulled Orihime over to him. The blanket that covered her fell to the floor.

She was somewhat disappointed and pursed her lips, chewing on the inside of her cheek a bit. She didn’t have a clue, really, so she had to just go along with what he told her to do. She had been hoping he would have talked her into that other thing, but maybe she was right, and the idea had grossed him out. Dodged a bullet then, she guessed. She let Ulquiorra lead her to where he wanted her and then waited.

“What?” he asked as he lifted his hips, shoving his own sweats down enough that his dick was about to pop out. “Did you want me to do that to you? Orihime, I’m not going to do something if you say no.”

“I don’t know. I mean, have you done it before?” She was skeptical. It sounded pretty out-there and kinky to her.

“No. Never at all,” he said sarcastically. Ulquiorra took her chin in his hand and looked at her. “Yes, I have. Contrary to popular belief, I did have a couple of girlfriends while in high school and college.”

She smiled. “I know, Nel was very excited to report to the class when her “handsome brother” had a new girlfriend,” she laughed at the memory, then she looked at him fondly and asked, “But you’re sure it’s something you like doing? Because if it is then I would try it, I just didn’t want you to stop liking me…”

Now he did roll his eyes then he looked at her. “Woman. Orihime. You’re precious. You really are. I like it. Oral sex--any kind of sex-- is good,” Ulquiorra said to her, trying to reassure her that he wouldn’t drop her like that.

She smiled in a bashful sort of way and pushed some hair behind one ear and said, “Okay, then. Whatever you want to do then.” She eyed his cock, worried about how he was doing. “Or, I mean, do you need to… um…I could?” She hovered her hand over his cock and looked into his face for permission.

“I don’t need to. I know how to cope with it,” Ulquiorra replied. He looked at Orihime. “Besides, Woman, I want to taste you.”

One half of her mouth rose up in an amused, dubious smile. “Ok, um… Bon Appetit?”

He tried to keep a straight face but ended up laughing. Ulquiorra didn’t stop for a solid minute. “If a guy is willing to go down on you--I’d like to talk a little sense in to those people who raised you, because wow.”

“That bad? I’m sorry…” she made an awkward face and looked over at the table. “I told you I was sheltered. My weekends were pretty much just church and bridge club. I don’t even know how to play bridge.”

“Well now your nights and weekends are going to be spent learning how to be a bad girl,” he said. Ulquiorra pushed her back so that she was laying on the couch. With the way she looked up at him, he was glad he hadn’t removed his sweatpants all the way. He leaned down and kissed her. “Do you remember what to say if it becomes too much?”

She smiled. “Yes. I remember.” She kissed him back, kind of not wanting to let his face leave hers, but curious enough to let go.

The man slid down her body, peppering it with kisses and bites, enjoying how she squirmed beneath his mouth and hands. When he reached his destination between her legs, Ulquiorra positioned himself where he was kneeling on the cement floor and one of Orihime’s legs hung off the couch. He lifted the leg that was still on the couch and placed it on his shoulder.

She was absolutely perfect. The copper curls. Her flawless thighs. He expected her to have some freckles since every redhead that he had met had some but she didn’t have any. His green eyes could see how her skin glistened in the lamplight. He watched her as he leaned forward, pressing his lips just above where her pubic hair started.

She inhaled sharply when he did that, her small fist grasping at the edge of the arm of the sofa. Orihime watched Ulquiorra’s face intently, taking in his reaction to her and watching carefully for any signs of misgivings on his face. She found none, and watching him kiss her lower belly caused her nipples to harden under her clothing. “I love you,” she murmured.

He gave her a brief smile before he turned his head to kiss her inner thighs. He gave them the same treatment he had given to the rest of her body, lips and teeth giving both pleasure and a bit of pain. Ulquiorra didn’t put any threat behind it but he liked to see her reaction to it. He switched to the other side and thought about what she kept saying to him.

She loved him. Orihime said it often to him while he maybe said it once in a while since they declared their feelings to each other. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her. He’d always been taught to hide what he was feeling. Once he became a priest, he’d been taught to show only joy and compassion. Everything else was unnecessary. Being introspective while going down on a potential mate wasn’t good for the mood but it did wonders to calm him down.

When she started shifting her hips, he decided she was ready. “Orihime,” he said, moving to where she could only see from his eyes up. “I love you.”

She decided this was probably the best view she had ever seen in her entire life. His smoldering emerald eyes looking up between the valley of her breasts, breathing her favorite words over her wet folds. It was almost too good. Her eyes narrowed and she hummed, biting her lip and nodding, waiting for something to happen. The feeling of his lips and teeth on her inner thighs had been so hot and wet; she was imaging how it would feel between her legs. It was making her wet, too. Being exposed as she was, as wet as she was, made her feel cold and uncomfortable. She wanted him to cover her.

His tongue flicked against her. Then Ulquiorra made sure his tongue dove between those wet folds of skin in a long stripe. He liked how she gasped as he returned to her clit, letting the tip slide and curl around that sensitive nub of skin.

Oh holy shit balls Jesus Christ on a cross hnnghhhhhhhh! Orihime thought as her eyes squeezed tightly shut and she bit both lips hard when he really got in there. She had expected it to be different and a little weird. She hadn’t expected it to be this… hot. Or liquid. But mostly hot; nearly scalding. The leg she had over his shoulder tightened involuntarily and the other pushed up on her toe on the sofa cushion. She released her lips and gasped, then spoke on an inhale, “Oh my god!”

Ulquiorra had to smile as he sucked on her clit. He liked hearing her. He liked listening to her. Not that he got the chance to vocalize often but just hearing her now sent pulses through his cock. It was tempting to pull it out and start jacking off but he had promised her that they would make love after this. He had to keep his hands busy. He sat back as his thumb started stroking the bundle of nerves and he looked at the redhead with a predatory glance.

She felt a difference in what he was doing and opened her eyes. The look on his face alone was almost enough to make her come. She lifted her legs a bit higher and a bit further apart in a silent invitation. A heady, lusty feeling had overcome her and clouded her judgment, and later she would be ashamed of herself, but at the moment, it seemed a totally appropriate question when she asked, “Do you like how I taste?”

“Yes,” he answered, smirk still plastered onto his mouth. “Do you like how my tongue feels against you?”

“Yes,” she answered, her chest rising and falling in an exaggerated manner.

A low chuckle left Ulquiorra. “Good,“ he said before lowering his mouth back to her skin. The thumb was replaced and he used one hand to hold her leg where it was while the other hand teased her opening. One finger entered her and withdrew several times before he finally slid a second finger into her.

Oh this was nice. Very nice. The tension in her upper body kind of melted away as she slumped against the couch and let him do his work. She idly cupped her breasts, her fingertips pressing against her swollen nipples, which had been aching for some stimulation as well.

She found that when she relaxed, she was able to really feel what he was doing down there. It was intense. It was much more localized and less of a whole-body experience than sex had been, but it was just as enjoyable. He kept going, and because she was relaxed, she could really feel how her inner muscles started to tense up, how the tension was building in waves, and how the nerves where his tongue touched her were buzzing with increasing frequency. This was a head job, in more than one sense.

His jaw was aching because it’d been a long time since he had done this. Ulquiorra was determined to finish what he started, however. He would glance up at her from time to time, seeing if she was okay and gauging her reaction. Seeing her touch her breasts was a turn on. Orihime seemed to be lost in her own world. That was fine with him. That was the point of this entire thing. It was for her to let go and forget everything. He decided to double his efforts, tongue lathing against her; his fingers stroking her walls, finding that one spot and manipulating it with a come hither motion.

Whoa. That came on fast. Everything had changed suddenly from warm, slow progress to hard and fast freefall as she suddenly came on his face and finger. It was intense and over relatively quickly. Her legs began shaking as he continued to manipulate her, and it was becoming too much. Her head thrashed back and forth, her hips twisting, trying to escape. Then she remembered.

“Whisky!! Whisky!”

Ulquiorra sat up, and then gathered her into his arms. He held Orihime, afraid that he had done something to hurt her. “Are you okay? Was it painful? Too much?”

She wasn’t able to answer him right away, her breath had been stolen and she had used the last of her reserves on her safe word. After a minute or two, she replied, “No, it didn’t hurt… It was, um, crazy, and, um, intense, and,” she paused to gather her breath again. “And surprising. And good.” She lolled her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes for a minute.

That was a comfort to hear. Ulquiorra hugged her tighter. “Sorry, I can get enthusiastic with that. I just keep going and going. I’m glad you enjoyed it though.”

She kissed the side of his neck and nuzzled his earlobe with her nose. “A for effort, A++ for execution,” she murmured into his ear.

“Really? Two pluses seems excessive but I’ll take it,” Ulquiorra teased, letting his hands trail up and down her back. “You good to go now? I mean--Is your brain still bothering you?”

“What brain?” she asked, smiling. “I think I lost it… who needs it anyway?” Her strength was slowly returning to her and she brought a hand to his cheek, opened her eyes and looked at his face. She could see how wet it was, and she blushed. “I think I made you a mess…”

With a shrug, the man wiped his face off with the bottom of his t-shirt before taking it off. “I’m washable,” he said. Ulquiorra looked into Orihime’s dark eyes. He was lucky to have her. “Are you satisfied for today?”

She dipped her chin lower to look at him from under her brows and answered, “Hardly. I need to keep my man happy too, don’t I? I can’t relax until you’ve been inside me.”

Since Orihime was sitting in his lap, all Ulquiorra had to do was raise his hips into her ass. He was still hard and it wouldn’t take much to set him off. “I believe I was going to show you something a couple weeks ago, wasn’t I?”

She smirked. “I recall something along those lines. Well, sir, by all means, show me.”

He wanted to kiss that smirk off her face. He wanted to fuck it off her face. “Keep it up and I will show you what I do to bad girls,” he whispered to her. Ulquiorra put Orihime back onto the couch and then stood, the front of his sweatpants tented out. This time he did not hesitate when he pulled them down and stepped out of them. He stood in front of Orihime and looked down at her.

Her eyes widened slowly. Yes, she had held it and felt it before; she had seen the outline of it under his pants. But like this, tall and proud and pale and, really, rather perfect-looking, she could not help but be kind of hypnotized. Her head tilted to the side as she studied it, and she smiled a bit as she realized she felt affection toward it. “Can I?” she asked, her hand raising up to touch it.

“Go ahead,” he replied. Ulquiorra watched everything she did.

She reached up and trailed her fingertips along the length, then sat forward to get her head closer. She let her fingers slide from the base to his balls, which she merely touched with one finger, more interested in the part that would soon, hopefully, be inside of her. Her fingers closed around the base of his cock and she was somewhat disappointed that she couldn’t easily close them around it. The fingertips could touch, not problem, but she couldn’t really press them together.

She thought it would not be as pleasant as it was. She had heard things from the older ladies after they had had a few cocktails at bridge about how nasty their husbands looked and how they never wanted to see it; how pendulous their ‘parts’ where.

Ulquiorra’s parts did not fit those descriptions. His was… pretty.

Her face got closer. She couldn’t detect anything offensive, only warmth. The skin was so soft and smooth. She did not plan or decide to do it. It just happened on its own when her lips reached out and kissed the side of his cock, just above her fingers. She hummed. It felt nice.

His brain went blank. All thoughts left him. He could scarcely remember to breathe as he watched her. Ulquiorra gently brushed her hair away from her face. “It feels really good if you lick the underside of the head,” he murmured. “Just saying.”

She smiled. Why not? she thought. She started where she was, kissing up the length of his shaft until she got close enough to the head to smell the difference. It was still pleasant, just not as warm. Her tongue came out and lapped from about two thirds of the way there up to the underside of the head, and then she licked at that spot, as asked. She could feel him twitch upward, and on impulse, her upper lip came out to close over the top of his head, to keep it in place.

Ulquiorra stopped breathing for a second as his eyes rolled back in his head. If the Lord decided to take him at that moment, he’d die happy. A deep throb went through his body as he felt her lips wrap around him. Fuck, if she kept up this exploration he’d be done in no time. “Don’t bite. Make sure your teeth don’t scrape.” Shit. He had meant to tell her to not do that.

“Okay,” she said, pulling away for moment and then closing both lips over the head, mimicking what she had felt him do to her clit, swirling her tongue over his head and pulling back to kiss the tip once in awhile, her hand stroking the velvety shaft. This was nice. This was new.

She opened her eyes and looked at his face. Oh. Ohhhhh. This was more fun than she thought. She stared at him as she tightened her lips and pulled on the head of his cock, then used the flat of her tongue to bathe the rim of it and then the tip, before licking the same path she had on his shaft again. He looked like he was going to cry or pray, she wasn’t sure.

“Are you alright?” she asked, worry in her tone.

“Yeah,” Ulquiorra managed to say, looking up at the ceiling of the basement. As long as he didn’t look at her or what her mouth was doing it was okay. He could hold off. “But if you keep doing that I’m gonna come in your mouth or on your face.”

She kissed the tip again and hummed with her lips still on it, considering. She was not opposed to the idea, but, she needed to work on getting pregnant. “Darn,” she said, backing up and laying back on the couch, opening her legs. “Maybe after it works,” she said.

He didn’t need any other invitation than that. He got to his knees and slid his cock into Orihime until he was entirely sheathed inside of her, not bothering to wait for her to adjust to him. “There’s no way I’m going to last, Woman.”

“That’s alright,” she said, smiling at him warmly. She wished she could reach his face, but he was too far away. “I still feel good from before.”

“I’ll make it up to you,” he said before he started moving his hips. The heat that prickled up his length felt delicious and he wanted more. Ulquiorra grabbed Orihime’s hips and dragged her towards him until her ass hung off the couch. He held her there as he began to thrust inside of her. Desire ruled his brain so he didn’t really think of her comfort or the fact that this was only the second time they had had sex. He’d been keyed up from this morning and hadn’t had any relief and by the time he’d gotten her off, his cock had leaked precum. “Mmmm,” he groaned before biting his lip.

She watched his face, smiling and absolutely fascinated. The fact that he appeared to be so lost inside of her; that her body was bringing him such pleasure, was thrilling. It made her feel validated. She wondered if she could do better, though. Her toes touched the ground, and using them to brace herself, she clenched her butt and inner muscles around him, trying to recreate the action she did with her lips on his cock.

“Fuck,” he said with his jaw clenched. He’d couldn’t remember anyone doing this to him as he had sex with them. Ulquiorra looked down at where their bodies connected, watching Orihime’s thighs work to help bring him off. He couldn’t keep his voice down as he slammed into her. He knew he was close. It only took three more times of him sliding into her body before he was coming, buried deep within her.

“I hope that was okay,” she said after he quieted, and she followed to his lap as he sat down on his heels keeping their bodies connected as he slowly began to soften. He looked exhausted. She lifted his face and kissed his lips lightly, then held his head to her shoulder. “I love you,” she whispered again.

Ulquiorra was too focused on drawing air into his lungs than trying to answer her. Why did it feel like such a religious experience when having sex with her? Why did it feel so good? His eyes burned and he kept his eyes closed, chest heaving with staggered breaths. “Okay? Dammit Orihime. Understatement,” he said.

“Well, I’m glad,” she said, holding him tightly to her. “Do you want to, um, snuggle?”

With a nod, the priest managed to push her back up on the couch and then sat beside her. He grabbed the blanket off the floor and laid it over both of them. He felt shattered for some reason. He felt broken. He felt lost. Was it because he didn’t feel guilty about what they had done? Ulquiorra pulled her closer, burying his face into her neck. He needed to enjoy this.

She petted his head, breathing him in, until they both fell asleep.

***

Ulquiorra pulled up in front of Aizen’s pub Monday night with Orihime in the car. She was sitting beside him and he’d stuck to her idea of leaving Monday and coming back late Tuesday. It would be just them in some private cabin in the wilds of Vermont. He looked at her. “You know I have to see him. You can come in if you want,” the priest said. “We can show him that we’re together in this. He might leave you alone. He might leave us alone.”

“You know him better than I do. If you think it’ll be in our favor, I’ll go. I want him to know he can’t use us against each other,” she said, taking his hand.

He nodded although the thought never occurred to him that Aizen would pit the lovers against each other. Ulquiorra squeezed her hand before getting out of the station wagon. When she was by his side, he took a deep breath and walked with her into the bar. He automatically spotted Grimmjow, Nel, and Tier. All three of them looked miserable. Nnoitra was grinning like a fool.

Orihime took a step closer to Ulquiorra when she saw Grimmjow, and nearly cowered behind him when she saw Nnoitra. For whatever reason, she didn’t expect his siblings to be there.

“Can you do this?” Ulquiorra asked before he decided on going any further. “We can do this Orihime. They’re not going to hurt you.”

She placed her hand in the middle of his back, pressing lightly, and nodded. “You’re here, I’ll be fine.”

He walked forward and stared at the people at the table. He finally saw Aizen sitting between Nnoitra and someone else he didn’t recognize. The female had dark hair and dark eyes. She looked as unhappy as the rest of the bunch sitting there. “Here,” Ulquiorra said throwing the plastic envelope of money at Aizen.

“Ah, Ulquiorra, you’re early. Is that Miss Inoue?” Aizen said, peering around the priest.

“Looks like he’s dragging the bitch everywhere,” Nnoitra commented.

“That’s not nice, Nnoi,” Nel said.

Orihime stepped around Ulquiorra’s back to his other side, putting him between herself and Nnoitra, despite the fair distance between them in the first place. She gave Nel a small smile and wave.

The teal-haired woman went to wave but Aizen held up a hand. “How are things going, Orihime? I trust that our payment plan is on track?”

Her smile dropped and her eyes slid over to his in a poisonous glare. She couldn’t censor it. “Things are going swimmingly,” she said, innuendo intended. She knew how that part worked.

“Cut the bullshit Aizen,” Ulquiorra stated. “We’ve fucked. We’re fucking. I’ll be taking her to her next appointment. I need to know when that is.”

Everyone at the table became deathly still and only their eyes moved to look at Ulquiorra. Aizen was the only one who turned his head to evaluate the man. “I don’t think so, Ulquiorra. Someone will escort Orihime to her appointments.”

Orihime stiffened, her hand snaking up his arm to grab Ulquiorra’s elbow, silently begging him to somehow change Aizen’s mind. Her eyes softened and she managed a tiny smile toward Aizen. “Please, Uncle Sousuke, I know Ulquiorra would want to be there to see if we’ve been, um, successful.”

“I said someone will take you.”

“I’ll follow behind them,” Ulquiorra countered. He glared at the man who called himself his father.

“Persistent aren’t you, boy?”

Ulquiorra held his head high. “What are you going to do? She’s done her part. Leave her alone.”

Aizen turned a sickly sweet smile towards the redhead. “Miss Inoue, do you think Ulquiorra can get you to and from these appointments? I could have Nnoitra pick you both up… but what would that look like… A priest entering a well-known OB-GYN’s office.”

“He’s merely counseling a parishioner who is considering abortion. You know, the church is very against it. It’s part of his duties to encourage his flock to choose life.” It was a shot it the dark, but she hoped her thinly veiled, empty threat was enough to sway the patriarch.

“Ulquiorra, I would like you to meet one of Nel’s new employees,” Aizen said. “This is Cirucci. Maybe you can help counsel her when she needs it.”

The green eyed priest heard the threat. “Duly noted,” he replied. “See you next week.”

“You’ll be seeing me sooner than that,” Nnoitra yelled at Ulquiorra’s back as they walked away. “I’ll be around on Friday, Orihime.”

She didn’t respond, keeping her eyes on the exit and chewing on her lip. When they got out, she turned to Ulquiorra and asked, “What did he mean by that?”

“I don’t know. Did the doctor give you a sheet with the dates on it? Did he say anything to you?” Ulquiorra asked as they walked back to the car. He stopped short as he saw Grimmjow standing by the car. The green-eyed man stared at his brother. “How did you get out here?”

Grimmjow gave the couple a bored look. “The fucking side entrance, asshole. Also that woman in there is Orihime’s replacement. Aizen just acquired her.”

Orihime felt like she had been punched in the gut, and a wave of nausea rolled over her. She took a step back for air. She knew she should be more upset by the actual problems they were facing, but her immediate reaction was betrayal and extreme jealousy, just imagining Ulquiorra with someone who wasn’t her. She had never even considered it before. She needed a second to get her head back on straight. After a couple slow breaths, she was able to push that reaction to the side, and rejoined Ulquiorra, looking at Grimmjow with distrust, but asking, “Why so soon? It’s only been a couple weeks?”

“You’ve not been around Aizen for a long period of time. You spent what? A week with us before being sent off to the wilds of where ever? Aizen likes plans. He likes having backups,” Grimmjow said.

Ulquiorra’s eyes narrowed at Grimmjow. “He’s that desperate for me to leave and join him?”

Grimmjow shrugged. “He recently threatened my baby mama so whenever you want to take him down, I could be available to help. Tier’s looking into this Cirucci. There could be some DNA testing involved. She said she remembers Aizen from her childhood. In fact there are four other women who recently came to work for Nel and they mentioned that Aizen was around while they were kids. Tier swabbed them and sent the stuff off.”

“Are you serious?” Ulquiorra asked, repulsed by the idea. There was no way he would ever touch someone related to Aizen.

“Dead serious,” Grimmjow replied. “Also, if you do knock her up you can bet there will be a scandal and you’ll have to leave your precious church.”

That feeling returned to Orihime and she couldn’t hold it in this time. “Could you stop?”

Blue eyes turned on the woman, “Excuse me for trying to help out Princess. You two can go fuck yourselves.”

“Don’t give me that, Grimmjow. What do you expect, gratitude? I haven’t been able to leave the house in over a month because of you. My arm finally doesn’t have a hand-shaped decoration on it anymore. You could have just explained what was going on then, if you wanted to help so badly.” She scoffed. The negative emotions she was feeling were making her behave recklessly. “Chad was never my boyfriend, by the way, so you better leave him alone.”

Grimmjow looked at her, making a face. “Ain’t no one going after your bodyguard,” he said. “As far as I know of anyway. And why haven’t you been able to leave? I’m not stalking you anymore. I tried to warn you on Christmas Day but you wanted to be all screechy and sic people with shovels on me.”

She sighed and threw her hands up in the air. “Fine, thank you. You never told me why, by the way. Why you lied to Aizen about me not wanting to see him when I first got to Boston. Why? Why the weirdness and the flowers? What was it for?”

“What a guy can’t try to flatter a woman? Sorry. Jesus Christ. Ulq how do you deal with this?”

Ulquiorra said nothing, still glaring at his blue haired brother.

“Aizen was going to offer you that deal the first day you arrived. We all knew about it. I figured you two needed time to make a connection. We’ve seen you two fucking.”

Orihime gasped.

“There’s a camera in Ulquiorra’s room. Points at the bed. We can see every hip roll; every shoulder grab; every lick; hear every word too. All the I love you’s and every little kinky thing you’re teaching her,” Grimmjow said. “Nnoitra watches the feed now. Made me sick hearing you jerk off and say her name.” He pointed a thumb at Orihime.

“This entire family is made up of sick fucks,” Ulquiorra said. He motioned for Orihime to get in the station wagon.

“What’s that make you?” Grimmjow smirked.

Orihime stopped on her way to the car and looked at Grimmjow, ignoring his little comment to Ulquiorra. “You did, you know, Grimmjow. Flatter me, that is. You need to work on your people skills though. Thanks for not delivering me to Aizen.” A resigned sigh was heard as she got into the car.

Ulquiorra followed the woman and then started the car, throwing it into drive before taking off. He was silent as he headed towards the freeway. He kept glancing at Orihime, trying to gauge her reaction to everything she heard.

She kept playing with her fingers, worrying her lip, quietly running through everything she had heard and seen in the club. That was the life that Ulquiorra had been so desperate to escape. It was horrible. She knew that Barragan was no better than Aizen, but he had allowed Ai to protect her children while they were young. Orihime had no clue how bad things could become, and tonight was just a small glimpse, she was sure.

