Characters: Ulquiorra, Orihime
Warnings: Implied spoilers
Summary: In which Orihime realizes: perhaps she has not done him a kindness. But she has set him free.
Disclaimer: KT owns; I do not.
A/N: Sequel to this fic, because some people wanted to know what Ulquiorra's response would be. (This one isn't necessarily on the same emotional tone as the last one though, just so you know.)
Ulquiorra entered the room as quietly as a shadow; he didn’t knock or give any greeting or even clear his throat to announce his presence. Orihime, lying on a chaise with her back turned to the door, looking at the shape of the moon in the high window above her, didn’t realize he was there at all until he started talking.
“I have made an inventory as you requested,” he said (curt, as always, curt), “Firstly, there are one hundred and twenty-seven spoons in total in the kitchen. Of these, approximately sixty percent are for regular eating purposes, thirty percent are included in the total of all the tea services, and the final ten percent are of a miscellaneous variety that I did not find it necessary to categorize. As for the constitution of the spoons themselves, the vast majority appear to be made of a silvery alloy– What is it, Woman?”
She had turned over and was staring at him with her mouth open. “Ulquiorra-san, what... um, what exactly are you doing?”
“Pay attention. I have already explained. This,” he glanced down at the thin white binder in his hands, “Is the inventory. Completed just as you asked.”
She could only tilt her head to one side and look even more puzzled.
“You have forgotten? I should have realized. The things you like are so small that even you forget them.”
There was nothing in the expression on his face, nothing even remotely like hurt, but still she felt it: somehow, she had let him down. Whatever it was, she should have remembered.
“You asked me to make a list of some details about Las Noches for you. This was when you were talking about trees and rivers and... green things. I tried to concern myself with minor aspects of the palace to conform to your preference for minutiae.”
He paused. “I have also collected many facts about Hueco Mundo in general. I was quite painstaking, of course. But none of this is what you wanted to hear. I know that.”
“...I... that’s okay. I mean, if you don’t like it....” She shrugged.
He wasn’t listening. He opened the binder, flipped through the pages a few times, then let it drop to the floor.
“I couldn’t do it,” he explained, still looking down at the white pages and his own sandal-clad feet. “I couldn’t see any of those things you told me to look for. I tried, and yet... I just can’t. I have come to the conclusion that this must be part of a trade-off of some sort: given that Hollows are superior to humans and the shinigami in all other respects, I suppose that it is unavoidable that there must be one thing at least at which you excel and we do not. And it’s all this seeing... feeling... I simply cannot.”
“You were looking at the moon just now; I can only assume that you were thinking something... emotional... about it. That is just what a human would do. It seems as though the moon has some special meaning to humans. Something like romance.”
(Orihime just nodded mutely as that selfsame moon traced lines of mahogany and copper through her hair.)
“But you said you wanted to know about this place. So I will tell you about the moon. Do you look at it as some magical otherworld? It is not. You forget that this world is not like your own. There is no real, physical moon in Hueco Mundo; all there is is light, emptiness. What you look at and admire is void. And that is all there is for me to say about it.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“You don’t know anything about this place, nor do I believe that you really want to. What you really wanted to know was what I like. What I am like. I used to be– I have always been very devoted to Aizen-sama’s great work. But do I like it? No, I simply do not like at all. You pointed to this one color,” he mimicked her earlier movements and raised a finger to the green teardrop marks on his face, “And thought it meant that you knew something about me. But you know nothing. You have ignored everything else that I am. The consciousness of an Espada is that which someone like you could not imagine, and your little views have no part in it.”
“All right.” That was all she could think to say– but he had clearly been mulling over this again and again and she wondered what she had started.
“This is something I cannot do. I don’t know how,” he elaborated– as if he were revealing some great, earth-shattering epiphany. And she just couldn’t see it.
