“What I don’t understand is why you cannot be civil towards each other.” Ulquiorra looked at his Honchkrow, which bowed its head in shame, then at his Fearow, which looked determinedly at something else. “You are both under my command now. I expected the turf wars to stop with this new brotherhood, but apparently I need to lecture you like a pair of children.” Fearow squawked at him indignantly. “I don’t care who started it. You will behave, or you will not be allowed out of the gym.”
Grimmjow, sitting nearby, let out a long sigh. “Two weeks without her and he’s become the bird whisperer again.” It had been business as usual since Ulquiorra had returned to the gym and gotten the Murkrow-Spearow war under control. But even Grimmjow had to admit that there was something off about his best friend, and he suspected he knew exactly what.
Honchkrow lifted its beak, spotted something in the distance, and nudged Fearow with its wing. The other bird narrowed its eyes, but then followed Honchkrow’s gaze and its expression changed. Both birds snickered and took flight simultaneously, leaving Ulquiorra wondering what had gotten into them. Then, “Well, would you look at the time! Gotta go!” Grimmjow announced, clearing the gym yard’s stone fence in one leap and vanishing.
Ulquiorra blinked. He turned his head in the direction of the birds’ amused glances.
Orihime Inoue, the new league champion, stood at the entrance of the yard with her hands behind her back and a smile on her face. She looked no different than the day he’d met her in the woods, desperately chasing his Murkrow to get her hairpins back, and yet so much had changed that Ulquiorra found himself at a loss for words.
“Aren’t you going to say hi?” she suggested.
“Yes,” he replied, then amended, “hello,” then amended again, “congratulations.”
Orihime strolled forward. “Thanks! I thought the interviews and parades would never end, it was exhausting!” He met her halfway, hands in his pockets. “Not that it wasn’t fun, too.”
“I wouldn’t know.” They stopped a few feet away from each other. “I was on my way back when the battle took place, I’m afraid. Haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, because…”
“The damn birds,” Ulquiorra finished, and Orihime laughed, knowing he both meant it and didn’t.
“It’s okay. I haven’t watched it myself - I mean, I lived it - but I haven’t seen a replay. Too nervous. A lot happened that day.”
“Right. Kurosaki must have been surprised to lose.”
“He was quite shocked!”
“And your confession, as well.”
“Oh, you totally should have been there! I looked him straight in the eye and I said, ‘Ichigo, you inspired me to start my own journey and gave me a Pokemon to do it with. I’m very grateful to you! And after coming all this way and going through all this trouble to confess my feelings for you, I have to apologize, because I’m not in love with you at all.’ I think his eyes were about to fall out of his head.”
Ulquiorra stared at her. “Huh?”
Orihime giggled and looked at him meaningfully. “Ichigo’s great, but… he wasn’t the one who kept me going when I thought about giving up. And he definitely wasn’t the one who fought off wild Ursaring to protect me. And he wasn’t the one accompanying me every step of the way when he had a gym to run.”
“He wasn’t, was he,” Ulquiorra said quietly. She shook her head. “The other guy, though… he may not be as impressive as you make him sound.”
“No?” She bridged the gap between them.
“For all you know, he could just be an insensitive feather-brained jerk who tames bird Pokemon because he’s good at it, and not because he enjoys it in the slightest.”
Orihime took his face in her hands. “And what’s so bad about that?”
Ulquiorra’s arm circled her waist. “Give me enough time, and I’ll show you.” Then her lips met his, and for once he didn’t mind the laughing crows of the busybody birds that had gathered to watch.