She glanced at Ulquiorra while he was driving, his brow set at a harsh angle, clearly troubled. Her heart broke a little. He didn’t deserve this. She looked ahead and made a decision. Putting a hand on his thigh gently, she said, “No matter what happens, I trust you, okay? Our parents decided our fates a long time ago. Our lives were never going to be easy, but I think we’re stronger together than we are apart. Aizen is just going to kill me anyway if this doesn’t work, so don’t worry about my commitment to it. I’m, um, motivated.” She paused and sighed. “But I want you to know, I wanted to be with you before I met with Aizen. I knew Ioved you before Christmas.”

If he wasn’t driving at a high speed, he would have slammed on the breaks and turned to look at her. “You tell me not to worry and then tell me he’s going to kill you,” Ulquiorra snapped. His hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Sure, I won’t worry at all. I just now want to somehow get you a passport and ship you off somewhere he can’t find you!” He stared out the windshield, scowling. How could she tell him not to worry when his entire person was wrapped up in her? Everything he had done since he turned sixteen was to protect her; he hadn’t known it but back then he wanted her to be safe.

She swallowed hard, trying not to cry. “I have a passport. If you want to send me away, I’ll go,” she sounded as sad as she felt. She knew what would happen if she left. He’d be paired with somebody else.

“We could go to Canada. Leave everything behind,” he said. “If it comes down to it, Orihime, I’ll always place you above me.”

She couldn’t hold those tears back anymore. “Same,” she said before taking a deep breath and surrendering to her weakness. “Can we? Could we just run away? You and me? Just go somewhere and never look back? I have nothing except you. I can do anything. I would do anything.”

He thought about what both of them were proposing. Run away, never look back. As the logic kicked in, the numbers didn’t look good. The probability was low. They couldn’t take the church’s car across the border. With a sigh, Ulquiorra took the exit that would put them close to Sacred Heart. If they were going to run, they couldn’t be blowing money on overnight getaways. “How much money can you save in a month or three months?”

“$500.00 a month, at least. Probably closer to a thousand. I’m not buying booze anymore, so that helps. I really have nothing to buy. I have a little bit of savings, too, from my jobs through high school and college.”

“I’m still buying booze,” he replied. He seemed to drink more and more as the days went by. Ulquiorra didn’t mean for it to happen but he was worried. It was usually a glass at dinner or a beer or a cider. Then he’d relax in the basement with the brand new bottle of Four Roses he had bought around Christmas while watching a movie or having his way with Orihime. The stress and guilt were eating away at him. He understood how Zommari went through four bottles of wine a week.

“Well, if we leave and I’m not pregnant, then I’ll join you in a drink,” she said, her mood improving with the sliver of hope they were dangling in front of each other.

Ulquiorra sighed as he drove to the rectory. “I’ll give it three months. In three months we should have enough saved to get where we want to be.”

“Do you think you’ll get your deposit back on that place?” she asked, hiding her disappointment well as she realized where they were going.

“Probably not. It was only a hundred bucks,” Ulquiorra said. “They required twenty-four hours notice.” He sighed as they pulled into the rectory’s driveway. “You’re not mad because we’re not going away?”

She sighed as she opened the door. “Not mad,” she said as she got out and closed the door.

Ulquiorra quickly followed her. “You’re not mad…? What then?” he asked. “Disappointed?”

“Yeah…Kinda.” she said, kind of self-consciously. “Sorry.”

He grabbed her as soon as they were in the mudroom and pushed her against the wall. “Fucking you for one night in some cabin or fucking you in our own place where I’m not a priest?” he asked.

She was kind of scared and kind of turned on by his suddenness. “Uh, the second one,” she said breathlessly.

“I’m trying to secure that for us. That means I have phone calls to make. There are lists and such. If we’re going to run, we need to plan for it and not just up and leave and whoops, we made a mistake.” Ulquiorra finished his tirade by kissing her. “I need to go search my room for this camera. Do you want to come with me? You might be able to point out something I’ve not seen.”

She nodded, still kind of intimidated. She had never seen him so intense about anything before. It made him feel unpredictable to her.

“I know this is not typical behavior for me. I’m scared. Aizen will kill you and I don’t want to be forced to share our intimacy with anyone else,” Ulquiorra said. He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. “Tomorrow we can go out and plan all of this without being in the rectory, okay? I will make this up to you, Orihime.”

“Okay,” she breathed in response, putting her hand over his on her face and neck, letting her fingers soothe some of the tension in them as they trailed down to his wrists. “Just breathe, okay? I know we’re both freaked out, but it doesn’t do to get pushed towards panicking, does it?”

Ulquiorra shook his head. “My apologies. Ever since I saw you again everything has been a mess. I’ve been a wreck. What Aizen said; what Nnoi said, it is a psychological game. With what Grimmjow revealed,” he sighed. “We can decide what to do tomorrow. I just want to find this camera and then we’re sleeping in your room tonight.”

They went up to his room after she agreed and began tearing the place apart. Then Orihime stopped him. She pulled out her phone and turned some music on, and then whispered to him, “Wait, didn’t Grimmjow say the camera was pointed toward the bed? If we sit on it, we should be able to see it. If we can’t see it, it can’t see us. It will rule things out.”

Ulquiorra’s eyes scanned the wall across from the bed once they sat down. His dresser and that wardrobe were against the wall along with an outlet.

“Wait,” she said, watching his eyes and seeing what he was looking at. “I have an idea.” She got up and turned out the bedroom lights, then felt her way back to the bed and sat down. She picked up her phone from where it sat on the bed and turned the flashlight on. “Look for a reflection,” she murmured to him as she slowly scanned the opposite wall.

She started from the upper left of the room and worked systematically, sweeping from left to right, then down a foot and then from right to left. Then the light passed the outlet, and there was just a glint of a reflection. She didn’t see it from where she was, but Ulquiorra did.

“Orihime, can you unplug the wall charger? I want to move it closer to the bed. Also can you keep the light off?” He asked. As soon as the flashlight turned on it he noticed the tiny lens looking thing sitting just above the USB plug in spot. He had always thought it was weird looking because he had always used the one that came with his phone. It was a bonus that a charger came with the room because he’d been too tired to go shopping for one to fit these outlets.

“Yep,” she said, using the flashlight to guide her to the object. She took it out of the outlet and then turned off her phone’s flashlight, turning on the camera instead. She had seen the suspicious hole and turned her camera on to it. Sure enough, she could see the infrared light still flashing on the lens though her phone’s camera. She turned the camera off and used her phone’s screen to illuminate the way back to the lightswitch, turning it on and holding the charger next to the phone, which was still playing music, before telling Ulquiorra quietly, “It appears to have battery backup.”

“Turn off the light again. I’m going to put it in the trash and carry it out to the garbage.”

She left the charger in her hand, lens in her palm, as she turned off the light, then gave it to Ulquiorra.

The green-eyed priest threw the camera into the trash can beside the door and then took the small black bag out of it. He took the bag out of the container and motioned for the woman to come with him. When they were in the garage Ulquiorra lifted the lid to the recycling bin and dropped the bag into it. “I’m going to have to buy a new charger tomorrow while we’re out.”

Orihime grinned silently for a beat before she burst out laughing, clutching her side and the doorknob from to go back inside at the same time. By the time they were in the mudroom, tears were streaming out of both eyes. It was a perfectly timed moment. She had been on a knife’ edge of tension, and then he said that, as if a small electronic cord was the most important order of business to him. She found the whole thing hilarious.

He looked at her as if she had finally cracked. She had gone mental. “Do you need a drink?” Ulquiorra said, staring at her with a worried expression. “One drink won’t hurt.”

She wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands, smiling like an idiot, trying to breathe through her nose and calm down. Her voice was still bobbling over little chuckles as she asked, “You sure? Are you a doctor too?”

He deadpanned, “Yeah, absolutely. I’m just like Doctor Mario. I just inspect genitals though, mainly yours.”

She laughed again, but then composed herself. Still smiling, she looked at him and shook her head. “Ulquiorra, I would love a drink, but as unlikely as it is, I could be pregnant. And as unlikely as one drink is to cause harm, it could. This would be your baby. I could never do anything to harm it, no matter how unlikely.”

He had never thought of that. A frown came over his face. “Sorry I just--I thought it would help you. I could rub your feet; your shoulders? You could take a nice hot shower and we could cuddle in bed?”

“It’s okay, it’s weird to think about. Trust me, I know. I will take a shoulder rub and we can see where things go from there. Also, if you’re having a drink, I might have a sip for flavor but that’s it.”

“I’ve never thought about having kids. I wrote it off. It seemed pointless,” Ulquiorra said as he pulled her through the kitchen and up the stairs. Instead of going into his room he opened her door and led her inside.

“That makes sense. You were pretty young when you decided to go to seminary and since then not having kids is kind of a forgone conclusion. These circumstances are not exactly ideal either. Still, if it happens I want you to know that I would protect that kid with my life, so, um, beware, I guess.”

Ulquiorra shrugged, “Off with your shirt and lay down. Do you have lotion somewhere?” He didn’t want to think about giving her up or her dying. If it came down to it, Ulquiorra would sacrifice himself for her. He wouldn’t even second guess himself, he would just do it.

“Bedside table drawer,” she said, pulling her shirt off and dropping it in her basket, followed by her bra. She crossed her arms over herself as she took the few steps to her bed and laid down on her stomach.

He opened the drawer and fished around for the bottle of lotion. Ulquiorra chuckled at her actions as he climbed on the bed and sat on her butt. “You act like I’ve never seen them before,” he said as he squirted the lotion into his hands, rubbing them together to warm the stuff up before he applied it to her shoulders.

“I know, it just seems weird to walk around with them swinging around in the open. I mean, they’re kind of just, out there,” she said, making a cupping gesture with her hands. “I guess I don’t think I’m ugly or anything but I would feel like I was some kind of peacock if I just paraded them around. I’m not that confident.”

The light strokes he applied to her shoulders and upper arms were a warm up as Orihime talked. Ulquiorra wanted to shake some sense into her. “You are beautiful and I like your tits. They’re nice. If you think once we get a place of our own that you’ll get to keep your clothes on, you are mistaken. I will be on you; constantly taking them off just so I can look at the body you’re hiding from me,” he said as he worked. “Seriously, you’re a tiny package of gorgeousness. I kinda want to roll you over and fuck your tits though. I’ve thought about it a lot.”

She laughed. “Can you even do that? Is that a thing? And thanks, by the way. You’re not so bad yourself,” she said bashfully.

He felt her relax a bit so he decided to apply more pressure. “It is possible. I mean it has happened before. You have the perfect amount of boobage to do it to. All I would do is just straddle your chest put them together and then happily hump my way to bliss. But as a rule, all semen goes inside of you so it’d be pretty pointless to try it. Just like coming in your mouth or pulling out.”

She was amazed at how casually he discussed this. “Well if it’s that easy, you could just start there and finish inside, I don’t care.” She closed her eyes and groaned as he found a particularly tense spot. “Oh yeah, you keep this up and you can do whatever you want.”

A chuckle left his throat. “Anything? I think you’d rethink that if I wanted anal.”

“Ew.”

“See,” Ulquiorra said. He continued to knead her skin gently with a straight face. “I might take you up on the other thing though… At a later time.”

“As you wish, dearest,” she said with a blissful look on her face.

Ulquiorra smirked. “Kind of reminds me of Christmas Eve,” he said as he ran his hands down her back.

“Oh? The necklace thing? I’ll tell you a secret, that was romantic as hell.”

“Wait, when did you give me a backrub?” Ulquiorra asked as he stopped to put more lotion in his hands. “I think it was--No, it wasn’t Christmas.”

“No, you’re right, it was Christmas Eve. I was thinking of earlier in the day that day.”

He nodded, remembering that day. “You do not know how scared I was. I thought you would scream or tell Zom what I did. I don’t even know why I did it. It was an impulse. As we know I have poor impulse control around you. I thought when you were rubbing my back you returned the gesture but wasn’t for sure.”

“No, that was just an excuse to get my hands on you, I think,” she said with a little giggle. “I was already in love with you, but I had just realized it earlier that day, so all your actions toward me made a huge, huge impact. When you kissed my neck I literally turned into a puddle. I could feel my heartbeat in my crotch.” She laughed again, embarrassed at her confession.

Leaning forward, Ulquiorra brushed her hair to the side and kissed her neck. “Still that same feeling?” he asked.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Mmmm,” he hummed. He rolled his hips against her just to tease her as he slowly sat back up to continue the backrub.

“You have kind of a one-track mind, don’t you?” she teased back. “Here I just confessed something really sweet and romantic to you and I get a dick in the butt as a reward. Nice.” She chuckled after she made a displeased face at him over her shoulder.

He laughed. "Sometimes," he answered, as his fingers dug slightly into her skin. "It happens when I don't want to deal with or think about something. I try to focus on something to block everything else out. One year it was origami. Another year it was different minerals and gemstones. Of course this was when I was in Aizen’s household. Right now I don’t want to think about my family and you’re all that goes through my mind anymore."

“Well, if we’re talking about me, tell me, what did you first notice about me when I came to the rectory? I know what I noticed. You seemed kind of annoyed with me though, so I’d bet it was some dumb thing I did or my accent or something.”

Frowning Ulquiorra thought about what he noticed about her. “Your hair. I was like that because the moment you said your name I was already wanting you. I spent a lot of nights praying because of you.”

“Sorry. Well at this point I’m more in the “Sorry not sorry” camp. The first thing I noticed about you was your abs.”

“Miss Inoue, were you lusting after a priest?” he asked as his palm traveled down to her waist. “You seemed shocked to see me. Whenever we get to where we’re going, I don’t think I want to work in a religious field. Maybe we can open a bakery or a cafe; you said you had experience with that.”

“I was… you can’t believe the amount of Hail Marys I prayed after you told me. And yeah, I could see us running a shop like that,” she smiled as she imagined it.

Ulquiorra sighed as he thought back. He was remembering the craziness that he’d endured and that night that he stayed up all night to pray for the thoughts going through his head. They never went away. They had manifested into this growing desire for her and finally into the relationship that they had. He leaned forward again, laying on top of her. “As you wish,” he whispered in her ear.

“You are the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she whispered back.

“No,” he said in reply. “I’m probably the worst thing that ever stepped foot into your life. Had some bratty redhead not told me to stop bullying her brother, I would have never given you a second thought.”

“No, you’re mistaken, you saved my life. I would be dead if I never met you.”

He climbed off of her and put the bottle of lotion on her bedside table. “Orihime, we have discussed this.”

“I know. You’re still wrong,” she said, smiling. “Even if I never met you, Barragan had nefarious plans for me. I would have been screwed either way. Literally.”

Glancing at her, Ulquiorra had to agree with what she said. He was well aware of how women were treated in his father’s business. All of them were playthings and treated with disrespect. The only woman to command respect was Retsu and that was because she would kill anyone who didn’t. He took off his clothes, leaving his boxer-briefs on and was back on the bed, laying beside the redhead.

“Ulquiorra? Do you have anything you have questions about? I mean about me? You don’t know much about me from when we were apart,” she said, rolling over to face him and tracing the four on his chest. “There’s certainly a fair few things I don’t know about you.”

“You want to have this conversation now? We should have had this weeks ago. Okay, you said you met a guy once, why didn’t you like him? Why didn’t you hook up with him? Why were you so closeted and sheltered?”

“Well, that’s two different topics really. First one is simple; there was no spark there for me. He was nice. He was cute. He was a good guy. But there really wasn’t anything there. I only liked him as a friend, so when he asked for more I had to say no. As for why I was closeted and sheltered,” she stopped to sigh heavily before she continued. “I want to preface this by saying the Rohertys were very kind people who encouraged me and gave me a lot of great opportunities and seemed to really enjoy having me around. They never acted like I was a burden or anything, but I think they sheltered me so much because that’s what they were paid to do. The more I’m learning about Aizen, the more I think he has been planning this for a long time. Keeping me interested in church and pure in body served his interests and brought me back here. Maybe it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it all falls together I think.”

It kind of made sense. It was way out there but it could be a possibility. “If you knew I was in Milwaukee the same time as you, do you think we could have...” he trailed off. Ulquiorra looked at her for a moment before taking a deep breath. “Do you think you would have been interested in me then?”

She looked at him and raised one eyebrow. “Did you look anything like you do now?”

“I had my eyebrow pierced. I had my ear pierced. It still is; the hole is there. Hair was shorter.”

She bit her lip imagining it, “Uh, yeah. I would have been interested.”

He gave a chuckle. “Okay, your turn,” Ulquiorra said. “Ask and you shall receive an answer.”

“When and why did you get this?” She asked, her finger returning to his tattoo.

Ulquiorra’s eyes went to where her finger was resting on his left pectoral. “I was seventeen and in Idaho. We all had numbers on our doors. The girls had a three on their door. I had a four. Nnoi was five. Grimm, number six. I got it to remind me of my family and Aizen; how we were nothing but a number to him. I’ve always took it to mean I was the fourth child.”

Her face became somewhat sad. “That’s not a nice feeling, is it? Okay, tell me about the one on your back?”

He blew out a breath. “I’m a priest. It seemed fitting. I had just arrived in Wisconsin and decided that one last act of rebellion needed to happen so I found the best place in the city and went. For some people giving up everything is easy but there are some like me who weren’t as devoted before entering the seminary. There were a couple of guys there that were tattooed.”

“That makes sense. The priest at St. Killian’s had a sailor jerry that he used to show off sometimes during church festivals. He didn’t become a priest until he was in his forties. He was divorced. He was great though. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. What about the roses?” she asked, stroking his upper arm.

Closing his eyes, Ulquiorra braced himself. He didn’t want to tell her about this one. He didn’t want to tell her why he got them. “I got them to remind myself of the day you left my life. All I could see is you throwing those roses into those graves and then the words I said to you. I used to have nightmares about it. I was cruel to you.”

She used her thumb to smooth out his wrinkled brow and kissed him between the eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you carried that with you for so long.” She climbed up a bit and hugged him to her chest and kissed his head. “You were a kid too, you know. I hope you can forgive yourself. I forgave you a long time ago.”

“What’s your favorite food? Fruit? Vegetable?” Ulquiorra asked, changing the subject. He was tired of people telling him it wasn’t his fault.

She took a moment to think about this. “Pizza. Strawberries. Um… Sweet corn? Is that technically a vegetable or a grain? I don’t know,” she said with a small laugh. “What about you?”

“Uh, um,” he waffled for a moment trying to think. “I like breakfast foods. Mangoes. Uh, I’d have to say beets or sweet potatoes. Crunchy or creamy peanut butter?”

“Crunchy all day long. You?”

“Same. Except I like honey-roasted peanut butter too; I’ve never seen that in crunchy form.”

“Quite the sweet tooth you have, mister. Since we’re on the topic, favorite sweet?”

Ulquiorra looked at her and gave her a small grin. “Besides you? That’s a hard choice.”

She gave him a withering look. “Yes, besides me.”

“Hmmm,” he murmured. “I like brownies with walnuts and extra chocolate in them. I like coconut cream pie and those cookies you made me with the oatmeal and the butterscotch chips. I like some indulgences.”

“You’d never know it,” she said, running a finger up from his navel to the center of his chest, letting it get some air as it passed over his abdominal muscles.

He shifted his body. It kind of tickled. “I work out a lot? I go over and play basketball with the kids almost every day that school is in session. What about you?”

“I used to dance a lot. These days I just clean up after you and Zom for five hours plus a day. That and being young and having a decent metabolism is all I do… well that’s not totally true I do some strength exercises before bed and stretches in the morning.”

One of his eyebrows rose and Ulquiorra had to refrain from laughing. “Besides watching that terrible, horrible movie what else do you like to do?” he asked.

She scoffed. Then she scoffed again. “I beg your pardon! You take that back, that movie brought us together.”

“That movie almost caused me to kiss and fuck you all in the same night. It also had me declaring that I loved you before I realized it. And you let me,” Ulquiorra countered. “As you wish.”

She snickered. “I knew you didn’t know. I liked imaging you did, though.”

Hmph. His mouth straightened out into a thin line. “Do you have any sex toys?”

“What? No! Do you?”

Ulquiorra sputtered. “What? No. I mean I had one but--It was--I threw it out before i went to Wisconsin. It was--” He was turning red.

She got up onto her elbows and looked down at him, eyes wide with curiosity. “It was what?”

“Your innocent ears don’t need to hear what it was.”

“Oh come on, humor me. I don’t even know what what anything is.”

“It was an artificial vagina,” he huffed, clearly embarrassed.

She squealed and kicked her feet onto the mattress, dropping her face into her breasts. “I’m sorry but eeeeeeeeeeeew!!!”

His facial expression was unimpressed. “I cleaned it thanks. Also says the woman who I come in on a regular basis.”

“Twice does not a regular basis make, my dear. Let’s establish that pattern first, shall we?” She teased, turning her nearly upside-down head to the side to face him. “I love you, did you know that? I don’t get tired of saying it, either. Let me know if you get tired of hearing it and I’ll try to dial it back. No promises, though.”

“You can say it as much as you’d like but,” Ulquiorra paused. “I’m not used to saying it. I’ve never said it to a woman before. As soon as a woman would say that to me, I’d break it off with her.”

“Oh dear, how many hearts have you broken? Probably more than you know. A few parishioners, who shall remain unnamed, are among them.” It was a rhetorical question. She didn’t really want to know. “I have only broken one that I know of, so I’d say that’s pretty good.”

Was she asking how many sexual partners he had in the past? Ulquiorra furrowed his brow. He didn’t want to answer that question. “Uh, any weird habits?”

“Um… using foreign accents to mask awkward spots in conversations. Rage singing. Saying “I mean…” too much. Um… chewing on the inside of my cheeks when I’m upset or nervous. You?”

He had experienced the rage singing so he chuckled. “I tug on my ear. I tend to either smile a lot or not at all when dealing with people.”

“Really?” she asked doubtfully. She thought about it a bit more, than realized that yes, he did used to do that with her. “Actually I have noticed some of that, but I have never seen the manically smiley Ulquiorra. Is that really a thing?”

“I do it to little old ladies who have no filters and they want me to marry their granddaughter or something,” he said.

“Dude, don’t they realize…?” she looked like she had just heard the stupidest thing ever. “Anyway…. What’s your favorite color?”

Ulquiorra rolled onto his side to looked at her face. “The color teal and gray. You? Let me guess, you like pink or purple.”

“Well, sure I like them, but they’re not my favorites. I wear them because I think they make me look cute. My favorites are soft grayish white and the color of your eyes.” She said it without a hint of embarrassment. “Favorite animal? Bet you can guess mine.”

“I don’t really know. Never been an animal person,” he answered. “You like dogs.”

“I love dogs. But owls are my favorite.”

Ulquiorra raised an eyebrow. He felt that warm affectionate feeling swelling in his chest. “Any goals?”

“I’m rebuilding my goals at the moment, I have a new priority, you see?” she replied, touching the tip of his nose. “But there are places I’d like to visit. Dogs I’d like to pet. Homes I’d like to make. You?”

His mouth twisted to the side. What were his goals? Before he met her again his goals had been wake up, do his job, go to sleep. “I’m not sure. I, uh, I didn’t have any.”

“And now? Anything starting to take shape?”

Ulquiorra shrugged. “Not really. The only goal I have is to keep you safe and get the fuck outta Boston.”

“I think that is a good shortlist,” she agreed. “I’d like to add keeping you safe to the list, though.”

“You think your short little ass can keep me safe?” he asked, teasing her. “The further away we are, the better.”

“Hey, I can still bite legs like a champ,” she countered.

