AN EPILOGUE because my brain is frantically trying to balance out the tragic vs happy endings.
Inoue hadn’t been the same since the virus was deleted from her laptop. Ichigo still saw her in class, but she never spoke to him. She didn’t speak to anyone that wasn’t Tatsuki, and according to Tatsuki, her perpetual cheerfulness had yet to return from its wanderings.
So when Kisuke Urahara requested to meet with Orihime, she refused. For two days, she refused. She was tired. Her exhaustion made it hard for her to get out of bed. She’d been skipping classes and meals, sleeping more often. She hadn’t touched her computer in weeks. But if seeing the hacker would help her get back to normal somehow, what did she really have to lose, other than a little bit of time?
“So happy you could join me, Inoue-san,” Urahara greeted her upon her arrival at the hospital fountain. Why he’d wanted them to meet there in broad daylight was a mystery, but asking questions would extend the interview, and she would rather not be in his company longer than necessary. “You’re wondering why I’ve asked you here, eh? Skeptical? I’ll cut to the chase, then. I’ve discovered the true nature of Aizen-chan’s viruses.”
Orihime stared at the cascading water. “That has nothing to do with me anymore,” she mumbled, but it sounded weak, childish.
Urahara smiled. “Hear me out first. As you’re already aware, my anti-viruses were commanded by living humans from a remote location. Because I was working in secret, my machinery was not the best quality, and endangered the lives of everyone involved. Aizen’s viruses were different - artificially intelligent… or so I assumed.” He gestured to the hospital beyond the fountain. “This is where Aizen worked. Hacking was only his hobby, see. Neuroscience was his true field of expertise.” Orihime stared at the hospital uncertainly. “What Aizen did was use his position and the hospital’s resources to run his terrorist operation. He introduced a new technology that claimed to stimulate the minds of comatose patients, in order to speed their recovery. Gave false hope to the families when he was really trapping his victims into doing his bidding.
"Some, like Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez, were able to resist - rebel, even. Four of the patients died when their virus selves were erased. The rest survived, and some have even regained consciousness in the aftermath. Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Inoue-san?”
Orihime’s eyes, fixed on the hospital, had widened considerably. “There…?”
Urahara stood from the fountain and guided her into the building. An elevator ride and several twists and turns later, they arrived at a quiet ward filled with unconscious patients. Orihime’s entire body trembled so violently her teeth were practically chattering. When Urahara stopped beside a door and motioned for her to go in ahead of him, she found herself unable to move. So he helped her inside, keeping her steady as her gaze landed on the bedridden patient, his familiar black hair, his pale skin, the tangle of wires attaching him to advanced hospital monitors. He had no wings, no horns, no stains on his cheeks, no hole in his throat. But it was him. There wasn’t a single doubt in Orihime’s mind.
“Inoue-san, meet Ulquiorra Cifer,” Urahara said cheerfully. “31 years old, works for a software development company, no living family to speak of. Five months ago he was struck by a car and slipped into a coma. Aizen got to him shortly after.”
Tears slipped down Orihime’s cheeks unnoticed. She could only stare.
“According to the doctors, his physical injuries have healed, and his brain activity is healthy. He’s expected to make a full recovery, whenever he wakes up.”
“Can…” Her voice didn’t make it past a whisper. “Can I come visit him, until he does…?”
Would he remember her? Would he think it strange, a nineteen year old college student taking interest in his well being? Would he dismiss her, return to his life as if everything they’d gone through had been a dream, as if he hadn’t held his hand out to her when he was certain he was going to die? She saw that hand now, stuck with an IV, and when she tentatively reached out, when her fingertips registered flesh and not a computer screen, her sobs burst from her chest. He was real.
Urahara smiled gently. “Visit him? Of course. Guy with no family, he’ll probably come to the moment he realizes he’s not alone anymore.”