When he came down the stairs for coffee, she was already there. Hard to believe he used to fear for his life when that happened. She’d be sitting in a chair doing something casual like reading the paper, leaving lipstick stains on his Batman coffee mug, and he’d know that for the next few days his life would become far more interesting than he’d ever wanted it to be.
But that was before. Today, she sat on the living room floor, an open scrapbook between her legs, an array of flowers laid out in an arc beyond it. She’d stuck a small blue flower behind her ear to adorn her short auburn hair, and she wore her pajamas. “Good morning,” he greeted her.
She looked up at him, blinked, then picked up the book and held it out for him to see. “You can’t decide which flowers to use?” he guessed. She nodded. “Can the decision wait until after breakfast?” Her head bobbed up and down eagerly. “Very well.”
It hadn’t been easy looking at her during the recovery process. Long surgeries to repair her skull, blood transfusions, psychological evaluations, physical therapy. But although the mob had failed to kill Orihime Inoue, they had succeeded in silencing her. She would never speak again. She would never be herself again. And Detective Ulquiorra Cifer, having chased her around the world for years after she’d first escaped him, remained bound to her by guilt.
Because she’d known what was coming. When she’d said goodbye to him last, her voice had been thick with finality, her eyes conveying her fear.
He should have tried harder to stop her, should have thrown everything on the line to get her to stay. But when had he ever been able to get her to listen to him?
“What would you like to eat?” he asked her as she padded barefoot into the kitchen behind him. She pointed to the refrigerator. “Eggs?” She nodded. “Scrambled?” She shook her head. “Fried?” No. “Boiled?” She whined and whacked his shoulder, puffing out her cheeks. “Oh, an omelette. Why didn’t you say so?” he teased, knowing full well that omelettes were her favorite.
Orihime hovered behind him as he prepared it, making sure he added just the right amount of vegetables. When it was ready, he watched her clumsily turn over a bottle of ketchup and draw a lopsided happy face on the omelette before digging into it with her fork. Soon Retsu Unohana would arrive to look after Orihime while Ulquiorra was at work, and he’d spend another nervous, impatient day fearing someone would change their minds about letting Orihime live. With no voice and no memory, she wasn’t useful enough to the mob to warrant a second assassination attempt, but who could be certain?
It wasn’t the life Ulquiorra had imagined for them, painting what-ifs in European hotel rooms as she lay in his arms, smiling sadly. But it was something. She wasn’t in jail. She wasn’t dead. He came home to her every day, child-like and altered though she was, and she was always happy to see him.
Which was fine, he thought as she held her fork out to offer him a piece of omelette that he refused. Things had never been perfect between them anyway.