“Well my little Pomeranian, let’s get some sleep so we can be refreshed for tomorrow,” Ulquiorra said.

“Not so fast, Merlin,” she said, pushing him onto his back and straddling his lap. “I am going to require a little exercise to tire me out. I’m too wound up to sleep,” she said, leaning down to kiss him.

Ulquiorra looked up at her when she pulled back. “You, uh, want fucked?”

She gave him an amused look. “Yes, I “want fucked.” Who are you, Tarzan?”

His hands came up to cup her breasts then trailed down her sides. Those fingers knew her body well and how to pleasure her. “I think I’m probably more George of the Jungle,” he replied. “I mean I could run around in a loincloth if that’s what you’re into.”

“Hmm, how about you just run around naked. But not in public. I don’t need all the biddies at the supermarket soiling themselves at the sight of you.” She scooted down his legs a bit and grabbed the waistband of his boxer briefs. “May I?”

“I ain’t gonna stop you,” Ulquiorra replied. “You sound almost jealous, Orihime.”

She raised a brow at him. “So what if I am a little bit? And I guess it’s not really jealousy, I’m not worried about it, I’m more… possessive, I guess,” she said as she pulled the underwear down to reveal his cock and smiled. She ran her hand along its length from base to tip and back down. She looked down at her bare breasts and his penis and wondered how that thing he talked about before would work.

His hips gave a small jerk as if he’d been shocked. “Easy,” he said. “It’s, uh, sensitive.”

“I’m sorry, am I being too rough?” She asked, opening her grip and looking down at him like she killed his dog.

Ulquiorra bit his lip as her other hand trailed over his inner thigh. Dammit. “Nope just...” He was ticklish there. “It kind of tickles.”

An evil glint came to her eyes. “Oh? Just here?” she asked, attacking the spot with her fingers. Somehow she thought her five-foot-two frame would be heavy enough to hold him in place.

His hips bucked, spine arching up. Ulquiorra threw her off and quickly reversed their positions so that he was straddling her stomach. “Behave,” he said pinning her wrist over her head.

“Make me,” she challenged him, smiling and trying to squirm.

Holding her wrists in one hand Ulquiorra reached down to her face, letting his thumb slide over her bottom lip. “Wrong thing to say,” he said to her as he walked on his knees until he was straddling her chest. “Open your mouth.”

Her eyes widened, pupils dilating as she anticipated what he was going to do. To her surprise she was equally nervous and turned on. The smile melted off her lips as she licked them, a blush blossoming across her cheeks and nose, then her lips parted.

Ulquiorra allowed his thumb to touch her tongue before he withdrew his hand from her face. “You’re going to give me head and then I’m going to fuck your tits,” he said, looking down at her with half-lidded eyes. “After that I may take you or I may finger you.”

She said nothing, only her glassy eyes and labored breathing indicating her state of arousal. She watched his face as she opened her mouth wider.

He reached for his cock with his free hand and rubbed it against Orihime’s top lip and then the plump bottom one. He did this several times before he put just the tip of the head in between them. “I bet you would love some of the other stuff I know how to do,” Ulquiorra said to her as her mouth closed over him.

She was honestly a little freaked out by this, but she was adventurous enough to give it a go. She remembered the last time she had his dick in her mouth. This was a much different dynamic, but the same basic properties probably still applied. Careful not to let her teeth get in the way, and keeping her eyes glued to his, she lifted her head slightly to let him in deeper and used her tongue to lick at the underside of his head inside her mouth.

Ulquiorra kept his eyes glued to her face, watching her with those hungry green eyes. Slowly, he began to rock his hips, using shallow thrusts to get her used to the intrusion.

She was grateful that he was taking it easy on her; she wasn’t sure how much more she would be able to handle, Already, when he would reach the depth of his thrust, her jaw would feel a twinge of pain and the head of his cock made contact with the roof of her mouth. It wasn’t long until she was too focused on keeping her teeth off of him and breathing properly, so as not to choke on the saliva building up in her mouth that she was not doing as much to participate other than hang on.

There was no way he was going to come like this. After a few more thrusts, he pulled his cock out of her mouth. He let her wrists go as he wiggled slightly back to just below her breasts. “You okay?” Ulquiorra asked. “I keep forgetting…”

She swallowed a few times and brought a hand to her jaw and rubbed where the dull ache had been, then put her hands down to his thighs and whispered, “I’m okay.”

“Maybe you’ll get used to doing that. Not sure,” he said as he positioned his dick in between her tits. Ulquiorra made a mental note that if she liked this to buy some lube or something. Spit would not be ideal for this. He grabbed each breast and squished them together. “I’m not really a blowjob kind of guy.”

“No?” she asked, looking down to watch what he was doing. It looked incredibly erotic to her. She glanced up at his face and then back down to what he was doing and asked, “Is there anything I can do?”

“Touch yourself,” came the reply.

An awkward glance. “I’ve never…”

Oh. Things made a little more sense to Ulquiorra as he rolled his hips, causing his dick to slide in and out of the crevice he’d made. It was amazing that they ended up in bed at all. “Ah, um, then… You don’t have to do anything. Just lay there and enjoy the show.”

She could do that. She could definitely do that. She looked down at her tits and waited as he slid up them again. This was a nice view. Her eyes traveled up his body, watching his muscles tense and ripple as he thrusted. This was a fantastic view. It was making her feel like getting into it more. She slid her now freed hands up his legs and rested them on his buttocks, feeling as they tensed and relaxed. This was pretty fun, she thought, humming her appreciation.

Biting his lip, Ulquiorra swallowed and then tipped his head back. A groan slipped out as he continued to grind against her chest. Her tits were soft. They were warm. It was almost as good as between her legs but not as wet. He made the mistake of glancing at her face and how focused she was on what he was doing. A jolt of euphoria went down his spine.

He was really getting into it now, and his dick was getting closer to her chin with each thrust. She decided to try to be cute, and timed it for his next push to tilt her face up and give the tip of his glistening cock a brief kiss. She did and then looked up to his face, anticipating some kind of reaction.

Ulquiorra gasped and stopped all movement. He tilted his head and looked at her with a bewildered expression, like he couldn’t believe she had done that. “You,” he said. “You just--naughty girl.”

She smiled shyly, “What? No good?”

“Uh, no. Very good. Keep that up and I might come right here.”

“Just one more time?”

“Fuck Aizen’s plan. Keep doing it,” Ulquiorra said as he moved his hips again, shoving his cock further between her tits.

She smiled and kissed his cock again, chasing it with her tongue a bit. Then it occurred to her that if he finished here, it was likely she was going to go to bed very frustrated and horny. She grabbed his hips and looked at him.

“What?” He asked, stopping all movement again.

“This is fun and everything, but, um, I really don’t want to go to sleep without you being inside of me…” she said in a small voice.

He gave her a smirk. “I see,” Ulquiorra said as he climbed off of her. “Naked. Now.”

She wasted no time, quickly stripping her jeans and underwear off and parted her legs a bit. “I’m ready,” she said.

He didn’t bother to say that he would be the judge of her readiness. Ulquiorra let his fingers explore between her legs and he was surprised to find she was wet. “I take it you liked what I was doing?” He asked as he pushed her legs up towards her chest.

“I did,” she semi-grunted as her legs pressed into her chest. “But I think I’m going to like this more.”

“If I knew you were going to like sex I would have taken you a lot sooner,” he said. He brought one of her hands down to his cock. “Put it in.”

With a firm but gentle grasp, she directed him toward her entrance, but made a brief detour, rubbing the head of his cock up and down her slit, collecting the wetness that had seeped into the folds there, then lined him up and used her hands on his hips to press him into her. She sighed contentedly as he sank inside of her and she held him in place with her legs as she pulled on his biceps, coaxing him to lie on top of her so she could kiss him.

“Hnnngh,” was the noise that Ulquiorra made as he slipped inside of her. He meant to be selfish but he couldn’t argue with her. He was the one that hastily cancelled their trip. All she had wanted was one night away from the rectory where they could be themselves and didn’t have to be quiet. He did promise to make it up to her too. “You feel good.”

“So do you,” she whispered, aware of the need to keep it down for Zommari’s sake.

He snapped his hips forward, burying himself to the hilt inside of her. He was going to be selfish, just in a different way. Ulquiorra was going to take what he wanted.

Orihime hissed at the aggressiveness of his entry. She was very quickly understanding, however, that this is what she was made for. She felt whole and powerful when he was moving inside of her like this. Despite the need for quiet, she found herself speaking to him softly as he moved, “Yes, fill me up, Ulquiorra. Make me yours,”

He pressed his face into her shoulder and he thrust in and out of her, making his legs work. He felt nothing but wetness and hot skin. He could smell how aroused she was and it was just driving him further. When would he learn that he couldn’t tease himself before making love to her? “I’m yours,” he breathed.

“Yes,” she hissed. “Mine,” pumping him into her with her legs and squeezing her inner muscles tighter with each pass. She clawed at his back as she felt the first sparks of an orgasm creep into her consciousness.

She was doing that thing again, clenching around his cock and then releasing. It felt like she was trying to milk every drop of pleasure she could from him. It was driving him to the point of no return. He could feel his muscles tightening as he slid in and out of her core. Ulquiorra was trying to hold back the inevitable. He wanted to draw this feeling of bliss out until he could not stand it anymore. The way she felt and the way her nails bit into his skin made it hard for him to hang onto that.

She could feel him starting to struggle and it only made her hotter. Her inner muscle movements were starting to become more and more involuntary as she edged closer and closer to the precipice of her own release. She didn’t know the words where coming out of her mouth when she repeated some had heard him used in sharp whispers, “Yeah, fuck me. Make me come. Oh, I’m so close. Agh!” Her stomach muscles clenched and her head came up to hide in his neck as she whimpered and rode out her orgasm as he plunged in and out of her.

Hearing those words come out of her mouth sent him over the edge. He whimpered, trying to hold back the moan that was threatening to leave him as his cock pulsed inside of her. He could feel how she was clinging to him and that made his orgasm intensify. But soon, it was over and he lay against her breathing harshly.

After a moment of lying there together in a post-orgasmic pile of limbs and panting bodies, Orihime lifted his head up and kissed his cheeks and his mouth softly and told him, “You know, I have no basis for comparison, but I think it’s safe for me to say that you are very, very good at that.”

“Am I?” he asked after a moment passed. He rolled off of her and lay on his back. “I could be terrible and you’d never know.”

“Well, I won’t ever know, will I?” she asked, smiling and snuggling her face into his chest. “So if you are bad, just keep that to yourself and we should be golden.”

He snorted. “Maybe we should do a survey,” Ulquiorra said, wrapping his arms around her.

“Well I’m pretty confident that I’m right. I hope I live up to your past experience though, I mean, I don’t know what I’m doing so I’m sure there is a lot of room for improvement, but I can only get better, right?” she asked hopefully.

Sucking in a sharp breath, Ulquiorra tried to imagine what it would be like if Orihime had the skills of someone who had been having sex for a while. Just the thought made him wish he could be hard again at that instant. He was basically tailoring all of her skills to him and he could just see what she’d be like in a year. “You’re good now but there’s always room for improvement.”

“Heh,” was the only response she had. She was starting to fade out of consciousness.

“I love you,” he whispered to her. Ulquiorra pulled the blanket over both of them. It didn’t take him long to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Two blondes sat in a hole in the wall bar in Queens. Tier Halibel swirled her eight-year-old Malbec in the glass before tipping the rest of the contents back. Her boyfriend of just two years sat beside her. Her hair was the color of sweet corn; of wheat fields. Jugram, aka Jugo, Haschwalth's was the color of the weak winter sun. They both were silent as they drank ,with Jugo occasionally putting his hand on the woman’s leg and pointing out someone with his index finger poised on his glass.

Several hours later, they took a cab to an apartment in Manhattan. It was only after Tier checked the place for wires, microphones or cameras that she begin to talk. The tale she spun was outrageous. It was crazy. There was no way a mafia boss could orchestrate what she said.

Then she started mentioning names.

Her brother.

Some woman.

Innocent people that had done nothing to Aizen.

If anyone knew who the lawyers were in Wisconsin, it would be Uryu Ishida. After Tier was done telling him what was about to go down and she was asleep in his bed, Jugo made some phone calls. He got some information that he needed.

When the golden blonde woman woke up the next morning, Jugo had what she needed.

“I need you to contact these people that Aizen had threatened,” Tier said as they ate their breakfast. “I can’t do it. Even using a burner phone, I can’t contact them. Aizen would find out and then where would I be?”

Jugo looked at her as he sipped on his glass of sparkling water. “Why are you helping Ulquiorra? You said you didn’t even like him growing up,”

“I didn’t but out of all of us, he seems to have his head on straight. He wasn’t pulled into this world,” Tier answered. “He loves that woman. He made a commitment to be a priest though, and Aizen is about to ruin his life because of it.”

The man with long pale hair sat there for a moment. He finally agreed. She left him later that day, promising that they would see each other soon. Jugo had a bad feeling about all of this but he made more phone calls. He got in touch with people. He found out who could be trusted and who could not. The last person who he was in contact was the last person he thought he would be talking to.

“Special Agent Kisuke Urahara speaking,” a cheery voice said.

Jugo never thought he’d be speaking to an FBI agent.

***

Once Tier came back to Boston, she called Ulquiorra.

“Hello?” the priest said on the other end of the line.

“Ulquiorra, could you have lunch with me? I have some information that you might want to hear.”

There was a sigh. “I’m busy,” he replied. “Can’t you tell me?”

She frowned. This wasn’t information that could be given out over the phone. She needed to tell Ulquiorra in person. ”When will you be not busy?”

“For you guys? Never. Always busy.”

“Ulquiorra, this is important. Grimmjow told you how important this was,” Tier said emphasizing their brother’s name.

Silence. A sigh. Some murmuring. “Fine, I can be available in several weeks.”

That would be too late. Tier had to talk fast. “I need to see you this coming Tuesday. It won’t take but five minutes of your time. Then maybe in a week or two, we could have lunch?”

The priest agreed to this. Tier felt a small weight lift off of her shoulders. She had done DNA testing on herself, Nel and Grimmjow. They weren’t related to Aizen in any way.

It had been hard to rule out Nnoitra because there was no chance to ask him for a sample of saliva. It had been Nelliel who snagged a hair from the tall man. She had hair from Aizen and Retsu. The blonde was waiting on Ulquiorra before she sent in those vials.

It happened about a month ago. Cirucci showed up at Nel’s club; then Loly came, followed by Sung-Sun and finally Apacci. All the women had dark hair. They all said they remembered Aizen as a child. Their mothers had talked about the mob boss like he was their savior; like a god. When asked why they were working for Aizen, they all said the same thing.

Aizen said they were needed and they owed him after footing their educations. Not that any of them went anywhere special. Loly was a loud-mouth, cocky burlesque dancer who lived with her sister in Nahant. Cirucci was a prostitute from South End. Sung-Sun was a secretary from Cambridge. Apacci ran a self-defense gym in Malden.

It wasn’t anything like the law degree she had, or the degree in business Nel had received. They had some backing behind their name; something they could show off and be proud of. It had not done Nel any good.

On January twenty-ninth, Tier met Ulquiorra at a parking lot somewhere in Quincy. The man looked slightly perturbed as she walked up to him wrapped in her wool coat and heels. “Open your mouth,” she said.

The green-eyed priest said nothing but he refused, shaking his head back and forth. He didn’t want to cooperate, that was fine. The blonde yanked a strand of hair from his head and stuffed it inside of the envelope she had which she sealed.

“What the hell Tier?”

“I’m trying to figure out why Aizen wants you to take over. Why he would go through all this trouble to get you defrocked. I have a theory, but you’re too busy to hear it, remember?”

The man sputtered. “Tell me now!”

“If I am correct, Aizen has biological children,” Tier answered.

“If you’re wrong?”

“No harm, no foul. No one is none the wiser and you might be able to find your birth parents,” she said.

Ulquiorra looked at his sister with a raised eyebrow. “How does this help me?”

How did it help him? If she could prove that there was someone else in line then maybe Aizen would pass it off to them and leave Ulquiorra alone! Did he not understand this? The lawyer explained it to him.

When it was all said and done, Ulquiorra left, going back to Sacred Heart. Tier sent in all the samples she had accumulated. All she had to do was wait.

***

“Forgive me, Father,” a man said. “I have sinned.”

“Whatever. Do you have your payment for Aizen?” Ulquiorra asked.

“Uh, don’t you want to hear--”

“No, why talk about what you’ve done when you’re just going to do it again?” Ulquiorra snapped. “Give me the money and leave. You don’t regret what you’ve done.”

An envelope was shoved through the slats of the shutter that blocked the view of the booths. The only time those shutters were opened is if someone really needed counseling.

“Dick,” the man said before he left.

Ulquiorra heard the door open and close. The priest rolled his eyes. He’d been called worse things. His mood had been soured since Tier called him. The whole farce of being a priest was getting on his nerves. The whole sham of these people confessing their sins was bullshit. All he wanted to do was be beside his woman who was probably doing some church ministry thing or something wholesome.

He sighed as a wave of remorse washed over him.

He was just like these people. He kept sinning. He kept doing the same damn thing. It wasn’t his fault. Ulquiorra was just doing what his father had demanded. He kept delivering pleasure to Orihime anytime she wanted it. He didn’t mind. Ulquiorra enjoyed it. It was rather enjoyable to see her face as she tried not to cry out.

Looking at his watch, he was glad he only had fifteen minutes of this session left. He was going to talk to Zommari about taking a couple of days off. He needed them. They needed them. He could book that cabin again. During the week it wasn’t that expensive. He could take her to the wilds of the woods, and they could play house.

Would she want to?

***

Orihime was tired. It was constantly the same fears, the same worries. Although she took comfort in Ulquiorra’s company and his body, he was increasingly distracted and irritable. She knew he was struggling; she didn’t hold it against him. But she was struggling too, and he wasn’t really there for her emotionally.

She had tried to make up for it by taking the initiative for the physical aspects of their relationship, and at first it helped, but the past several days had left her feeling kind of cheap and easy. She didn’t like that feeling, so decided to stop coming on to him. When she was done preparing dinner that day, she left a note on the table that said “Help yourselves, I’m taking a bath and turning in early.” with a smiley face.

When he came in from the church, Ulquiorra was looking forward to seeing Orihime, but all he got was a note and a smiley face. A sigh left his chest. It was wrong what they were doing, but he couldn’t help it. One taste of the forbidden fruit and he wanted more. He dished the spaghetti and meatballs into a bowl and got himself a beer from the fridge and sat down just as Zommari came in. The older priest scowled at the younger one before getting himself food.

“Miss Inoue not joining us?”

“She’s tired, so she went to bed,” Ulquiorra said pushing the pasta around his bowl.

Zommari hummed. “You should go check on her, seeing as it doesn’t look like you have an appetite.”

“It’s not that Zom,” Ulquiorra replied. “I was wondering if Orihime and I could have a couple of days off. This thing with Aizen is really… I need to show her what it’s like to be with me instead of having to hide. You do that with your wife, don’t you? You take her out. You show your love for each other in public, right?”

The bald priest raised an eyebrow. “How many days?”

“Two or three. I was going to take Orihime to Vermont to a cabin but my father--”

“This is a rather light week, so yes. Go check on Miss Inoue. She might have drowned.”

Ulquiorra gave the man a deadpan stare before shoving his chair away from the table. He took off his collar and shoved it into his pocket as he walked upstairs. He might as well change into something more casual while he was up here. He took off his shirt after he had unbuttoned it, throwing it on his bedroom floor. He kept on the undershirt. Orihime had bought it for him… Well, she bought Zommari the same stuff, but it was the thought that counted.

The green-eyed priest took a deep breath before walking across the hall to tap on the bathroom door. Perhaps he should have checked her room first. His brows furrowed as he looked at her door. It was closed, and he didn’t want to barge in and disturb her if she was asleep.

“I’ll be out in a bit,” her voice sounded through the door .

“Are you okay? Can I come in?”

“Sure,” she replied, her voice relaxed.

Turning the doorknob, Ulquiorra entered the steamy and humid room. He went no further into bathroom, choosing to lean against the door after he closed it. “Are you okay?” he repeated.

She closed her eyes. “Just tired. Mentally tired. Physically tired. Mostly mentally. How are you doing?” she asked, opening her eyes again.

“I, uh...” He really didn’t know how he was. It had been a while since he evaluated himself. “Same. Tired of everything. Exhausted would be a better word. Is there anything I can do to help? I know I’ve been a shitty person the last couple weeks or so.”

“You’re not shitty. You’re stressed. I understand.” She sighed and submerged herself into the water up to her chin.

Ulquiorra gave her a soft smile. “You know how I was going to take you to Vermont and then we went to Aizen’s?”

“Yeah?” she said, perking up a bit, bringing her neck and shoulders out of the water.

“You wanna go? Zom gave us a couple of days off,” he replied. “I should have asked you first but… I kinda wanted to surprise you.”

Her mouth fell open into a fly-catching expression of surprise. She blinked several times and then sat up straight, nearly splashing water out of the tub, grasping the edge of it and leaning her chest against the lip. “Do you mean it? Seriously?” She started smiling as the idea swirled around in her head.

Ulquiorra nodded with a grin. He walked closer to the tub and knelt down beside it. “We need this,” he said looking into her eyes. “We need a chance to talk and just to be us without any obligations.”

She wanted to jump out and hug him, but she would get him soaking wet. She settled for just getting his face wet, grabbing his cheeks and pulling him in for a kiss. “Thank you! Thank you so much, Ulquiorra. This is going to be great.” She leaned back into the tub for a second with a content sigh. “I guess I should get out.”

“You look like you’re enjoying yourself,” the priest said putting his chin on the edge of the tub. “I’m done for the night. We could hang out or maybe go out somewhere if you want? Grab dinner? Movie?”

She laughed. “I guess the jarred pasta sauce and frozen meatballs weren’t up to snuff?” She lifted a hand out of the water and showed him the pruny pads of her fingers. “I think no matter what, it’s time for me to get out. I would love to go out, but… How far do you want to drive tonight?” she asked, gesturing for him to pass her her towel and getting to her knees.

The man didn’t pass her the towel at first. He was presented with Orihime’s tits, and he cupped them. “What does my Princess want from her farmboy?” He asked.

Oh. Oh, this was delightful. A knowing smile spread slowly across Orihime's face as she watched him weigh and contemplate her breasts in his hands. It was pretty cute. “I think… I think we leave going out for Vermont and hang out here for a while, and if we’re up for it, we can watch a movie downstairs. You may have to settle for the subpar Italian served here, though,” she proposed.

Ulquiorra looked up at her with a sly glance. “You wanna watch a movie and eat spaghetti? I need a bit of time to, uh, arrange the Vermont thing. I’m going to find the perfect love nest for us.” He gave her a boyish grin before he kissed one of her nipples and stood up.

She smirked and laughed. “That works for me. You can look stuff up and we can eat in your office, if you want.”

It was nice to see a smile on Orihime’s face. She looked carefree. He held out his hand and helped her out of the tub. His arms wrapped a towel around the woman, and then he held her. “I know I don’t say it much, but I do love you,” Ulquiorra said before he let her go. “Go get dressed, and I’ll meet you downstairs, okay?”

She nodded. “Sounds like a good plan,” she said, then turned to leave the room. When she arrived in her room, she dried off and put on her warmest pajamas and some wooly socks. She checked herself in the mirror; she looked ridiculous. She looked like a child. Okay, she looked like a child with huge knockers but a child nonetheless in her light blue and white striped pajama bottoms and soft white fleece top with an owl wearing a monocle printed onto it. Oh well. If Ulquiorra wanted her, he should get used to her idiotic nightwear choices, she thought. She laughed at herself as she took the stairs down to the kitchen.