But whatever it was, it was bothering her now too, and it plucked at her brain. It was like someone had taken a needle to her face and stitched her mouth shut, and she watched herself with a sort of blank fascination as she said nothing when she wanted to say something, anything to him. So she forced the words out her mouth– an appropriate word, forced, because even in the silence of her own head they sounded fake.
They would still have to do.
“That’s okay. Like I said, that’s fine. The things I said meant nothing to you, right, Ulquiorra-san? Then just forget about it, okay? Forget I ever said anything.”
(She was used to surrendering the things that mattered by now, she told herself. She had to be.)
There was a long pause. A breath of wind stirred outside– it was always like this here, Orihime had noticed; it would be as still as the dead (oh yes, very funny; it seemed that there really was nothing but the dead in this land) one moment, and then the next the wind would come roaring and wailing out of nowhere– and a few faint clouds of what looked like snow but was actually only sand swirled past the windowpane. Orihime knew they were there even before she peered over her shoulder to look at them. She could hear the small, dry sound of the grains of sand hitting the glass. Ulquiorra’s gaze was fixed on the window too, but she could tell that wasn’t what he was really looking at.
“I can’t do that either; I can’t forget. Those things you said... they won’t get out of my head. And the fact that I can’t....”
He fell silent again, his lips pressed together into a long, thin line. What he did not do was this: he did not lift a hand (those part-skeletal part-graceful white hands with their ugly black nails) to his breast, right to the spot where his heart was supposed to be but wasn’t. He did not rub at that spot like the way one would rub and pick at a wound. He was far too disciplined to give that sort of tell.
But she saw it anyway, perhaps because she could see many things that he could not: she even thought she caught a glimpse of that split-second in which he wanted to give it all away.
Well, she did not have the sort of self-control he did, she knew it, and she instinctively reached up to place two fingers over her own heart– somehow soft and alive even in its cage of bone. He did not seem to notice; he had no heart.
“As I have told you many times before, Woman, I used to hold everything that is Las Noches in the highest respect. I used to admire this. And then I went back to look at it for you, to really look at it for the first time. I was trying to find out what it meant, as you would have done. And yes, there are many unique things in Hueco Mundo. Perhaps you would find them fascinating. But they are all of them grotesque, and I would like to think myself above that. A Menos is formed when one Hollow devours others, but that does not mean that the Menos itself is immune from being devoured in return. To be a Hollow is to never be safe.
“So what do those powerful enough to be a part of Aizen-sama’s Espada do now? They only want to boast about how strong they are, how fearless; they want to show off their power. It’s pathetic, their bravado. For all their claims to excellence, they have fallen too easily before your friends, mere shinigami. Fools. I always knew that I was not like the rest of them, that I had greater self-worth. I thought it was a good thing that I was superior, that I was Aizen-sama’s most trusted. But soon, I am sure, he will make new Arrancar, better ones, and the open spots in the Espada will quickly be filled. And still, even if the new ones are stronger, they will be just as stupid and as petty-minded as those who came before. And the folly will go on forever. I am disgusted.
“And I don’t know what I am supposed to think anymore.”
Orihime hesitated; she wasn’t entirely sure what it was that tipped her off (his expression was as blank as ever, blank like a field of snow), but somehow she could tell: he was actually upset.
“I suppose that you’ll have to figure out what to think on your own, then...? That’s what most people do, Ulquiorra-san.”
“I see. So that’s what you think. Do you think yourself clever, Woman?”
“You do, despite all your obvious foolishness. I see now. Do you think you are doing me some sort of kindness? You who are so soft, who always prefers compromise– you planned to disillusion me about this world then bring me back to your own as an ally. But you are the one who holds illusions. Nonsense. Even if you act with your pitiable good intentions, even so. What you did last time we spoke– I believe that is what is called poetry. And I really thought it was true. For a few hours, I truly did.
“Liar,” he hissed, “You are a liar. I did what you said and I thought about myself and at first I thought there might be something there to find. Something... poetic. So tell me, Woman, you who think you know so much, you who think you have some sort of sight. Tell me what I saw.”