She didn’t see him anywhere, so she figured he must already be in the office. She filled up a couple bowls of food and brought them with some forks to the office, turning around to push the door open with her butt. “Dinner!” she chimed as she came in.

Ulquiorra was sitting at the computer in the office, scrolling through websites that boasted private cabin rentals. He looked at her over his glasses and then smiled. “What are you wearing?” he asked.

“What? He’s wearing a monocle. It’s sophisticated, Ulquiorra,” she said, teasing him as if she were teaching him something obvious as she gestured to her top.

“Oooh, she can get sassy,” he said with a chuckle. Ulquiorra patted his lap. “Come sit down.”

Orihime smiled and replied, “As you wish,” as she walked over and casually took a seat. She had planned on sitting there anyway. “I should have just gotten one big bowl. I’m going to have to feed you anyway, aren’t I?”

“Nope, I’m not that old and helpless yet, Miss Inoue.” Ulquiorra kissed her before taking a bowl from her. “I mean we can get some grapes and you can feed them to me,” he said with a smile.

“Hmm, maybe later,” she said, turning a bit and leaning into the arm of the office chair both to free up Ulquiorra’s arms and to look at the computer screen. “How is the search going so far?”

Ulquiorra took a bite of his pasta and chewed slowly before be moved the mouse to a tab and clicked on it. “This is the cheapest and the smallest. It’s six hundred square feet. It’s basically a stand alone hotel room. This one--” he paused to click on another tab. “This one is the most expensive and features a king size bed, jacuzzi tub, hot tub, and deluxe kitchen along with a balcony.”

“Woohoo, fancy,” she commented on the expensive one in a small, distracted voice as she squinted and read the fine print and took a bite of food. “Anything more middle-of-the-road available?”

He hemmed and hawed for a moment. “It depends on what you want. I like the idea of a roomy bed. I like the idea of a hot tub. The bathtub is big enough to fit both of us. The kitchen is more your thing than mine.” Ulquiorra clicked on a different window. “This one is smaller than the last one, has a queen size bed and a big tub but no jacuzzi and a hot tub. It boasts an eat in kitchen.”

“Eh, I think if you’re giving up all the amenities you may as well just go with the cheapest one, don’t you think? I mean, I don’t mind spending a little money, but I certainly am not looking for a gourmet kitchen when I’m going to spend a couple of days in a cabin. I’d rather have the fun stuff.”

The green eyed man smiled. “You’re in luck. This last one has a kitchenette, and everything else… except for a huge bed. It’s only a queen.”

“I am a very small person. You won’t even know I’m there,” she said, nudging him in the ribs and then examining the pictures. “I like this place.”

He looked at her while she was studying the website, gently pushing a piece of hair behind her ear. Ulquiorra couldn’t describe it, but he was absolutely enamored with her. He didn’t even care that he was sinning or that his father wanted him to do this. He just knew he loved her. He was living his dream. “Well it’s gonna be hard to ignore you when you’ll be sleeping on top of me,” he replied, before taking a bite out of a meatball.

She was chewing when he made that comment and chuckled through her nostrils. After she swallowed, she looked at him and shook her head. “Like you’re going to get any sleep. Silly, silly man.” She loved teasing him. She loved the way he would either act cool and detached or rise to the bait. Sometimes he would just call her out on it and carry on. In all of those cases, he managed to make her feel like she had reached a part of him that not many others could. She wanted always to have this side of him open to her. Her eyes softened just thinking about it.

“Is that a threat or a promise?” Ulquiorra asked with a smile. He put his bowl on the desk and then ran his hands down her sides. “You think you can keep me up all night?”

She narrowed her eyes and looked over her shoulder at him. “Are you challenging me?”

Ulquiorra shook his head a bit. “There isn’t anything to challenge. You go to sleep after sex,” he teased.

“Oh, we’ll see about that,” she murmured, looking back to the computer screen and wiggling her hips a little on his leg. “I’ve been taking it easy on you.”

That was utter bullshit. Orihime could barely keep up with him. She liked to imagine she might someday, though.

“Hmmm. We’ll see about that, Woman,” he said leaning back in the chair and arching his hips into her. Ulquiorra was more at ease now that he knew he had a couple of days off. He was relaxed. That release of tension from the past few weeks had melted away which made him think more of rewards than punishments. “I could ignore the next time you say that safe word.”

“Would that be wise?” she asked. She turned to face Ulquiorra again, this time putting her hands on his shoulders. “Maybe this time I make you sit there and not move until you’re the one begging for mercy. Then we’ll discuss the cessation of safe words, hmm?”

Ulquiorra reached down between her legs and pressed his fingers against her fleece covered crotch. He made his face look blank as he touched her. “I’d like to see you try it,” he stated with a seductive smirk, the corner of his mouth barely lifting and eyes half-lidded.

“Challenge accepted,” she said, taking a hand off his shoulder and putting it on his crotch, grasping lightly where she knew his cock lie dormant. “I should warn you, though, I’m younger and probably more spry than you. You might want to bring some of that ointment for sore, aching muscles,” she teased, looking up at him from under her brows.

Hmph. She was calling him old. Well then. He could show her hold old he was. “Miss Inoue,” he whispered into her ear after he sat upright. “I have years of experience. I know how to hold off from coming.” Ulquiorra’s hand that sat between her legs slipped under the waistband of her pajama pants. “I could make you get off right here. Then whenever you would work in the office, all you’d remember is how I made you feel good, sitting right at this desk.”

He thought he was punishing her. Silly, silly man. “I am willing to bet that if I try hard enough, I can put it off,” she stopped and sighed. Although it might be fun, it’s not really what she wanted right now. She changed tactics. “But I have a better idea,” she said, popping the button of his trousers and pulling down the zipper. She paused a moment, finding his eyes to see if he had any objection.

He tilted his head a little and raised an eyebrow at her. “What is this better idea?” Ulquiorra asked as his hand hit the soft skin of her thighs.

She slipped a hand inside of his fly and with her other hand she pulled at his waistband, and after a couple seconds she had managed to pull his dick out of his pants and started stroking it. “Okay. Why don’t you just continue deciding on our lodgings. I’ll take care of things back here,” she said, making no move to stop what she was doing, but taking his hand off of her and putting it back on the mouse on the desk.

A long breath left him as he turned the chair slightly so he could see around her. He thought about using his other hand to tease her, but Ulquiorra kept it where it was on the armrest of the chair. This was good. It felt good. He scrolled through two cabins before he bit his bottom lip.

Orihime kept smoothly pumping his length until it was hard enough for her liking. She briefly flickered her eyes to his, and satisfied that he was sufficiently focused on the screen, she quickly grasped the base of his cock and slid her pajama bottoms down to the bottom of her ass and sat on him, guiding him in quickly before he could brace himself or react. Once he had filled her, she put her hands on the desk and started rocking a bit, then asked in a completely normal voice, “So, find anything good yet? Do you think you can book one tonight?”

He could tune out what she was doing but when her walls engulfed him, Ulquiorra’s breath stuttered. “Orihime,” he breathed, his free hand came up to grip her waist. The other hand stayed on the mouse.

“Yes? What is it sweetheart?” she asked sweetly, rolling her hips a bit more with each rising and falling motion.

Focus. That’s what he had to do. He needed to focus on what his task was… What was he doing before she just helped herself? Ulquiorra tilted his head back against the chair and shut his eyes for a moment, feeling how their bodies felt together. “Mmmm,” he moaned quietly. “This isn’t… God… It’s… Fuck, do that again.”

Orihime smiled and repeated the action. “Oh, this? Sure I can do that again,” she said, doing it several more times and then doubling down, increasing her speed and the distance she allowed her body to rise off the base of his cock. She still left a solid two inches of him inside of her, afraid of him falling out and accidentally hurting him, but even just the increase in movement she was doing caused her breathing to increase and her hair to bounce as she moved.

That was it. Ulquiorra took his hand off the mouse and arched his hips up. His newly freed hand grabbed one of her breasts. “You’re a naughty thing, aren’t you? I should take you upstairs and have my way with you,” he said, his mouth moving against her neck.

A low chuckle. In her mind she had won already. “Well, if you give up already, I suppose you could just bend me over the desk, but what happened to this legendary control of which I’ve heard so much boasting?” she asked, somewhat breathless from her efforts.

“I didn’t say I’d be coming,” he replied. “I’d slide into you and make you come before using my fingers or my mouth on you.”

He was confident. He was much too confident. She considered the desk. It was an older, wide wooden thing, crafted in the days when people cared about things like strength and quality or workmanship. It wouldn’t take much to push the few items on its surface out of the way and grab the other side of it. Yep. That sounded like a good idea. As she came down onto his lap the next time, she grabbed his hip with her left hand, encouraging him to follow her as she got onto the balls of her feet. She pushed that cup full of pens and paper clips out of the way together with the stack of bulletins with her right hand, bent over the desk far enough to grab the other side, the turned her face to the side. She looked at him with one eye and said, “Alright sir, let’s see who is right, and who comes first, shall we?”

Ulquiorra stood behind her, but he decided to play dirty. He eyed her body as he eased two fingers inside of her after he withdrew his cock. She was wet. She was hot. He had to calm down because there was no way he would lose to her. If she wanted to see this great control, he’d show her. “Hands behind your back,” he said.

Oh. Well, this was unexpected. And against the terms, Orihime had set for this challenge. “You have changed the rules of engagement without the approval of the governing body, Ulquiorra,” she grumbled, waiting to see if he would insist.

“Oh, oh, the governing body? I can change the terms further.” He leaned down and placed a kiss on her spine and began moving his fingers in and out of her.

She sighed. “Fine. Have it your way,” she said, bringing her arms behind her back.

Ulquiorra smiled as he moved his mouth lower. “Does it bother you that much that I won’t play by your rules?”

“Well, once in a while might be novel, don’t you think?”

He straightened up. “Okay. Once in a while I could do,” Ulquiorra said. He grabbed her wrists and placed them back on the other side of the desk. He was still hard. How could he not be? His desire for Orihime ran deep. Just touching her was a turn on. “I’m just surprised that you’d take charge.”

She smirked. “There is still much to uncover, my love. Now, if you please?” she said, lifting up on her toes in an invitation.

He grabbed the shaft of his cock before he lined himself up and entered her slowly, letting every inch pass over the warmth of her body. When Ulquiorra was fully seated inside of Orihime, he leaned over her. “I don’t know how long I’m going to last. You seem to break my self-control a lot of the time,” he said to her.

“Well,” she answered in a reedy tone, “that is the point of this particular exercise.” She waited until he drew back and pushed back in, then just as he was about to pull back again, she crossed her legs tightly. That was good for her, too; better than she anticipated. She smiled and hummed in appreciation at the increased friction.

“Dammit,” he huffed. Ulquiorra thought he could anticipate any woman’s movements while having sex. Orihime was teaching him new tricks. “Orihime,” he whimpered as he stilled his hips. She was going to make him come. If she did, he’d just have to power through it to bring her to that peak of pleasure.

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re going to give up so easily?” she said, swallowing and giving her inner thighs a squeeze. She could feel how tight she was; the narrowness caused him to press down toward the front of her entrance. That was nice. He could just sit still there like that if he wanted. She could enjoy this on its own, pressing and releasing him with her hips and thighs.

He felt that flex. The tightening sensation was enough that he just wanted to drive further into her. She wasn’t a virgin any longer, but still, she wrapped around him like wet clothing. And with whatever she was doing made it difficult to keep his composure. He started snapping his hips against her, withdrawing almost the entire way out before thrusting back into her. “Woman,” he groaned.

“Hnngh,” was her first response. This was delicious. She could feel the drag of each inch as it came in and out of her. She raked her teeth over her lower lip and puffed out an involuntary breath, the head of his cock pushing in deep and the impact of his hips against hers literally forcing the breath from her lungs. She continued rhythmically squeezing him and between thrusts managed to say, “Yes?”

“Oh, God. Don’t stop.” He kept sliding in and out of her. He tightened the muscles in his torso, trying to dull the sensations of her pussy and what she was doing. He had to think about something other than her body.

She wasn’t going to make it easy. “Oooh, Ulquiorra,” she purred, her eyes fluttering closed as the sensations she was experiencing where their bodies were joined began to overwhelm her. She let loose a long hiss and then took a deep breath and tried to hold it, only allowing a tiny stream of air to escape in a long, quiet, high-pitched utterance that hiccuped with each thrust. The bulb of his dick was hitting her in the clit every time he drew back and she was about to fall apart on him.

“Ulquiorra, don’t stop fucking me,” she ground out in a harsh whisper as she tried to hold on. But honestly, at this point, she didn’t care much about winning or losing.

It was no use. He wasn’t used to Orihime's body, and he couldn’t hold back. He rolled his hips against her while bringing a hand in between them, fingers seeking out her clit. Ulquiorra wanted this. He wanted her. He wanted her to come on him. “Never,” he growled.

That was fucking it. His fingers found her and she squeezed around them as he thrusted once more and the results were electric. She shuddered around him, the sensation ripping up her spine, causing her body to curl up as she came. Her newly freed breasts clapped at one another as Ulquiorra valiantly continued to drive into her. She reached behind her and grabbed at the back of his neck; her body bent like a bow.

With his body pressed as far as it could go inside of her and the pressure of this position put on his cock, Ulquiorra had to bury his face into her neck to keep from screaming her name as he felt himself pulse inside of her. As it was, he moaned because of the intensity. He still kept going but soon the sensations were too much and he slumped against the redhead.

After she caught her breath and he had fallen limply out of her, she pulled her pajama pants back up and carefully turned under his weight to face him on wobbly legs. Orihime lifted his chin and brushed her lips against his for a moment, then shimmied herself up so that she sat on the surface of the desk and held him to her, supporting his weight more easily now that she didn’t have to stand. “I think we call that one a draw, but either way, I think I won,” she said, giggling, in a post-orgasmic, non-filtered stream-of-consciousness-fueled admission.

“You cheated,” he huffed, trying to calm himself down. He closed his eyes, breathing the scent of her shampoo in. After a few long moments, he stepped away from her and fell back into the office chair before making himself decent.

She picked up her bowl of half-eaten spaghetti and sat back down on his lap, shoving a mouthful of the now-cold noodles into her mouth. “Uh, Ulquiorra?”

“Hmmm?” he said snuggling up to her. “What?”

“You still have to book us that cabin,” she said nuzzling her nose against his temple.

He smiled at her in a lazy way. “I don’t know if I should. I don’t think we could take having multiple orgasms in a day. Every time you absolutely destroy me,” Ulquiorra said.

“Oh hush. I know you think you’re this old man, but you’re still a spunk,” she teased, poking him in the ribs.

“You’re just some smart-assed kid too,” he said, tickling her lightly.

He had managed to find the spot — her point of weakness. She giggled wildly and thrashed her legs. She had to try not to spill her bowl of noodles as she set them down and tried to escape. “Please! Please Ulquiorra, not there! It’s too much!” she shrieked.

He showed some mercy. “You’re beautiful when you smile. It’s been a couple of days since I’ve seen that look on your face,” Ulquiorra told her. He was feeling the rush of endorphins, and other feel good stuff in his brain, so he being affectionate. It happened occasionally. “I love you, Woman.”

She calmed down, but continued to beam at him. “I love you so much,” she replied, then buried her head into the crook of his neck which was still heated from the efforts of their love-making, the scent of him enveloping her. “This is my favorite smell.” She sighed and leaned into him deeply. “Ulquiorra? If you had a choice, and you didn’t have the constraints and deadlines that you have, would you have done it the same way?”

Rousing himself from an almost comatose state, Ulquiorra thought about her question. Did she mean their first time? Did she mean their entire relationship? He shook his head slightly. “I would have done it right. I would have taken my time. I would have exited the priesthood. I would have courted you. I would do things right,” he answered.

“Hmm, what is it like to be courted by Ulquiorra Cifer, one wonders?” she asked, drawing a lazy heart over the fabric of his shirt.

He squirmed slightly at the touch because it tickled. “I imagine it would be a lot like Christmas day, except over months, not hours.”

She hummed, considering his words. “Well, in that case, I’m glad. Although that sounds nice, I rather enjoyed the organic intensity of how we came together.” She took a deep, relaxing breath. “I’m sorry that I was not very good at flirting with you or anything… I had no idea what I was doing.”

“It was adorable though. I don’t think you realized what you were doing. You had me wrapped around your finger, Orihime. You still do,” Ulquiorra stated. “I’ve never like being a kept man before. I’m finding myself quite comfortable with the thought now.”

She grinned again. “I never thought I would be in love at twenty-three. And not the kind of in love that people write pop songs about, I’m talking about the kind where you just know, like a quiet realization that that part of your soul that was always there, waiting for a name, has your face on it. It was just a matter of realizing it.” She wrinkled her nose a bit, thinking her explanation was lacking.

“Orihime, I knew a long time ago I was waiting for you. I was just trying to bide my time,“ Ulquiorra said. “I didn’t even know if I was going to see you again.”

“I never really believed in fate or destiny or anything like that, but you make me wonder…” she said with a small chuckle. “I don’t know if I can write those ideas off so easily anymore.”

The priest opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by Zommari opening the office door. Ulquiorra gave the other man a blank stare. “Yeah?” he asked.

Orihime played it super chill. It was easy, as relaxed as she was feeling at the moment. “Hi, Father Zommari. We were looking at places in Vermont. Did you know there are a lot of places that haven’t been updated since like, 1973? It’d be like visiting a Days of Disco museum,” she paused, her eyes following his to the desk’s surface with the scattered bulletins and paperclips. “Oh, sorry. I’m a klutz,” she said. “I thought I saw a mouse and jumped up there. I nearly knocked spaghetti all over the place.” She was almost ashamed at how easily she was able to lie.

Zommari scowled and pressed his lips into a thin line. “Just don’t fuck in my office or my bedroom. Don’t have sex in the parlor or the kitchen or in front of the windows. You two have Sunday the third to Thursday the seventh off. Apparently, Tosen has decided that the church needed new carpet so, while that is done you two can go play or whatever you’re going to do.”

“Oh, what color carpet are we getting?” she asked, totally oblivious.

Ulquiorra laughed and shook his head. “I don’t think he believes the story about the mouse, Woman,” he said to her in a quiet voice.

“Navy blue. Hides all manner of sins better than bright red.”

“Good to know. Thanks for the tip,” Orihime murmured.

“I’m off to bed. You two make sure you clean up your mess,” Zommari said gesturing to the top of the desk. He backed out of the room and shut the door.

Ulquiorra could hear his heavy footsteps on the stairs before he started laughing again. “You just don’t give a damn right now, do you?”

She looked at him with a goofy half smile and shook her head. “I think I really understand what the phrase “no fucks given” was coined for,” and then joined him in laughter. Ulquiorra smiling was one thing. Ulquiorra grinning, and meaning it, was magical. She forced herself to drink this moment in, despite her eyes wanting to close in mirth, she kept them trained on his gleaming white teeth and little dimples. He looked like a boy like this.

When he stopped laughing he caught her staring at him. “What?” he asked his expression turning to one of concern. “Is something wrong?”

She shook her head. “No. I was just watching you. You don’t know how adorable you are.”

He scoffed playfully. “We are going to make an adorable kid. Watch. It’ll come out looking just like you.”

She grinned. “Nope. He will look like you, except he’ll have my eyebrow shape and my chin.”

Ulquiorra put his hands over his eyebrows. “What is wrong with my eyebrows?”

“Nothing! But the kid has to have something of mine. Eyebrows and chin are the only things I’m willing to sacrifice, and even then its begrudgingly,” she grumbled.

Chuckling, Ulquiorra kissed Orihime’s temple. “I should show you pictures of what I looked like as a kid. You might get a kick out of it.”

Her eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. “Yes! Have you been holding out on me?! I demand to see this.”

“Why? I wasn’t a cute kid. There are pictures all over my father’s mansion with me in them. From the time I was a baby until I left. I’m sure that was Retsu’s doing. She took pictures of us or took us to a photo studio.”

She raised a brow. There were a lot of reasons his adoptive mother may have hung pictures around, despite all reports of her being cool and distant. Maybe she was just proud of how her kids looked. She couldn’t blame her. Apart from Nnoitra, the Aizen kids were a good-looking bunch. “So, how am I going to see these pictures? Am I going to be expected to go hang out and play potential daughter-in-law or something?”

Ulquiorra shook his head. “Nah the next Tuesday we’re off, I’ll take you over there. Retsu lives there while Aizen lives in the townhouse closer to downtown Boston.”

Orihime visibly relaxed. “Alright, I’m looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I cannot return the favor. I don’t have anything from when I was little, and the Rohertys only took pictures to send to Aizen. I suppose there are a few pictures of me online from when I was in Trinity, but that’s it. And I was an older kid then. Did you ever look me up on the internet?”

“Never thought about it. I made sure I stayed out of the limelight. I got good grades, and I did my best but…” Ulquiorra trailed off, uncomfortable about his past.

“Well, I looked you up. I looked up Aizen and Nel, and I looked you up. There’s not much, that’s for sure,” she admitted without shame.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Why would you look me up? I’m nothing.”

“You were there. At the funeral. At the burial. You were the only person who spoke to me. Yeah, you said some not-so-nice things, but you acknowledged me. Everyone else treated me like a ghost.”

“Orihime,” he said, cupping her face. Ulquiorra kissed her gently before he wrapped his arms around her. “I wanted you to hate us. I wanted you to see what monsters we were.”

“I could never hate you, Ulquiorra. I never have.”

“I love you.”

“I love you,” she paused and let their declarations hang in the air for a long time as they looked into each others eyes. Finally, she sighed. “So, uh, pretty boy, you wanna, you know, watch a movie and snuggle?”

Chapter Text

The second day of February dawned cold and bright. At the docks, there sat a warehouse, mostly empty save for some crates and tables. Nnoitra swaggered through the space, acting like he owned it. He’d texted his father earlier, telling the man he had important news for him.

"Hey Pops," Nnoitra yelled as raised a hand to wave at the man. It was all for show. The hitman knew that Aizen and him held no love for each other.

Aizen gave a heavy sigh and looked back over his shoulder at the tall, lanky man walking towards him. "Yes, Nnoitra?"

He was looking over some papers from his various drug businesses. Szayel was doing remarkable work with manufacturing the different substances that were peddled out across the city and down the coast. He looked out at the people who were hunched over the tables pressing powder into little pills. The assembly line operated smoothly. His little workers knew better than to swipe product or even try to step out of line. The men that patrolled the aisles knew to shoot anyone who dared to even try.

“What is it Nnoitra?”

"You tell Ulq he could get rid of that camera?"

"What?"

Nnoitra smirked. "It's gone. We've lost feed. That was the only thing keeping an eye on the house, unless you’ve got another camera stationed somewhere."

Aizen pressed his lips into a thin line. What happened to the camera that was placed in his room? “There’s a camera in the basement. I had one installed in the television Nel delivered to Ulquiorra. It’s useless though. It’s so dark down there and you know Ulquiorra doesn’t like light, so even if they use the basement, he probably keeps the lights off.”

“You want me to send the boys in? They could rig up the house all nice.”

The older man shook his head. “I’ve given those two a deadline. We’re far from it. When the time comes they will be dealt with. Ulquiorra will leave that so-called profession he picked and come to work for me. I’ll disappear to Russia with your mother, the rest of you fuck off, minus Tier and Ulquiorra takes the fall and lands himself in a federal prison and I remotely run everything from St. Petersburg.”

The leering smile seemed to be plastered on Nnoitra’s face. “I think Nelliel should stay here with Ulq. She’s dumb. Tier is useful. What about Barragan’s brat?”

“When the time comes, you may do whatever you wish to Miss Inoue. Make it look like an accident. Make it look like Ulquiorra did it. Make her your whore, you know I don’t care,” Aizen stated.

A nod from the black-haired man. “So what if she’s not pregnant when I take her in on the twelfth?”

“Nnoitra, I’m busy. We can talk about this later or another time. If she’s not pregnant, leave her alone. Your brother has a job to do. Let him do it or else, I’ll give chaperoning duties to Grimmjow.” Aizen gave the man a stern look. “Do not traumatize her. If she is pregnant, the stress would not be good for her body.”

“Aight, see ya, Pops.”

***

After Mass on Sunday, Ulquiorra put his and Orihime’s bags into the back of the station wagon. He looked at the redhead with a fond smile then at Zommari who was standing in the door of the garage. “I’ll be careful,” he said to the older priest.

“Just be smart. Once you leave Boston, you two can do whatever but remember who you are until you drive out of the city,” Zommari advised.

“Got it, no indecencies and no fucking in public.”

“Language, Father Cifer.”

Ulquiorra smiled before he got into the station wagon. “Ready?” he asked Orihime.

“So ready. Let’s go!” she cheered. She had been looking forward to this since the day he had proposed it. She was bouncing in her seat. “Do you want to listen to music?”

“Sure,” Ulquiorra said. He held up a hand and looked at the female sitting beside him. “No country music.”

“Ugh, no kidding,” she replied. Sure, lots of people liked it. But to her, it was like listening to the cat chorale. “No. Thank. You. What kind of music do you like?” she asked, cueing up a short playlist in the meantime and plugging her phone into the auxiliary wire that fed into the cassette player in the old station wagon.

Ulquiorra shrugged as he looked up directions to the cabin. “I used to listen to all kinds of music before I started my journey to become a priest. I’ll listen to a lot of things but I can’t stand that twangy music. Something about it grates on my nerves.”

“You and me both, Babe,” she replied, not really focused on her words. “Here we go. Some uptempo mid-aughts classics,” she said, playing a brassy song with a female vocalist singing sexy lyrics.

He smiled. “So, uh, all that I ask is that nothing churchy be played. I’m not on this trip to be reminded of… you know. Deal?” Ulquiorra pulled out of the garage and made his way to the road they needed to be on. They were staying at one of the medium-sized cabins he’d found in between Green Mountain National Park and Bennington, Vermont. “When we get up there did you want to go shopping for some basic stuff or do it while we’re in Boston?”

“Um, I don’t mind to do some shopping up there. I don’t want to spend all day doing it though. I have other things in mind,” she said, putting her hand on his thigh.

“Hey now,” he said glancing over at her. “No distracting the driver. We should be there in about three hours unless we find a nice dirt road to pull over on and… you know. The backseat is pretty roomy.”

“Oh I know. I’ve discovered that it reclines all the way down, too,” she said suggestively. “It doesn’t even have to be that nice of a dirt road. I’d tolerate a dirty, nasty one as long as it was discreet.”

He gave her a look like he was bored when they stopped at a light. “That’s what I meant,” Ulquiorra replied. “I don’t want to draw attention to the car rocking because you’re riding me.”

Orihime giggled. She would share what she was thinking, but he had asked not to be reminded that he was a priest, but she could see the scandalous headlines with the tawdry photographs of her bouncing on Ulquiorra’s lap in the backseat of a shaggin’ wagon, and it tickled her. “Anyway,” she said as the light turned green, “Besides the, uh, obvious, what else do you want to do up there?”

A sigh left him. “Uh,” Ulquiorra said. “I want to take you out on a date… several dates. I want to hold your hand while shopping. We don’t actually have to shop… I mean we can. I just want to be around you. I want to have a couple days where it’s us and no one else.”

She sunk into her seat, smiling to herself and thinking. This guy. This Ulquiorra Cifer. This person who always puts on a mask and acts detached and uncaring, is a closet romantic. She giggled again to herself feeling a bit embarrassed by how focused she had been on the carnal activities. Ulquiorra wanted to act like she was his girlfriend. It was adorable. “I have to warn you, and I know you know, but let me remind you, I’ve never had a boyfriend. I hope I don’t disappoint you, but know that if I do it’s not on purpose. I just don’t know how to behave.”

“I have to warn you,” he said glancing at her again. “I’ve never taken a relationship seriously before this. I’m not really used to acting like I care, but you… I care about you.” Ulquiorra took a hand off the steering wheel and touched the side of her face with the back of it for a moment.

Oh god, if she could have melted into a puddle she would have. Maybe it’s because she didn’t have anything to compare him to, but she didn’t care. He definitely had her eating out of the palm of his hand. “I don’t really know much about this place. What’s there to do?” She changed the subject because otherwise she would become completely useless.

Ulquiorra sighed as someone cut him off. He wasn’t going to let stupid people affect him today. “To be honest, I’m not really sure what there is to do. I know there’s a battle monument around there and a museum, a covered bridge, uh, hiking trails. We could go hiking around the cabin.”

“Or snowshoeing. I’m guessing there’s going to be snow on the ground. Hmm,” she paused, thinking about what he said. “A battle monument? What kind of battle was it? The battle of the maple syrups?” Orihime was not a history buff.

He smiled. “No clue, we will find out when we get there,” Ulquiorra told her. He should have picked a place that had more stuff to do. More tourist attractions but this wasn’t a tourist vacation. This was for them to play pretend about being a couple in real life. “We could drive to a bigger city and do touristy things.”

“No,” she said firmly. “This is about us, not a place. I don’t want to be that distracted.” she looked out the window. They had a long drive in front of them, and Ulquiorra seemed to be feeling a bit of pressure about this place; talking about it didn’t seem to help. Maybe a game? “Hey, have you ever played a road trip game?”

He shook his head. “Never went on a road trip before.”

“Wanna try one? There’s one called… I forget what it’s called in English but we used to play it in Japanese school. It’s called Shiritori…” She shook her head. Extraneous information was not helpful. “Anyway, somebody says a word, and the next person says a word that starts with the same letter as the last letter of the last word. To increase the difficulty, we can stick to a theme, like, um… Celebrity names, dead presidents, movie titles, fruit… I’ll let you pick the theme. Wanna give it a go?”

“Shir-tori? Did I say that right?” Ulquiorra said before he got on the road that would take them into Vermont. “Um… Movie Titles.”

“Close enough. Okay, I’ll go first. Um. Braveheart.”

“Terminator?” He replied questioning. Ulquiorra wondered if he did that right.

“Rrrrrrrrreturn to Me,” she said, drawing out that R until she thought of something.

He scowled for a moment. “I thought you were going to say Return of the Jedi because I would have stopped you so fast. Um...”

“Why would you have stopped me?”

“Because technically, it’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, no one calls it that.”

Oh. My. God. “Oh my god, you’re a nerd!” She squealed in delighted laughter. “It’s your turn. Starts with an E.”

Ulquiorra pouted. He was not a nerd. He just liked things. He had to really think about this. “Um… Evita. And I am not a nerd.”

“T…” She wanted to say Terminator again, but then she would lose. “T…” For some reason, she was stumped. “OH! Titanic. And I like that you’re a nerd.”

He furrowed his brow. Evita ended with an A… Was she trying to change the rules? “Uh, Con-Air.”

She realized her mistake. Had he just let her cheat? “Ulquiorra Cifer. What is your middle name?”

“Why?” He asked looking at her before focusing his eyes back on the road. “Do you have one?”

“I need to know. And no, I don’t have one. I’m Japanese. I know I don’t look it, but I am.”

With a sigh, he said, “Gabriel.”

She gasped and clapped her hands, whispering, “I love love loooove that name!” Then, in the same breath, she scolded, “Ulquiorra Gabriel Cifer. You let me cheat. Shame on you.” She paused for a breath and added in a little voice, “Although technically I wasn’t cheating, I was just stupid.”

He gave her a dirty look for using his entire name. “I did not let you cheat! I thought you were changing the rules of the game.”

“And you just let it pass like that? Without an explanation or anything? You must really love me,” she said with a little chuckle. “Anyway, shall we make it a little bit more interesting? Instead of movie themes, we’ll tell each other a fun fact about ourselves?”

Ulquiorra nodded. That sounded fun. “Okay, I’m game for that,” he replied.

“Okay, Con-Air ends with R not any other random letter of the alphabet, Orihime. Let’s see.. A fun fact that starts with R… Oh! Random assortment. I do not have categorical systems for arranging my books or movies. That ends with a T for assortment. You go.”

“Dear Lord,” Ulquiorra muttered. He had wondered about how she sorted her movies. He always had a thing for order but it was needed while he was a priest. Most priests had orderly lives. “Uh, tattoos… I want more of them. A couple more not a lot. I don’t know though. Maybe after all this is over, I’ll get something.”

“Ooh, do you have anything specific in mind already?”

“Maybe another cross? A small one.”

She smiled. He seemed unsure so she wasn’t going to press for more details. “That would be nice, because at first I was gonna say that I thought you had crosses covered. You look like Jesus from behind. Hot Jesus.”

Rolling his eyes, he flashed her a grin. “I thought about getting a sacred heart tattooed on my chest. Yammy, one of my friends from college, he played football on a scholarship; he said it was stupid. So I got roses instead besides what I told you before.”

She nodded. “Well a sacred heart would have been meaningful but also a bit gruesome, so I’m glad you didn’t. Our poor kid could be traumatized,” She laughed. “Okay, my turn. S?”

“Yeah, S.”

She exhaled slowly as she thought about what to say. “Ssssssssssssssssssssssssss” Nothing was coming to her. She had to take another breath. “Semi-fluent in Japanese. I can understand it well but I have trouble speaking. You can pick T for fluent or E from Japanese.”

“Shit, that’s kind of hard.” Hmmm. “Errors. I hate making errors. I hate making mistakes. I’ve got a perfectionist nature. Why don’t you just tell me something about you that I don’t know. Like… What did you think of me when you told me to stop bullying your brother?”

She raised her eyebrows. He was really impacted by that memory, wasn’t he? She thought it was sweet. “Um, I was five, so I wasn’t very sophisticated. I thought you were tall. I thought you were strong. Despite that, I thought I could take you on,” she giggled. “Your reaction to me was surprising though. You just looked at me like… like I was some kind of foreign object, and then told Grimmjow to stop and left. It made me feel like maybe you accepted your defeat at my teeth or that you… I don’t know. It made me feel powerful though.”

Ulquiorra laughed and put a hand on her leg. “Wasn’t that. I liked the fire in your eyes. Like a small dog trying to take on a big dog. Fearless. It made me wonder about you. I used to watch you.”

“Oh? What did you see when you watched me?”

He shrugged. “A kid who grew up vastly different from me. A kid who knew what a happy home was. A kid that deserved better than what my father was offering,” Ulquiorra replied as he stared at the road in front of him.

She sighed. He had a tendency to veer despondent. And he really didn’t know much about Barragan if he thought her home had been happy. Oh well, she didn’t want him bumming out, so she would have to remedy that. “Okay, tell me about… your relationships with your siblings.” Way to go, Orihime. Not exactly happiness fodder. “I mean, just the highlights.”

“I remember when Retsu brought Nel home. She was a tiny thing. I was about six? Maybe seven--No, I had just turned six. Blonde hair like Tier. She cried a lot. Nnoi didn’t like her but she’s my favorite sibling. Grimmjow Is my second favorite. He and I got into some epic fights and he’s just two years younger than me. I think he was in your brother’s class. Not sure, or they were in the same grade,” Ulquiorra said as he flipped the turn signal to get over. “Tier is okay. She’s older than me. I think she just turned thirty? But we talked a lot. She gave me insight into things.”

He didn’t mention Nnoitra but in passing about Nel. That’s fine. This was meant to be a pleasant conversation. “I remember being in class with Nel and Grimmjow was in Sora’s grade. I liked Nel too. She was always very sweet, but she had problems with attention-seeking behaviors. She used to get in trouble in class, but she never mouthed off or anything like that. It always made me mad when some people would pick on her. I tried sticking up for her but she would always make excuses for the mean kids…”

“What’s something you want to accomplish this year?”

She laughed a bit incredulously, “You mean besides getting pregnant? Hmm. Well, before I had this challenge on my plate I guess I wanted to get back into better shape. I’ve let myself go. I mean, I’ve gotten better since I came back to Boston but in college I spent a lot of time sitting on a computer and eating junk food.”

Ulquiorra turned his head slightly to look at her before flashing his eyebrows. “I think you look fine. You become any more gorgeous and I’ll have to fight off the single males in the parish.”

She laughed. “Oh don’t worry. None of them talk to me anyway. What about you? What do you want to do this year?”

“I’m not real sure. I still don’t have a goal in mind. I guess… Make up for lost time,” Ulquiorra said. “Maybe get another tattoo. Uh, fill out my legs more. Yeah, I need more power in my thighs.”

Orihime hummed. “I think they’re pretty powerful as-is,” she murmured, remembering their time in her bed the previous evening. “But hey, who am I to argue?”

“I want to be able to break the bed when I fuck you hard.”

She bit her lip and tried not to squeal. She ended up giggling. “Just make sure you don’t break me, alright? Anyway, tell me about what you want to do when you’re old. Like, really old. Would you be like, a fishing grandpa? One of those guys who play chess in the park? What’s your geriatric fantasy?”

He twisted his mouth to the side and thought about it. “I want to have books and play chess. I like playing it. No one around plays though. Uh, I want a nice quiet retirement. You?”

“I play chess. I’m not a prodigy or anything but I know the rules. I want to live somewhere quiet when I’m old. I want to have long curly white hair and I want to have little kids around me. I want them to think I’m a witch or like a magical fairy who produces cookies from thin air. I want to have a warm home and I want to die before you do.”

“How many grandkids you planning on?” Ulquiorra asked teasingly. He tried not to address her statement of dying but after a few seconds of silence it was eating away at him. “I don’t even want to think about that.”

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, surprising herself with how emotional she became out of nowhere. She took a couple of open-mouthed breaths to calm herself and then forced a smile. “Maybe by then they’ll have figured out how to make us live forever. Anyway, at least sixteen or seventeen.”

He raised an eyebrow. How many kids did she plan on having? “You want a big family, don’t you?” Ulquiorra asked.

“I want whatever I get,” she said, matter-of-factly. “But being an orphan, there is quite a bit of allure to the fantasy of a big, loving family.”

“Sharing a bathroom with four other people sucks.” He sighed. “Do you have a favorite piece of art?”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t know. Anyway… art. I really like Van Gogh. Starry Night is cliche but I love it anyway. I also really like Dali. Especially his sketches, I’m not good at remembering the names of things though…” she trailed off, embarrassed at revealing her ignorance to an art history major. “What is yours?”

“Goya. Francisco Goya. Did a bunch of macabre paintings,” he replied. “Starry Night is good. Dali is good. Everyone has their own aesthetic.”

“That’s true. Do you have a favorite song? Like a go-to favorite in your pocket that you know you can listen to and just get taken somewhere else?”

Tilting his head to the side, Ulquiorra thought about her question. He had a lot of songs that he liked. “I used to listen to a lot of emo when I was younger. Uh, the one song that got me hyped was Seven Nation Army.”

“Nice choice. I wasn’t much for emo; I didn’t get a lot of exposure, but I did like the song “Photobooth” by Deathcab for Cutie. But I listened to a lot of old people music. I have a lot of those. It’s a tough choice. Maybe “The Way You Look Tonight” is it.”

“Photobooth reminds me of The O.C.,” he said with a fond smile. “Used to watch it and think I was Ryan, the bad boy. I was more like Seth though… A nerd.”

“No Seth was the hot one. But he and Ryan were both idiots. Sandy was the real hunk on that show.”

“Tch, Summer was... She was nice.” Ulquiorra gave her a sly smile. “Cute, short and sassy. Kind of like you.”

Orihime smiled coyly. “I approve of your fantasy girlfriend. Your favorite movie? Did I ask you this already?”

“No you haven’t.” He had to think about this too. “Uh, Smokin Aces. We watched it the night at the rectory that uh, I went down on you. The music in it is awesome. Plus Ben Affleck gets capped. Kind of awesome.”

“Well then, good memories all around,” she said with a yawn.

Ulquiorra laughed. “I guess. I know I kept you up last night. Why don’t you take a nap?”

“Okay,” she replied. “Wake me up before we get there?”

***

The priest pulled into the parking lot of a supermarket and turned off the car. He never did find a dirt road to pull off onto to have his way with Orihime. He had spent a good portion of the drive thinking about Orihime’s wish to have a big family. It was a drastic concept. Before the whole priest thing he had maybe wanted one kid. If they could get this thing sorted out and he could get kicked out of the whole priesthood, Ulquiorra would think about maybe knocking her up again if they could afford it.

However, he did not want to raise a child anywhere near Boston or around Aizen. A heavy sigh left him before he turned and put a hand on Orihime’s shoulder, jostling her. “Woman, we’re in the town.”

Her eyes opened slowly, and then she squinted against the sunlight. “How long was I out?”

“About two hours,” he said with a small smile. “You ready to go shopping and then we’ll check into the cabin and get the key?”

“Sounds like a plan,” she replied with a sleepy grin. She sat up and saw that they were in front of a grocery store. “First order of business, I need to use the restroom. Do you want me to meet you in a particular section?”

He shook his head. “I’ve got to use the facilities too so; I’ll meet you outside the bathrooms?”

“Sure.”

She had made her way to the bathrooms quickly after not locating them at first and having to ask a shop assistant. When she came back out, Ulquiorra was already done.

“Hey, ready? Do we know what we’re getting or are we being kids in a candy store with a pocket full of money?” Ulquiorra asked with a smile.

“Kids, for sure,” she said, grinning at him. She took a couple steps out of the small hallway that lead to the restrooms and scanned the overhead signs indicating the locations of particular items in the store. “Coffee first, though. Neither of us can survive without it.”

He could not argue with that. He was tempted to stop several times while driving up here to get coffee but didn’t because he just wanted to get to the destination. “Creamer too,” he said.

“You and your sweet tooth. I’ll take my coffee black, like my soul,” she said with a pirate-y kind of accent, then thought they had better get a cart so went over to grab one.

Ulquiorra had to press his lips together in order not to laugh but ended up doing so anyway. “Plain creamer isn’t having a sweet tooth but I could get some flavored stuff,” he stated. “Your soul isn’t black, Woman. It’s a touch of coffee in milk.”

“Ha! How easily you forget Mo Ghile Mear,” she laughed as she pulled a cart out of the stack of them near the entrance.

“More hill what?”

“Rage singing.”

Ulquiorra’s brow furrowed. Rage singing? Did she mean the time where she was screaming into a snow storm? “Uh, I found you incredibly hot that night. That was the hundredth time I wanted to kiss you probably,” he said.

“You should have just done it.”

“Oh yeah?” Ulquiorra grabbed Orihime’s arm and stopped her. He looked down at her face before he kissed her.

After he pulled back, she looked at him with a dreamy kind of expression and answered, “Oh, yeah. Definitely yeah.”

A small chuckle left his throat. “I would have had my way with you then,” he murmured in her ear. “Let’s not kid ourselves. I wouldn’t have had the power to stop.”

She hummed and smiled. “Rage singing is kind of like, part war cry, part mating ritual so that you would have been right on track, either way.”

He shivered slightly and then looked around, remembering they were in public. “We’re on the right track now. If we would have started this earlier who knows what would have happened. I love you, Woman.” Ulquiorra stepped away from her with a smile on his face. It was getting easier expressing himself to her and saying those words.

Her feisty expression gentled. “I love you too.” He was right, of course, about not knowing what might have happened had either of them done anything differently. Luckily they would never have to know. “So, let’s get some food, shall we?”

Ulquiorra nodded and followed her. There were reasons why he had held back from initiating contact between them and it was because he hadn’t trusted himself at all around her. “I think our cabin has a fireplace. We could get some hot chocolate if you want.”

“Okay,” she said, grabbing it after she had set the coffee into the cart. “Creamer,” she said as if reading from a list. “Do you have any allergies?”

Ulquiorra shook his head. “Are you asking as the potential father of a kid or you’re just curious? I have seasonal allergies; sneezing when the pollen starts but that is about it.”

“Both. Good to know.” She said, turning her face away to hide the blush that was growing on it. He couldn’t ever refer to himself as a “potential father” without her getting turned on. This was embarrassing. This trip was supposed to be for them to have a chance to act like a normal couple but the only thing she had on her mind was getting dicked. She had to do something about it. She took one of his hands and put it on the handle of the cart and then covered it with hers. There. That was better. That was sweet and not perverted. She looked at him and smiled as they rounded the aisle into the dairy section.

One black eyebrow was raised and Ulquiorra smirked. Why was Orihime’s face red? What could she possibly be thinking about? “Something wrong?” He asked in a low voice. “You look flustered.”

“I can’t help it,” she hissed at him so no one else would hear. “You would look like this too if you had someone like you around. It’s hard to think about anything without it somehow being taken into an unintended direction.”

His teeth bit into his bottom lip. “Orihime, I have thoughts like that all the time. When I first met you, I had to stay up all night praying because all I could think of was doing the most wicked things to you. Right now all I can think about is saying fuck food; I just want to feel your body the entire time we’re up here.”

She smirked back at him. “I don’t know why either of us bothered packing clothes. Let’s hurry up and get out of here.”

With a nod they did just that. Ulquiorra kept giving Orihime looks full of desire whenever she would look at him. It was nice he could do this in public and not have it be frowned upon or a scandal. They had probably forgotten a couple of items as they loaded the car with bags but at that point the priest was turned on to the point that he just wanted the woman sitting beside him. “We have to check in and get the key. So we’ll be at the cabin soon.”

“Okay,” she said, nodding her head several times. She could do this. She could be cool. She should be able to get the key and get the groceries inside and explore the place before ripping his clothes off. Oh, who was she kidding? She’d be ripping her own clothes off before they shut the door.

It took about twenty minutes to get the key and drive up the side of a mountain. He had picked a nice cabin. It was touted as a honeymoon cottage and had everything that newlyweds needed; it even came with a bottle of champagne. When the green-eyed man pulled into that wooded clearing, he could tell that his companion was practically vibrating with anticipation. He was too. He had spent the entire time in the rental office trying to hide an erection.

“This place is awesome!” she cheered as the car stopped, and she jumped out of her seat and went to the back of the car to load as much into her arms as possible. She knew she would not come back for the rest until much, much later. She had meant the compliment toward Ulquiorra for choosing the place though. It was extremely charming.

He smiled, showing his teeth and a hint of dimples. “You like it? It has a pond behind the cottage and in the summertime you can’t see anything but trees. I wanted something that was visually pleasing and out of the way.”

“Well, you succeeded,” she said, standing by the door and nearly bouncing on her heels, waiting for him to open the door.

Ulquiorra saw her. He knew what she wanted but he took his time as he got the rest of the stuff out of the station wagon. He walked up to the door of the building and the dug the key out of his pocket, opening the door. “Want me to carry you inside?” He asked as he set down the things he was holding.

She regarded him with a confused puppy expression for a moment and then her eyebrows shot up in delight. They may never do traditional things like get married or whatever. Might as well take advantage now. She set her things down and said, “As you wish.”

The man swept her off her feet, carrying her through the doorway like a bride. He set her down on a chair and the brought everything inside before shutting and relocking the door. Ulquiorra turned around and looked at Orihime with a hungry stare. “Same rules apply here. Panties—wait no… no clothes while we’re here. I want to watch you walk around naked. You can only wear clothes if you’re cooking or we are going out.”

Her only answer was a smile and she started undressing as she sat where he had put her. First she peeled her sweater off, then her jeans. Her socks, undershirt and bra followed, then she finally stood and took off her underwear. She looked at Ulquiorra with that same smile on her face, looking him up and down. “You are much too dressed.”

“Are you saying the same rules apply to me also?” He asked walking towards her, peeling off a piece of clothing every other step until he was just clad in a pair of boxers, standing in front of her.