She lowered her eyes to where her hands lay useless in her lap and shook her head. What else could she do?
He reached up to the high collar of his jacket and pulled the zipper down to about an inch below his collarbone; he trailed his bony fingers across the hole at the base of his throat.
“Nothing. I saw nothing but darkness, never-ending. People like you, you probably believe in a center, don’t you, a core? A soul. But there is nothing in me but emptiness. None of your stupid hopeful fairytales. And all your poetry– lies. And it’s not just me; the same holds true for all the world. Your green Earth is a trifle. Hueco Mundo is the heart of the universe, and the heart is barren.”
(Orihime, who couldn’t help what she saw, thought of black water, of the way you could never know how deep it was until you stepped in and found yourself falling down to infinity.)
He was right. She knew it. She was wrong. No matter what color his eyes were, he had nothing in common with her green, breathing world. She too had never considered him for what he truly was.
So she would do so now. What his world must breathe with was a frigid, merciless wind, the kind that had always poked needles of ice through her body with every winter. He belonged to a world of bare rock embossed only with coldness, a pale Antarctic horizon, the Sakhalin of history lessons. (A world where even ever-hopeful life could not aspire to take hold.) All that could exist there would have to be stripped of its tender, fragile flesh; it would be raw, all bare white bones. (With her eyes, she traced the curve of the plate of bone that stretched across his scalp, feeling all the way to the sharp tip of the horn.)
He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, and a minute passed in silence as he tried to find the right words.
“Go ahead, Woman, and tell me.”
(She clasped her hands together out of some instinct and felt all the muscles in her back tense up.)
“Tell me what I’m supposed to do.”
Orihime always was a person who tried to be kind, and yes, she had been hoping to do him a kindness. Was that so wrong? Oh, but one look at his pained-not-pained eyes told her that she had not succeeded in that. She had more than merely failed.
But maybe she had set him free. (She had never thought about it like this before, but who ever said that freedom had to be pleasant anyway? Freedom was what happened when the lid was lifted off the world and the sky overhead was all of a sudden too high, too cold and pitiless. Empty and open.)
It came to her then, the realization (not like a spark shooting out of the darkness, no, but more akin to searching fingers finally closing around their object): he didn’t know yet what it meant to stand in eternal night. He didn’t know yet (the fool! More of a fool by far than she ever was) that he had far more of a soul than she could ever hope for; he must have never heard of frail, ascetic sages, of long-suffering martyrs (still so full of doubt, even as to their own causes).
He didn’t know that this sort of bitterness was a spiritual condition.
“I think,” she began, “I don’t think you should lie. I think you should tell the truth, all of it. Even if it’s really awful, I think you should. Because... I don’t know, maybe the world needs people who can do that.”
(She didn’t say, I think you need for you to do that.)
But she will get there eventually. She knows. Because she has found at least one thing that she can do, even here; somehow, she will get him to keep speaking his truth.
And it will be like this: they’ll be walking somewhere out in the countryside– maybe just the two of them, maybe with their other friends (because someday, someday)– through fields and forest. And the sky will be that perfect, absolutely perfect end-of-May blue, cloudless. She’ll be wearing a blue sun dress, and its fabric will breathe against her legs– for there will be just the barest hint of a breeze. (And yes, there will have to be that summer smell in the air.... Who would ever have thought that soil would smell so good, so warm?)
Ulquiorra will look out of place there, won’t he? He’ll still look so crisp and formal even in summer casual. And as they pick their way through the tall grass, she’ll look around like always and praise everything: the feeling of the sun against their skin, the dainty stalks of wild flowers, the dragonfly that darts in front of them for a second....
But he will just shake his head ever so slightly at everything she says, and he will tell her how petty all those things are, how meaningless. They are not true, he will say (disparaging as ever), and therefore they cannot be beautiful.
And he will tell her how all that is beautiful in the world is that which is black and white, bitter and harsh and despairing.