Her fingers wasted no time delving into his waistband and pulling his boxers off. She sighed at the sight of his erection. “Hello, my friend, I’ve missed you,” she said to it, giving it a brief kiss, then standing back up and running her hands from Ulquiorra’s chest down to his hip bones and back. “So, what do you want to do first?”

He grinned and pulled her to him by her hips. “We could find the bedroom,” Ulquiorra answered. “We could fuck right here on the floor. I just want you right now.”

Orihime’s core thumped hard. She had been ready to go since the grocery store. “I want you to fuck me on every surface in this place before our time is up, so take your pick,” she said, bringing a hand down to stroke his velvety length.

His white teeth raked over his pale bottom lip. “Oh don’t worry my woman. I plan on doing that. I plan on taking you and giving you pleasure until we are both exhausted.” Ulquiorra smiled at her. “On your knees,” he demanded. “I want my cock sucked.”

Her brows furrowed a tiny bit, but she obeyed, sinking to her knees and guiding his cock into her mouth. She bobbed her head up and down the length of it, making sure she really bathed it with her tongue. When he was sufficiently wet, she focused the effort of her mouth on the head and used her fingers to stroke the rest.

Ulquiorra’s hands ran through her hair. She looked so perfect doing this. She was good for someone as inexperienced at giving blowjobs as she was. Orihime knew how to follow his cues. He watched her for a few moments before pushing her off and helping her stand. Taking her hand he led her over to the plush looking couch. He sat down and had Orihime stand between his legs. He looked up at her while his hands cupped her breasts, teasing the nipples with his fingers.

This was a different Ulquiorra. He had always been rather take-charge but this felt next-level. She watched with darkening eyes as he drank in her image, and a small smile tipped up the corners of her lips as she imagined what he might be thinking as he seemed to study her tits. He seemed to like them a lot; copping a feel as frequently as possible. Sometimes he would tell her they were “nice”... to Orihime’s mind, “nice” was a word to describe something that pleased you briefly and then would ordinarily be dismissed. Ulquiorra did not dismiss her breasts. She wondered what he really would say about them if he didn’t filter himself. That tiny smile on her lips curled into a half smile as she continued to watch him fascinate over her body.

“You are so beautiful,” he said quietly, watching his thumbs graze those sensitive buds. Ulquiorra glanced up at her and blushed slightly. He had been caught staring. He had been caught worshipping her body. He pulled her into his lap, letting his cock rest between their bodies. “Your hair when the sun catches it is like a living fire. Your eyes; I feel like I can see my soul in them. You’re my everything, Orihime.”

Her heart fluttered at his words, and she cupped his face, staring deeply into his eyes and saying nothing. She just looked, examining the patterns in his emerald irises, watching how the light in the room reflected off his pupils and this thick, black eyelashes. Her thumbs slowly traced his cheekbones as her face crept closer to his, finally coming to rest so that their noses and foreheads were only a hair’s width apart, still looking, breathing the air from his lungs. “You are the air that I breathe,” she finally murmured, meaning it both literally and figuratively. Her eye contact finally broke as she pulled gently on his jaws, tilting her face slightly to kiss him, pressing their lips together leisurely, savoring their soft warmth and slight wetness.

His eyes shut as they kissed, allowing himself to feel this; to enjoy it. It was just him and her. No one else. No city. No rectory. No church. No family. Them. Ulquiorra and Orihime. A whimper left him as he broke the kiss. The heated urgency of their need had turned into something else. He watched her face as he lifted her slightly and then lined himself up, letting the tip of his length dip into her body. “I want you to make love to me, Orihime,” Ulquiorra said.

Orihime kissed him deeply as she sank over him. She held him close to her; her arms around his neck as her breasts pressed against his chest, and she began to rise and fall at a languid pace. Her body undulated in a slow wave as she rose, fell in a straight line, then circled slowly, allowing time for them both to feel the complete connection; it’s overpowering heat and closeness the only sensation that she could process. While he sat completely seated within her, she dipped her lips to his again, plunging her tongue into his mouth to glide against its slick, textured surface. He tasted like coffee and heaven.

She brought her toes over his legs, hooking her feet just above his knees for more control and leverage as she continued to kiss him. Once she was sure he was comfortable with this position, she began to rock her hips in addition to the circles. She still kept him buried deeply inside of her as she did, her kissing intensifying, drawing his tongue into her mouth and then pulling away just enough to break contact, before voicelessly snarling and capturing it again.

When she was sure she had him understanding her expectations; that he was not to try pull his face away from hers, she started to really move. The way she had positioned herself had allowed for her to make controlled, specific movements. She rose at a medium pace, angling her hips back to put pressure on her most sensitive spots, then as the swell of his cock’s head reached her opening, she rocked her hips forward and sheathed him again smoothly, creating hot, wet friction on the rigid underside of his dick. She continued this pattern and pace for a long time, keeping the unrelenting tension she created going, simmering with slowly increasing heat. Sparks of pleasure erupted in her with each stroke, and she knew that all she had to do was increase the speed or pressure and they would soon both succumb.

She wasn’t ready to do that yet. She kissed him in time with her rises and falls, her tongue sucking against his, the growing sweat between their bodies providing lubrication as her breasts moved up and down his body. She panted through her nostrils from her efforts, and finally, when she felt that she could no longer bear another second of this slowish torture, she opened her eyes and broke the kiss, pulling back to look at him.

He looked ravaged. His lips were red and swollen, his eyes dark and glassy. His cheeks were flushed a bright rose and he puffed his breaths out in time with her movements. He was beautiful. She couldn’t hold out any longer with him looking at her like this, his eyes seemingly pleading for release. She sped up her movements incrementally until Ulquiorra began whimpering. Despite Orihime’s soft grunts for air, she once more dove for his mouth, licking his lips and sucking each into her mouth in turn, then kissing her way to his neck, licking the salt off of it and latching on as she rode him with purpose.

Ulquiorra tilted his head letting her have access to his neck. Where did this woman come from? The way she felt against his body. The way that she moved on him. He put his hands on her waist and moved his hips along with her. There was no way he wanted this to end. He wanted to keep living inside of her. He wanted to whisk her away and live with her out in the middle of nowhere. A shiver went through him from the top of his head and down his spine to his toes, eyes rolling back as she moved with him. “Hime, I’m gonna come, baby.” The words were quiet. He had given her a challenge and she had certainly rose up, met expectations and then shattered them.

She released his neck and brought her lips to his ear, whispering, “Come, lover. Come.” As she did she clenched her kegel muscles and began to ripple around him, starting her orgasm before he did. She had been ready; it was just a matter of letting go. They were alone. No one would hear except him as she sang out in a loud chorus of ahs, gripping his shoulders as she came.

He lifted his ass off the couch and arched his spine as gripped her hips. Pulse after pulse; twitch after twitch. He could feel the spurts of come leaving him. Her body was draining him. He moaned and then when it was all said and done, Ulquiorra slumped against the cushions of the furniture. He felt tears come to his eyes as the rush of hormones and endorphins and feelings overtook him. This was his woman, he thought, as he wrapped his arms around her bringing her closer to him.

After she caught her breath, she placed more, petal-light kisses on his skin where she could reach. “I love you, Ulquiorra. I hope you know that.”

“I know,” he said huffing out a breath. “Give me a minute and we’ll get stuff put away and uh, get cleaned up. Uh...” Ulquiorra found it was very hard to speak coherent thoughts. Once again Orihime just broke him.

She laughed. “Let’s pace ourselves,” she said, lying back onto the sofa and gesturing for Ulquiorra to come lie down on her.

He chuckled then nodded. They could take an hour just to relax.

Chapter Text

Ulquiorra lay on his stomach on the bed in that cozy cabin. He was just dozing after having another round of amazing sex with the redhead. He lifted his head a bit, adjusting the pillow. “Orihime?”

Orihime had been on her back, discreetly elevating and tilting her hips upward in an effort to use gravity to increase fertility chances.  She knew they were low; that doctor had told her that it was likely that she would miss her window of fertility that first month just due to the timing of her cycle.  However, he insisted that that tracking ovulation was an inexact science so she should try her best anyway. She stopped when she heard Ulquiorra’s voice, surprised that he was awake.  “Hmm?”

“Why—what made you study at Alverno?” He asked opening his eyes slightly.

“It was an all-women’s school.  There was a religious studies program, it was close enough that I could still live with the Rohertys, and Aizen approved and agreed to pay for it.  You know when I think about it, I never really questioned the path I was on. I had encouragement and felt like people were proud of my choices, especially Aizen.  I was so desperate for his approval and little scraps of validation and affection that I only considered what would make him happy or proud of me.  I never even considered what might make me happy." She paused and looked at him, then sighed. “This is a bummer, sorry. Why do you ask?”

He closed his eyes for a moment to let this information sink in. It seemed like Orihime did things to please Aizen while he did everything he could to piss his father off. “Just thinking,” he replied. Ulquiorra had been doing just that. What if he did get her pregnant? Would she be able to stay at the rectory? Would people wonder who the father was? Would they notice the similarities between the child and him? “Just wanted to know your motivation behind your degree.”

She exhaled slowly.  “Honestly, if you think about it now, it makes no sense.  I can’t be a member of a religious order. I don’t want to teach at a university level; I would have had to get a higher level degree for that.  I mean, in the end, it’s just an undergrad, and everyone knows it doesn’t matter what your undergrad major was, it only matters if it was a Bachelor of Arts or Science or whatever.  Mine is a BA, so people know I can write essays and correspondence and have decent soft skills. I guess you can do whatever kind of office work with that. And don’t get me wrong, I was fascinated with religion.  It helped me a lot through certain periods of my life, but I was really not going anywhere with it professionally. Honestly, the job at the rectory is just about custom made for me. I should have known it was too good to be true.”

Rolling over onto his back, Ulquiorra turned his head and looked at her. “I thought it could have been fate that I was brought back here. I didn’t do much in Rome. I sat in a room all day and poured over pieces of art. I got coffee with some friends I made. I did what was asked of me. I knew the moment you said your name that my father had something to do with this. I thought he was punishing me for something. I don’t mean to be a downer but we don’t know a lot about each other. Yet, we’re trying to make a baby.”

“Well, you may be right.  We don’t know much about each other’s histories or intricacies, but we know each other.  We’ve been sharing a home for months. We’ve talked. We’ve shared nearly every meal. Without realizing it, we’ve kind of become family.  At least as far as I understand it.” She looked at the ceiling as she said this, not really looking for his agreement, just stating how she saw it.

“Okay, is there anything you want to know about me? Open question. You can ask anything and I will answer it.” Ulquiorra was hesitant to offer her this.

Hmmmm… open season.  “Have you ever been close to being in love before this?”

“No,” he replied. Ulquiorra took a deep breath. “Never before. Whenever a woman would get close to me, I’d leave. As soon as one said, “I love you”, I’d be gone.”

“Have you ever been seriously ill or injured?”

Shaking his head, Ulquiorra twisted his mouth to the side. “Besides Aizen having me beat the night of your mom and brother’s funeral, no. Even then I had a bloody nose and a busted lip. Everything else could be covered with clothing.”

“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

“You seriously want to know?”

“Yes." She paused, exhaling audibly through her nostrils before continuing, "Remember, I may have been sheltered from most of it, but I’m from a crime family too.  It will take a lot to shock me.”

Ulquiorra smiled at that. “Uh, it was in Idaho. I got my hands on a gun. I dealt drugs because I wanted to make a name for myself. I had knowledge of it since that’s what I was doing in Boston.” He stopped and ran his hands through his hair, unsure if he should tell her that story. “Anyway, sold some stuff to a guy and then when he couldn’t produce the money, me and a couple of guys who followed me beat the shit out of him and left him in some alley.”

“Do you know whether he survived?”

“I don’t know. Didn’t bother to care back then,” he answered. “By the time I did care I was in Chicago.”

She patted his arm.  “I’m sorry.”

He gave the redhead a half-hearted smile. “Can I ask you some questions?”

“Please do.”

"Do you want to get revenge on Aizen for causing your family’s death?”

She paused to consider how she really felt.  Even after knowing that Aizen had lied and caused her family’s death, it never really bothered her much.  She just took it as another in a long line of disappointing life experiences. But now, as she thought about it, she no longer felt complacent.  There was another reason, though. “No. I have made peace with the death of my mother and brother. Barragan was a bad man. I often felt guilt as a child when I realized that I was glad he was dead.  Aizen disappointed me when I found out he was behind it all, but I didn’t feel the need for revenge then,” she paused as though there was something else on her mind but that she was hesitant to share.

Ulquiorra looked at her and raised his brows. “What? You can tell me anything. I’m not going to judge you.”

“I want him to pay for what he’s doing to you; what he’s doing to us, what he might have in store for our child”  she admitted in a low, cold voice. “I will do anything. Absolutely anything, to ensure your safety. To ensure our child’s safety.  And it scares me the lengths to which I have considered going in order to do it.”

It was funny because he knew the lengths he would go to keep Orihime safe. It didn’t scare him though. He had already shown her that he was willing to kill for her. “You could go somewhere else if you find out you are pregnant and we can meet up again. I hate the idea of doing that but if it will keep you out of harm’s way, I’m willing to do it.”

“I’ll do what it takes.  I don’t want to be separated from you, but I know… I trust that you are capable.  I am not comfortable with it but I know if it came down to it, I would believe in you,” she admitted.  She did not like to do it. She was afraid he might get stupid ideas.

He rolled onto his side and gently caressed her tit, rolling her nipple between his fingers idly. “If we didn’t have to do this, do you think you would have done anything to have me?”

The corners of her lips on the left side of her face pulled taut in an amused smirk.  “Anything? What kind of girl do you think I am?” she teased, running a finger from the hollow of his throat to the tip of his chin, demanding attention away from her boobs.

Ulquiorra glanced up at her with a raised eyebrow. “I think we would have been doing that cat and mouse dance still,” he stated.

The right side of her mouth joined the left in a wide smile.  “I think so. Probably. You have no idea how hard it was for me on Christmas Eve.  The necklace thing. The massage! I cannot believe I did that. What a hussy.” She paused and laughed, then stopped short.  “Oh, wait, no. We would be screwing by now for sure. We had already been messing around before I met with Aizen. It was only a matter of time.  When I want something, I usually get it… Wagamama, remember?”

“I thought the time at the liquor store when I walked up behind you would have tipped you off or the time I told you not to burn anything at the stove. And let’s not forget that selfie I sent you,” Ulquiorra said with a small grin. “Wagamama Orihime.”

“Uh.  Yeah. I was an idiot.  I thought you and Zommari had conspired to test my faith, and that you didn’t mean any of that stuff.  When you kind of blew me off after that, I thought my suspicions had been confirmed,” she muttered, embarrassed at the memory.

Ulquiorra gave her a one shoulder shrug. “I had a thought that you two were kind of doing the same thing since it was kind of obvious I was smitten with you. I think Zom knew the moment I told him I wanted to pray all night.”

She took a deep breath.  “I was in denial for a long time. I thought it was safe to be attracted to you because you would never feel the same way, so I could admire you from a certain distance and be flirty and playful and there would be no repercussions.  I foolishly felt that because of your job, that part of you was permanently turned off.”

A laugh left him and he smiled. “I’m still male. I looked at you with tits like this and the round ass you have... hnnngh. I just wanted to make you mine right there,” Ulquiorra said.

“Oh, come on, there are plenty of parishoners with better bodies than mine.  Better fashion sense too,” she said, laughing. She didn’t care much that she was mostly unconcerned with style.  She had always correlated it with vanity, and she didn’t think vanity was something she should aspire toward. She didn’t feel inferior about it; but she knew people probably noticed.

“Woman.” He frowned at her, his eyebrows furrowing a bit. “Do you know how many times I’ve been solicited by other parishioners to counsel them privately ? I don’t care about other women.”

She smiled.  He had just proved her point.  “So it wasn’t just the body parts, then.  I knew it.” she leaned forward to peck his lips.  “Anyway, if the Aizen thing hadn’t happened, I think it might have set us back two, three days, tops.  I was already making deals with devils and rationalizing my choices. I knew I would follow my instincts, I always do.”

“No, it wasn’t your body. I liked your smile. Your attitude. Your dedication to your work,” Ulquiorra said, kissing her back. “You were still willing to be sassy to me.”

“That I can’t help.  I can’t not sass you.  It’s like you are some kind of beacon, calling out to me, ‘Come give Ulquiorra a hard time… He’s too handsome… Too feared…  Too full of himself…’ The world cannot abide that much perfection.  It would destroy the very fabric of the universe.  I mean, really, when you think about it, I’m doing everyone a favor,” she giggled wickedly.  

He leaned over and started playing with her nipple again, this time gently tugging on it while biting his lip. “Too handsome? I am rather good looking, aren’t I? I must argue your "too full of himself" point and the only ones that fear me are disruptive children and those male parishioners who say your skirt needs to be higher.”

She shook her head and sighed.  “See? Case in point, too full of yourself.  And yes, you are rather good looking.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  But what have you done to terrorize parishioners? Threatened their immortal souls?”

Pressing his lips just above her tits, Ulquiorra thought about what he’d done that parishioners hadn’t liked. He couldn’t recall much. “The only person I terrorize is you,” he said with a smirk.

“Hmm, I knew it. I rather enjoy it, though,” she paused, running a hand through his hair.  “You can be fearsome, though. I’ve seen it,” she confessed in a reverent tone.

“I’m disinclined to agree with your statement. I’m not fearsome, Miss Rage Singer,” he replied as his mouth enclosed over her nipple sucking the skin in a lazy manner. He wasn’t trying to start anything. He just wanted to touch her; to feel closer to her.

Orihime closed her eyes, relaxing and chuckling at his comment.  She cradled his head and kissed his hair. She never felt more at home, more happy, than when they were touching one another. “Do you ever wonder what would have happened if I was never sent away?”

Ulquiorra lifted his head enough to look at her. If they were never sent away then he would have to hear her cry at night while sitting in the dark hallway. Maybe Nnoitra would have gotten his hands on her like he had done to Nel. He had thought about this a lot but he shrugged. “You would have found out what an asshole Aizen was sooner,” he replied.

“I’m sure that’s true,” she muttered. Clearly Ulquiorra didn’t think anything good would have come of it.

“Maybe you would have had kids already,” he went on. “Maybe I wouldn’t be a priest. Who knows the what ifs… What do you think would happen?”

“I definitely wouldn’t have kids already. I’d probably be some kind of bitter barista with an undercut and an unfinished associates degree in massage therapy or something.  I would smoke clove cigarettes and maybe have a chinchilla. I would have been miserable. I would not have been able to stay with your family for long, I think.”

Ulquiorra rested his head on her chest. “Why? Why would you be bitter? Why would you have been miserable?”

“I’m not really sure.  I just think I would have fallen through the cracks.  I think Aizen would have kept me around until he decided I was a liability or he shuffled me off to someone else closer to him, which I imagine would have been much, much worse than living with the Rohertys.  I don’t know how much you knew of Barragan, but when my mother wasn’t around or was busy, he used to tell me what plans he had in store for me when I was old enough to earn my keep. I imagine it would have been a similar situation.  I would have run away, I think. Hence the rebellious bitch persona.”

He propped himself up on an elbow and looked at Orihime. “You know, being one of Aizen’s kids… He’s very controlling. I don’t think he would have let you slip through the cracks. However, he may have dismissed things that would happen to you, like he did to Nel and Tier.”

She gave him a guarded expression.  “Do I even want to know?”

Ulquiorra shook his head. “Not my business to tell. Nnoitra’s a bastard. A real sadistic bastard.”

She shivered, the memory of her last meeting with Nnoitra still fresh in her mind, and the memory of his hand crushing her breast seared into the flesh.  “I’m glad he didn’t notice me when I was there, then.” She doubted very much that her young age would have been any kind of discouragement to the slimy prick.

A grimace crossed his face. Ulquiorra declined to tell her how Nnoitra would hang outside of her room and wait for the green-eyed teen to leave his post. Nel would bring him food and then if he needed to do something, Tier would come down and stand in front of the door. “Yeah. Enough about the past and what could have been. This is about me and you, not those assholes in Boston. Do you want to make something to eat or go out?”

She was glad he changed the subject.  “Let’s go out. We may never have the chance again, might as well take advantage now,” she said with a grin.  “Besides, I want to see what you are like in public. You know, somewhere that’s not Bob’s Discount Liquor.”

Ulquiorra rolled his eyes and swung his leg over her body so that he was straddling her hips. “You saw how I was the day you arrived. I mean no one knew I was a priest then and I acted normally didn’t I? You went out with me in public to the cemetery. What about when we went to Aizen’s?”

“I wouldn’t call Aizen’s or the cemetery public.  I mean, yeah, they’re not exactly private but it’s a different context.  I suppose that first day counted but you were acting like you didn’t know me, well, I mean you didn’t really, but that’s beside the point.  The point is that was different. None of those were like a date.”

“I hope you know if I could, I would spoil you. But you know I can’t,” Ulquiorra said, leaning down to kiss her.

After he sat back up she answered, “It’s just as well.  I probably would get all weird and embarrassed by it anyway.”  She chuckled. It was true, even at Christmas with his many little gifts, she squirmed in discomfort at being so spoiled.  She didn’t feel that she deserved it.

He got off her and the bed then stretched. “I spoil you in other ways though. I give you orgasms. Did you pack any skirts?”

She let that orgasm comment go with a small scoff.  He was much too proud of himself, as if she did nothing.  “Yeah, nothing that you’ve seen before,” she answered.

“C’mon. I was just joking,” he said. “Do you have a short skirt? Because if you do...” Ulquiorra gave her a smirk and then walked into the master bathroom.

Oh, she did.  She had lots of clothes that he’d never seen before, and she had brought most of them along on this trip.  It was almost a shame that he had forbidden clothing in the cabin. She got out of bed and followed to the bathroom door, speaking through it.  “Do you like pleated or tight?”

He started the shower but he heard her. “Pleated, I want to be able to get my hand under it,” he called out.

She laughed to herself.  “Okay,” she answered, in a ‘be careful what you wish for’ tone.  She walked over to her closet and considered her options. It was cold, and she was looking at an old friend - her old high school uniform skirt.  It still fit, but she had had it tailored in college for a Halloween party, so instead of hitting just at the knee it now fell to mid thigh. While Ulquiorra took a shower, she pulled together an entire outfit around the skirt it so it wouldn’t look scandalous.

The shower was quick and he walked out of the bathroom drying his hair.  He glanced at Orihime then gave her another glance. His mouth about fell open.

She was still just trying things on.  She had pulled out a soft gray sweater and a navy blue blouse, both of which pulled from the dark blue and gray tartan plaid skirt.  She stood there in the skirt and a bra holding up the tops in front of herself, then turned her head to him and asked, “What do you think?”

“I think you’re going to get fucked,” Ulquiorra replied. He walked over to her, putting his hand on her waist. “I like it. A lot.”

She smiled.  “Good, I was hoping you would, but that doesn’t answer my question. Sweater or blouse?”

He looked at both of the shirts. If she wore the navy blue one it would look just like a school uniform. That would be creepy...  “The sweater,” he replied. “The blue top makes me think of the school in Idaho.”

“Well we wouldn’t want that,” she said, hanging the blue one back up.  She took off the bra and skirt and folded them on the foot of the bed and went to take her turn in the bathroom.  She left the door open a crack after she started the shower and shouted, “Is there a list of places around here in the kitchen or something?  Where do you wanna go?”

Ulquiorra sat on the bed and reached for his phone. He’d grabbed a couple of flyers from the cabin rental office but he’d thumbed through them but decided that he didn’t want to eat at some place that served diner food. He wanted to take Orihime out to somewhere nice. There weren’t many places around Bennington. There was a great pizza place around though.

“I’m taking you out for pizza and a beer,” he answered as he got up to shuffle through his suitcase. He brought out a mint green dress shirt and dark gray trousers. He looked at the outfit. It would be overdressing for a pizza place. Ulquiorra put them back and opted for a nicer pair of jeans and a dark bluish-gray long sleeve V-neck sweater. It would have to do unless he wanted to wear a t-shirt. He got dressed before Orihime got out of the shower.

Orihime came out in a towel and wolf-whistled at him.  “Lookin’ sharp, Cifer,” She said appreciatively as she crossed the room to where she had left her body lotion.  She started rubbing it into her skin and thought about how to do her hair and face. Judging by Ulquiorra’s outfit, this place was casual, so she wouldn’t want to overdo it.  “Hey, do you like it better when I blow my hair out straight or let it curl up a bit?”

Ulquiorra tried not to let the whistle or her words inflate his ego too much, still he could not help but grin at her. “Uh, you know, I’ve always thought of you as a wild child. I like it curly or whatever it does.”

She smiled.  “Depending on how it is cut it can get rather curly if I let it air dry completely.  I don’t think we have time for that today but I can just dry it a bit and then finish on it’s own,  Makes getting ready easier too,” she said, fishing in a drawer for a pair of underwear.

“Nope. None of those things. Go bare,” he said.

She looked over her shoulder at him with a withering look and shook her head.  “As you wish,” she said, dropping the offensive item back into the drawer and then turning toward him again.  “If I literally freeze my ass off it’s your fault,” she said, her serious expression breaking into a grin as she laughed at the idea.  She would insist on a bra; the gray sweater was very form-fitting with sleeves that reached her knuckles and a big, cowly turtleneck that she would wear tucked into the skirt.  After she had dried her hair a bit she came back out to the bedroom and got dressed, then went back to the bathroom and did her face up a little; some dark red lipstick, eyeliner, and mascara.  She didn’t need much; it was so rarely that she wore makeup that she felt like a clown if she wore too much.

She came out of the bathroom then.  “Are you almost ready? I just need socks and shoes,” she said loudly enough to be heard.  She didn’t see Ulquiorra immediately.

Watching her get dressed had been a turn on for him. So much that he had to go get himself a cup of coffee to calm down. When had he turned into such a pervert; a sex fiend? All he could think about anymore was Orihime. It was enough to frustrate him. He didn’t notice people in Rome. He had not had this desire for sex in a while. So when he heard her, he froze where he stood, the cup of black coffee at his lip. “I’ve been ready,” Ulquiorra replied.

“Okay!” she called back toward his voice.  She pulled out some knee-high boot socks and rolled them up her calves.  She went to the closet and grinned. She had these boots since college.  She rarely had an opportunity to wear them; they were just too fancy to wear regularly.  They had been a gift from Jack Roherty for her birthday a few years ago. Orihime really had a thing for leather boots.  It was her one fashion obsession. These were one of her favorite pairs. Dark gray. Suede. Over-the-knee. One-inch, equestrian-style heel. Gorgeous.  She had imagined that they were the queens of her closest. She patted them as she took out the shaping inserts and stepped into them. She looked at herself in the mirror and sighed.  She should really go out on a date with her boots more often. Just her and the boots. They deserved it. She smiled and called out to Ulquiorra, “Okay, ready!” and came out to meet him.

The green-eyed man’s jaw dropped when he saw her. She was--Wow. Just… wow. His gaze traveled from her head down to her subtly made up face. He took in the sweater with the skirt.  The strip of skin between the hem of the skirt and those boots… His brain wanted to melt into a puddle of overstimulated cells. Ulquiorra swallowed. “You, uh, yeah...” he articulated poorly. He was contemplating just throwing her over the back of the armchair and having his way with her.

“It’s the boots, right?  I know. If I had to choose between you and the boots, it’d be a tough choice,” she teased, picking up one heel and then the other and looking down at them affectionately.

He took another sip of the liquid in his cup and tried to chase the lusty thoughts away from him. “You need a nice pair of high heels. I mean the kind you wear to go out dancing at some club.”

She laughed. “I’ve only been to a club like three times.  I didn’t bother buying anything; I borrowed a girlfriend’s shoes and clothes.  It felt like Halloween.”  She snickered. “I even made up a fake persona.  Molly from Bah-ston.”

“Hmph. I bet with how tiny you are you could pull off some six inch heels. A nice mini dress with an open back...” Ulquiorra trailed off as his voice became growly. “Okay, we need to go or we are never going to leave.”

Orihime rolled her eyes.  “Okay, let me get my coat and we can go.”

When she walked over to where they had put their coats, Ulquiorra moved so that he was behind her. He slipped his hand under that skirt and grabbed her ass before giving it a light spanking. “Don’t roll your eyes at me, young woman,” he said reaching past her to get his own coat.

Orihime smiled and gave him a dirty look.  “Sorry, Daddy .  I just can’t help the sass, remember?” She put her coat on and made tracks to the door.

He narrowed his eyes for a moment before following her, making sure to lock the cabin. “Keep it up, Orihime.” Ulquiorra gave her a boyish grin. “I like it.”

 

***

 

The pizza place was a well-lit spot located in the little downtown area of Bennington, and nearly the entirety of the interior was visible from the street through the storefront windows.  Inside there was a large bar with large people sat at it, with what looked like at least a dozen beers on tap. The decor was rustic and people were dressed down; Orihime and Ulquiorra looked rather fancy by comparison.  But it was alright, as soon as Orihime stepped out of the car she could smell the scent of pizza billowing out of the door as a pair of customers left. Brick-fired pizza. She had to swallow to prevent herself from salivating all down her chin.  

As she joined Ulquiorra’s side, she managed to whimper, “It smells really good.”

He smiled. That was the reaction he wanted, right there. There were several things he just found out about Orihime from this trip already. She would pick a nice pair of boots over him. She would kill for pizza. She was an amazing woman. He opened the door for her and looked around as a waitress told them to grab a table and someone would be by with some menus. So they did that, sitting at a table beside a wall. “I want you to enjoy yourself. If you want a drink, get one. This is our time… Not Boston’s,” Ulquiorra said.

Orihime smiled at him and looked over the drink menu.  She didn’t want to rub his nose in the fact that she was avoiding alcohol.  She was sure there’d be something she could order. And she was in luck, there was a local Vermont brew on tap called, ironically, “Party Guy”, that had a particularly low alcohol content.  She’d get a small one and nurse it for the evening, and feel minimal guilt.

“Welcome! Have you all decided on some drinks?” a waitress said with a pad in her hand. She set down two menus in front of the couple.

“Woodchuck,” Ulquiorra said as he glanced at the drink menu.

“Party Guy, 12 ounce, and a glass of water for me, please,” Orihime said to the waitress with a smile.

“I’ll be back in a moment. Take some time and look over the menu!”

Ulquiorra grabbed one of the menus and opened it, his green eyes taking in all the choices. It was a bit overwhelming. Everything sounded delicious and with the smells wafting around the establishment it was hard to pick.

Orihime looked at the menu. This was it.  The choices Ulquiorra made would reveal a lot to her about the kind of man he was.  “So, what do you think, pizza by the slice? A speciality? Or build your own?”

“I have no clue. Everything sounds good and I feel like I want to try one of everything,” Ulquiorra said with a smirk. “Uh, what do you want?”

She looked at him over the top of her menu and narrowed her eyes, appraising him.  “Hmm. Build your own. I want leftovers for breakfast. So, now is the moment of truth, Ulquiorra.  What toppings do you like on your ‘zza? And remember, this is for posterity, so, be honest, ” she said, mimicking Count Rugen from the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride.

“Hmmm. In Rome, I ate pizza with mushrooms, artichokes, anchovies and prosciutto. I bet I could recreate that with their topping list.” He glanced at her before looking at the menu again.

‘Hmmm,” she said, her inflection rising.  “Is that you being fancy or is that what you really like?” she asked, the toe of her boot brushing his leg as she crossed hers.

His eyebrows raised marginally. “Pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, bacon, onions, green peppers and olives,” Ulquiorra said.

Orihime grinned, her eyes still trained to her menu.  “Savage. I like it.” She closed the menu and set it down, raising her eyes back to him in a simmering smirk.  “Let’s get a big one.”

The waitress came back, setting Ulquiorra’s cider in front of him and Orihime’s beer and water in front of her. She got her pad and pen ready. “You guys ready to order?”

Ulquiorra nodded and motioned for Orihime to go ahead.

She smiled at the waitress and answered, “We’re going to do a sixteen inch with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, olives… Oh and bacon.  Right honey?” She said, throwing Ulquiorra an amused glance and tapping his leg with her foot.

Again he nodded. He heard her little pet name. He used his foot to tap her leg back. “Right and a house salad.”

“Half or large?”

“Do you want to share a salad, Woman?”

She smirked.  Fine, he didn’t want to play.  “Large, please,” Orihime answered the waitress, ignoring his question.

“Dressing?”

“Ranch,” Ulquiorra replied. He casually ran the tip of his shoe against Orihime’s calf.

“On the side, please.  And a lemon wedge,” she clarified to the waitress, although her eyes were trained on Ulquiorra’s.  He had best not be dirtying her boots.

As soon as the other woman left, Ulquiorra stared at her. “What?” he asked before taking a sip from his bottle.

“One, your shoes had better be clean.  Two, bottle over tap?” she asked, taking a sip of her beer.  It was bright-tasting. A bit citrusy. “Do you want to try this?  It’s local.”

“Says the woman who is drinking a beer with a piddly alcohol amount,” he said then shook his head. “I’m good. I don’t really like beer, IPAs turned me off from it.”

“Ugh, whoever decided IPAs were good needs to have their butt checked. And I am just being careful, you know…”

He nodded then sighed. “I know. We’ve got to do things by the book.”

She made a sour face.  “It’s not that.”

“What is it then?” Ulquiorra furrowed his eyebrows and waited for her to answer.

“It’s not that I have to, it’s that I want to. I want to have our baby.  I want to protect it. I want to love it,” she said, pursing her lips a little and looking down.  She didn’t know why this admission made her emotional, but it did.

His pale hand reached across the table and he ran his thumb across her cheek softly. “Hey, it’s okay. I get it.” Ulquiorra said to her. “You know this place is nice. I mean the area. The state. Maybe we could run away and live up here. I could be a lumberjack.”

She dabbed her eyes with a napkin and chuckled.  “You’d have to wear plaid flannel, you know. And can you even grow a beard?  I don’t think you can,” she teased in a slightly watery voice.

“It takes about six months but I can,” he said, pouting.

“Oh, come on I was only teasing.  I’m sure you’d make a fine, um, lumberjack.  I once had the idea to open a gay bar with a lumberjack theme.  Maybe you could be the doorman.”

“Do I need to lecture you on the wrongness of that as the church puts it?” he asked. Ulquiorra was fine with gay people because love was love. Love wasn’t a sin. “How many gay lumberjacks do you know?”

“As a religious studies major, I can tell you with great certainty that the official position of the church it is only the practice of homosexuality that is considered undesirable, not the actual orientation itself.  The rest is all very, very gray. And I know several gay woodworkers.  They like to dress like lumberjacks. And wear topknots.  Okay they’re just hipsters but they look fabulous.”

He laughed. “Personally, I have no issues with who people want to love. Not my business. Life is way too short to be unhappy.” Ulquiorra reached across the table again and held her hand. “I wasted years being unhappy.”

She squeezed his hand and raised her glass.  “Here, here,” she said affectionately, before taking a sip.  “I love you. Thanks for bringing me here.”

“I love you. Thank you for coming with me.”

 

***

 

The pizza had been excellent.  Greasy, gooey, salty, and perfect.  There was a lot to bring back. The salad had proved a necessity, although Orihime had grossed Ulquiorra out with her lemon juice and black pepper choice of salad topping. “It cuts the grease,” she had argued.

Ulquiorra was a generous tipper.  He had been polite but not over-the-top with the waitstaff.  He wasn’t trying to put on a show like he was Mr. Bigshot or whatever.  When she thought back, Orihime supposed she technically had been on dates before, she just never considered them dates because she had considered the male in her company to be a friend or acquaintance only with absolutely zero potential for more.  Those few young guys would often be rude to staff, or make a show about spending money. She always thought it was tacky and disrespectful. Even when Aizen used to take her out for lunch or dinner, he would treat the help like peons who did not exist, and act like money was just an imaginary inconvenience.  Ulquiorra was much more… human about it all.

They left the place and put the pizza in the car, which, in the February night, was cold enough to not worry about the food spoiling, and Orihime proposed taking a walk around the downtown area to let their food digest.

Ulquiorra had been starving when they got to the pizza place but by the time they were done, he was stuffed. Taking a walk around was a good idea, it gave them more of a chance to be a couple rather than just fucking in the cabin for the next couple of days. He offered her his arm as they started walking down the main drag of the town. “There’s a Dutch bakery somewhere around here,” he said.

She took his arm and grinned, leaning into his side and placing her opposite hand on his elbow as well.  “That sounds amazing. I bet they’re not open at this time of night. I would make this drive again for pastries, though.”

“They also have a bagel place up here called Love is a Bagel and a sandwich shop called Your Belly’s Deli. I saw them when I was looking at the map on my phone.” Ulquiorra glanced at the tiny woman with a small smile. “If you can think of eating after that heart attack on crust, wow.”

“Well, you know me, the bottomless pit.  I don’t have my best bud Jameson to hang out with anymore so I’ve replaced him with sex and carbs.” She smiled up at him, laughing, and then sighed.  “I jest. I have actually met my match. Good job, citizens of Vermont. You’ve bested me.”

A laugh came out of Ulquiorra’s mouth. “I think we should have breakfast in bed tomorrow,” he said after a few moments of silence.

“I could go for that,” she said in response.  She was getting a little cold, what with her bare thighs and barely covered ass.  She nestled into his arm more tightly. “I could get used to this, too,” she murmured.

The smile on his face dimmed a bit after hearing her words. There wasn’t a way he could offer this to her while in Boston. The moment he was seen out with her wrapped around him, there would be whispers and questions asked. “We could have this,” he said staring straight ahead.

She smiled at him, despite hearing the bittersweet quality of his voice.  “I’m ready whenever you are, just so you know,” she answered. She knew this was complicated.  She didn’t mean to put pressure on him.

“We have a plan, Miss Inoue. Need to save money. Need to plan things out. If your life were to come under harm then I would throw our plans to the wind and take off with you.” Ulquiorra leaned over and kissed the top of her head.

Was it possible to worm one’s way under another’s skin and live in it?  This was the question Orihime pondered as she closed her eyes, leaning her head on his shoulder, and allowed herself to be led around.   She loved him. She really, really loved him. She wondered when it had started. It seemed to her that the beginning of October to the beginning of February was a relatively short amount of time for her feelings to have developed to be as strong as they were for the green-eyed man.  Sure, they lived together, so they had a lot more time together under their belts than a normal couple would have at this point, but it still seemed unlikely. Had this started before she moved back to Boston? Had she been harboring a crush on him since she was a little girl? Was he the reason she never pursued romantic relationships before this one?

Holy shit, he was.

She started to laugh.  It was just a giggle at first, and then she started really laughing.  “I’m such an idiot!” she announced after a little bit, hitting herself in the forehead.

He stopped walking and scowled. “Why are you an idiot?” Ulquiorra asked.

“Because I am.  I didn’t realize.  I thought… God I’m stupid.  I thought I started having feelings for you sometime in November or December.  I just realized it’s been brewing for a lot longer than that,” she said, shaking her head. “I didn’t avoid boys in extracurriculars or at mixers because of the Rohertys or religion.  I didn’t insist the dates I had been invited on were just as friends because I was ignorant. I just realized… I am stupid.”

“You avoided them for the same reason I avoided any serious relationship,” Ulquiorra ventured, hoping that was the case. “That’s not a reason to degrade yourself, Orihime.”

“You figured it out faster than I did,” she grumbled.  “I didn’t know five-year-olds harbored crushes that could span decades.”

Ulquiorra smiled and started walking again. “To be fair, the last time we saw each other before returning to Sacred Heart, I was a teenager.”

“True. But you know, there was a reason I hung on Nel’s every word when she talked about her big brother.  There was a reason I tried to befriend her despite her constant attempts to push me away. There was a reason why after my family was - you know - that I didn’t really make eye contact with you, but also didn’t stay away from you.  I was nervous. Even at that time, I wanted you to like me. What a loser I was.”

There was a lot about Ulquiorra that Orihime didn’t know. She didn’t know how he’d listen to Nel talk about a redheaded girl. Orihime didn’t know how he would covertly follow her around before Aizen caught him sneaking around Barragan’s family the first time. She did not know how he sat out in the hallway of the mansion and listened to her at night. “You’re not a loser. I’m the loser. I thought if I could make you hate me, I’d forget about you,” he admitted.

She slid her arm loose from his, but kept her hand in contact with his arm as she walked around to face him.   She settled her other hand on the lapel of his coat. “You never made me hate you. And I could never forget about you,” she said, rising up on her toes and kissing him.  Right there. In public.

He froze momentarily before he remembered they were miles from anyone who cared. They weren’t anywhere near anyone who would give a fuck about this public display of affection. Since it was Sunday and it was closing in on nine o’clock, the sleepy town was mostly deserted. Ulquiorra backed Orihime up against the nearest building, hands groping her ass through her skirt. “If you would have stayed with us I can guarantee I would have found myself in your room eventually,” he murmured to her. “I wouldn’t have allowed you to become anything but mine.”

She panted into his ear, suddenly breathless.  “I may have ended up having this baby a lot sooner,” she whispered, too turned on by his admission to care about the moral implications.

“Maybe,” he replied, finally reaching under the fabric covering her hips, fingers cupping her nether lips. “We should get back to the car. Maybe find a nice empty road and pull off.”

She bit her lip and nodded, gasping into his ear when he touched her.  When he took a step back from her, she took his hand and started running for the car.

Ulquiorra smiled as she ran. All he had to do was take long strides to keep up with her. He unlocked the car and reached over to unlock Orihime’s door once he was inside. As soon as the redhead was in the car, he was kissing her again, his hand going under her skirt, urging her legs apart.

Orihime didn’t need a lot of encouragement.  She opened her thighs for him willingly but broke their kiss early.  “Drive,” she commanded breathlessly, turning in her seat, draping her left leg over the center console and into the backseat.

His teeth sank deep into his bottom lip as he looked at her. The only thing stopping him from saying fuck it and having sex with her right there was the fact that they were in town. He didn’t need some cop to come along and see them to slam them with some public indecency charge. “Make sure you stay wet for me,” Ulquiorra said as he started the station wagon and took off in the direction of their cabin. It didn’t take long for him to find a turn off for a dirt road.  The car bumped over the uneven surface until he found a particularly private spot.

As soon as the car stopped, Orihime started on some pizza-and-romance fueled seduction.  It was probably completely unnecessary, but she was acting on impulse when his eyes turned on her and she slowly raised her skirt up to her waist, presenting him with her glistening pussy.  “Wet enough for you?” She asked in a husky voice as she slid her hips in his direction.

Oh hell. Ulquiorra pointed to the backseat. “Get back there,” he demanded, opening his door and getting out. There was no way he could climb into the back of the car.

Orihime dove between the seats and put the pizza box where she had been sitting a moment ago.  She knew how to put the backseat down, and by the time Ulquiorra had started getting in, the back of the station wagon had been transformed a kind of bed that extended into a scratchy, acrylic-carpeted platform in the back, where normally there would be groceries or whatever.

When he got back into the car, he already had his belt unbuckled. He had his jeans unfastened and unzipped. With half-lidded eyes, he watched her. “On your back,” he said, pushing his pants down far enough that he could release his cock from the confining clothing. “I don’t think you know how much I think about you; how much I want you. Some days you’re all I think about, Orihime.”

Orihime laid back onto the surface and spread her legs again.  “What do you think of when you think about me?” she said, running her hands down her inner thighs from her center to her knees as she bent and spread them. “I’ll tell you my secrets if you tell me yours.”

“Before Christmas Eve? I thought about kissing you. I thought about the way your hair smelled. I would think about how your head tipped back when you laughed and how much I wanted to run my tongue down your neck,” Ulquiorra said as he grabbed her hips, letting the length of his dick sink into her warmth. “Ahhhh. Um, After the first time, I just keep thinking about how I could pleasure you. How beautiful you are. How much I love you.”

“Oh,” she said as he sunk into her.  “You feel like you were built to be there,” she commented, then started to reciprocate as she moved her hips in time with his, “I’ve never looked at a man’s body before yours and wanted to taste it; to sink my teeth into it.  When you move on top of me I want you to break me with your body. The first time I saw you under that sink in the rectory was the first time I wanted sex in my life.”

He gave a short chuckle. “Really?” he asked before kissing her, capturing her mouth with his. “You’re gonna give me a big head if you keep saying things like that to me. Fuck, I love being inside of you.”

“Really.  You deserve a big head.  Ungh,” she was interrupted by a particularly pleasant sensation.  “I love having you in me. I wish we could do this as a job. Like be zoo animals and exist only to eat and have sex and be cute.”

As he rolled his hips into her, Ulquiorra smiled. “They call that porn, Woman.”

“Oh no, nobody gets to see you like this except for me.  I’m going to need all of it. I want you all the time,” she said, raising her hips and grinding them into his when he reached full depth.  “And make no mistake, I belong to you,” she added.  “Before you ever touched me, my body would shiver and heat up every time you got close to me.  That first time in this car when you touched my wrist and held my hand, I nearly kissed you. The time at Bob’s when you came up behind me, I nearly cried out trying not to press back into you.  That morning at breakfast when you ran your foot between my thighs, it was all I could do not to lick my lips and tell you to push harder. Nobody else does this to me. No one else ever has,” she sighed and clenched her lower muscles.  This felt so good. She moaned. “What did you think when I first put the moves on you? That whole getting scared while watching The Princess Bride was a rouse to get closer to you.”

He bit his lip to hold back a whimper. Fuck she was doing that thing again where she tightened everything up. “I tried not to touch you because it felt like a shock to my body. It still does feel like that but I’m getting better at dealing with it.” Ulquiorra used one hand to prop himself up as much as he could and looked down at Orihime. He flexed the muscles in his butt and thighs to drive into her with more force making the car rock. “When I heard you crying in the parlor at the rectory, I almost kissed you. Every time I was around you I almost kissed you. I almost---Hnngh. I almost had my way with you that night. I went upstairs remember? I went upstairs because I had to calm down.”

“Ahh,” she cried out at his driving thrust.  “Oh, do that again,” she groaned, feeling a burn in her inner thighs as she strained against him.  This was the best kind of exercise. “When I would catch you looking at me at mass, I used to imagine that you were fantasizing about me the way I fantasized about you.  I imagined you dragging me aside when I came up for Eucharist and bending me over the table in the sacristy. Oooh,” she mewled, raising her hips to meet his again, chasing his hips as he pulled out of her.

“Do you know how many times I’ve imagined you blowing me in the confessional booth? Or letting me fuck you in it?” Ulquiorra asked as he braced his feet against the surface they were laying on. “Ooooh fuck. You need to come to confession and tell me all the naughty things that you think of while I jerk off on the other side.”

“Yes,” she hissed, surrendering control to him as he pushed into her harder and wrapping her legs around his waist. “I’ll do those things to you and for you wherever you want.  Fuck, Ulquiorra,” she squeaked the last part as he drove particularly deeply into her. “Sometimes I just want to choke on your cock. It feels like you're pushing into my throat right now.  You’re so much…” she grunted incoherently. “Ungh, just keep fucking me.”

Her words did something. He wasn’t focused on coming. Ulquiorra had been concentrating on talking to her and remember what he’d fantasized about. When he felt that euphoric sensation sweep down his body, it took him by surprise as he thrust into her body once more and found himself calling out her name. He was coming inside of her and he couldn’t hold it back as much as he tried. “Orihime,” he chanted over and over.

That did it.  Her name as a prayer on his lips opened the floodgates every time, and her body shuddered deeply, drinking his come as her voice constricted into a high-pitched squeal.  Her entire body tensed up, her arms and legs clinging to him in a vice grip. She held her breath as she finished coming even after he had stilled, the hard, squeezing sensations of her walls grasping and pulling on his softening cock until they finally relaxed and her arms and legs grew slack. Then she finally exhaled.  After several shuddering breaths, she lazily combed her fingers through his hair and said, “That was a great first date, Ulquiorra. I hope you don’t think I’m too much of a slut,” then she giggled.

He gave a weak chuckle from on top of her. “Nope, had you not put out I would have ghosted you,” he teased. Ulquiorra pulled himself out of her and almost fell beside her. “So what that’s four times today? Once before mass. Two times at the cabin and now once in the car? You might kill this old man.”

She chuckled now.  Four is a nice even number, but I always leave room for dessert, you know, just in case it looks good,” she said.  “And you’re not old. You’re still a young stud. The middle-aged ladies in the music ministry especially like that term.  I wasn’t kidding when I said I could raise funds with that selfie you sent me,”

“I could send you more selfies.”

“Please do.”

“Maybe,” he said. “C’mon, we should get back to the cabin. I don’t want to fall asleep in the middle of the woods in the station wagon.”

Chapter Text

The next morning Orihime woke up first.  She was a little sore and after she went to go put coffee on, she decided to run a bath in the jacuzzi tub.  She stood in the living room, so she could hear both bath and coffee maker, as she did her customary morning stretches, adding a few extra side bends and groin stretches.  They had ended up going once more the previous evening, and Orihime had been on top again after having worn out Ulquiorra in the car.

 

She heard Ulquiorra moving around after a few minutes and called out to him so he would know where she was, and then continued with what she was doing.

 

He walked out of the bedroom wearing a pair of sweats and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Ulquiorra hadn’t had a day like yesterday in a long time. His entire body felt relaxed but at the same time he felt keyed up. His green eyes watched Orihime for a moment before he asked, “Are you the one that started the bath?”

 

“No, that was you, don’t you remember?” She lied with a straight face.  This could be fun.

 

“Ha ha,” he deadpanned. The sound of the water running had woken him up. It also had him practically running to the bathroom. “I only had a bottle of cider so I know I wasn’t that drunk. You’re up early. How do you feel?”

 

“Like I was ridden hard and put away wet,” she answered glibly, groaning as she bent a particular direction. “Hence the bath. I plan on taking my coffee in there, I hope you don’t mind, but you’re welcome to join me.  We can do breakfast in bed tomorrow.”

 

He couldn’t argue with her statement. Each time they had had sex yesterday felt intense. “I plan on taking it easy on you today. My balls hurt,” Ulquiorra said. He was only teasing but he knew she had to be sore. It was usually sex and then sleep for them up to this point.

 

She giggled.  “Well, I won’t hold you to that but it might be nice to do something else for a change.  If we manage to get some energy we could try exploring the woods a bit. Otherwise I’d be down for fireplace and boardgames or something wholesome.  We have to learn how to do other things or we’ll be screwed when we’re parents.”

 

“There’s a toy museum in Bennington. There’s a trail around the pond. We could take a walk around that. Also, there’s a DVD player in here. I brought your favorite movie to watch,” Ulquiorra said as he rummaged in the refrigerator. He picked up the pizza box and set it on the counter.

 

“Oh, I know how to recharge my stamina, and I’m looking right at it,” Orihime said, looking at the pizza with lustful eyes.  “Mama likes. Mama needs.” She looked up at Ulquiorra for a second and said, “Don’t be jealous, sweetheart. Also we’re going to need to break the no clothes rule today or one of us is going to end up in the hospital.”  To prove her point, she shook her shoulders back and forth once, causing her bare breasts to bounce around in an obscene manner.

 

His eyes followed the movements of her tits. Then he sighed. He could point out that he was wearing clothes and therefore that would be safe but he didn’t want Orihime to catch a cold. So he nodded. “Fine, wear clothes. Don’t bitch if I accidentally rip something,” Ulquiorra said. “I’m joking and I’m not jealous of pizza. Mama needs to go check her bath water. After you’re done you can eat.”

 

Oh, this was no good.  She leaned forward, squeezing her tits together over the countertop and batted her eyelashes at him.  “I don’t suppose you could bring me a cup of coffee when it’s ready, could you?” Wagamama Hime was at it again.

 

“I could. What do I get for doing that?”

 

“My undying love and devotion.”

 

Crossing his arms over his chest, Ulquiorra scratched his nose as he contemplated this deal. “Mmmm, maybe. Go relax. I’ll be in there in a moment, Woman.”

 

She smiled at him and spun around, leaving him alone in the kitchen.  The bath was just about ready but she decided to get in anyway and wait while it filled up the rest of the way.  There were some scented oils arranged on a nearby shelf and she looked through them, sniffing each bottle. She decided on one called fireside vanilla, thinking it would smell nice with coffee, and poured a few drops into the water.  It smelled awesome, and the vanilla was not overpowering. She settled into the water and closed her eyes, thinking about the previous day. If there was any chance that she was fertile at the moment there was no way that she would not have been impregnated.  Even if she wasn’t and they had to wait until her next cycle, with the libido the pair seemed to share was anything to go by, they shouldn’t have any trouble conceiving. The thought of it pleased her as much as it frightened her. She thought it was wise to be frightened; there was no way any of this was going to be easy or “the right way” to go about this sort of thing.  But she was an adult. She was in a loving, albeit non-conventional relationship. Lots of people had children under worse circumstances. That wasn’t the issue.

 

The issue was the unknown; whatever Aizen had in store.

 

She thought about what Ulquiorra had said about what would have happened if she had stayed at Aizen’s after her family was killed.  She had only been eleven. He had been sixteen. Even if he had waited for her to grow up a little, he’d have been out of the house in two years and she would only have been thirteen.  It wouldn’t have worked. They would have probably missed her window and they would have both gone in separate directions.

 

She sighed, uncomfortable with the fact that she was feeling grateful to Aizen for engineering their lives such that they met now, when the timing was right.  Sure, it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t even close to ideal; Ulquiorra was a Roman Catholic priest. There was no way this was not going to come down on their heads in one way or another.  Then there was the matter of Aizen trying to rope Ulquiorra into the family business. She knew he would hate it. Ulquiorra had a conscience. He knew right from wrong, and he regretted his youthful indiscretions.  She didn’t judge him harshly; it was the life he had known. He had done his best to break free from it and had been successful until he was called back from Rome. Apparently Aizen had pull with people high up in the church.

 

Who did he have in his pocket, she wondered.  Zommari probably. Definitely Tosen; he had been there the day of her family’s murder.  How high up the chain did it go?

 

She was no closer to any answers than she had been before she started thinking about this.  Maybe she just needed coffee.

 

Ulquiorra poured two cups of coffee into the mugs he found. He added creamer to his and then picked them up, carrying them to the bathroom. As soon as he walked into the room his nose was assaulted by the smell of vanilla. His nose wrinkled slightly but he said nothing as he saw Orihime’s face. “You’re thinking about something,” he stated.

 

“I’m trying not to,” she said with a smile.  “I’m just wondering about questions we probably can’t answer.”

 

He handed her the steaming mug of coffee before he sat down on the floor beside the tub. “Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“I don’t know.  I don’t want to sour the mood, but I don’t want you worrying either, so to summarize, I was worrying about Aizen’s plan for the baby and for you and me.  I was also thinking that he’s got at least Bishop Tosen in his pocket, probably Zommari, and I don’t know how many other church officials. I wonder how far his reach goes.  I wonder how much control we have in all of this. If it’s what I suspect, you probably never had a chance. He was always going to find a way to strip you of your collar.” She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed; he had specifically asked her not to bring up churchy stuff on this trip.  “I’m sorry. I should have kept my mouth shut.”

 

“Hey, hey, hey. No.” Ulquiorra put the coffee mug on the floor and got to his knees, taking Orihime’s chin in his hand. “If it’s bothering you I want you to tell me. If you don’t how do I know what’s wrong? I’m not a mind reader. I know he has friends in Rome. Orihime, I only became a priest to protect myself from him. I did it partly because of you. I don’t want to be a priest any longer but it’s all I know.”

 

“I know.  It just makes me angry.  How can someone do that to his own kid?”  She looked out the window and glared. “I mean, we’re trying to become parents ourselves.  I know it’s not how either of us ever planned, but I’m taking it seriously. I cannot imagine, not for an instant, doing something to disadvantage our child, much less to purposely sabotage its life.  It is making me furious just thinking about it,” she looked at him then, her brow set at a sharp angle and her mouth pressed in a firm line.

 

He sighed. “He’s not even my real father. All of my brothers and sisters are adopted. All I know is that Nnoitra and I are half siblings. Aizen can do it because he doesn’t give a damn about us. We’re bodies. We’re expendables. We’re nothing more than pawns to him.”

 

“You don’t believe that about yourself, though, do you?”

 

Ulquiorra shrugged. “That’s what I’ve been told my entire life, Orihime. It’s all I knew. I was replaceable. At any time, Aizen could and would do away with me.”

 

“You listen to me, Ulquiorra Cifer.  You are irreplaceable. You are not expendable.  You mean everything to me. Aizen is nothing. He is a scab on the road rash of humanity.”

 

Another sigh left him. “Orihime, I know he’s not the greatest person in the world but he has paid for my schooling. He put a roof over my head. Yeah, I had to work for things as I got older but… He was like Barragan.”

 

“Yes.  He is like Barragan.  You know me, Ulquiorra.  I’m a forgiving, open person.  Barragan deserved to die. Aizen didn’t pay for my schooling our yours because he was generous, or because he did it out of love.  He did it because it was a good business investment. Our well-being or happiness has nothing to do with it. It was all a means to an end.  He expects his assets to perform and pay dividends. If we don’t, he’ll dump us. Permanently. Just like Barragan.” She looked into Ulquiorra eyes as she said this in such a way that told him that she knew more of Barragan’s business than he had previously suspected.

 

“What if I told you I was the cause of Barragan being eliminated?” Ulquiorra held up the hand that had touched her chin. He knew what she was going to say. “I don’t know if Barragan had any dealings in the illegal drug business. Aizen does. He’s deep in it. When I was around fourteen I started stealing product from my father’s chemist. I’d sell it. My father thought Barragan was trying to encroach on his drug dealings while also opening titty bars. I was doing enough business to make my father worried about his empire.”

 

Orihime laughed.  “Titty bars was the least of it.  Buying and selling humans, trafficking to and from Asia and Saudi Arabia, South Americans to perverts in Connecticut and DC.  He had me wear pretty little dresses at business meetings and pour tea for men in long white robes with thick black beards. He made a point in explaining how pure and virtuous I was. I was seven; eight years old when this started.  And yes, he ran side businesses. He had guys running guns and drugs. Whether or not what you did triggered Aizen’s decision to eliminate my family is irrelevant. It was coming one way or another.”

 

She sounded bitter, as if she hated her late stepfather. Although it should not have surprised the priest, the fact that Aizen lied to him hurt. The mob boss had blamed him for almost thirteen years now about causing the death of Barragan, his wife and stepson. “I wish we already had the funds to leave. I wish we could just go right now. I don’t want him to be around you if you do get pregnant.”

 

“How much do you have?”  Her voice was cold, and her eyes were calculating.  Orihime didn’t like this side of herself; the side that was all business.  The side that was built for survival. It was cold and ruthlessly efficient.  It hurt people. She backpedaled and looked at her knees, which stuck out of the bathwater.  “I’m sorry. I know we still have a lot to go through; I just get anxious sometimes.”

 

Ulquiorra looked up at the ceiling of the bathroom. He didn’t think it was nearly enough to get by on. “Uh, my bank account probably has around six grand in it. I have a savings account which I’ve had since I was eighteen that probably has around thirty in it… Maybe more? I don’t pay attention to it.”

 

“Thirty thousand?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

She looked at him like he was off his rocker.  “How much, exactly, are you looking to save up before we ghost away?  Are you planning on living like a Rockefeller while in hiding? I know you grew up privileged, but that kind of money goes a hell of a long way for normal people.”

 

He gave her a stern look before he got to his feet to retrieve his phone from the bedside table. Ulquiorra logged into his banking app and whistled. “Thirty nine. And… New identities cost money. It’s more than changing your hair color and your name. IDs and other things are needed,” he replied.

 

“Yeah but you can get good ones for around four grand a pop, and you can get passable ones for a lot less than that.  You just need to know the right people,” she didn’t care if he wanted to know how she knew that or not, but she did.

 

Giving the redhead an appraising look, Ulquiorra sat back down beside the tub. He stared at his phone and then back at her. “I want to be able to provide for you just in case,” he said quietly. “Just in case you have to leave the rectory whenever people start to notice you’re pregnant.”

 

She sighed.  He wasn’t planning on going with her.  “I see,” she said, staring hard out the window and trying not to cry.

 

“Orihime, I will admit to you right now. I don’t know how to be an adult. Everything has been paid for me. I have no clue how to get an apartment or anything like that. If I don’t join Aizen, I need money to be able to get us a place,” Ulquiorra said. This was supposed to be a happy trip and it was quickly becoming the opposite of that.

 

“Here’s the secret to adulting; you just do it.  You need something done, you just do it. It’s not as hard as it seems.  It’s not easy either; it’s not supposed to be. That’s what the Rohertys taught me.  That’s what my mother taught me. You can’t wait around for conditions to be perfect to make a move, because they never will be.  The goalposts are constantly moving and you can’t plan for every contingency. You just have to decide what you want, and do your damndest to make it happen.  I know what I want. Do you?”

 

He nodded. “I know what I want,” he replied.

 

“Then make it happen.”  She didn’t ask what it was that he wanted.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Rather, she was afraid it wasn’t quite what she wanted.

 

Taking a deep breath, Ulquiorra exhaled. Then he stood, grabbing his phone and his cup of coffee. He bent down to place a kiss on Orihime’s head. “I’m going to make some phone calls, you relax, okay?”

 

“Okay,” she said, somewhat impressed with his reaction to her little motivational speech.  She had expected more resistance, but he was cool as a cucumber as she watched him walk out of the room.

 

***

 

Ulquiorra was standing on the patio/deck thing that was just off the living room. He was shivering in the cold morning air in just his sweats, hoodie and a pair of slip on sandals he’d brought. They were comfy and he didn’t like slippers but it seemed rude to walk around someone else’s house without  something on his feet. He held his phone to his ear listening to Yammy drone on and on about his job as a peewee football coach. The whole going professional hadn’t worked out for the big guy and he wasn’t smart enough to sell cars like most pros did after their careers were over.

 

“That’s great Yammy. So where are you at now?”

 

“Rockford. This place is a shit hole.”

 

He nodded. They’d been to Rockford a couple of times while in college. “Where’s Starrk?”

 

“Coyote? Awww hell man. He’s a single dad. Knocked some chick up and she just vanished leaving the baby with him,” Yammy answered. “Why? Last I heard you were living in that fancy city in Italy.”

 

“I’ve been in Boston since October. I’ve got a woman,” Ulquiorra replied. “My dad is uh… He’s doing that intimidation thing to me. You know where he holds shit over my head and expects to get his way?”

 

Yammy was silent for a minute. “You… Are in a relationship? Hah! Tell me another good one. The Ulq I know wouldn’t look at a woman for a long term period.”

 

Ulquiorra gave a chuckle. “Eh, you’d be right if this was seven or eight years ago. Remember that chick I was telling you about--”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Yammy said cutting him off. “The sweet face and the red hair. The one you were a dick to eons ago. You used to talk about her all the time when you got drunk.”

 

The priest nodded. He could remember getting drunk and then going on and on about Orihime. He never said her name or told anyone how old she was. “I um, caught up with her again… We’re trying to have a baby.”

 

“Dude, you’ve only been back a couple of months.” Yammy’s tone was hushed and sounded like he couldn’t believe what he’d heard.

 

Silence. What could Ulquiorra say? His friend was right. But Orihime had said it the other night. They were both the reason the other couldn’t find love. “So, uh, you said you had a second job...”

 

He had to distract himself from what Yammy had stated.

 

After about fifteen more minutes of conversation, Ulquiorra ended the call and then made a call to the direct line of the Archbishop of Boston. If Tosen and Zommari wouldn’t grant him release, he’d go above their heads.

 

***

 

When Ulquiorra came back into the cabin he got himself another cup of coffee. He had to think about things. He knew what he wanted. He did not want to be a priest anymore. He didn’t want to be tied down by the confines of the Church’s ideals. He wanted to sin freely and without guilt like most parishioners did.

He took his cup into the bedroom and sipped on it from the doorway where he watched the redhead move around. “Can we talk?”

 

She hadn’t heard him approach and she whipped her head around, startled.  “Oh! Oh, it’s only you… I had my head so far up my own… Well, anyway, yes, please let's talk, and let me start by apologizing. I was oversimplifying things,  I let my emotions about how angry I am at Aizen for dicking you around that I tunnel-visioned on the money thing. I know there’s more to it than that. I’m sorry.”

 

Ulquiorra nodded. “I accept it. This is more than a financial issue Orihime. There are lives on the line. Not just your life and not just mine. Grimmjow, Tier, and even Nel could be on the chopping block for this. Aizen has already threatened Grimm’s woman and his kids. Tier’s not even allowed to see her boyfriend. Nel doesn’t have a life because of Nnoitra. This is bigger than you. It is bigger than me. There has to be some reason why Aizen wants me to join him.” He sighed. “Money gets you places. I need you to be patient. It’ll take at least a month for me to get an audience with the Archbishop. I’ve called his office. I talked to a friend of mine who I used to room with in college.”

 

Orihime took a deep breath. She was ashamed of herself.  “I’m really sorry. I didn’t even think about them. I am going to try to keep my head on straight from now on, but if I get like this again, smack some sense into me, will ya?” she laughed lamely. She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled some long socks on, worrying her lip a little.  “I didn’t even know Grimmjow had kids. Have you ever met them?”

 

A short chuckle left him and he nodded. “I met them the night I took your virginity. That’s why I was gone so long. Grimmjow wanted to talk. He wanted me to see what was at risk for all of us. I still don’t know what that is exactly but… They’re blondes. He has a girl and a boy. They’re not very old. About four and five years old.”

 

She did the math in her head.  “Wow, he had them when he was really young.  Younger than me. And he still takes care of them.” She shook her head.  She was right about him the first time. He may be a colossal screw up, but he was redeemable.  He knew how to love. “If we do have a kid, it’ll have cousins,” she said with a half smile. “Not that I expect family holidays or anything; it’s just nice to know.”  She stood up and stretched her arms over her head. “Well, that’s that then. We have to protect them too,” she said, smiling. She could tolerate the injustices against her and Ulquiorra much more easily when there was something more precious on the line.

 

“I also called Retsu. She wants to talk to us next Tuesday,” Ulquiorra stated. He tried to evaluate her reaction. “I’m gonna take Aizen his money and then, I’ll come back to the rectory to pick you up.”

 

“Well, don’t forget, I have my appointment that day too.  It’s at ten in the morning. I think it’s at ten. Let me check my phone,” she mumbled, getting up and walking over to the nightstand on her side of the bed.  “Yeah, quarter after ten, to be exact. It should take about an hour and a half, tops. Probably closer to a half hour if the doctor is on time.” She appeared to take the meeting with Retsu in stride.  In actuality she was somewhat nervous, but ultimately curious, to spend time as an adult with the woman who raised Ulquiorra.

 

He raised his eyebrows. Ulquiorra wasn’t sure how well he was going to deal with some guy staring at Orihime’s crotch but it needed to be done to ensure Aizen was kept happy. “Okay, new plan. I’ll take you to the appointment. We will go see my mom and then I’ll drop you back off at the rectory. I’ll go see Aizen by myself.”

 

She nodded.  “Whatever you think is best, you know them better than I do.” She set her phone back down and crossed the room to where he stood.  She didn’t say anything, but wrapped her arms around his waist and tucked her head into his shoulder, willing him to forgive her.

 

Ulquiorra wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. “I have to take your feelings into account too. It’s not just what I think is best. I’m trying to do what is right and what is best for the both of us.”

 

“I know, but I can get focused too inward.  I’d never forgive myself if something happened to your sisters or Grimmjow because of us.  I might be ambivalent if it was Nnoitra,” she said with a little chuckle. “I’m kidding of course.  He’s still your brother, even though I really don’t enjoy his company.”

 

“Tch,” he scoffed. “Nnoi can take a flying fuck. That’s how much I care about him. I don’t. I can’t stand him. I’ve spent years wondering if we share the same mother or the same father. I can’t figure it out. We look nothing alike. He’s a bastard. Anyway, uh, did you want some warmed up pizza for breakfast? Then we can decide what to do for today?”

 

She nodded.  “Sounds like a good plan.”  She let go of him and walked toward the door.  She was wearing a goofy kind of outfit, an oversized hoodie that went practically to her knees and long, striped socks.  She looked altogether strange.

 

The priest followed her out of the bedroom watching how cute she looked. He had to wonder what she would look like wearing one of his shirts whether it be a dress shirt or a t-shirt. Ulquiorra could just imagine the sleepy eyed princess walking into a kitchen just like this. Fuck. He was turned on again. Think of Aizen, he willed his brain. That seemed like a great mood killer. “You’re tiny,” he said.

 

She turned to look at him.  “I suppose I am, compared to you,” she said with a little snicker.  “What brought that on?”

 

“Just looking at you. Don’t you think that hoodie is a bit big? Who’d you steal it from?”

 

“Jack.  He was going to donate it. I swiped it.  I don’t even know anyone from North Shore Yacht Club.  I don’t know if he ever did either. Do you think it’s weird that I refer to them by their first names?  People used to act shocked. But they’re not my parents. They never pretended to be. Anyway… Pizza...”  she said like zombies in the movies say “braaaains”.

 

He grinned and grabbed Orihime by her hips, turning her around. “My hoodies are off limits,” Ulquiorra said to her. “Thou shalt not swipe them. And honestly, I don’t think it’s weird. I rarely call Retsu and Aizen mom or dad.”

 

“Fine, fine, fine. No stealing Ulquiorra’s hoodies.  Does that mean your underwear are fair game?” she asked as she bit into a piece of pizza and then did a little happy dance as she chewed it.

 

“Only if you want a pair of granny panties to come up missing. I’d know exactly what I would do with them too,” he said as he reached into the box of a piece of pizza.

 

“Oh?  What’s that?” she asked, taking another bite.

 

Ulquiorra took several steps back away from her and smirked before he took a bite of his own food. “That’s for me to know.”

 

She scoffed.  “Fine. I didn’t even bring any grannies on this trip so you’d be disappointed anyway.”  She had finished off her piece of pizza and washed her hands before grabbing a banana. “The pizza is good but too salty.  Need to balance with potassium. You should have one too,” she said, pointing the banana in his direction. She wasn’t offering it to him though, she revealed as she started to peel and eat it without a lot of fanfare.

 

“Wait a minute,” Ulquiorra said. “One, you’re not allowed to eat bananas in front of me. And two, you have other underwear besides those things you always wear around me?”

 

“Well, yeah, I didn’t always live in a rectory, you know.  And you’re going to have to deal with the banana thing from time to time,” she said, teasing him with a comical charade of fellatio before finishing the entire thing in two bites.

 

Ulquiorra muttered under his breath. He didn’t know whether to be in awe of her or fear this woman. “I do not want to see you in another pair of those boring ass underwear,” Ulquiorra said after he finished his pizza and put the almost empty box back into the refrigerator. He then washed his hands at the sink. “One of these days, you’re going to blow me until… well… you know.”

 

“One of these days, eh?” she laughed.  It was on the tip of her tongue to